Ham Radio Buffs Became the Voice for a Silent Town

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The Wichita Eagle - March 15, 1990
By DanClose

HESSTON, KS - The tornado was long gone but calls offering and asking for help were still coming in over the airwaves Wednesday.

People were anxious to locate silent relatives. Folks were wondering whether their homes were still standing. Volunteers were offering food and clothing and shelter.

Sorting out the logistical logjam was a task taken on by more than two dozen area ham radio buffs, who jury-rigged an emergency communications network in City Hall minutes before Tuesday night's tornado wiped out the town's power and phone service. “We were the only communications they had from the time of the tornado until the phones finally came on,” said Steve Fletcher of rural Hesston taking a turn behind the mike. ''We were about the only way people could talk to each other after this thing hit.”

“We've handled literally hundreds of calls” he said ''We were here all night and it looks like we're going to be here for another couple of days. '' As Fletcher spoke, another call came in to the command center: “We've got an offer of three to five beds in a house three quarters of a mile south of Zimmerdale,'' came the report over a speaker.

Fletcher took the address, phone and name of the benefactor. "OK,'' he answered. “I'll pass that along.”

“We still have quite a few people needing shelter and nourishment. Even after normal communications were restored the hams stayed on duty to handle many details of the relief effort, freeing authorities to worry about the big picture.

"Early on we were bringing up volunteer help and doing a lot of health and welfare calls, which involves helping people find other people," said Marion Ford," a veteran Hesston ham buff who helped coordinate the radio arrangements. ''It's a matter of taking over most of the radio traffic so the police and fire and everybody don't have to worry about it. It's the kind of public service we train for."

The kind of public service for which Lon Buller, the Harvey County emergency preparedness coordinator, was grateful. In his eyes, the hams were a tower of strength after the storm.

“We couldn't have done it without them,” said Buller himself nearing exhaustion from the ordeal. “We had them stationed all over town, feeding information from site to site. They were our basic phone system.”

Bibliography - Sources for this page
Close, Dan (1990, March 15). Ham Radio buffs became the voice for a silent town, Wichita Eagle, The

Rouner, Evelyn. 1991, March 13, 1990, 5:24 p.m. Scrapbook p97, Prestige Printing

Update: March 1, 2010 18:07

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