Aug 22, 2015

Nepal quake relief : Mumbai ham radio group plays a role

At a time when all means of communication have failed for those stranded in Nepal, HAM radio has come to their rescue. A hobby that is being pursued for years has now found a place in the Disaster Management Cell's control room at Mantralaya. Ankur Puranik, 35, is one of the HAM radio operators who is accompanied by many in relaying communication to other HAM radio operators in Nepal, in the absence of functional telephone lines or internet connections in the country that recently witnessed an earthquake of the magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale.

Disaster Amateur Radio Emergency Services (DARES), a group of HAM radio operators, was co-founded in December 2014 by Puranik, a businessman, and now has around 50 members. “HAM radio was always pursued as a hobby, but soon, it's importance during times of disaster was realised. In fact, the Department of Telecommunications and Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing of the Ministry of Communications takes an exam to certify HAM radio operators. Now, Maharashtra alone has around 400 HAM radio operators. Explaining how an HAM radio works, Puranik said, “It is a transceiver device, one that contains both a transmitter and a receiver. It works on the same principle as an FM radio. Messages are sent out on a particular frequency and other radios can receive those messages if they are tuned into that particular frequency.”
hus, the situation in Nepal can be made known to radio operators here by operators in Nepal. Currently, around 20 members of DARES, take out time from their respective professions, and operate in shifts at Mantralaya relaying communication concerning the people belonging to Maharashtra who might be stranded in Nepal. Of the 60 people from Maharashtra who were in Nepal when the earthquake struck, the status of 20 people is now ascertained by relying on the communications with HAM radio operators in Nepal, Puranik added.

Although it is not a very popular form of communication, HAM radio, also known as amateur radio, can transmit voice messages, text messages and pictures without the use of cables or mobile towers, and thus can be used all over the world at any time.

Zyros Zend, senior advisory member of DARES and owner of the popular Yazdani Bakery in Fort, was involved in HAM radio communications when an earthquake had hit Bhuj in Januray 2001. Similarly, the earliest communications about the tsunami that hit the Andaman and Nicobar islands in 2004 were over HAM radios.
Recognising the importance of HAM radio, the Disaster Management Cell run by the Government of Maharashtra has decided to sign an MoU with DARES which will facilitate the set up of 36 HAM radio stations across the 36 districts in Maharashtra. “We established DARES to provide a common contact point for HAM radio operators in Maharashtra and all over the country. Our hobby can help people during emergencies and disasters. We were already in talks with Dr Suhas Disawe, director of state Disaster Management Cell, about setting up a HAM radio helpline. Then, the earthquake happened and we were asked to set up our HAM radio station at the Mantralaya on an urgent basis,” said Puranik, who handles the engineering and wireless department of DARES.

He is looking at developing ways in which HAM radios can function on solar power or on batteries chargeable by hand cranking. He added that to further enhance communication, the Mantralaya has also asked to have a team of operators on standby, who can go to Nepal with a medical team, if needed.

The equipment and logistics being used currently belongs to the DARES team and is funded by them. Puranik was given a HAM radio license in 2003. Late Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Kamal Hassan and Amitabh Bachhan are licensed HAM radio operators too.
Mantralaya Disaster Management Cell helpline: 022-22027990

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