Pima Co. plans ham radio network as communications backup

Published: Jul. 14, 2015 at 3:08 PM MST|Updated: Jul. 28, 2015 at 3:33 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Pima County officials are working on a network to act as a back-up plan in case of major emergencies.

The "mesh network" uses licensed ham radio operators.

During an emergency that overwhelms first responder communications, and phones don't work, the system can save lives.

"Now what do you do?  If you pick up the phone you can't reach anybody," said Jay Hand of the Pima County Office of Emergency Management. "If you have a backup network at your disposal or to know somebody who is tied into this network, you can get the message out to help when you need it."

The hams will have their radios that can communicate around the world, but they also will have a special antenna system that will allow them to receive and send information.

Several other U.S. cities have mesh networks established.

During an emergency, people can use the mesh network to make phone calls, send emails, files, even video and photos if they need to.

The antennas use line of sight, so there would have to be 50 to 100 of them to connect the entire Tucson area to make it a strong, dependable system, no matter what catastrophe the city is dealing with.

"People are confused," said Mike Boger, a licensed ham radio operator regarding such emergencies. "They're trying to desperately dial out on their cell phone. They're not getting any  cell phone coverage. I can get the message to mom back in Boise or I can get the message across town."

As more ham operators join the mesh network, it will grow.

Pima County officials said they hope it will cover Tucson, mountain to mountain, within a few years.

The Pima County Office of Emergency Management is recruiting ham radio operators to volunteer in its emergency communications group.

For more information, call (520) 724-9300.

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