Ham radio network preparing Morgan County for emergency communications plan

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BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. (WDVM) — Have you ever been without phone service, unable to communicate during an emergency like a severe storm?

A tornado may be on its way, but thanks to some enterprising amateur radio operators in Morgan County, a backup communication system is in place.

John Petersen heads a group of 60 amateur radio operators who want to assist emergency services personnel in the rural eastern panhandle county in the event of a disaster like a tornado or a serious flood. His network serves as a complement to police, fire, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, EMS units and 9-1-1 operators.

“We’re relatively isolated out here,” says Petersen. “Then the idea that you could have backup communication really makes a whole lot of sense and amateur radio, ham radio, operators have always been kind of famous for being able to communicate when nobody else can communicate.”

And emergency personel in the county say Petersen’s network will play an important role. The county is partitioned by a mountain, isolating rural communities. And if the communications infrastructure breaks down, the backup system is critical.

“First responders,” says Tyler Murphy with the Morgan County Rescue Squad, “rely very heavily on communication. “So if our mainframe goes out and our radios aren’t working, or even telephone lines, we have no way to communicate to the other parts of the county, the other hospitals for instance.

Petersen envisions a scenario where the Nation’s Capital could be under attack and Morgan County would be a logical evacuation point. Petersen is devising a template of bands and frequencies to prepare for such a possibility.

Petersen’s group will be holding a meeting this coming Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Morgan County courthouse. The public is welcome to attend.

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