Next time someone asks where you work, feel free to reply, “N5JPS.” If that’s a puzzler, fret not. It’s new. It’s JPS Health Network’s name — also known as our hammer — and came with a Federal Communications Commission license to operate amateur radio. Spoken properly on the radio, it’s “November Five JPS.”
As hundreds of hands fly across computer keyboards in clinics overhead, emergency preparedness coordinator J.J. Jones finds herself each Friday morning in a closet-sized room known to some — albeit not many — as the ham shack, testing equipment so technologically unsophisticated one might assume it obsolete. Far from obsolete, however, ham radio is a vital component of emergency preparedness in healthcare, says Jones, who has been an amateur radio operator for years and oversaw acquisition of an FCC license for JPS.
Ham radio is the tool of the SKYWARN spotters, a nationwide network of 290,000 trained volunteer weather watchers who augment the sophisticated satellite radar network operated by the National Weather Service. “There’s still no substitute for eyes on the ground,” says Jones.
As sophisticated as modern telecommunications technology has become, it is vulnerable to disruption from a variety of threats, including solar storms, which many scientists expect to peak in 2013. “If all other communications were down, ham radios would still work,” says Jones. Emergency preparedness coordinators from area hospitals, first responders and city and county governments all are ham radio ready to coordinate in emergencies.
The FCC forbids use of amateur radio for commercial activity, so operators are considered clubs. Jones hopes to have 35 or 40 people in the JPS club eventually, each individually licensed as a ham operator.