June 18, 2007

Winsted ham radio operator trained to assist in disasters

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Jerry Quast of Winsted, known to the world of amateur radio operators by his call sign, KC0CHS, has been trained to use his ham radio to assist in emergency and disaster situations.

The first experience Quast had with amateur radios came after World War II. He found a short wave radio, that his oldest brother Donald brought back from the war, to be a very interesting piece of equipment.

“Donald had a wire strung in a tree and he could monitor Cuba. Back in the ‘40s, the radio was humongous,” Quast said.

Many years later, when Quast’s daughter, Brenda, was in college studying criminal justice, she asked for a scanner to scan police activities. Quast found himself listening to it.

“I bought a hand-held scanner for Brenda and was able to monitor all of the ham radio operators on it,” Quast said. “It was just a receiver so I could only listen. One night I was listening to a ham operator telling how easy it was to get a ham radio license.”

It wasn’t long before Quast decided to do something about getting his radio license. In 1997, he joined the Smarts Radio Club in Chaska and shortly afterward joined the Crow River Area Amateur Radio Club in Hutchinson. He ordered a book from the government and studied it, then took the test. When he got his first amateur radio license, it was restricted and he could not talk on all of the radio bands.

As time went on, Quast would hear about other hams who had been talking with someone from England or Germany, and he decided to upgrade his license.

Licensing of amateur radio in the US is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). They also assign a call sign which every licensed amateur radio operator is given to identify who the radio operator is and his or her location.

It is illegal to operate on the amateur bands without a radio license.

“The Crow River Area Amateur Radio Club offers classes for a radio license,” Quast said. “The classes are usually once a week for about four weeks. For the first license, some people are able to pass the test in a week.”

The exam material depends on the license level or class that you are applying for.

Today, Quast has four ham radios – one is a hand-held transceiver (HT), he has a mobile unit in his car, and in his home he has a multi-band base station. He also has a new high frequency (hf) ham radio which lets him talk all over the world, and he is planning to put the hf in his car, too.

Ham radio operators trained in public service

The federal government has set aside a free radio spectrum for use by the ham radio operators. In turn, the ham operators feel it is their job to provide public service as a way of showing their appreciation for the use of the free radio waves, Quast said.

There are a number of public services that ham radio operators perform. One is called Skywarn. Skywarn has long been associated with amateur radio.

“I attend Skywarn training every year. It is a four hour course,” Quast said. “We are trained as Skywarn weather spotters. The whole Crow River Area Amateur Radio Club is trained.”

Many National Weather Service (NWS) offices maintain a radio station that is manned by amateur radio operators during times of severe weather. This allows amateur radio equipped spotters to transmit their severe weather reports directly to the NWS and receive up-to-date severe weather information even if regular communications are disrupted or overloaded by the weather emergency.

Another organization that amateur radio operators are part of is the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) which consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment for communications duty in the event that disaster strikes.

“The first time I ever participated in a drill, there were two ham radio operators and the Red Cross was there. They told us what to do,” Quast said. “I had to order 200 meals and 200 beds. I had to do it through my hand-held radio. That was for a tornado drill.”

Quast also volunteered for the bird flu epidemic field event. He was stationed in Meeker County. When he arrived, there were five squad cars there. Each of the officers carried a gun.

Quast was impressed because there were 25 nurses there.

“How do you get nurses to volunteer on a weekday?

“The police are so well trained. It makes you feel good to know that if something like that happened everyone is so well trained. It was exciting to be part of,” Quast said.

The emergency practice drills pay off as was seen at the time of Hurricane Katrina. With power and phone lines down, “The ham operators were able to bring in helicopers and help some stranded flood victims,” Quast said.

Another aspect of amateur radio is providing the disabled with radio training.

Chris Schultz of Hutchinson, who is handicapped, got on the radio with Quast to explain his use of ham radios. Schultz’s call sign is KC0YFX.

“As far as people with disabilities, it comes in real handy,” Schultz said. “You can talk to different people all over the world. There is a program that is set up by a couple of volunteers at the Courage Center and it is involved with a club known as Handyhams.”

“They provide radios and equipment for people with disabilities that are interested in amateur radio,” Schultz said.

Schultz has been a radio operator for one year.

Schultz was happy to do part of his public service last weekend. He was a radio operator in Duluth for the Multiple Sclerosis bike ride from Duluth to the Twin Cities. His job was providing communication for the bike riders.

Quast made it clear that he was only touching on a small part of what is possible with amateur ham radios.

“It is a hobby that has so many possibilities. I only touched the first page,” Quast said. “A lot of ham radio operators are into electronics and computers, or are engineers. They invent stuff. New things are coming out all of the time.”

Quast is both secretary and treasurer of the Crow River Area Amateur Radio Club. According to Quast, he has a great helper and she is his wife, Rosie.

Quast worked for Lester Building System for 23 years. He is retired.

Jerry and Rosie have two children. Bradley is married to Rita Mueffels. They have three children and live in Lester Prairie. Brenda is married to Marv Vetsch and they live in Silver Lake. They have two children and a baby due in August.

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