Castlemaine amateur radio enthusiast Tony Falla is encouraging community members to consider having a radio on hand to assist in times of emergency when all other forms of communication fail.
Tony has been an amateur radio enthusiast for more than 50 years and established the local Facebook group ‘Mt Alexander Radio Watch‘ to encourage people to set up their own radio network for use in times of power cuts, mobile outages and other unpredictable situations.
But his skills and equipment were recently put to the test when simultaneous power and Optus network outages plunged homes across the region into darkness and saw many unable to communicate via phone.
The storm event on January 2 saw 24,000 homes across the central and western regions without power after 90,000 lightning strikes across the state damaged infrastructure.
“Despite having to look for an alternative source of lighting, I was able to use my car radio transmitter set up to reach out to other Mt Alexander Radio Watch members across the region and gauge how widespread the issue was and if everyone was okay,” Tony said.
“After confirming everyone was okay, one of my colleagues offered to drop me off some spare car batteries to extend my lights’ duration. However, they weren’t required in the end as fortunately the outage only lasted a couple of hours.”
Tony said Mt Alexander Radio Watch was not a rescue or monitoring service.
“What we do is help local communities to equip, train and organise themselves to be able to contact emergency services or family and friends under their own efforts,” he said.
Point-to-point radio enables an ‘open mesh’ network to form. This means participants can hear each other and are able to talk to everyone. It’s an efficient way of solving problems or calling for help.
Repeaters on Mount Alexander, Mount Macedon and at other key locations mean local enthusiasts can speak to people across Victoria and beyond.
“With the right equipment and conditions, you can speak with amateur radio enthusiasts across the globe. I’ve connected with people on every continent,” Tony said.
“You can start with a handheld radio for as little as $150 or Citizens Band radio for about $170 through to more advanced Amateur Radio systems, which are much more flexible but require a licence,” he said.
Tony said many people across Australia had already been assisted by either having a radio with them or being helped by people who were equipped with radios.
“If in trouble I would, of course, always use the phone first if I could. Radio is for the last resort,” he said.
“However, my experiences the other day in Castlemaine show preparedness is vital.
“Calling 000 is not always possible, as it wasn’t for 228 people across Australia whose call wasn’t transferred to another network from Optus during the 14-hour outage in November.
“We don’t hear what happened to any of those people who tried to call for help but I’ll bet some suffered as a result.
“In the recent floods I also read of a couple trapped on a car roof and some others stuck in a tree for 11 hours. If they had a handheld radio on their belt, they would have been able to call for assistance much sooner.”
You can learn more about the benefits of radio at the Bendigo Amateur Radio and Electronics Club coffee mornings held at Castlemaine Community House on the last Sunday of each month at 10am, via their website at www.barec.net.au or via the Mt Alexander