Pictured, from left, are Upshur County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Steve Wykoff and amateur radio enthusiast Gerald Thompson. Thompson is assisting Wykoff with the establishment of the club. / (Photo by Katie Kuba)

Calling all amateur radio enthusiasts: Inaugural meeting for regional ham radio club set for Feb. 21

BUCKHANNON – Paging nearby amateur radio enthusiasts: This is your chance to join Upshur County’s new and upcoming amateur radio club.

The Upshur County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and Upshur County Community Emergency Response Team, also known as CERT, have announced the founding of an amateur radio enthusiast club in north-central West Virginia.

Residents of Upshur and surrounding counties are invited to attend a startup meeting at 7  p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the Buckhannon Public Safety Complex, located at 24 South Florida Street in Buckhannon. (Anyone unable to attend in person may email scwykoff@upshurcounty.org to obtain a link that will enable them to join virtually.)

Organizers are emphasizing that individuals do not need to have an amateur radio license; the only necessity is an interest in amateur – or ham – radio.

Establishing a certified CERT team was a prerequisite to founding an amateur radio club, Steve Wykoff, director of the Upshur County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, explained in a recent interview.

“Since July of 2022, I’ve been trying to align goals, and the first thing we needed to do was get an actual CERT program going again because the Emergency Communications Division Emergency is part of the CERT program, so I have to have the general program to have people who are going to specialize in that division,” Wykoff explained.

The county now has 30-plus active CERT members who have completed their training in 2023, and the team will meet quarterly, he said.

Gerald Thompson, an Upshur County resident who recently relocated from southeast Arizona, completed last year’s CERT class. Thompson participated in an amateur radio club in Arizona, so he’s assisting Wykoff and Upshur DHSEM in establishing one here.

“When I moved here, I found out that there really wasn’t a club,” Thompson said.  “I had been talking to Steve, and I was like, ‘Hey, communications is part of that, ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services) is part of that, and I know we don’t have that when we really should have it or where we need it.”

Amateur radios don’t rely on internet connections, so they can be used in an emergency when cell phones, the internet and landlines are down. (You can read more about the importance of that in this previous My Buckhannon story.)

“As a community, we need something as a backup or another way of communicating,” he added. “I was in the southeast corner of Arizona, which is a long way away from anything like Tucson – Tucson was an hour away – so having that distance and being stuck out in the mountains, there were reasons for emergency response communications for flash flooding, monsoon season, lost people, so that was a good reason there, and it’s a good reason here.”

Thompson was insistent on starting an amateur radio club in Upshur County, saying the nearest one is Clarksburg.

“That’s too far away for quite a few people to go to, so it’s like, ‘How about we start one here, not just limiting it to Upshur County, but just like any other amateur radio club, it’s open to anybody – anybody that wants to learn about radios and wants to interact with other amateur radio operators,” he said.

Wykoff described amateur radio as “an untapped resource” in emergency communications but also emphasized people who utilize it as a hobby are also welcome to join the club.

“After looking into it and doing some research, there’s over probably over 180 registered radio operators just in Upshur County, but it’s not something that’s talked about on a regular basis, but we can utilize these communications if cellphones go down, if landlines do down, most of these guys have their own equipment in some fashion and most of it is capable of running on battery, if not all of it,” Wykoff said.

“We started just thinking about Upshur County, and then we started getting questions from Barbour County, from Randolph County, from Lewis County – they’ve heard about it and also wanted to do something, so since Gerald has the background he does in amateur radio, he’s perfect to at launch the program and get things going,” he added. “We’re pretty excited we’re to the point that we can do a meeting on the 21st.”

If you or someone you know is interested or has questions, please contact Upshur County DHSEM Director Steve Wykoff at scwykoff@upshurcounty.org or by phone at 304-472-4983.

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