At 1:15 p.m. Saturday, one of about 20 ham radio operators at the Douglas County Amateur Radio Club's annual Field Day made a contact with a fellow operator in Michigan. Just 999 more were needed before 1 p.m. today to reach the club's goal.
The aim of the national American Radio Relay League Field Day is to make as many contacts as possible in the 24-hour period and demonstrate emergency communications to the public.
Jim Bird, president of the Douglas County club, said the event also helps "to sharpen operators' emergency communication skills."
Bird said he expected their club to make about 1,000 contacts, which could be slow going because airwaves are overloaded by radio operators during the event. They invited the public to observe ham radio's capabilities and to learn how to get a radio license from the Federal Communications Commission before the next disaster - such as Hurricane Katrina - strikes. There are about 250 FCC licensed operators in the area, including 75 members of the Douglas County Amateur Radio Club, Bird said.
The ARRL ranks clubs on a point system based on the number of contacts made, which each team logs on a computer. Results are released in November.
Troy Lowrance, 26, and former president of the Douglas County club, said other teams can make up to 10,000 contacts in a day.
"It's not about the number of contacts as it is about being emergency ready," Bird said.
The field day simulates what the club would do in the event of a natural disaster.
"Being emergency ready is about leaving the comfort of home, coming to a site, putting up antennas and stringing wire," Bird said.
They ran what he called "emergency power" Saturday in Building 2 at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds, 19th and Haskell. They used battery-powered radios and battery-operated portable generators.
"We came here for the air conditioning this year," he said. Last year the club had their field day at Wells Overlook, a park south of Lawrence.
Ham radio operators offer service in disasters when communication isn't otherwise possible. Bird said they don't have to be in the location of a disaster to provide help. They work with law enforcement and the American Red Cross to help find displaced family members or provide other critical information.
The club also helps with public events such as bike races and marathons.