Assistant Scoutmaster Scott deMasi’s subdivision was underwater — as were many parts of Kingwood, Texas, in the wake of the devastating Category 4 Hurricane Harvey in 2017. With roads flooded, bridges washed away, cellphone towers and power out, it was soon realized that Troop 839’s emergency preparedness plan wasn’t designed for a storm of this magnitude. It was frustrating, deMasi says, to discover you couldn’t reliably reach all of the troop’s 100 Scouts and their families to check if they were OK or organize relief efforts as a unit.
Something had to be done.
Enter ham radio
After the waters receded, deMasi and Assistant Scoutmaster David Godell got to work coming up with a plan so the troop wasn’t left incommunicado. With 15 years experience as an amateur (ham) radio operator, deMasi suggested getting Scouts and parents trained to use ham radios.
“It’s a lifesaving skill, and it helps us to Be Prepared,” Godell says.
An initial interest meeting was planned. Scouts were given links to study materials and offered a drive to test sites where they could become licensed radio operators. However, participation was low. So, deMasi and Godell worked with a local radio club, the Texas Emergency Amateur Communicators, to organize a one-day class that ended with the necessary licensing exam. During the day of learning, the Scouts would also fulfill almost all of the requirements for the Radio merit badge.
In addition, the assistant Scoutmasters bought handheld radios, programmed to frequencies the troop would use, so after the class, the Scouts would receive the equipment needed to continue using their new skill.
“Once you get that spark of interest, it grows from there,” deMasi says.
Put into practice
Armed with their radios, more than two dozen licensed Scouts and adults began using their skills at Scouting events. During campouts, they radioed information to patrols across the camp. The troop practices a “no cell phone” policy at campouts, so the ham radios provided a way to stay in touch with others.
At service projects, they communicated directions to their fellow Scouts spread out over a large area. Having radios and opportunities to regularly use them gave Scouts confidence to talk with them. Seeing licensed Scouts with their handheld radios also encouraged other Scouts to get licensed as well.
“Once the Scouts got radios, others wanted radios,” Godell says.
Bought in bulk, you can get handheld ham radios for as little as $25 each, Godell says. Every licensed amateur radio operator receives a call sign that they use to identify themselves to other radio operators. There’s no age limit for becoming a licensed radio operator, but you must become licensed and follow Federal Communications Commission guidelines when using a radio.
Mark your calendars now for the largest Scouting event in the world next year. The annual Jamboree-on-the-Air and Jamboree-on-the-Internet invite Scouts from all over the world to talk to each other via ham radio frequencies or online on the third full weekend in October.
Some Troop 839 members have participated in the Jamboree-on-the-Air, talking with other Scouts in Massachusetts, Alabama, Mexico and Central America.
“You could see eyes light up,” deMasi says.