Extreme situations demand unusual tech, and both social media safety checks and drones have cropped up as part of the post-earthquake rescue effort in Nepal. But since power and telecom outages are widespread, ham radio operators have also been mobilizing in an attempt to expand communication options.
Amateur radio is often used after natural disasters and other emergencies, because the radios run on low voltage powered by things like batteries and solar panels. Operators can send voice signals or Morse code, and volunteers from Nepal and India have been working around the clock to keep regional and international communication open. Satish Kharel, a lawyer in Kathmandu whose ham call signal is 9N1AA, told PC World, “When the power was out, I used to plug into my car battery.”
Much of Nepal’s large-scale Internet infrastructure remains intact, but at the local level, connectivity to individual residences or businesses has been heavily compromised, thus causing widespread outages. “Nepal’s international links generally survived the earthquake, however last mile connectivity is another matter,” the Internet monitoring firm Dyn wrote in a research report. “We began seeing severe Internet outages and instabilities immediately following the earthquake.”
Ars Technica reports that volunteer ham operators from India are setting up on the India-Nepal border and working with Nepalese operators to help people connect with family members and friends, and send messages to others around the world. One operator told Ars, “Many more HAMs were busy passing messages as well as forwarding them to relatives.”
Amateur radio can be crucial during emergencies, and even in the age of the Internet, interest in the hobby hasn’t completely disappeared. If you ever need a new project, getting ham certified isn’t a bad idea. Hopefully you’ll only ever use it for fun stuff, though.