Amateur radio operators serve vital role in their communities​

June 24, 2024

​​​​​​​Ham radio tower in the skyHam radio operators used this tower to communicate during the 2022 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.
For amateur radio operators, known as hams, radio communications isn't just a hobby: It's a way to serve their community.

There are 11,000 federally licensed hams in Minnesota. The amateur radio operators have chipped in to help during emergencies, volunteered during events and assisted with disaster recovery since the first club was started. Hams have 100 radio repeaters on building rooftops, tower and water tanks. The equipment allows people to both receive and send messages using mobile and handheld radios across Minnesota. They are able to communicate by voice and video on shared channels, working together to do their part to support public safety.

Our Emergency Communications Network (ECN) division provides amateur radio operators with the foundation to support local emergency managers and jurisdictions when needed, providing back-up communication systems and spreading important messages to the community, among other vital services. ECN works with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency's Auxiliary Communicator program on the training.

Ham radio operator Erik Westgard really enjoys the chance to serve his neighbors.

“The most fulfilling part of being a ham radio operator is the public service — being a part of the team and picking up the pieces after a bike event wreck or finding a lost family member after a storm," Westgard said.

Hams are an important part of a whole community response to an emergency. About 10 percent of community emergency response teams (CERTs), which volunteer alongside government agencies and community groups to help their neighbors during a disaster, are hams. They support other volunteer organizations during recovery operations and play a vital role in spotting dangerous weather and storm damage.

Ham radio operators also step up to help during some of the largest community events in Minnesota. They manage medical communications during the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon and Grandma's Marathon and provide route safety information during the MS-150 charity bike fundraiser and Ride Across Minnesota. Hams from the Hennepin County Sheriffs Office support the Klondike Dog Derby every winter with live video on Lake Minnetonka.

While they're considered amateur radio operators, they're also recognized as technical experts. Ham radio clubs across Minnesota engage in regular drills and volunteer at events. As they become more active in CERTs, some ham radio operators are even getting training in first aid.

Ham clubs across Minnesota hold regular classes to teach others how to become a ham radio operator. Learn more about amateur radio from the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) on its website.

You can also information on how to get a license on the Federal Communications Commission website.​