The Kamloops Amateur Radio Club is offering its expanding communication network to the Thompson-Nicola Regional District for use during emergencies like wildfires, landslides or floods.
The club sent a letter explaining its intent to the TNRD board of directors. The letter was reviewed at the board's Jan. 14 meeting.
Myles Bruns, club president, said the club's network of mountaintop repeaters could provide assistance in the event that other lines of communication fail.
“Our hope reaching out to the TNRD is to say, 'Look, our network is in the early stages, it’s not everywhere in the TNRD, but there’s certain communities like Logan Lake and Merritt and Cache Creek, or Sun Peaks, as an example, that we might be able to provide backup broadband,'” Bruns said.
The club’s network has served a similar purpose in the past, around the time Bruns first joined the club. During the 2003 North Thompson wildfires, Bruns said some regular communication lines between Kamloops, Clearwater and Barriere were severed.
“The amateur radio infrastructure was used to help out in that event,” he said.
Since then, Bruns said, the club has modernized its infrastructure, moving to an internet-based linking system.
“From each mountaintop to each mountaintop, there’s a microwave link that provides high-speed broadband communication between those things," he said. "And that whole network is back-hauled to Kamloops.”
According to Bruns, if an outage occurred that severed fibre-optic lines for major private providers, the club’s network — existing independently — would ensure a level of communication could exist.
“Our infrastructure isn’t at the same speed as Telus, we don’t have gigabits of bandwidth, but we certainly have enough through our testing to help out a community EOC [Emergency Operations Centre].”
Bruns said he has had previous experience responding to a number of emergency events, so he understands how devastating losing communication can be — not just on a government or emergency-response level, but for the community, as well.
“During events when governments are concerned with just keeping people safe, they don’t have time to do what we refer to as health and welfare traffic, which is, ‘Hey, you want to let your mom know you’re safely evacuated?' That’s something amateur radio operators can do,” he said.
Setting up and maintaining the mountaintop sites can be difficult, Bruns said, especially in the winter. He said he’s travelled to one location by snowshoe, carting tools in a sled. The work has been funded by the club's volunteer members themselves or through donations.
“Mostly, it’s a lot of hard work by a lot of individuals," he said. "In Kamloops, we probably have about four or five who are super active in keeping things going,” he said.
However, Bruns said they have received valuable support from groups including other amateur radio clubs, private radio companies and even larger companies like Telus.
Bruns said one of his goals as club president is to help give back to communities in the area, which was part of his motivation for reaching out to the TNRD and offering the club’s network and expertise.
“I’m hoping next year to grow our network and our membership in Merritt, in Logan Lake, Sun Peaks, Cache Creek, Ashcroft, there’s a number of First Nations that I work with, and I’d love too see if I can help them out as well,” he said.
The TNRD board has not yet decided whether to take the club up on its offer. Directors have invited Bruns to deliver a presentation to the board, which he is expected to do in April.