SUN CITY CENTER – In the event of a catastrophic emergency, the Sun City Center Amateur Radio Club is this community’s link to the world. After more than 30 years of service, club volunteers stand ready 24/7 to help during times of crisis.
Although it’s not known where the term originated, these amateur radio operators are frequently referred to as “ham” operators. The club has more than 80 male and female members licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. To assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during hurricanes and others emergencies in our area, the hams complete several courses for certification and receive ongoing rigorous training. Currently 28 members of the group are certified by FEMA and comprise the hub of emergency operations in Sun City Center.
Club President Rick Sochon first joined the local hams seven years ago. The retired aerospace engineer was honored to do so, he said. Known as Doc Flush by his coworkers after working on a $1.2 million toilet for the international space station, he enjoys sharing stories with the other volunteer hams.
Sochon recently met with 14 community leaders to discuss and coordinate the 2014 emergency plan for Kings Point and Sun City Center. The group included representatives of the SCC United Methodist Church, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Hillsborough County Office of Emergency Management, Kings Point Condominium Owners Association, First Service, Kings Point Radio Club, Kings Point Security, Samaritan Services, SCC Community Association and the SCC Area Chamber of Commerce. Home base for the operation is in the Community Association’s maintenance facility behind the Atrium building.
“Each day area ham operators run a check of their radios with the home base to ensure we are all prepared for the unexpected,” Sochon said, adding that volunteering is a give-back for all he’s received. “I had a sensible career and enjoy volunteering for the Geek Squad in Sun City Center in my spare time,” he said.
If Sun City Center loses power, the community’s hams provide a base radio frequency from the base center, which allows the rescue squad, sheriff’s department, South Bay Hospital, FEMA and out-of-state power repair teams to communicate immediately on the same radio frequency. The club’s FEMA-certified operators work in the field inside interstate repair trucks and rescue squad vehicles and at South Bay Hospital and the local sheriff’s office. Any requests for food, water, equipment and supplies can then be relayed between agencies without confusion or delay.
“It’s a little-known fact that only 1 percent of every 10,000 residents (in this community) have emergency food supplies in their pantries,” Sochon said. “Prince of Peace is the main source of food and water during an emergency and our operators help coordinate their efforts with providing communication between various teams,” he said.
Critical infrastructure issues like restoring power, checking on resident safety and basic needs like food and water are addressed first. After the community is stabilized the hams provide communication services to locals who are trying to get messages to their loved ones around the world. Incoming and outgoing messages, faxes and emails are made possible with the dedication of these volunteers.
Disaster and emergency information for Sun City Center and Kings Point disaster plans can be accessed on www.w1wab.com. The website provides information on setting up a home disaster kit, where to find a shelter and food supplies and where to take your pets, if necessary.
Membership in the Sun City Center Amateur Radio Club is $15 a year. Members meet the first Tuesday of every month at 2 p.m. at Community Hall, 1910 Pebble Beach Blvd. S. The public is welcome.
For additional information, visit www.sccarc.info.
Dosi Loverro is a freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected]