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State Emergency Workers, Ham Radio Operators Ready to Keep Lines of Communication Open

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RALEIGH — When hurricanes or other natural disasters strike, getting information to the public is not always easy. That is where state emergency workers and ham radio operators become invaluable. They are often a vital link to survival.

Right now, the people who will help us most during a weather emergency are tracking the storms from the state's emergency command post to the amateur radio airwaves.

At the State Emergency Operations Center, all computer screens are are lit up with the bright colors of three storms in the tropics. If need be, this room can be full of volunteers and up and running in just two hours.

From the comfort of his own home Matt Sickle has his eyes on Dennis, Cindy and Emily, but he is not just watching -- he is talking.

Sickle is Wake County's amateur radio emergency coordinator. If a storm strikes, he can activate a network of up to 500 amateur radio operators in a matter of minutes.

When power goes out and communication goes down, battery-operated radios and their operators can become lifesavers.

"We are helping federal, state and local authorities communicate between the various agencies," says Sickle.

After Hurricane Fran, battery-operated radios saved the day.

"At the Wake County Emergency Operations Center and the State Emergency Operations Center, amateur radio was the sole means of communication to many parts of the state," he says.

Sickle says amateur radio operators also learned an important lesson during Fran. With no power for 9 to fifteen days, they ran out of batteries. Since then, they have been storing up plenty of extras, ready for the next big storm.