In 2017, Category 4 Hurricane Harvey left the region of Texas where Assistant Scoutmaster Scott deMasi, KC5NKW, lived under water. With roads flooded, bridges washed away, and cellular service and power out, deMasi said it soon became clear that his Scout troop’s emergency preparedness plan wasn’t designed for a storm of this magnitude. It was frustrating, deMasi says, to discover he couldn’t reliably reach all of Troop 839’s 100 Scouts and their families to check if they were okay or to organize relief efforts as a unit. Something had to be done.
After the waters receded, deMasi and Assistant Scoutmaster David Godell came up with a plan that would not leave the troop incommunicado after a major weather disaster. With 15 years’ experience as a radio amateur, deMasi suggested encouraging Scouts and parents trained to become ham radio licensees.
“It’s a lifesaving skill, and it helps us to be prepared,” Godell said. (“Be Prepared” is the Boy Scouts motto.)
An initial interest meeting was set, and Scouts were given links to study materials and offered transportation to examination sites, but participation was low. So, deMasi and Godell worked with a local radio club, the Texas Emergency Amateur Communicators, to organize a 1-day Technician licensing class that also would fulfill most requirements for Scouting’s Radio merit badge.
In addition, the two Assistant Scoutmasters bought inexpensive handheld radios that they programmed to frequencies the troop would use, so after the class, the Scouts would receive the equipment needed to continue using their new skills.
Armed with their radios, more than two dozen licensed Scouts and adults began utilizing their newly earned communication capability at Scouting events. During campouts, they radioed information to patrols across the camp. On these occasions, the troop practices a “no cell phone” policy; ham radio provided the means to stay in touch with others.
At service projects, they communicated directions to Scouts spread throughout a wide area. Having radios and opportunities to regularly use them gave the Scouts confidence to get on the air. Seeing licensed Scouts with their handheld radios also encouraged other Scouts to get licensed as well.
“Once the Scouts got radios, others wanted radios,” Godell said.
Some Troop 839 members participated in the annual Jamboree on the Air (JOTA), talking with other Scouts in several other states and in Central America.
“You could see eyes light up,” deMasi recalled. — Adapted from a Scouting Magazine blog post by Michael Freeman
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