Cowboy turned weather spotter uses ham radio to help Red Cross during hurricanes


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Bob Jones, president of the Brevard Amateur Radio Society in Titusville, sits in front of his ham radio equipment at his home in Mims. The equipment is used for relaying important information during hurricanes.

SENIOR LIFE Courtesy of Bob Jones

Bob Jones, a cowboy born and raised on a ranch “50 miles from Boot Hill,” “danced with the tornadoes” as a trained tornado spotter at the Dodge City Weather Service in Kansas.

As president of the Brevard Amateur Radio Society (BARS) in Titusville, he is a Skywarn weather spotter for the National Weather Service in Melbourne and runs doppler radar from his house.

Jones, a 77-year-old resident of Mims, is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and is trained for emergency communications in severe weather such as hurricanes in Florida, and also in case of a terrorist attacks.

Amateur Radio, known colloquially as ham radio, is a popular hobby and an important service that brings people significant information before, during and after severe weather.

In Florida, ham radio operators provide help to the Red Cross and others during hurricanes.

“Cell phones go down during a hurricane,” Jones explained. “We go to shelters and set up radio equipment.”

Jones said the Red Cross in Rockledge “wants a tally of people every hour on the hour. They also want to know how much food is available and if water supplies are needed, and if persons on medication need help. For example, we get insulin for diabetics.

“I’m one of the active people during a storm,” he said.

Jones was recruited by the National Weather Service when he moved to Florida because of his ability to identify wall clouds in severe weather.

“I train people at meetings and I also use Teamviewer and can train 12 people using my computer connected to the Internet,” he said. “I train amateur radio operators to operate the hurricane shelters when we have hurricanes.”

To get on the air, you need a license and must know the rules to operate legally. U.S. licenses are good for 10 years before renewal and anyone may hold one except a representative of a foreign government.

In the U.S. there are three license classes — Technician, General and Extra.

Jones encourages newcomers to join the Brevard Amateur Radio Society.

“If people come to the club and they are not an Amateur (status), we offer classes, and I give them exams to get them certified and licensed,”Jones said.

Members are a mix of beginners, intermediate and advanced ham radio operators, women as well as men. There is “no equipment needed to join, you buy equipment after you get your license.”

Dan McDonald, 48, the BARS treasurer, has been a member for
one year.

“Bob helped train me to get my license,” he said of Jones. “Once I got it, I trained myself on the ham radio. The software on the computer makes it
fairly easy.”

The software, called CHIRP, is a free, open-source tool for programming an amateur radio and supports a large number of manufacturers and models. McDonald said. After members get their license from the FCC, the club give them a 6-watt, hand-held radio.

“I was one who helped with the last hurricane we had. I helped a little bit,” he said. “I was needed to monitor a repeater — a two-way radio, always listening to a certain frequency, sort of like a relay, one radio to another one at a different location.”

Ham radio operators can talk across town, around the world and even into space without the Internet or cell phones. Amateur Radio can be fun and educational as well as social while providing a community service.

Jones said of prospective members, “You don’t even have to come to the club or classes, you can sit in front of your computer and I can give the class
that way.”

The BARS meets at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month at at Parrish Medical Center, 951 N. Washington Ave. in Titusville. Contact Jones at 321-362-5037 or at n6usp@bellsouth.net. For information on the club, go to brevardars.org. For other radio clubs in the area, use Google to look up Amateur Radio in Brevard County. 

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