A class of 16 new short wave HAM radio operators were trained and licensed in Thompson Rivers University by the Cariboo Chilcotin Amateur Radio Society (CCARS) last month.
The society’s president, Michal Smialowski is a retired physician who lives out in Tatlayoko Lake, close to four hours away from the lakecity, and got into short wave HAM radios shortly after retiring. Smialowski formed the society four years ago, though it received a boost in recognition and funding after the 2017 Wildfire season.
“The radio signals can go a long way if there is a clear line of sight and no obstacles in the way. We have a network of 13 repeaters that extend from Heckman Pass, into Williams Lake and Horsefly then down south to Clinton and then up north to Quesnel,” Smialowski explained, adding their system is amalgamated with the one in Prince George.
Originally Smialowski helped organize a loose collection of radio operators from across the Cariboo Chilcotin into the society to help secure grants to upgrade their collective network. However, he said that the benefits of operating and maintaining the technology extend well beyond the interest of amateur radio operators.
Using a mix of receivers, hand-held radios and repeaters the CCARS can relay messages quickly and efficiently through remote areas from across the province. While for some this may not seem overly significant, Smialowski said the practical applications of a cell tower-free network becomes very important for emergencies in areas with no cell service or in disaster situations like wildfires.
This was something the Cariboo Regional District realized after the 2017 Wildfire season, where they made recommendations to make more use of amateur radio. Since then the CRD has supported and worked with Smialowski and the society directly providing funding and support. They also received a $16,000 grant from the Rotary Club of Williams Lake to aid in the upgrading of their equipment and $33,000 from the Canadian Red Cross, half for upgrades and half for holding classes like the one at TRU.
CCARS works closely with search and rescue operations and maintains the radio network for groups like the Central Cariboo Search and Rescue. Currently, with the inclusion of the new members, Smialowski said there are around 40 society radio operators across the region.
“Anybody who is willing to want to get their (radio) license we can certainly help them,” Smialowski said. “It’s a bit of work but anyone can do it.”
The course takes place over eight weekly sessions, though Smialowski said there are online courses available for those interested.