Dec 5, 2017 12:44 AM this was the scene in Ventura, CA as the Thomas Fire was ripping through my home town. Power was out, the internet was down, and the cell towers were overloaded. 

I was not a ham radio operator then and I happened to be out of the area that night.  I remember listening to a fire and police scanner app on my phone as a way to stay informed. 

Everything was happening so fast!  I was tweeting updates as I heard them, but I kept noticing a small group of other twitter accounts that seemed to constantly be tweeting updates a minute or so faster than I was hearing over the app. How was that possible?

It turns out these were all ham radio operators that were using their own ham radio equipment and skills to listen live to the dispatch and being able to communicate directly with each other.  They didn’t have to wait for the dispatch radio signal to be picked up by some company, digitized, and streamed over the internet, and then downloaded to their phone.  They knew exactly how and where to listen, and could still easily talk to each other.

On that night, I became very aware that every second matters.  It was nearly impossible to get a cell phone call through, but text messages were sometimes making it through.  I texted several friends as soon as I heard Dispatch make the call to evacuate parts of the city. Some of these friends had no idea the fire had even started and others later said the flames were coming down their street as they rushed out of their house to evacuate. Still others lost their homes to the fire.

It was that night, I decided to become a ham radio operator so I would know how to be better informed and still be able to communicate during a disaster.  To help others on this journey into ham radio, I have since set up the WaveTalkers website and operate with emergency communication teams in Ventura and Los Angeles. 

Ham radio is a service and a hobby. In our always connected world it may seem to be a technology of the past, but in reality, it is the fundamental form of communication, radio, that all of our modern wireless communications have evolved from and it still works even when those other forms have failed.

In an emergency, being able to fall back to this fundamental form of communication that doesn’t rely on any other infrastructure could just save your life or the life of someone else.