As the number of COVID-19 positive cases increase, so do those of people placed under home quarantine. A special task force has been constituted in Bengaluru to ensure that citizens placed under home quarantine follow the protocol for it. Among the citizens who have volunteered to help the task force are 260-odd HAM (amateur) radio operators in the city.
They work in shifts, coordinating with booth-level and ward level squad members to keep a watch on home quarantined people. While most of them are operating out of their homes, three static centres have been set up in the Vasanthapura, H.B.R. Layout and Jayanagar localities.
“We had earlier set up high frequency and very high frequency stations at the State war room. But we have decided to cut down on our movement considering the high risk involved. We are all keeping a watch in our neighbourhoods, apart from providing back-up communication to the squad and task force,” said S. Sathyapal, director of the Indian Institute of HAMS.
Since end March
Gautam Shantappa, a HAM volunteer, said that operators in the State capital had been volunteering since the end of March. “We coordinated with the distribution of food and ration kits to migrant workers. We also helped with [the process of] sending 1.8 lakh migrant workers to their home towns. A few of us are volunteering at the railway station and airport, and helping with the quarantining of travellers,” said B. N. Umesh, another HAM operator.
But the challenges in monitoring the home quarantined are vastly different, said Dr. Sathyapal. “We sometimes have to deal with aggressive behaviour and negotiate with violators though we are not trained for it. We immediately transmit messages to the senior officials concerned if we are not able to tackle the situation,” he said.
With the availability of several fast modes of communication, including smartphone apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram, is HAM radio still relevant? Yes, Dr. Sathyapal and Mr. Shantappa concurred unequivocally. “HAM radio was the first social networking channel. With proper battery back-up, we can work even during power disruptions,” Dr. Sathyapal said.
Mr. Shantappa gave the example of HAM operators’ work during several natural disasters, including the Gujarat earthquake, and floods in north Karnataka and Kodagu, when other communication networks were down.
“HAM radio is real-time communication network. This is much like the wireless communication used by the police and civic officials. It’s quick and transparent,” said Dr. Sathyapal.