San Benito County Amateur Radio Association members Tim Takeuchi and Dave Fears (BenitoLink file photo)

My family has property in the hills currently engulfed in the Napa county Atlas fire. So from my nest in the Cienega Valley I’ve been listening to news, scanning through Twitter and texting with North Coast friends who still have cell service. At this point in time there is no word if the house we built ourselves in the ‘70’s is still standing.

I’ve heard repeatedly that the multiple firestorms, hot enough to blow up propane tanks, melt metal and glass, have taken down cell towers. Electricity has been cut to many areas to avoid further potential fires. People are unable to contact friends and relatives, unable to receive alerts or calls for evacuation and road closure notifications. Those without a land line are unable to access information, no internet, no Facebook, no Twitter, no 777-888 sheriff alerts. The lack of cell service in these areas applies to first responders as well!

Several years ago, after deadly fires scorched much of the Santa Cruz mountains I realized that I was in a precarious situation – pets large and small that would also require evacuating. So I joined the local Equine Evacuation group to learn more about animal rescue, how to help myself and others. At the first meeting a list of beneficial skills was read. The one that caught my attention was the need for ham radio operators. I was told that often during natural disasters, communication can be unreliable and that a qualified ham can make the lifeline difference.

It was not difficult to study up for a FCC ham radio license testing (if I can do it, anyone can!). My next step was to look up San Benito County’s local ham radio club, the San Benito County Amateur Radio Association, and contact Tim, District Emergency Coordinator, and Heatherly, assistant DEC. They welcomed me into the organization and encouraged me to join them in ARES – Amateur Emergency Radio Services.

ARES is an amazing group of ham radio operators who volunteer their time and expertise to set up communications when everything we usually depend on fail. Their practice is volunteer communications for local events such as the Hollister Air Show, Olive Festival and Sea Otter Classic.

Anyone concerned about communications in emergency situations, from fire to flood to earthquake, has the opportunity to acquire a ham license, no age minimum (or maximum). It has given me more confidence in my ability to help myself and pets in an emergency as well as step up to help our first responders when called.

Interested? Find information and assistance through the San Benito Amateur Radio Association website,

And, hey, you can also use ham radio for talking to your friends and meeting new ones on the airways.

Sara Steiner KJ6SAS

San Benito Amateur Radio Association, ARES, RACES