ARRUMBA Explained

As I mentioned last time, ARRUMBA stands for Amateur Radio Relay for Urgent Messaging from Blackout Areas.  (This is a new term — I made it up, to make this option easier to remember and talk about). 

The part about Urgent Messaging speaks for itself.  Whether you truly need rescue, or just need to calm people at home so they don’t call out the helicopters, there may be good reasons for getting messages back and forth.  But one caution: these are not chit-chat messages to replace your smartphone: they have to be messages with real importance, if ARRUMBA is to work for you.  That means truly urgent messages. The reason for this important qualification is explained later.

Blackout Areas – also pretty easy to understand.  But usually the blackout is not intentional, it’s just a matter of too much topography and not enough cell towers.  However, other situations can create blackout areas out of nowhere, when storms, fires, or other large (or small) disasters cause power outages and fallen landlines.  Cell towers usually have backup power supplies to tide them over reasonable outages — but if a wildfire burns the tower or the outage lasts too long, new blackout areas may appear where none were ever expected.  You residents of country homes, think about your alternative urgent communication method, in case driving out suddenly becomes an option that is no longer available. 

Relay: that word is pretty well understood in the athletic sense, but its original meaning tends to be forgotten.  The baton that gets passed in a relay race actually represents a message, and the relay passes it from person to person for reasons of speed and distance, getting the message to its destination faster than otherwise possible.  That’s the fundamental action in ARRUMBA, too.

Amateur Radio, otherwise known as ham radio (possibly as a simple abbreviation used in the days when Morse code was the usual method of sending), is free and available to everyone willing to obtain a license, with parts of the radio spectrum reserved for its use thanks to agreements by governing authorities the world over.  A hobby for over a hundred years now, it earned this special treatment because of the assistance it could offer in emergencies, when standard communication methods were overloaded and/or destroyed – “when all else fails, amateur radio continues”.  The hundreds of thousands of ham radio operators the world over represent a valuable reserve of people skilled at using their transmitters and receivers, who can spring into action whenever needed, at short notice and usually with no need of power from the grid.  Better still, they get great enjoyment from continually improving their capabilities and equipment – you might consider some of them to be the “elite athletes” of the airwaves.  

When the hobby began, many radios couldn’t operate over long distances, so often word was passed on from one radio station to another.  Hence, the largest organization of ham operators is still called the Amateur Radio Relay League, or ARRL.  (See that word, “relay”?) 

Now let’s return to getting you out of difficulty in your blackout area. 

One reason cellphone radios use very high frequencies is because the necessary antennas to catch and send the signals can be very small (we can talk about why at a later time).  That means the phones themselves can be small.  For the same reason, amateur radio operators can have two-way radios weighing only a few ounces and small enough to clip on a belt or carry in a tiny pocket.  These radios are a feasible safety item for you to carry to the wild, or keep on the shelf for times of blackout, so that you can access ARRUMBA when you need it. More on those in the next section.

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