Amid Breakdown, Ham Radio Helps on Gulf Coast

While cell phones and other communication networks were demolished by Hurricane Katrina, a group of radio operators volunteering with the Red Cross have been instrumental in assistance and relief efforts. Robert Siegel talks with Ben Joplin, a ham radio operator in Tulsa.

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Now someone who has been involved in hurricane rescue efforts from a distance.

Mr. BEN JOPLIN (Ham Radio Operator): My name is Ben Joplin. I'm a ham radio operator in Tulsa, and my call letters are WV5VST.

SIEGEL: Now Tulsa, Oklahoma, is quite far from all the areas we've been hearing from over the past two days. What role have you been able to play in the rescue efforts occasioned by Katrina?

Mr. JOPLIN: With ham radio, it doesn't really matter what part of the country or part of the world you're trying to help. As long as you can talk to somebody on the radio, you can work station to station and get just about anywhere that you need to go. With the event that we had yesterday, we had 15-plus people with an 81-year-old female who was ill and needed medical attention on a rooftop in New Orleans. These people actually were able to make a long-distance cell phone call to a town called Broken Arrow, which is a suburb of Tulsa. The call came in to Broken Arrow, came in to Red Cross. Red Cross asked for a ham radio operator; I volunteered. When I got on the radio, I got ahold of an operator in Oregon, who relayed my information to an operator in Utah, who then talked to an operator in New Orleans. That information was then passed from the operator in New Orleans to the Highway Patrol, and they went out and picked the people up.

SIEGEL: Well, it sounds like it's an extraordinary piece of teamwork by a great many ham radio operators that led to...

Mr. JOPLIN: Oh, yes, it is. And this is something that you get into ham radio for. I got into it so I could chase tornadoes here in the Oklahoma area and do help with relief.

SIEGEL: Well, I wonder if that woman who was rescued from the roof of that building in New Orleans will ever get to know all the folks who were involved in getting that information.

Mr. JOPLIN: I don't know. Just knowing that she's OK is enough, though.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Joplin, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. JOPLIN: You're welcome, very welcome.

SIEGEL: Ben Joplin, who is an amateur radio operator, ham radio operator, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He's a volunteer with the Red Cross helping to reach people who are stranded in the areas hardest hit by Katrina.

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