The organizers of the Ironman 70.3 Ohio trust one group for communication, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service.
“When Ironman came to town last year, the first time, the organizers wanted ARES to handle the communications on the course,” said ARES Delaware Area Emergency Coordinator Donn Rooks. “We’ve been here from the beginning.”
Rooks said ARES supplies safety personnel from the city and county with live video of Delaware Lake’s beach and points along East William Street. He said the video is transmitted via WIFI on a MESH network, a private internet for amateur radio, to a large screen in the Ironman Operations Center at the Meek Aquatics and Recreation Center on the Ohio Wesleyan University campus.
Members of the Delaware ARES come from the membership of Delaware Amateur Radio Association.
Rooks said this year the Ironman organizers and the city really “ramped up” the event.
“It’s huge, much bigger than last year,” he said. “The community has really been awesome.”
Rooks said this year the group had 18 radio and three video operators at several points of the course with a control station for the entire network at the Red Cross building on Hills-Miller Road.
Rooks said ARES has been involved with emergency services since the 1930s. He said the Delaware ARES is the backup for the Delaware County Emergency Management Agency’s communication system.
“Should there be a failure in their system, they’re going to need us,” he said. “That’s where we ultimately report.”
Now retired and full of ideas, ARES member Bob Dixon discovered a way to get live video of the course. Dixon was the assistant director of The Ohio State University Radio Observatory, dubbed the Big Ear.
“The emergency services can’t do it themselves,” Dixon said. “We can do what they can’t do and we’re a non-funded group. Nobody pays us to do this. Amateur radio is all self-funded, volunteered labor. We’re doing this because we think it’s important to do. We paid for all the equipment on the cell towers.”
“It’s how amateur radio got to where it is today,” said Rooks.
According to Rooks, Dixon started the first ARES in Columbus years ago.
Dixon said MESH isn’t an acronym. It simple describes the technique they use to develop the system.
“In this case, it’s a bunch of radio stations connected together,” he said. “It’s at the leading edge of amateur radio technology. Once set up we can send voice, video and data. It’s like our own private internet running on radio system. We’re using simple cameras. If we had more money we would have pan-tilt-zoom cameras for the race.”
Dixon said it is the same technology as regular radio, just a different application.
“Our slogan is, when all else fails amateur radio doesn’t,” he said. “We’ll still be there to make all this work.”
Rooks said the Delaware Amateur Radio Association is free to join and they will help anyone who is interested in amateur radio to get a license.
“There are no dues, but you get to work for free,” he said.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.