When California experiences its next major earthquake many communication services could be knocked out for days or even weeks, including cellphone service in the areas closest to the epicenter. Such extensive disruption would endanger the public’s ability to reach emergency operators to report fires and calls for medical help. In preparation for any type of disaster, American Red Cross volunteer Dr. Mark Chung facilitates and supports a robust amateur radio presence for the organization.
Upon retiring from the military in 2015, Mark joined the Red Cross Long Beach chapter as a volunteer, choosing the organization for its diversity and goals toward keeping communities safe. That same year Mark also obtained his amateur radio Technician’s license, his General license and soon after his Amateur Extra license, the highest amateur radio accreditation available. Before long, Mark used his organizational and radio skills to expand Red Cross LA’s amateur radio abilities and community.
Also known as “ham radio”, Mark started teaching radio licensing classes to Red Cross staff and volunteers; he upgraded antennas and replaced the organization’s outdated radios. Mark also introduced digital radio communications, a secure way to exchange sensitive information that could not be intercepted as easily as voice traffic.
“I have witnessed first-hand how radio communications save lives” Mark said, “If someone gets hurt, sick or is in immediate danger from a natural or human-made threat, having a reliable communication tool in place can protect Red Cross staff, volunteers and the communities we serve.”
Mark also sets up radio communications in the field to support both training and emergency response events. During a shelter training in Torrance phones stopped working and no one could communicate between the shelter and the operation’s base. The disaster program manager knew ham radio operators were participating in the training and sent a message via radio to communicate the phone issue. Shelter requests were successfully sent and received, and the training could proceed by way of ham radio communications.
During the civil unrest following George Floyd’s murder, Mark stood up radio communications and worked with other operators around the region to identify the affected communities and warn neighborhoods in the path of approaching disruptions.
It was the role of amateur radio operators in the aftermath of hurricane Maria, however, that left a major impression on Mark. Needing more licensed radio volunteers available to deploy to Puerto Rico, the Red Cross reached out to ARRL, the national association for amateur radio operators and asked for technicians who could support the disaster response. Operators willing to deploy were ordained as Red Cross volunteers and sent to the devastated U.S. Territory.
“Those hams did a lot of good work over there” Mark mused, “they saved a lot of lives in those first few weeks.”
Mark aims to keep growing the Red Cross ham community, along with the organization’s capabilities to save lives through reliable emergency messaging. Mark can be reached at radio call sign KK6SMD.