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Hams Support Chicago Marathon

A team of 135 radio amateurs from four states supported medical teams volunteering for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 10. The Chicago Marathon is the third largest marathon in the world. This marked the 13th year that amateur radio volunteers have partnered with the marathon medical team to help coordinate responses, arrange for deployment of medical supplies, and provide situational awareness for the organizers.

The largely flat marathon course has 20 aid stations on its 26.2-mile course, each with a medical tent. Hams are deployed at each medical tent to support communication for the medical teams.

There are two main communication nets: a medical net and a logistics net, and nine repeaters support these nets. Most of the repeaters belong to local clubs, but five temporary repeaters are also deployed.

In addition to passing urgent medical and health-and-welfare traffic, ham radio volunteers also provide situational awareness for race organizers, such as updating the number of individuals under care at each medical tent. Hams at each medical tent are also responsible for changing the event alert flag, which informs runners of course conditions so they can adjust their pace. This year, the flags were changed to red because of the humidity and an increased potential for serious heat-related injuries.

Most communication is done via FM repeaters. If a runner develops a problem, spotters alert a rapid-response medical team, each with a ham volunteer to handle communication. In serious situations, hams can call into the Forward Command post to dispatch medical assistance. Ten ham volunteers in Forward Command serve as net controls, traffic handlers, logging specialists, and expediters.

The event provides plenty of personal challenges. Many ham volunteers report to their duty stations very early in the morning to conduct roll calls at 6 AM, and many remain on course until the event ends at around 4 PM. The hams and the medical teams must adjust to the weather as well. Hams also serve the aid stations where race volunteers dispense water and Gatorade. In the event of an emergency, hams shadow the aid station captain to facilitate communication with Forward Command.

Even in an era of ubiquitous cell phones, ham radio remains able to provide an independent resource that can back up all other communication.

Read an expanded version in The ARES Letter. — Thanks to Rob Orr, K9RST, via The ARES Letter


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