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Finding loved ones

What do you do when your loved one was in the way of a disaster, but now all the phone lines are down?


What do you do when your loved one was in the way of a disaster, but now all the phone lines are down? The Salvation Army might be able to help.

The Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) is a HAM radio team that not only helps its onsite volunteers be in touch with the national office, but they also help families find each other when a disaster wipes out all other forms of communication.

Since Hurricane Charley hit Florida Friday, SATERN has fielded 312 inquiries about missing family members.

The process goes like this. A family member with an inquiry can call or fill out an online request form with SATERN. That information goes to Quent Nelson in his Atlanta office. Nelson, the health and welfare coordinator for The Salvation Army's SATERN, then logs onto his radio-internet computer, called Echolink.

Through Echolink, Nelson is able to see which HAM radio operators are online in the areas he needs to contact to find the loved one. Nelson said if he can't find an operator in the needed area, he'll find the next closest area. "I may not be able to find any close operators because of power outages," he said.

But he can at least give the inquirers peace of mind if a Salvation Army shelter is nearby where the loved one might be. "Sometimes that's all I can do until I find someone close by - just tell folks that a shelter is open and people are there caring for the disaster families," said Nelson.

A large number of amateur HAM radio operations assist the Salvation Army as part of SATERN. "We've got about 2,500 volunteers," said Major Pat McPherson, national director of SATERN. "So many people want to help. It's great to see that spirit of altruism and 'can do.'"

McPherson said SATERN is tremendous asset to the Salvation Army onsite teams. He said just last night the national director of The Salvation Army was able to get an update from the team stationed in Punta Gorda, Florida, an area devastated by Hurricane Charley, "even though all communications are down around there, we can talk to Punta Gorda from far away."

SATERN also helps onsite teams organize local logistics when all communications are down.

Nelson has been helping The Salvation Army with amateur radio since 1976 when he volunteered after a major earthquake in Guatemala. He said he enjoys his job and the reward he gets when he's able to give an inquirer good news. Stories from survivors of disasters are an interesting bonus as well. "I talked to a woman in Florida last night where the homes on either side of her were gone, yet a tree which could've crushed her home fell in the opposite direction," he said. "She said she lucked out."

A HAM radio operator for most of his life, Nelson has helped several branches of the military establish radio connections during his life as well. He said he's done a little of everything, and is happy to know his skills are being utilized with such a helpful program as SATERN.

"It's a very successful tool," he said.

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