Many looking for loved ones

There is help for families trying to find loved ones in the areas Hurricane Katrina devastated.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BALTIM0RE | August 30, 2005

"We're working just as fast as we can."

—Quent Nelson

There is help for families trying to find loved ones in the areas Hurricane Katrina devastated.

With phone lines and most other communication down in badly affected areas, the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) is trying to help hundreds of people who are wondering if family members or friends have survived the storm.

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.

Quent Nelson, the health and welfare coordinator for The Salvation Army's SATERN, said he's already received 600 requests to find loved ones after Hurricane Katrina.

He said that's the most he's ever seen after a disaster, which is major considering he's been helping The Salvation Army with HAM radio communications since 1976. SATERN also helped families find loved ones after last December's tsunami and during last year's severe hurricane season.

"We're working just as fast as we can," said Nelson about the onslaught of Katrina assistance requests. "We're calling in more help now."

Nelson added that the website where people request family information is bogged down with all the requests, but that their staff is working quickly to improve the website's capacity.

The request 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 Nelson in his Atlanta office. He 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 also a tremendous asset to The Salvation Army onsite teams who need help organizing 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.

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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