SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- When disaster strikes, communication often breaks down. Without cell phones and the internet, most of us would be lost.
But a fraction of the population has backup communication. Amateur radio has proven not only an interesting hobby, but an invaluable resource after disasters like the Joplin tornado.
They use their voices, their keyboards, and even morse code, but it all goes through the radio waves.
"It's fascinating. And if you ever get bored of one part of amateur radio, there's always something else to do in it," says amateur radio operator Don Rogers.
It's a lifelong hobby, and a chance to talk with people around the world. "Southeast Asia, Australia, Russia, talk to Cuba a lot for some reason," Rogers says.
Running on solar and battery power, Springfield Ham radio operators set up at the American Red Cross on Saturday to share their knowledge. "It's exciting, the growth. Right now, there's over 750,000 amateur radio operators in the U.S. alone, and that number is growing," says Patti Flowers-Palmer of the Southwest Missouri Amateur Radio Club.
They're inviting anyone to come out and try amateur radio. "We contest with it, we play games with it, in essence, on the air," says Flowers-Palmer.
The event also serves as a preparedness drill. "More importantly, where the community is concerned, we can be there in case of a disaster to set up and provide communications when regular communications are down," says Flowers-Palmer.
Ham radio operators like Flowers-Palmer replaced phone and internet communications in the hours after the Joplin tornado. "There was no communication but amateur radio at that time," says Flowers-Palmer.
She set up just outside the emergency room at Cox South Hospital. "I was handing the mic to them so they could talk to Freeman and tell them what they needed. It was kind of scary," says Flowers-Palmer.
Other Ham operators provided communication from Joplin to Mercy and Ozarks Community Hospitals. They even canvassed the path of destruction. "They actually had people on foot with radios that were helping the search and rescue teams to maintain their communications," says Flowers-Palmer.
Now, they prepare for the next time they're needed. "When all else fails, there's amateur radio," says Rogers.