A Ham Radio Operator Talks About Emergency Radio Service After the Joplin Tornado

If you’ve ever been curious about how ham radio operators provide emergency radio service in the aftermath of a disaster, this week’s DestinySurvival Radio will give you an inside look from one man’s experience. My guest was Joe Casler, amateur radio call sign KC0WGB, and later N0JEC.

We talked about his public service in the wake of the massive tornado that obliterated part of Joplin, MO, which took the lives of 162 people on May 22, 2011.

Update – Joe Casler passed away on January 21, 2016. In ham radio circles he’s referred to as a silent key (SK). Our DestinySurvival Radio conversation demonstrates his service-oriented spirit to others. Read on to find out more.


Devastation after Joplin Tornado


Joe was a fellow member of the Central Missouri Radio Association (CMRA), a ham radio club in Columbia, MO. At the July 2013 meeting, Joe gave a talk and slide presentation on his service in Joplin a couple weeks after the tornado blew through. He agreed to do an interview with me for DestinySurvival Radio and share some pictures.

A Point Worth Noting

Let this sink in for a bit. Joe’s services were needed two weeks after the Joplin tornado. The services of the Red Cross, Southern Baptist relief groups and numerous agencies were still required as well.

So often we hear sensational media stories about disasters, but then they fade away. That by no means indicates the troubles and recovery are over. Ask anyone who’s been through Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy. Hundreds of volunteers put in thousands of hours doing nitty gritty logistical tasks on the ground before recovery can begin in earnest.

The point is, for you and me, having a three day kit is barely a beginning. You may find yourself in a situation that calls for weeks of food and supplies. Or you may have to evacuate to a shelter or other temporary housing. Be as ready as you can be, and be as adaptable as you know how to be.

Joe the Ham Radio Operator

Joe became a ham radio operator in 2006 after retirement. A friend talked him into getting licensed. Within a couple of years, he had his Extra Class license, the highest of the three license classes. His experience with public service in the Civil Air Patrol spurred him to public service in ham radio. He was an active member of the local ham radio club.

Messages and Traffic

Without getting too complicated, there’s a structured system ham radio operators use for sending and receiving certain kinds of messages. Messages are referred to as traffic. They’re passed from one ham to another on nets, short for networks.

Messages can be passed on any part of the ham radio frequency spectrum. Joe’s service in Joplin was on 2 meters–frequencies between 144 and 148 MHz. That’s above the FM band on your radio.


Ham radio equipment


Ham radio fills a significant gap during and after emergencies. Cell phones and other technologies we count on can fail or simply not be usable.

The few days Joe spent in Joplin weren’t adrenaline-pumping dramatic. He served as net control operator with SATERN, the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Net. He relayed messages related to the functions of canteens on wheels that supplied water, food and other supplies to people in need.


Water drop off


On the Ground

Pictures hint at the devastation left by the monster tornado.


More Joplin Devastation


Debastated trees


The community pulled together to help one another. If there was any looting, it was long over when Joe arrived.

Volunteers came from several hours distance to help out. Joe himself drove about four hours. He said food and accommodations were good, too. The community was very supportive of the efforts done on their behalf.


If you’re interested in becoming involved with ham radio public service efforts, Joe said to get all the training you can. Of course, get your license, which is much easier than it used to be. The groups you serve will appreciate your completion of instruction from ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League) and FEMA. Relevant links are below.

Once you become a ham, get involved with a local club and any radio nets in your area. Listen, learn, and participate. And make new friends–like Joe.

Find Out More

Hear my interview with Joe Casler by listening to DestinySurvival Radio for August 29, 2013. You’ll find out more than I can share here. Want to know what Joe found to be creepy?

For more info on resources Joe and I referred to, check out the following:

  • Get an overview on the Joplin tornado from Wikipedia here.
  • Info about SATERN can be found here.
  • For info about ARRL, the ARES organization, traffic handling, and public service training as a ham radio operator, go here.
  • Info on FEMA ICS training courses is here.
  • Find other communications related links under Survival Communications in my Links of Interest page.

A Bit of Han Radio Trivia

Joe ended our interview by saying “73.” That’s ham radio lingo for “best regards.” So 73 to you, my reader.


Author: John Wesley Smith

John Wesley Smith writes and podcasts from his home in Central Missouri. His goal is to help preppers as he continues along his own preparedness journey.