A large ferry boat rests inland amidst destroyed houses after a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck Japan March 11.

Houston radio operator joins quake drill

Ric Martin will relay radio messages for North America's largest earthquake drill.

At 10:20 a.m. on Oct. 20, students and office workers from B.C. to Nevada will tuck under their desks and hold on.

But in Houston, Ric Martin will have to keep his seat.

Martin is an amateur radio operator, one of many who will tune in Oct. 20 and relay “distress calls” for the Great ShakeOut—North America’s largest earthquake drill.

“If the Web goes down, then the emergency services and HAM radio operators all go into gear because that’s basically the only thing that will be running,” Martin said.

For the first time, B.C.’s earthquake drill will coincide with similar drills in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Guam.

“I’ll be in communication with various amateurs across the province, possibly even the world if the sunspots cooperate,” Martin said. Recent solar flares have interfered with radio and satellite traffic.

But when the Sun does cooperate, Martin can tune his high-frequency radios and satellite gear to speak with amateurs around the world.

In February 2010, Martin relayed calls for a real earthquake—the 8.8 magnitude quake that shook Chile south of its capital, Santiago.

Some 525 people died, and nine percent of the population saw their homes destroyed.

“It’s kind of Bedlam sometimes,” said Martin, speaking of all the radio traffic that followed. He relayed messages on the Red Cross channel which, like all amateur radio, runs in English.

Martin is part of the Bulkley Valley Amateur Radio Society, which has enough of its own repeaters to reach east to Alberta and north to Whitehorse.

“It’s fairly important and it’s not really well known,” he said, noting that most people rely too much on cell phone networks.