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Amateur radio group plans drill Saturday

Hams are more abundant than one might think.

An estimated six million people worldwide regularly tinker with amateur radio transmissions, according to "Amateur Radio For Dummies."

Officials estimate about 1,500 amateur radioers - often referred to informally as "hams" - live in Gwinnett.

So, all hams in Gwinnett - from Snellville to Buford and beyond - should be tuned in this Saturday.

As part of a national exercise, local hams have organized a drill Saturday to test and refine amateur radio activity. After all, hams serve as the officially designated backup for county radio communications.

"We are the emergency backup for the county, so making sure we can step in is important," said Dorothy Jubon, public information coordinator for Saturday's exercise.

Jubon is also a member of ARES. In case you don't know, that stands for Amateur Radio Emergency Services, a group with 50 active members in Gwinnett. She abides by the slogan: "When all else fails - amateur radio works!"

On Saturday, said Jubon, emergency messages will be double delivered (that is, sent by both the normal operators and by the ham people) to check for mistakes made by amateurs.

The exercise will simulate a failure of radio in parts of Gwinnett, and hams will be responsible for providing necessary communication.

"That means some hams will be riding with police cars and fire trucks," Jubon said.

The test follows events in recent years where hams practiced a regional health exercise, or braced for the possibility of anthrax being dumped over Georgia's Sanford Stadium.

But the practicality of hams isn't always imaginary.

About two months ago, the emergency was real when communication lines were interrupted in Gwinnett, said Jubon.

Much to her chagrin, communication was fixed before hams could really spring to action.

"We were really disappointed," Jubon said.