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In natural or man-made disasters, ham-radio enthusiasts put their hobby to work.

There’s a sense of urgency in the air at a Virginia nuclear power plant. Everything within at least a five-mile radius is at immediate risk due to a critical meltdown. One of the emergency responders opens the envelope she’s holding, scans its contents, and announces the bad news: “We just lost 911 and the cell towers are overloaded.”

There are some groans, but the team of amateur radio operators knew this was a possibility, and they’re prepared. They have their radios at the ready to coordinate evacuations, making sure that no shelters are overwhelmed and that evacuees arrive at the right locations. Two detach themselves from the rest and make their way over to the lead coordinator. They’re acting as the points of contact for all emergency services, which means they’re responsible for relaying information about everything from fires to urgent medical care to illegal activities.

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