By Marie Abramov
Special to The Laker/Lutz News
Kiran Shila, a 17-year-old amateur licensed radio operator, confidently displayed a colorful map of emergency radio communications with lines stretching to Steinbrenner High.
Six fellow boy scouts listened intently, as Shila explained basic physics principals – such as wavelengths and frequencies – and talked about how the group would work together to build a small radio network.
Shila is leading the project in his quest to become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in Boy Scouts.
The group will construct three portable radio stations, which will be placed at three schools that serve as Red Cross emergency shelters. The two schools other than Steinbrenner have not yet been identified.
When the stations are operating, the three high schools will be able to communicate with a clear signal to other radio operators within a 30- to 50-mile radius.
Shila will use a 2-meter radio wavelength. Towers from members of the Tampa Amateur Radio Club may then pick up and relay communication signals to long-distance terminals using 8- to 10-meter wavelengths.
The young men are members of Boy Scout Troop 314. The number of their troop, when expressed as 3.14, represents Pi, the ratio of circumference to diameter.
“We called it Troop Pi because our scoutmasters and parents are all engineers, and most of the kids are pretty much math and science-oriented,” Shila said.
After Shila introduced the concepts of the project, the group began building the first portable station. They took a black case, which is 2 feet long, 1 ½ feet tall and 1 foot wide, and started wiring, drilling and working with the battery. When the work on the case is finished, the radios, antennas, wiring and lights will be compactly and neatly stored on racks inside the go-box.
For the next couple of months, Shila and his scout team will work on making the antennas from scratch, assembling all the parts and building the stations.
The project is especially timely this year, as The Weather Channel experts have put Tampa at the top of the list of the 10 U.S. cities most at risk this hurricane season, which runs June 1 through Nov. 30.
The Weather Channel’s list bases a city’s vulnerability on its population, storm surge data, evacuation times and the number of years since it was hit by a hurricane. The last direct hit in Tampa was in 1921, so Tampa may be due for another one, the report says.
An AccuWeather forecast predicts 16 tropical storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes developing over the Atlantic Ocean in this hurricane season. Three hurricanes are expected to make U.S. landfall in 2013, the report says.
Tampa Bay already has felt the effects of the first storm – Tropical Storm Andrea, which swept across the region on June 6, causing heavy rain, winds and tornadoes.
Shila’s project aims to produce quick and easy communications during a natural disaster. That’s important because schools and other shelters generally have no way to communicate when telephone lines and cell towers go down during a storm, said William E. Bode, president of the Tampa Bay Amateur Radio Society.
“When they activate for some emergency, a lot of times the people who have to go to those shelters have to bring (radio) equipment with them,” Bode said. “Sometimes they have difficulty establishing communication initially, so established systems would be an ideal scenario.”
Kiran’s interest in ham radio began when he was young. By the time he was 12, he had received his ham radio license.
He said he wanted to create an organized system of emergency communications because he felt it was lacking.
“I’ve always really liked electronics, tinkering with things, taking things apart and figuring out what exactly makes them tick,” Shila said. “The whole concept behind physics and engineering really intrigues me, and ham radio is a perfect outlet for all of it because it has the physics application … (and) circuit construction from electrical engineering.”
Shila’s uncle, Jon Pairitz, a long-time licensed radio operator himself, fostered Shila’s childhood radio activity by helping him understand basic radio mechanics and getting him to take the amateur radio exam.
“A lot of people took the exam that day, but he was the youngest, by far,” Pairitz said. “A lot of them didn’t pass, but he did.”
Pairitz said people rarely, if ever, tap into amateur radio as an emergency resource because of the police, fire and Federal Emergency Management Agency emergency communications systems that are firmly in place.
But this amateur radio project can prove valuable in its own right because it could pique the interest of the youth to develop radio skills and take responsibility for disaster relief, Pairitz said.
Kevin Cucchi, a member of Shila’s crew, said he is interested in learning about the inner workings of emergency radio.
“I’m very interested in the practical applications of math, especially into physics,” Cucchi said.
He pitched in to help build the first one when the group gathered at the American Legion club. He has known Shila for about 10 years, since they both became scouts.
While the young men keep working on the project, Shila continues raising funds. He needs about $2,500 to pay for parts necessary for the other two stations.
Anyone who would like to support the project or learn more about it can call Shila at (813) 422-8343 or email him at .