T e r r y  T r i m i n g h a m
Communications Operator

My name is Terry Trimingham and I work as a communications operator here at McMurdo station. I work in the "Field Operation Communications Center" which is a small room filled with radios. It kind of looks like a console that Captain Kirk would like...lots of buttons and lights, a computer and a swivel chair.

My job is to monitor the radios to make sure everyone out in the field camps is OK. There are many scientists here that leave McMurdo to camp out while they study different things about the Antarctic. Once a day they have to call in on the radio to say that everything is OK. If I don't hear from them once every day, I have to alert the proper authorities that they may be in trouble. If more than 48 hours goes by we will talk seriously about sending out a search and rescue team to see if they are all there and that nothing has happened. Thankfully, in the two years I have done this job nothing like that has happened. Sometimes a camp will miss the check-in time, but that is usually because the radio waves weren't cooperative and we just couldn't hear them.

Another part of my job is to monitor the movement of anyone driving off of established roadways on the sea ice. The ocean here is frozen for most of the year, and is thick enough to support the weight of trucks, bulldozers, and other large vehicles. Every year there is an ice runway out on the sea ice where the planes land, and there is a lot of traffic active between McMurdo and the runway. The road is marked by flags and maintained by a road crew.

There are other roads leading to fish huts, study sights and other areas of study that people have to travel to that are not considered "established". These are more like just flagged routes leading to different destinations. Any time someone wants to travel on one of the flagged routes, they have to call me on the radio and check out, telling me where they are going, how many people, and when they think they will return to McMurdo. We have people check out for safety reasons; if they don't check back in at the time they said they would arrive, I have to send out a search and rescue team to find out if they are OK.

This year we had one scientist get caught in a snow storm. It was a white-out and he lost his way. When he was overdue we called out the search and rescue team and it took them 6 hours to find him. He had been out in a raging blizzard for 11 hours and was a little disoriented, but OK. I am glad that he was safe when they found him.

I listen to 4 HF radios and 6 VHF radios. The HF radios are for talking to the field camps all over the continent, and the VHF radios are for talking to the folks that are here close to McMurdo (line of sight). Besides the 10 radios, I have 5 phone lines that ring in my room. There are 4 business lines, 3 of which I can hook to the HF radio frequencies. It is pretty neat. If a scientist out in the field has his snowmobile break down, he can call me on the radio and I can patch him on the telephone to a mechanic here in McMurdo about how to fix it. I also answer all the incoming satellite calls that come in from the United States on official business. Sometimes other people call on the satellite lines, like last year when a French ship was in the area and wanted information on the ice conditions around McMurdo.

On a busy day it is not unusual for three radios to be talking to me at once and the telephone ringing too! During the day there are two radio operators working to keep up with all the calls, in the evening and at midnight there is only one person at the console. We have four different people working as radio operators and there are four shifts we work, rotating around to cover all 24 hours in the day. I love talking to the scientists out in the field; it is a good feeling to be able to take and pass messages for people. I know I am their only link with McMurdo. Aside from my voice all they have is each other and the great vast whiteness of ice all around them.

I am a chef by trade, but I like to go to remote areas and have worked in many isolated places similar to McMurdo (up in Alaska and British Columbia for example). I learned about radio when I went to Palmer Station Antarctica in 1897 as a cook. Radio was the only way I could call home and talk to my family. After I got back from Palmer, I studied ham radio and got my license. I first came to McMurdo in 1992 as a cook, but knew I would rather be a radio operator. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to be here. Antarctica is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have seen. I am pretty well-versed in the local history of Ross Island; also the wildlife there.

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