KUALA LUMPUR: Amateur radios could be the key to communicate with people in distress and, therefore, collaboration between government agencies and amateur radio users should be intensified.
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He said agencies like the Fire and Rescue Department, Civil Defence Department (JPA3), police, Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS), hospitals, Royal Malaysian Air Force and the Department of Civil Aviation should work together with amateur radio users.
"Working together will ensure search and rescue (SAR) missions are carried out more efficiently and professionally," he said at the opening of Hamfest Malaysia 2012, while representing deputy Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Maglin Dennis D'Cruz.
Ibrahim said Hamfest Malaysia could be a platform for these agencies to exchange information and knowledge with each other and forge friendship with the public.
Next year's Hamfest Festival, he said, would be grander and located at a better location to show the government's commitment. The two-day affair, which ended yesterday, attracted 5,000 enthusiasts.
"We may also organise such festivals in other states, especially in Kelantan as there are many amateur radio users there."
He added that places like Gua Musang had weak communication signals, hence the rise in the number of amateur radio users there.
"We had a request from organisers of Hamfest Malaysia and that was to reduce, and, if possible, abolish the sales tax of amateur radio equipment. I think it could be discussed at the higher level of the ministry and I will make sure it does."
He said Malaysia was nowhere on the amateur radio world map because there were only 10,000 amateur radio users in the country, or less than one per cent of the population.
"Thailand has more than 176,278 users, Indonesia has 27,815 while Japan has the highest users with more than a million users."
Hamfest festival organiser Azli Paat said radio frequencies could reach over 3,000km and even communicate with people in space.
"We have spoken with people at the International Space Station (ISS) using the radio."
He said during a natural disaster, phone lines go dead and communication becomes a problem.
"Satellite phones are expensive. With radio, you are also in contact with other users around you and that comes in handy during an emergency."
He said there were hopes to establish links with government agencies so they could work together during natural disasters.
"This could be used as a leverage by them, just like the tsunami in Aceh recently."
He said during a mission to Gaza, radios would be more effective than satellite phones because messages from radio cannot be stopped.
He said besides natural disasters, radios were also key for search and rescue efforts.
"When people go missing during hikes or mountain climbing, radio becomes the only life-saver," he said at the festival in Taman Metropolitan Batu, Jalan Ipoh.
Azli, who described amateur radio users as the first form of social networking worldwide, said some radios could also be used underwater.
He said radio had become a quick tool for help even during emergencies, like running out of fuel while driving or a punctured tyre.
"You may call for help and if there is anyone near you, help could be just around the corner."
Amateur radios could also be crucial for neighbourhood watch and convoy trips that involved many vehicles.
He warned that many did not know that buying, selling and using a radio without licence is against the law.
"Anyone caught using such equipment without a licence can be jailed up to three years and fined RM100,000."