“This is Genie Chance, reporting from inside the Public Safety Building,” she began from her new post at the Anchorage, Alaska, police station. The scuttle and din of everyone working around her bled into her microphone as she spoke….
Carroll told Genie he needed her help as well. He was looking for a way to reach Juneau, the state capital. Lines of communication were still scarce, and Carroll wanted official permission from the governor to keep his guardsmen on duty. Genie told him to go out to the parking lot and find a ham radio operator named Walt Sauerbier.
Among the many citizens of Anchorage who’d leapt into action that evening was a small legion of amateur ham radio operators. Anchorage was said to have more hams per capita than any other state at the time; it was an amusing hobby to get people through the winter, and an easy way for Alaskans to stay in touch with family. A number of hams in the city had previously organized themselves into a preparedness group and practiced emergency communications during nuclear war simulations. After the quake, many flocked to the parking lot of the Public Safety Building or took up posts at other critical locations around Anchorage, hunkering in their radio-equipped cars to function as a kind of substitute telephone service.
The man Genie had hooked up with, Walt Sauerbier, had been among the first to show up. He was a 61-year-old mechanic who’d been driving around, idly chatting on his mobile unit with someone in Hawaii, when the quake struck. He would work at the Public Safety Building, sending and receiving messages, for 16 straight hours.