February 24, 2010Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE
The View from Flagler County
After almost a year without an Emergency Coordinator (EC) and no ARES® organization here in the county, I am excited about a revitalization effort currently underway. We have a new District Emergency Coordinator (DEC), and I am hopeful that we will also have a new EC shortly. And that's only half of the breaking news: We are also securing new hardware/software in the county for access to the emerging digital voice and data network that offers unlimited opportunity for emergency communications. We are seeing a new dawn here under a D-STAR-lit sky.
The KA4RES D-STAR repeater project in Flagler is nearing completion and is expected to be operational (without Gateway) by the time you read this. Gateway access is expected soon. It's a "Two-Stack System" with two-meter and 440 MHz modules. System designer, owner and implementer Mike Lee, WB6RTH, reported that we will have full digital voice (DV) and slow-speed data capabilities, which includes simultaneous 1200 bps data transfer on the same frequency at the same time.
KJ4RJN is the club call sign of the new Flagler D-STAR Users Group and is open to all licensed hams interested in D-STAR. The equipment is owned by Lee, and is privately funded and operated for the benefit of all licensed hams in the Flagler, Volusia and St. Johns county areas here on the upper east coast of Florida.
The goal is to close the gap between Jacksonville and the Orlando area with multiple D-STAR systems so as to provide continuous coverage in the I-95 corridor. There is no membership in the Flagler D-STAR group: no dues, no roster, and no commitment. "This is a 100% privately funded effort to promote D-STAR in the area," said Lee.
D-STAR hands-on workshops are planned for introduction of the ICOM models IC-92AD, IC-91AD (both handhelds), IC-2820, IC-2200H and ID-880H (mobiles). Lee said "we want to ensure that there is sufficient infrastructure on the ground as well as ample "Elmers" to handle the training needs of the expected influx of new D-STAR users."
D-STAR has numerous advantages over traditional repeater systems: it is not dependent on its weakest link. If one part of the D-STAR network is taken out by a storm, for example, collateral circulation is quickly established for seamless communication continuity across town or across the country. With a traditional repeater system, an antenna on top of a 1,000-foot tower may sound good on paper, but would be the first to come down in a hurricane. Even if the tower survived, it's not easy to get an antenna re-installed quickly (or cheaply at more than a $1,000 for a licensed and insured tower climber to put it back in place).
It would not be credible to tell you all of this if I didn't try the D-STAR technology myself, so I bought the expensive digital board (UT-118) and had the staff at AES in Orlando install it in my pre-existing IC-2200H. See "K1CE For a Final" at the end of this newsletter for my early experiences with digital voice and this exciting new technology and opportunity for not only Flagler county, but everywhere.
"Service Over Self," Goals for a New ARES® Program
Embracing a policy of inclusion of all radio amateurs in the county is a priority for the new ARES® program. The goals are to (1) enfranchise the entire amateur community here for a truly robust Amateur Radio emergency communications asset that can provide meaningful support to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC); (2) re-establish a trustworthy working relationship with EOC personnel under the important principle that Amateur Radio serves the EOC and not the other way around; (3) re-establish trust and mutual assistance protocols with our neighboring counties' ARES® personnel and programs; (4) develop the new D-STAR digital system as a key emcomm asset and get local amateurs up to speed on it as a platform for ARES® operations; and (5) training, training, and more training. We will work towards all of these goals under one overriding philosophy: Service over Self. We will work as a team. Decisions will be made in an open manner, with input from all. The program will be designed to hinge on the collective efforts of all, not just one or two individuals.
The leadership team is attending meetings of Flagler Amateur Radio associations to present plans, and to invite their participation. By the time you read this, an MOU should be in place between the new Flagler ARES and the county EOC. A meeting in Jacksonville last night was held for the purpose of cementing new relations with Clay and Duval county ARES® for digital network and mutual assistance planning.
I am delighted with the pick of Mike Lee, WB6RTH, as our new DEC. He is an IT consultant and a self-described "change agent," an asset that has been desperately needed here on a number of levels. He is a veteran radio amateur with a long history of public service through ARES®, including an all-nighter in front of a 220 MHz FM rig handling hundreds of frantic health-and-welfare inquiries in the immediate aftermath of the Loma Prieta major earthquake that struck the San Francisco area in 1989. Lee relayed messages up and down the famous Condor repeater system. Tears still come to his eyes when he talks about it. Lee convinced me that he is in this for the right reasons: service to his fellow citizens in need during emergencies and disasters. I quickly discerned that he has absolutely no ego, and is the right person for the job. I know I will give him 100% support as we try to gain traction for a new ARES® program here in Flagler county, a potential ground zero for Florida's nemesis - hurricanes.
In This Issue:
ARRL Board Decides EmComm Issues
The Board of Directors of the ARRL concentrated much of its deliberations on major emergency communications issues when it met in Hartford, Connecticut last month.
The Board approved the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the American Red Cross (ARC). The ARC has agreed to permit ARES® volunteers to meet its requirement for a criminal background check by obtaining such a check, at their own expense, through a law enforcement entity rather than through the ARC process. ARRL members will be given information to permit them to make a fully informed decision with regard to volunteering with ARC.
The Board also instructed the ARRL staff to seek a change in Section 97.113(a)(3) of the FCC rules to permit amateurs, on behalf of an employer, to participate in emergency preparedness and disaster drills that include Amateur operations. There is an extensive discussion of this action on page nine of the March issue of QST.
ARES® News Digest
MARS Unifies Operation in Support of Haiti Relief Effort (Feb 3, 2010)
FCC Notes Amateur Radio Response to Haitian Earthquake (Jan 29, 2010)
Region 2 EMCOR Releases Haitian Emergency Frequencies (Jan 24, 2010)
Georgia SKYWARN/ARES Gain State-Owned Tower Space (Feb 2, 2010)
"QuakeNet" 2010 Exercise Series
QuakeNet is an emergency preparedness exercise involving two-meter simplex operation around San Diego County, California. It is designed to provide the opportunity for licensees to use their two-meter gear to get to know it, learn limiting factors in their equipment, locations, output power, antenna and terrain, and become knowledgeable of the two-meter systems and environment in San Diego County. A goal is to keep the operation simple enough to encourage everyone to participate -- veteran amateurs, new hams and NBOAs (Never Been On the Air).
The QuakeNet 2 series for 2010 involves monthly exercises that are named after infamous earthquakes of the past. It began with an idea that Joseph Matterson, KI6TTF, had while attending a Communications Summit last September. The summit was a meeting held at the San Diego Salvation Army Headquarters that included local emergency response organizations and California OES as well as some fire districts. The summit covered the spectrum of radio operations in an emergency. There was a unanimous understanding of the need to exercise two meter simplex operation as the most viable lowest common denominator in an emergency or disaster.
Another topic was outreach to the "never been on the air" (NBOA) licensed Amateur Radio operators in the San Diego area. The estimate provided was that of the approximately 8,800 licensed operators in San Diego, 25% or 2,200 of them have never been on the air.
ARRL Southwestern Division Vice Director Marty Woll, N6VI, added "KI6TTF is the driving force behind this exercise, and it turned out to be very popular, with demand for more in the future. It's worth emulating, assuming operators have an acessible mountaintop that sees the entire region involved, or other suitable radio vantage point for net control functioning. We include simplex and NVIS HF in nearly all of our drills for both ARES LAX and LAFD ACS in order to wean hams from the notion that all they need is to be able to hit a repeater." [Woll is also Assistant DEC for ARESLAX, and Training Officer for the LAFD ACS, CERT III -- ed.]
Disaster Prep Tips
As we start a new decade, let's review some of the basics of Amateur Radio disaster preparedness. The following are tips from John Covington, W4CC, of Dallas, North Carolina.
You must make sure you're personally prepared for a disaster before you can even consider helping with Amateur Radio. If you are preoccupied with personal matters, you won't be able to help ARES®. To be ready for disaster communications, do the following: Train regularly with your local ARES® group.
Think about how you might best be able to help during a disaster. Some of us are good at installing antennas and equipment, others of us are better at operating on the air. Not everyone is suited to doing every job. Sometimes just having helping hands, spare equipment or supplies can be helpful even if you cannot operate the radios yourself. Generators need fuel, operators need coffee, and stations need to be set up. Figure out where you best fit in. Decide how you can help out if you stay home: Can you deploy at a shelter or EOC for a few hours? Operate from home?
If you must evacuate, can you deploy from where you have evacuated to, such as a shelter?
Have all resource materials you need in printed form. Don't depend on computers, PDAs and so forth as they may not work in a disaster, require electricity and are relatively fragile.
If you use a computer regularly in your on-the-air operations, make sure you practice doing things such as calling nets and handling traffic the pencil-and-paper way once in a while. Remember, you may not be able to spare the amp-hours or the table space to run a computer.
Have an Amateur Radio ready-kit to supplement your personal ready kit. Some items to include:
*Portable radio, antenna and power supply or batteries (2 sets)
*Headset or earphones (you may be operating in a noisy area)
*Any cables you could possibly need
*Pencils and Paper
*Clipboard (firm writing surface, you may not have one otherwise)
*Radiogram forms (helpful but not absolutely required)
*Operating aids (pink card, Field Resources Manual, list of ARRL numbered radiograms, and anything appropriate for your local area)
*Small tools (multi-tip screwdriver, multitools, etc.)
*ARES® Identification Card, if appropriate
*Important phone numbers and frequencies
*Map of the area
*Poncho - very small to store, only around $2 and can be useful when you least expect
If carried in lieu of a personal ready kit, a few other items may be helpful:
*For a short deployment, a bottle of water plus some crackers or something to eat requiring no preparation could make things much more bearable for you
*Toilet paper - small packets from MRE kits are very handy and don't take up much room
Here are a few other suggestions from your editor based on his perspective as a Registered Nurse:
*Know the location of the Automated External Defibrillator (AED), and how to use it.
*Know the signs/symptoms of a heart attack and stroke.
Also, be prepared physically, mentally and emotionally for the sometimes overwhelming demands of a disaster or emergency environment. Hope for the best, but expect the worst. You are at risk for witnessing horrific scenes. Protect your self and especially young hams; participate in psychological and grief counseling, if necessary. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
Op-Ed: New Modes
The Pony Express is perhaps one of the most iconic Old West symbols of American ingenuity, initiative and enterprise. Many of us grew up reading stories or watching television shows about the heroic adventures of the fearless Pony Express rider who grabbed a saddlebag of mail, flung it over his horse and then tore out of town. With a fresh horse every ten miles or so and a new rider every hundred, the nearly two thousand mile route could be covered in ten days instead of thirty by an overland stage.
Their motto was "The Mail Must Go Through" and they played a vital role in how the West was won. As a kid it was easy to imagine that the Pony Express pursued its mission for years, if not decades, as the vital communications link to the frontier and all the way to Sacramento, California.
But such was not the case. In reality it was a short-lived money losing venture. Although they delivered over 34,000 pieces of mail and only lost one delivery, the completion of the transcontinental telegraph immediately spelled the end of the Pony Express. Instead of a ten day ride, messages could be routed across the country by wire. Delivery time could now be measured in minutes.
Nineteen months after it started the Pony Express rode off into the sunset of obsolescence, replaced by a technology that was faster and could handle a much greater volume of messages.
What's the lesson in this for the Amateur Radio emcomm community? Well, if you have a horse and saddle you can still climb aboard and ride to the next county or wherever to deliver a message. If the message's destination is farther than you can ride, how many relays will it take for the message to be delivered? How reliable will each leg be along the entire route? By the time the message reaches the recipient will it already be outdated? Sure, the means of delivery may still work but does it meet the true needs of those who are relying on it or simply keeping you and your pony in shape?
The point is that even tried and true methods of wireless communication that have near iconic status may not have either the relevance or utility that potential consumers may require. Yes, it may be the manner and mode of communication that the operators are accustomed to, but will it meet the actual need?
This is not meant to be a particular criticism of any particular national system because it can apply just as well to local operations, too. Do the people and agencies that we serve need a capacity for more lengthy and detailed messages? Rapid delivery to multiple recipients? Message attachments? Images as well as text? Inter-modal movement of messages? Some may disparage services such as Twitter, but is a twenty-five word limit for a Radiogram all that different from the 140 character limit for a tweet?
It seems that every few months we are reading about some new digital mode for Amateur Radio, many of them sound card-based freeware. Sure it is difficult to keep up with all of them and none has become a standard, but it is easy to begin sampling them and seeing what works.
We all have an obligation to expand our communication horizons by acquiring new skills and exploring new modes and technologies that we can interface with traditional modes. Otherwise we run the risk of standing around holding the reins on our pony waiting for someone to ask us to help. -- Jim Aylward, KC8PD/AAM5EOH, EC, ARES® of Portage County; Radio Officer, Portage County EMA/RACES Emergency Operations Officer, Ohio Army MARS
Diamond X-30 Antenna
In the last issue, you discussed your experience with the Diamond X-30 antenna. I've been using a Diamond X-30 antenna as a temporary base antenna. I'd previously used an X-50, which worked very well, but was less convenient to transport due to its additional length.
I replaced the jam nuts on the radials with stainless wing nuts to eliminate the need for a separate wrench for those nuts. Unless you keep coax permanently attached to the antenna, it will be necessary to carry a 10 mm wrench for the antenna mounting bolt. I am searching for a thumbscrew or wing bolt replacement.
Based on my MFJ analyzer, the real-world two-meter band SWR of both of these antennas is as flat as a dead man's EKG. 70 cm band SWR is 1.5:1 or less across the entire band.
I run an X-50 with an N connector at home. I am very pleased with its performance, and its clean silhouette pleases my XYL. A happy wife equals a happy life. -- Dan Thayer, W1CDT, Somers, Connecticut
220 MHz Radios
In the January issue, a reader lamented the lack of 220 MHz multi-band radios on the market. The Kenwood TH-F6A is a good 144/220/440MHz tri-bander hand held with 5W output. Check it out. -- John Meyers, WA4GPS
On Power Inverters
I enjoyed your comments in the December 2009 issue of the ARES® E-Letter about using an inverter to get 120 volts from batteries. New hams might benefit from an expanded discussion.
A cheap Wal-Mart inverter is very likely a modified sine wave generator. It could be a square wave or a semi-saw tooth, or even a crude saw tooth generator. Concerning square waves, much equipment, as you noted about motors, does not like square waves. The higher RMS value of the square wave and the lack of a rising waveform can damage resistive and other loads. Sharp-cornered waveform generators suffer similar problems, and create interference.
Inverters also lose some power to the inefficiency of the conversion machine. The quality of the machine will determine how much is lost. In addition, the input-output ratings of cheap inverters are subject to question, and the device could fail and leave the emcomm operation stranded. Always ask for a detailed description of the output waveform. One work-around is to connect whatever dc power source you use, such as batteries, as directly as possible to equipment that use the same dc voltage. Avoid conversion where possible. For lighting, efficient 12 vdc auxiliary lights such as LEDs are also available at the cost of more money and trouble, of course. A pure sine wave generator is always a good source, and today they are not as expensive as in years past. The ratings may be more reliable from a manufacturer that engineers a pure sine wave generator. Better units have voltage and other parameter monitors.
Side note: When Hamilton County, TN ARES® drills with nets and requests all who can to use something other than "shore power," we avoid the use of the word "emergency" when describing the type of source we are using as the net is polled. The reason for the word choice is that a ham in an adjacent area with fringe reception was monitoring and only heard the word "emergency," and he began to try to help with getting an emergency response together.
His reaction was natural and appreciated, but it caused us to revise our descriptions to "battery power" or "solar power" or "propane generator" power when we describe how we are avoiding the use of house outlets to power our rigs. It is also more beneficial for learners if the actual method is described. -- Robert Berman, W4SET, Hamilton County, Tennessee ARES®
Florida "Operation Radar" Communications Exercise
The Florida Division of Emergency Management (DEM) and Florida National Guard (FLNG) hosted "Operation Radar," the largest assembly and evaluation of communications systems in the Southeast at the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, Camp Blanding, Florida on January 25-29, 2010.
The media day allowed reporters to interview local, state and federal officials, technicians, and tour communications equipment from all seven domestic security regions in Florida that were staged across the grounds of the Florida National Guard's training site.
Since 2001, the state of Florida, Regional Domestic Security Task Forces and local agencies have been working on the development, implementation and rollout of a variety of systems in order to provide interoperable communications among response agencies for day-to-day and emergency operations.
Examples of communications systems tested during the week were: The Florida Interoperability Network (FIN), Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS), Emergency Deployable Interoperable Communications (EDICS), Emergency Deployable, Wide Area Remote Data Systems (EDWARDS) and trailers, Mutual Aid Radio communications systems, Regional Emergency Response Network (RERNs) and Mobile Command Vehicles.
Click here for an after-action report.
K1CE For a Final
As mentioned at the outset of this issue, I had AES install the digital board on my IC-2200H two-meter mobile radio so that I could try the digital voice mode and especially the evolving D-STAR network. D-STAR development reminds me of the early packet radio phenomenon back in the early '80s. A few tinkerers exploded into an enormous fireball of activity across the country. I think we have lit the D-STAR fuse and it is the "Next Big Thing." I wanted to get in early, just like I did with packet. (I put up the first PBBS in Connecticut back in the day).
There are four basic pieces of programming to start with: "My Call" (K1CE), "Your Call" (the call sign of the station you want to communicate with), "Repeater Call 1" (your local digital repeater and Internet gateway into the nationwide network), and "Repeater Call 2" (the distant, network-linked repeater that is the local repeater of the end user you want to talk to). With this programming done, it is a simple matter of pushing the talk button on your microphone and communicating with the other station in almost the same manner as you would in a traditional FM set-up.
On my very first contact, I almost fell out of my chair at the unbelievable audio quality. It was one of those "first times" in ham radio that you never forget, like your First Contact, your First DX, your First Space Shuttle Contact, etc. There is absolutely zero noise on the audio, and voice sounds are of high fidelity. It was a joy to operate digital voice purely for the audio quality experience alone. (It was also nice to pick up a couple of new ham friends who were already devotees, like Mike Lee, WB6RTH).
A repeater/gateway system is soon to be operational here in the county, and I can't wait to try my new digital voice capabilities on some long-haul D-STAR circuits. I'll report back with my discoveries next month. In the meantime, check out these D-STAR resources that I've found so far: D-STAR Users.org and ICOM D-STAR Page. See you next month! 73, Rick K1CE