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ARES E-Letter Issues

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The ARES E-Letter
December 21, 2011
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE
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In This Issue:

 

Army MARS Phasing Out WINLINK

The Department of the Army has announced that it has begun to take steps to phase out the use of the WINLINK System. The military chain of command that governs Army MARS feels that the Internet portion of WL2K leaves the system significantly open to possible intrusion. To deal with this it plans to replace WINLINK with a newer military e-mail system that has extensive protection against any form of intrusion.

To replace the WL2K system, Army MARS will be expanding on the concept of a national network that is voice, RTTY, MIL-STD 110A and PACTOR capable. The focus of digital communication will be MIL-STD 188-110A, wide shift RTTY, and PACTOR III. PACTOR will become even more important as the new areas of focus will be "Peer to Peer" and "Keyboard to Keyboard" PACTOR communications. Amateur modes such as MT-63, OLIVIA, and WINMOR, which cannot be used by the military will be eventually phased out as well.

A large contingent of skilled volunteer MARS operators will be required to make this system work effectively and this is where current and prospective Army MARS members will be needed. The goal will be to help Army MARS return to what it is really supposed to be: A radio-only system to relay long haul traffic across the CONUS and OCONUS.

While these changes will affect Army MARS nationally, they are not abandoning state and local agencies. They are just moving away from giving them a winlink.org e-mail address. As they move forward, Army MARS will be able to offer these agencies the ability to relay traffic across the MARS radio-only network to anywhere across the country including such places as the Pentagon, National Guard Bureau, and the U.S. Army for requesting military support in a disaster. - Thanks, Mike Corey, KI1U, ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager

Add Television To Your ARES Tool Kit

This is a TV success story for a local ARES group. The Boulder County, Colorado, ARES group (District 11), BCARES, has experienced much success working with our county's emergency services organizations; in particular, fire and law enforcement. BCARES's tool kit includes all of the usual ham services, including HF/VHF/UHF voice communications, repeaters and various digital modes on HF plus packet on VHF/UHF with back-bone linked digipeaters. But, what Boulder County Public Safety lacked most was the specialty mode that we had to offer: television. Amateur Television (ATV) is the one BCARES capability that really excites our served agencies.

We started offering TV services 20 years ago at the encouragement of Captain Bill McCaa, K0RZ, of the Boulder County Sheriff's Office. McCaa was in charge of all of the Sheriff's communications and computer operations and the county regional 911 center. Over the past few years BCARES has received many more requests for assistance using TV than for all other communication modes.

TV offers the agency information in ways never imagined by us or them. It provides them with situational awareness, a buzzword for what is happening on the ground. It helps remove the need for many voice communication exchanges for information that is already contained in the video imagery. Television allows the Incident Commander at the Incident Command Post (ICP) to actually see what is happening at the scene(s) of the incident, be it a fire, flood, hazmat issue, riot, or SWAT operation. With this information, the Incident Commander is better able to make appropriate command decisions. Via our 2 meter, TV net controller, the Incident Commander is able to request BCARES cameras provide him with specific images and information. We are able to routinely provide television and other communication services in a completely infrastructure free manner.

Many times every year, BCARES is asked by our local law enforcement and fire departments to provide TV coverage of both real emergencies and also multi-agency training exercises. These have included large, forest fires, flash floods, hazardous materials incidents, civil disturbances, large political demonstrations and protests, Halloween on the Pearl St. Mall, University of Colorado football games and SWAT operations. Boulder County ranks as the leading flash flood threat zone in the state of Colorado and BCARES is specifically written into County emergency planning.

BCARES' shining moment occured in September, 2010 when the worst forest fire in Colorado history broke out in Boulder County. The Four Mile Canyon fire burned over 6,400 acres of forest and destroyed 166 homes. BCARES assisted firefighters by providing live TV coverage from mountain tops back to the 911 center for a week. At the end, BCARES was credited with saving several homes. See the related article in May, 2011 QST.

When most hams think of ATV, they immediately assume its SSTV. This is not what BCARES does. Our TV is commercial grade, analog NTSC, real-time, live video with full color and sound transmissions. On the 70 cm band, we run full 6 MHz bandwidth, vestigial upper sideband (VUSB) TV transmissions. We use the same frequencies as used by cable TV. This allows our TV signals to be received directly on unmodified, cable-ready, TV receivers. For example, cable channel 57 equals 421.25 MHz, and channel 58 equals 427.25 MHz, et cetera. We also use the amateur 23 cm and 13 cm bands, for FM-TV.

A few Boulder County hams have their own home ham TV stations. With the exception of a Monday night TV net, there is little routine ham TV activity in the county. However, when we have a BCARES operation going, there may be as many as four or five TV channels lighting up and becoming active simultaneously on the 70 cm and 23 cm bands. Out of the 80+ BCARES members, about one half are TV trained and capable of operating our TV equipment.

When using TV for ARES operations, the same FCC rules and guidelines apply as for voice and data transmissions. We use common sense and decency along with the FCC rules to determine what are appropriate pictures to transmit. BCARES has turned down some requests for TV, typically for foot and bicycle races, when we determined they were for commercial, rather than bonafide public safety purposes.

BCARES uses commercial, off the shelf, consumer grade, Sony video camcorders. Our latest cameras are high-definition, but we only transmit conventional composite, NTSC, standard definition pictures. Using 1080i, high-definition cameras still results in much better quality images, even when transmitted in analog 480i, standard definition. The Sony camcorders include an infra-red, night vision mode capability, which has been found to be extremely useful for low light operations. For example, images we provided to the Fire Chief of a 2002 forest fire on the outskirts of Boulder offered extremely revealing, night time hot smoke clouds that were not at all obvious to the naked human eye. Through a long telephoto lens, the chief was able to follow the progress of his fire crews advancing up the mountainside towards the fire line.

In our 911 center equipment cache, we have several complete, portable TV transmitters packaged in backpacks. They are complete ready to go kits with Sony HD-TV camera, tripod, transmitter, antenna and battery. A Diamond SRH-999, flexible, 70 cm antenna is mounted high on the camera tripod, with a coax feed from the transmitter in the backpack. We use a 12 V, 7 amp-hour battery, which is sufficient to allow continuous, key-down, TV transmission for more than three hours.

Television has proved to be very useful to the Boulder County public safety agencies and as a result has gotten a lot more hams active in public service. There is nothing worse than having a group of dedicated ARES volunteers that never get called upon to serve. After awhile they lose interest. Then, when they are really needed, they are not there or maybe worse, they are untrained. With TV, that has happened far less to BCARES. We get called upon a lot. We recommend that other ARES groups consider adding TV to their ARES tool kits. -- Jim Andrews, KH6HTV, Boulder, Colorado ARES; TV Repeater Trustee W0BCR

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Western Pennsylvania ARES: NBEMS for Data Communications

Narrow Band Emergency Messaging Software (NBEMS) is an open source software suite that allows Amateur Radio operators to reliably send and receive data using nearly any computer (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and any analog radio without requiring a dedicated digital infrastructure or specialized modem hardware. NBEMS works on both VHF/UHF FM and on HF. In an on-line presentation, readers can learn the basics of sending and receiving data using Fldigi, and how to verify file transfers with Flwrap. They will see how to easily send and receive verified text messages using Flmsg. NBEMS is the standard digital emcomm package for Western Pennsylvania ARES.

Advanced NBEMS

In a follow-up presentation, operators can also learn how to send and receive ICS-205, ICS-206, ICS-213, ICS-214, and ICS-216 forms in addition to ARRL Radiograms with Flmsg; and about new high speed modes in NBEMS. They can also see how to deal with large data files using Flwrap data compression and Flarq. Readers can also see real world through-put benchmarks and receive recommendations for how best to send data, and how to make a monitoring station automatically handle changes in NBEMS modes.

Click here for these on-line video presentations. - ARRL Web site

Letters: A Tornado, and Lessons Learned

While I was unharmed and under no serious threat, I decided that having a tornado hit my street was the perfect time to test some of what I practiced with ham radio and emcomm. Several things went wrong, mostly due to my lack of preparedness. Trees were down, and so was power, cable TV, and the Internet.

I have an iPhone, and I thought I could find a hot spot. No luck: "Data services not available." The voice telephone of the iPhone worked, but only at times. Lesson: Cell phones are not reliable, even "smart" phones.

I had received an inquiry about conditions on my street and wanted to reply via e-mail. I decided I could use WL2K and WINMOR via my HF radio as my antennas were intact. I loaded RMS Express and composed my health and welfare response. I decided that I would not only send the e-mail to the friend that inquired, I would also copy it to my ARES DEC, ARRL SM, MARS commander, and other officials. But their e-mail addresses are not in my RMS Express address book, and I could not get into my e-mail account on-line to get their addresses. Another lesson learned: Have a hard copy list of important e-mail addresses.

I shrugged this problem off, and decided to send the single e-mail via RMS Express and WINMOR. I boot the modem only to receive a message informing me that it failed to initialize. Despite several attempts, I was never able to initiate a connection. Since the Internet was down, I could not simply telnet via Winlink. There is also no 2-meter nor UHF packet node within simplex distance for WL2K via packet. So, I gave up on WL2K.

I should point out that the failure was not due to WL2K; it was my failure. In two years of regular WL2K use via WINMOR, I had never made a connection with my Internet down. The problem was due to a port conflict, possibly in my router or PC firewall. The problem disappeared as soon as the Internet came back. Lesson learned: Test your WL2K capability without the Internet.

At this stage of my tornado evening, I am still a total communication failure. I considered alternatives: It was Monday night at 8:45, and I remembered that I am NCS for the 9:00 ARES/RACES net on my local wide-area UHF repeater system. What more could you need for getting a message out? The W2SB repeater was working well and my leaning antenna was still indicating an S9 signal back from the machine. I called up the net and asked for check-ins: Not a single station checked in. Despite a good active ARES group for drills, we often have difficulty getting more than 2-3 members to check in to the nets. This night of a tornado emergency, no one checked in.

I next considered PSKmail. I moved to the 30-meter frequency where PSKmail servers are known to exist. I executed a "ping" via THOR 22 mode. Lo and behold, two servers responded. I connected right away to the strongest one and executed the "send e-mail" command. The e-mail began to transfer but an old unsent e-mail in my outbox was sent first. I then spent the next 20 minutes in ARQ ping-pong and my health-and-welfare e-mail failed to transfer. I tried the other server and got a good connection immediately. Another twenty minutes of ARQ ping-pong and I gave up, with the message failing to transfer. A few weeks earlier, I had discovered some issues with PSKmail and the authors had published fixes via an updated release of the software. I failed to install them when they were released, thinking I would do it "when I get time." Too late, I had no Internet to download it. Lesson learned: First, I failed to check the outbox and remove unimportant e-mail. In a real emergency, where power sources are scarce, wasting time and power due to an old unsent e-mail is not good. Second, I failed to update a software release that eliminated known communication problems. I did not get that e-mail out from my emcomm station, and I am the ARES EC! My friend eventually got a text message to me and I squeak out a reply via cell phone.

Later than night I switched to 3583 kHz and 7036 kHz where several stations were clearly audible and enjoying rag chews in digital modes. I was able to copy their QSOs and saw that most were using Fldigi. With Fldigi I can switch to NBEMS mode, and send e-mail to any station on frequency that also has Fldigi. The receiving station can relay the message on or pop it in to the Internet, an easy solution. By this time I did not need to send an e-mail, so I did not try. I had simply forgot about this option.

I then also remembered that I had missed two NTS nets that were easily within range on 80-meters. I could have sent a good ol' ARL ONE. I had forgotten this useful option, too.

Bottom Lines

I failed to fully test my station under exact conditions that would be encountered without the Internet. I failed to program my emergency communications e-mail software with important e-mail addresses. I failed to have a hard copy of my important e-mail addresses. I failed to realize that important information within a Gmail account (and other Web-based services) is not available if the Internet is down. I failed to perform critical emcomm software updates in a timely manner. I failed to write out my personal communications plan. (I had written the county ARES plan, but not my own!). Such a plan would not have caused me to forget two emcomm methods I could have easily used (NBEMS and plain old NTS). I hope your readers can learn from my mistakes. -- Andy O'Brien, K3UK, Emergency Coordinator, Chautauqua County, New York

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Letters: Collections of SET Scenarios Needed

This may have been brought up in the past, but I was wondering if your readers knew of any collections of practice scenarios that could be perused by those wishing to provide an SET that is both pertinent and interesting, if not unique. It seems that it is often difficult to make up a decent incident; a pool would share good ideas, as well as spur some new ones. I would appreciate any information your readers may have. -- Jan Woldseth, KB6FMZ, DEC4, Sacramento Valley, California ARES

Training: COML -- TYPE III Communications Unit Leader

During all-hazards emergency response operations, communications among multiple jurisdictions and disciplines--including emergency medical, fire, and law enforcement services--is essential. Unfortunately, the absence of on-scene communications coordination has often compromised critical operations. To close this capability gap, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) in partnership with the Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Integration Center (NIC), and practitioners from across the country developed performance and training standards for the All Hazards Type III Communications Unit Leader (COML) as well as formulated a curriculum and comprehensive All-Hazards Type III COML Course.

The Type III COML course trains emergency responders to be communications unit leaders during all-hazards emergency operations, significantly improving communications across the multiple disciplines and jurisdictions responding to an incident. This COML training will qualify emergency responders to lead ICS communications units if they possess the necessary prerequisites, including knowledge of the following: local communications; communications systems; and regional, State, and local communications plans. COML responsibilities include developing plans for the effective use of incident communications equipment and facilities, managing the distribution of communications equipment to incident personnel, and coordinating the installation and testing of communications equipment.

Among other prerequisites, the COML candidate must complete the following training courses:

· IS-700 -- Explains the purpose, principles, key components, and benefits of NIMS. The course also contains Planning Activity screens, allowing participants to complete planning tasks during this course.

· IS-800b -- Introduces participants to concepts and principles of the National Response Framework.

· ICS-100 -- Introduces ICS; provides the foundation for higher-level ICS training; describes ICS history, features, principles, and organizational structure; and the relationship between ICS and NIMS.

· ICS-200 -- Provides training on, and resources for, personnel who are likely to assume a supervisory position within ICS.

· ICS-300 -- Provides training on, and resources for, personnel who are required to implement advanced application of the ICS.

NIMS Compliant: The National Incident Management System (NIMS) provides a consistent, nationwide approach for agencies to manage emergency response operations. Recognized by the FEMA/NIC as supporting NIMS, the Type III COML course is being made available to States and localities. -- DHS/FEMA

R. Kent TeVault Scholarship for Emergency Communications

The DuPage County (Illinois) Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) has officially launched the R. Kent TeVault Scholarship In Emergency Communications. The scholarship program, which was named for the team's founder and first Emergency Coordinator, was created to further emergency communications within Amateur Radio.

The R. Kent TeVault Scholarship in Emergency Communications has been designed to offer a scholarship to encourage emcomm training in general, and for the benefit of the DuPage County ARES team specifically. This scholarship will reimburse selected Amateur Radio operators who take and successfully pass the ARRL Introduction to Emergency Communications Course (EC-001). A complete description of the program and an application can be found on the team's web site at www.dupageares.org on the "Emcomm Scholarship" page. -- Michael J. Schulz, W9MJS, EC, DuPage County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), Illinois

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ARRL Orange Section Hams Recognized

On October 28, 2011, California's 62nd District Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter recognized local hams at the "Third Annual Public Safety Awards" volunteer recognition ceremony at The Inland Regional Conference Center in San Bernardino, California. Representatives from Congressman Baca's office, city, county and state government offices (San Bernardino County Fire, Fontana Police Department, Rialto Fire Department) were in attendance. Each fire and police department honored their respective nominees with certificates of recognition.

The following were awarded for their communications expertise and volunteerism within their respective public safety agency:

• Jim Eason, AD6IJ, volunteer work with San Bernardino County Fire Department, club affiliation is with the Citrus Belt ARC as president.

• Jon Montgomery, K6FZZ, volunteer work with San Bernardino County Fire Department, club affiliation is with the Citrus Belt ARC as treasurer.

• Louis Johnson, K6UMX, volunteer with the Fontana PD, club affiliation Fontana ARC, ARRL VE, and Elmer.

• Joe Martinez, NJ6OE, volunteer with the Rialto Fire Department, club affiliation President, Rialto ARC, Webmaster for K6RIA.net, and ARRL VE.

Congratulations to all four, and thank you for your services to each of your communities. -- Carl Gardenias, WU6D, ARRL Orange Section Manager

Letters: Western Washington Section Writes Interoperability Plan

You published my request for "sharing of District-level and Section-level written plans that outline mutual aid agreements" in the June E-Letter. Unfortunately, I did not receive any responses from other areas of the country. As a result, District 4 in the Western Washington Section wrote an interoperability plan from scratch which has now been signed off by the Emergency Managers and Amateur Radio emcomm leaders in the four counties. This document is available here for those who would like to see what we came up with. Much more work on the appendices needs to be done, but at least we now have a guiding document that we can build upon. -- Steve Aberle, WA7PTM, ARRL Official Emergency Station (OES), Western Washington Section

Hams Help Save the Life of Fellow Ham

It was 10:00 PM as I reached for the power button of my ham radio and call it a night. Just before my finger touched the switch I heard a faint call -- someone was lost and needed help. Naturally, I would stick around to hear more. After all, this is one of those rare moments many hams live for.

Ron, KB6UF was not only lost in the Sierra Nevada mountains but also stuck. While driving alone from Louisiana to California to visit his grandkids for the Thanksgiving holiday the 68 year old missed the exit where he was scheduled to stay at a hotel. So he turned to his GPS. It instructed Ron to turn here and go there. The road turned into a gravel road and Ron knew something was wrong. "I felt like I was going in circles," he later said. He was 8 miles from the main road.

Pitched black and no street lights for miles, Ron hit a ditch. The front wheels of his small truck were in the air and it was clear he was going nowhere fast. He checked his cell phone. No cells. He has a 2 meter radio in his truck. No answers on any local repeaters. He turned to 40 meters, remembering there are usually a bunch of hams on 7.195 MHz.

Within minutes, multiple hams were offering advice; use the low gear, fill in the hole with brush and sand, rock the truck back and forth. Somebody asked if Ron's GPS was working. It was. Ron gave out his coordinates over the air. Now as many as 100 hams monitoring the frequency knew Ron's exact location: in the hills near Mono Lake, California, near the Nevada-California border.

Dave, N5SDO in New Mexico stepped up and became net control. Everyone including Ron can hear Dave. Dave assessed Ron's predicament by asking pertinent questions: Are you alone? How much fuel do you have? Do you have food or water? Is there somebody we can call for you? Ron gave Dave an 800 number to the Sheriff's office. Dave tried the 800 number but it was a non-functioning number.

I thought about that non-working 800 number for a second. Maybe the Sheriff's office discontinued the 800 service due to budget cuts, so I Googled the 800 number and found the local dispatch number to Mono Lake Sheriff's office in California. I called it. I had to explain I'm a ham radio operator in Chicago and I'm monitoring a man stranded and lost in hills near Mono Lake. The dispatcher said she would bring this info to her sergeant. Ten minutes later the sergeant returned my call. I quickly explained what had been happening over the past 90 minutes. "Does he need a tow or is this a search and rescue?," asked the sheriff. I relayed the question to Dave who then asked Ron. Ron said he was requesting an officer. As soon as the sheriff heard "requesting an officer" he said someone will be there in 30 minutes.

When Ron announced on the radio he could see the lights of the sheriff's car approaching, many hams monitoring the frequency cheered on air. Working together Ron doubled the nylon rope the sheriff had in an attempt to pull Ron's small truck out of the ditch. The rope snapped. Luckily, there was a piece long enough to triple fold the line and that proved strong enough to pull Ron's vehicle free. Again, hams cheered on the air as Ron was following the Sheriff back to town.

The sheriff said, "It's a good thing you had that radio otherwise we would have found you in the Spring. Nobody comes up here this time of year."

HF was the only way Ron was able to get help. Thank goodness he had a good HF mobile or he might have been out there for days (or longer). Several comments were heard stating "that does it, I was thinking about putting an HF rig in the mobile but now I'm convinced and going to do it" after listening in that night.

Thanks to all the hams that helped a fellow ham in need, especially Dave N5SDO in New Mexico, Nick W9ZXT in Illinois, Jerry N0VXE in Colorado, Dan KD0LYK in Kansas and Dave W7DBS in Nevada and of course the Mono Lake Sheriff's Office. -- Henry Schleichkorn, K9KDE, Chicago, Illinois henry@k9kde.com

K1CE For a Final

These are the last words I'll be writing in 2011, and I wanted to close the year out by thanking Mike Corey, KI1U, ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager, for all of his efforts in editing this newsletter, and for his dedication and enthusiasm, expertise and experience, in managing the ARRL Headquarters' emergency response and field support functions. He does a superb job for all of us.

_______

You can now read my deathless prose in the Public Service column in QST each month. In the January issue, I wrote about the intangibles that make or break an EC, and how to pick a good one in the first place. Check it out! And happy holidays from all of the ARES E-Letter editorial/production staff here in the executive suites tower on the ARES E-Letter corporate campus in Flagler County, Florida! 73's to all, and to all, a good night. -Rick Palm, K1CE

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