February 15, 2012Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE
In This Issue:
Twisters Prompt Arkansas SKYWARN Response
Arkansas SKYWARN was activated by the National Weather Service's Little Rock Forecast Office on the afternoon of Sunday, January 22, at 4:30 PM. The day began with areas of dense fog and drizzle and at 6 AM temperatures were mostly in the 30s to lower 40s. The forecast had been calling for a severe weather setup later in the day, but many residents were curious as to how such an event would be possible given the daylong conditions.
Around 4 PM the fog began to lift and temperatures quickly rose as storms began to form in the central part of the state. Around the same time Arkansas SKYWARN Program Coordinator Danny Straessle, KE5WLR, received a call from the Little Rock Forecast Office and Arkansas SKYWARN was activated. Straessle is responsible for scheduling net control operator shifts at the Little Rock office and quickly summoning a team, headed for the facility. En route, around 5:30 PM, Daryl Stout, AE5WX, brought up the Weather Watch Net, which is a pre-net for Arkansas SKYWARN. A few severe thunderstorm warnings were issued and Stout took several check-ins as certified Amateur Radio storm spotters began to deploy.
By the time the Arkansas SKYWARN net control team was in place shortly before 6:00, the first tornado warning was issued and a quick and seamless transition was made from one net to the other. At the mic were Straessle, and Shane Lee, KF5FBR, assisted by Mona Blacklaw, KM5ONA. Darkness fell as activity picked up, most of which was south and east of Little Rock in less dense populated areas of the Delta region of the state. Because of this it was extremely difficult to see storm development and dangerous to try to spot it.
Troy Singleton, N5ARK, was the most valuable player of the entire night. Singleton was raised in southeast Arkansas and knew the area like the back of his hand, which was instrumental in his safe navigation of the farm roads in the area to safely spot developing tornadic supercells. At times this was the only information coming from that area of the state and the NWS Little Rock Forecast Office was thankful to have reports come in from Singleton.
Also in the area and a little further to the east in Arkansas County were members of the Grand Prairie Amateur Radio Club. Weather reports were collected through a simplex net and relayed to club president Randy Geater, K5NDX, who in turn relayed them to Arkansas SKYWARN at the National Weather Service.
At one point a rain-wrapped tornado headed toward Geater and his crew and they took shelter in the county Sheriff's bunker for about 20 minutes. It was completely rain-wrapped and all they could see was power flash after power flash as the tornado took down high-voltage transmission lines.
The storms moved out of the Little Rock County Warning Area fast and exited the state around 10:00 PM. The Arkansas SKYWARN net was brought to a close shortly before then. In summary, almost 60 certified Amateur Radio storm spotters checked into the net. And while the storms tracked through areas of the state in counties where the Amateur Radio population is practically nil, those from neighboring areas stepped up to the plate and provided a public service when it was needed most. The following day a damage assessment team from the NWS rated at least one of the several tornadoes as an EF2.
The Arkansas SKYWARN net is streamed live on a RadioReference feed provided by the Central Arkansas Radio Emergency Net (CAREN) Club. Accounts of the role Amateur Radio played during this severe weather event were chronicled on the Arkansas SKYWARN Facebook Fan Page. Although there are numerous social media sites in the state covering weather, Arkansas SKYWARN takes an approach that not only serves Amateur Radio operators but exists to educate the general public about the role we play in saving lives and property. -- - Danny Straessle, KE5WLR, Arkansas Section PIO; Central District Emergency Coordinator; Arkansas SKYWARN Program Coordinator
ECAC Reports Progress on ARES, NTS Studies
Last June, the ARRL Emergency Communications Advisory Committee (ECAC) was tasked with recommending improvements to ARES® and NTS so that the amateur service can better serve the public in providing emergency communications. Specific topics included: ARES and NTS objectives and organizational structures; integration of ARES and NTS; training, certification, and credentialing; and relationships with served agencies. Chairman Dale Williams, WA8EFK, former Michigan Section Manager and new Vice Director of the Great Lakes Division, reported to the ARRL Board of Directors last month.
Williams reported that to "develop a solid foundation of where both the ARES and NTS stand in the minds of today's field leadership, the ECAC designed two field surveys. Included in the ARES survey were all Section Managers and Section Emergency Coordinators. The NTS survey included the NTS leadership, TCC Staff and Region Net Managers plus SMs and their Section Traffic Managers. Multiple detailed questions relating to all four of the above major tasks were included in the surveys."
ECAC members are now carefully reviewing and analyzing the results, and then will develop recommendations. Williams reported that it would be premature to offer comment about potential conclusions at this point. Williams thanked the respondents for their thoughtful and candid responses.
Several respondents' comments were included in Williams' report as a sampling. From the ARES Survey: "The best emergency communications system is the one you use everyday. ARES and NTS should be highly integrated, not independent as now!"
"NIMS/ICS compatibility is urgently needed, and should be required. ARES should work from the local level up, as NIMS/ICS does. ARRL ARES could learn a lot from NIMS/ICS."
"There needs to be a standard for type acceptance of services so that when an agency calls for a 'strike team' it is the same response regardless of location. (The name 'strike team' is just an example, there could be several layers of organization, but there needs to be a standard.)"
"We need to build credibility from the top down and bottom up with government served agencies. Need more visibility in their training materials and plans. Need national ID approved by FEMA with background check and minimum training. We also need to make sure if All Else truly fails, the system is flexible enough that non-accredited operators can be used in some capacity."
"More national help to local and regional ARES organizations around the country. Questions above could also be applied to RACES. FEMA needs to kill the program and replace with ARES or a new combined ARES/RACES organization."
From the NTS Survey: "Get the idea out that traffic is central to effective ARES action. EMCOMM is traffic. Too much distance now between interest in 'ARES' and 'Traffic'."
"NTS has a great reputation and past. I'd like to see the end to the junk messages from the few senders who do that. We've lost members due to them. In these days, it's ever more difficult to accomplish a level of participation, let alone deal with all the garbage messages. We pass them all here, but members just don't come back to the net. Also can't understand how some states can simply refuse to handle traffic from other states!"
"NTS nets and ARES/RACES are integrated in our section. More traffic of all kinds would help to exercise the system. More involvement of ARES members in day-to-day NTS operations would be very good training. Some ARES members do not understand the need for the NTS or for traffic-handling training."
Williams vacated the ECAC chairmanship on January 1 to assume the post of Great Lakes Division Vice Director. He thanked committee members for their outstanding service, and also the PSC and the Board for this opportunity to have served.
[Editor's note: We wish Dale the best of success in his new post. He served the ECAC exceptionally well during his tenure as chairman, bringing a spirit of cameraderie and a good work ethic to accomplish much, despite the sometimes diverging opinions of its members. Jim Cross, WI3N, the Section Manager of the Maryland/DC Section, has been appointed as new ECAC Chairman. -- K1CE]
New Hampshire ARES® Academy to Build on Success
Planning for the second annual New Hampshire ARES ® Academy program is underway. Last year, the state's ARES leaders wanted to test the concept of a major ARES training program, and the response was fantastic. A full house (100 people) attended and the same number is expected for this year's academy. The program offered four courses, and all attendees took all four, 25 at a time. Courses included message handling, net control skills, introduction to NBEMS, and go-kits and personal preparedness.
This year, a basic track, an advanced track, and a series of workshops will be offered -- all in the same four classrooms and one auditorium. More courses will be introduced in future years. A big new offering will be the two-hour Emcomm Boot Camp workshop for new licensees. This resulted from discussions during the recent NH-ARES winter leadership meeting.
The opening session in the auditorium last year featured speakers from each of three key served agencies: the New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Management Chief of Communications John Wynne; Red Cross's Ian Dyer; and NWS's Scott Reynolds, KC2JCB. During the day, the Director of HSEM, Chris Pope, stopped in to say hello, and this year he has been asked to be sole keynote speaker. We also have a wrap-up session at which SM/SEC Al Shuman, K1AKS, and Dave Colter, WA1ZCN, Assistant SEC for Operations and Training, take a few minutes to give a final pep talk and hear any kudos or gripes about the program.
Colter develops a basic outline for each of the courses, then finds a qualified instructor. They work together to develop a curriculum and presentation materials. The courses are taught to the standards established by the ARECC courses and state/section ARES procedures and plans.
The use of the State Fire Academy as academy venue is free because of the fine relationship ARES enjoys with the state. Colter said "We also take the opportunity to shoot ID photos for those who need them, both during morning registration and after the closing session. After the event, they are uploaded to the Section's online database so the ECs can access them for card printing. We're just starting up with a new professional card bureau to produce very high quality plastic cards. Everyone pays for their own ($8.75) and cards are mailed directly to the member within 24 hours. No more laminating! -- Dave Colter, WA1ZCN, ASEC - Operations, Training, NH-ARES; and ARRL Emergency Communications Advisory Committee New England Division Representative
Lessons Learned: Oregon ARES® SHAKE EX 2011 Solutions
The story of Oregon's major earthquake exercise SHAKE EX 2011 was covered in March QST, Public Service column. Here is more discussion on the lessons learned and options for solutions to some of the problems the exercise leaders experienced.
On April 9, 2011, one month after the disastrous Japanese earthquake and tsunamis, Oregon ARES® volunteers conducted a statewide simulated emergency test (SET) to test their readiness to respond to just such a disaster. The SHAKE EX 2011 SET was designed to test the ability of ARES® units to exchange very high volumes of written messages between the county Emergency Managers and the Oregon Emergency Management (OEM) office in the state capitol, Salem. Much of the radio traffic exchange occurred over the Oregon ARES® Digital Network (OADN), which uses Winlink HF and VHF radio systems funded by the State of Oregon following the major windstorms of 2007. In addition to State-level, statewide communications activities, many counties held their own local drills in coordination with their local Emergency Managers, medical facilities and Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT). The local drills typically included establishment of HF radio systems at remote locations using portable Field Day-style antennas. Local drills included the transmission of photographs by radio to county and state EOCs and relaying simulated damage reports between stations.
During a disaster of the scale anticipated during this SET, there will likely be an overwhelming volume of emergency written and tactical traffic being exchanged between emergency managers. At such times, it is essential that the flow of messages from ARES® radio operators to and from these officials be accurate, efficient and timely. Although the technology used by ARES® units to get the message delivered worked quite well, it soon became apparent that the flood of messages being received at many EOCs simply overwhelmed anyone's ability to methodically log, manage and distribute them. Several options have been proposed to deal with this data management issue, and they are discussed below:
1. ARES operational procedures and training are needed to minimize the volume of unnecessary traffic generated by overuse of the "Reply All" option in the Winlink Airmail 3 software. While helpful in appropriate situations, such overuse dramatically slowed reception of other perhaps more important messages at some EOCs.
2. Efficiencies are also needed within the EOCs themselves to improve on the "print and stack" methods of dealing with message overload. Although the best way to handle this problem may be electronic distribution to the Served Agency Emergency Managers, solutions will likely vary between agencies.
3. There has been interest within Oregon Served Agencies of developing the ability to transmit damage assessment photo images using Amateur Radio. This SET was an opportunity to test operational procedures using Winlink HF Pactor peer-to-peer and VHF RMS connections for this purpose. SET instructions were to limit image size to about 10 Kb (240 x 180 resolution) to avoid excessive file transfer time. Pre-SET testing suggested that HF Pactor transmission time would vary from about 4 to 10 minutes depending on signal strengths or about 3 minutes by VHF Winlink packet to an RMS gateway. Four county EOCs successfully transmitted images via 40 meter Winlink Pactor peer to peer, demonstrating the feasibility of providing this service. Operators noted, however, that photo image transmission disrupted their handling of written traffic. In such cases, Emergency Managers may need to set message transmission priorities. Nevertheless, the ability of Oregon ARES units to transmit damage assessment photos, even low resolution images, has been of great interest to Oregon Emergency Managers.
4. Since existing antenna systems would likely be destroyed in a real event, the ability to set up portable, emergency powered stations "Field Day-style" would be mission critical. -- Vincent Van Der Hyde, K7VV, Oregon Section Emergency Coordinator, K7VV@arrl.net; John Core, KX7YT, Oregon Section ARES® SET Coordinator, KX7YT@arrl.net
National Hurricane Conference Next Month in Orlando
The 2012 National Hurricane Conference, "the nation's forum for education and professional training in hurricane and disaster preparedness," will be held March 26-29 at the Hilton Orlando, Florida. A robust Amateur Radio presence and forums are always on tap. The primary goal of the National Hurricane Conference is to improve hurricane preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation in order to save lives and property in the United States and the tropical islands of the Caribbean and Pacific. In addition, the conference serves as a national forum for federal, state and local officials to exchange ideas and recommend new policies to improve Emergency Management. To accomplish these goals, the annual conference emphasizes:
* Lessons Learned from Hurricane Strikes.
* State of the art programs worthy of emulation.
* New ideas being tested or considered.
* Information about new or ongoing assistance programs.
* The ABC's of hurricane preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation -- in recognition of the fact that there is a continual turnover of emergency management leadership and staff.
Greg Sarratt, W4OZK, hosting ARRL Southeastern Division Director, reports that there will be several Amateur Radio activities going on during the week. "The National Hurricane Conference (NHC) leadership continues to recognize the valuable contributions of Amateur Radio and again invited us to participate with two sessions," Sarratt said. Forums are:
NHC Session #1: Monday, March 26, from 1:30 PM to 5:00 PM, the main Amateur Radio session titled, "Amateur Radio Training Sessions: Disaster Communications Before, During and After Hurricanes."
NHC Session #2: Tuesday, March 27, from 8:30 AM to 10:00 AM, at the National Hurricane Conference (NHC), there will be an Amateur Radio session designed for Emergency Management agencies called "Amateur Radio Rap Session --The Emergency Manager's Hidden Resource."
On Monday, March 26, 2012 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM, the ARRL Southeastern Division and the Orange County EOC will host an interactive free NHC Workshop for all ARES-interested Amateur Radio operators at the Orange County Emergency Operations Center, 6590 Amory Court, Winter Park, Florida. You will be able to meet other like-minded hams and the presenters of the Hurricane Conference Amateur Radio sessions. The agenda will be: introductions, conference presenters summarize the NHC Amateur Radio presentations, emergency communications discussion, questions & answers and door prizes.
All hams are invited at no cost to attend the National Hurricane Conference Amateur Radio sessions and Orange County EOC Workshop. For additional information:
Hurricane Conference presenters are:
Julio Ripoll, WD4R, WX4NHC Amateur Radio Assistant Coordinator, National Hurricane Center
John McHugh, K4AG, Coordinator for Amateur Radio, National Hurricane Center, WX4NHC
Rob Macedo, KD1CY, Director of Operations for the VoIP Hurricane Net and ARRL SEC, Eastern Massachusetts
Mike Corey, KI1U - ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager
Greg Sarratt, W4OZK - ARRL Southeastern Division Director
ARRL Digital Technology for Emergency Communications Course
"This course is a great starting point for anyone interested in the public service applications of digital communications technology." -- Steve Ford, WB8IMY, course author and QST Editor/ARRL Publications Manager
In this course, the student will be introduced to all the ways Amateur Radio operators are using digital technology as a valuable emergency communications tool. The topics discussed during the course include: Packet radio; APRS; Winlink 2000; IRLP; EchoLink and WIRES-II; D-STAR; APCO25; HF sound card modes; Automatic Link Establishment (ALE). The course will help answer questions such as: Can you transfer supply lists or personnel assignments between emergency operations sites? Can you get critical e-mails to the Internet if a connection goes down? Can you relay digital images of damage at specific locations? Can you track the locations of emergency personnel and display them on computer maps?
Illustrations, screenshots, Internet links and audio files are used to demonstrate transmission modes and equipment configurations. Bite-sized learning units and interactive knowledge checks make learning interesting and fun.
See supplemental material and product support for The ARRL Digital Technology for Emergency Communications Course. Self-study. CD-ROM, version 1.1.
Letters: Management of Volunteers Modalities
I am the Administrative Assistant Emergency Coordinator for the Hendricks County, Indiana ARES under Ronald Burke, KB9DJA, county EC. Burke and the rest of our ARES leadership have been discussing new ways to enhance our emergency response capability. We have 40 members.
I read your article in February QST "Putting Amateur Radio in Context in the EOC," about Flagler County's volunteer auxiliary E-COMM unit. Our ARES organization does recognize the FEMA ICS/NIMS protocols. We have 15 members who have taken the ICS 100, 200, 700,and 800 courses. We also offer SKYWARN training, net control training, NTS training, as well as various other training classes/workshops throughout the year. We have a group of net control operators that runs our SKYWARN nets when severe weather approaches or when the NWS activates us.
If you could give us more insight into how your organization's program works, we may be able to start one here. Our county emergency management director supports Amateur Radio, and he may be interested in the Flagler model to enhance Amateur Radio's response capability accordingly. -- Kenneth A. Kayler, Sr., KC9SQD, Hendricks County, Indiana ARES Assistant EC
[Ken, here is a link to complete information on the Flagler Emergency Management Volunteer program, including application form and comprehensive program manual. - K1CE]
K1CE For a Final
There has been extensive discussion on training and certification lately; for example, in the March issue of QST, Public Service column. In the February issue, an article on the contemporary EOC environment spoke briefly to the topic. The same EOC "types" or classifies its volunteers by their experience levels, and their training and certifications. Here is the matrix the emergency manager uses to select volunteers for specific duties during emergency or disaster situations. It provides some guidance to us as radio amateurs on training to take, and certifications to obtain, to make ourselves more valuable to the EOC professionals. This matrix is used by the Flagler County, Florida, emergency services department:
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