February 18, 2009Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE
The View from Flagler County
It is that time of year when Florida residents realize why we moved here in the first place. We watch with horror the TV news of the terrible ice and snowstorms that pummel the north, while a cyclist in shorts and T-shirt rides down our sidewalk. But, we pay for that privilege in anxiety during hurricane season, which starts in a scant four months from now. Hurricane conferences, and state-wide drills are planned for the day when the fur will fly once again here in the Sunshine State. The Florida Governor's Hurricane Conference is slated for May 10 - 15 at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center. The 2009 state-wide hurricane exercise is scheduled for May 28 - June 3. Flagler County ARES will be ready. I attended our January meeting, which focused on hardware (mostly repeater assets) assessment and preparation.
Talking about the weather, check out the new eSpotter function from the National Weather Service, as well as the new interactive NWS iNWS. "eSpotter is a system to facilitate the submission of spotter reports online. The system is being developed to enhance and increase timely and accurate online spotter reporting and communications between spotters and the National Weather Service. The use of the system is currently available for trained spotters and emergency managers." -- NWS
The iNWS is the home of new mobile and desktop innovations of the National Weather Service. "iNWS strives to fulfill its mission of protecting life and property by using new technology to reach out to customers."
Ice Storm Response
[Numerous reports came in from the states impacted by the horrific ice storms of late January. The following is typical of those reports received. -- ed.]
Shelby Ennis,W8WN/AAR4IJ, Hardin County, Kentucky EC, reported on February 4 that power was still out for sections of Kentucky, following the devastating ice storm affecting the region. He was finally able to turn his emergency generator off, and then slipped on the ice and broke his leg. And then he had "to put down the best dog I've ever had due to advanced arthritis." "Not a good week," said Ennis.
Ennis supported the local Red Cross shelter, helping on the medical side, and trying to coordinate communications needed locally. Lora Ennis, WD8LPN, had spent many hours relaying traffic via HF and the 146.700 MHz Brooks repeater. William Grieb, W4BEJ, spent three 18-hour days at a shelter radio, and James Skala, AA4ZD, relayed traffic from the hard-hit western part of the state to the State EOC.
Gary Meredith, KI4VBM, made trips to WQXE-FM, bringing packages of updated information back to the shelter. Others handled Welfare checks, traffic and power availability assessments.
In December, ARES had conducted a meeting to plan for just such a storm, and Ennis was pleased to note "Several of our people paid attention, as more than expected had generators, stored water, and had planned accordingly." A meeting, with the topic of emergency antennas, is in the works, according to Ennis.
David VanderMolen, AI4VF, reported that as of February 6, there were still three shelter residents on the medical side, and ten on the general side over night, and that power was still off in some locations. On January 26, AI4VF, while on Red Cross fire response to Caneyville, began reporting Western Kentucky Parkway icing via his HT over the 146.980 repeater, and filed E-Spotter reports to NWS involving heavy icing on the Parkway and local roads. On January 28, he was assigned as Red Cross day shift shelter manager, and set up a 2-meter base and HT station there. Communication was constant with local operators via the 146.980 MHz repeater, reporting power outages and people possibly needing shelter. Traffic was handled with the State Police, as were messages for supplies and medical equipment for shelter operations. Road condition and power reports were relayed to the local public broadcast radio station. William Grieb, W4BEJ, served as main operator.
On January 30, the ARES ops gave Red Cross Response Team alerts on three local fires. Mobile operators provided assistance in visiting specific addresses to assess electrical services so shelter clients could go home.
Bill Lee, AG4IJ, cleared debris and used his chainsaw as he drove along county roads clearing limbs that protruded into the roadway. He assisted cutting limbs to clear the way for Hardin County ambulances and other vehicles. He monitored his HT in the event of an emergency, he said. Lee is also the County Coroner.
ARRL Executive Committee Issues Mobile Amateur Radio Operation Policy Statement
On January 30, at the instruction of the Board of Directors at its January 2009 meeting, the ARRL Executive Committee adopted a policy statement on mobile Amateur Radio operations. The statement addresses the growing number of proposed state and local laws and ordinances regulating the use of cellular telephone and text messaging, inadvertently affecting Amateur Radio mobile communications.
In its statement, the Executive Committee urges state and municipal legislators to limit the scope of their proposals, limiting them to devices such as full duplex wireless telephones and related hand-held or portable equipment. Alternately, it suggests that licensed Amateur Radio operation be listed specifically as an exclusion to the proposed regulations.
Orange County (California) Hospital Support Group In 29th Year
The well-known ARES Hospital Disaster Support Communications Service (HDSCS) of Orange County, California, is now heading into its 29th year of supporting hospitals. 2008 was the fourth most active year since 1980. HDSCS was activated seven times for emergencies. It was involved in six standby operations, the longest one lasting 12 hours, and all of them encompassing some of those "night owl" hours. There were six drills with one involving all the hospitals in the county. It was a daytime event on a weekday, but the largest number of HDSCS members ever were involved in the drill.
HDSCS members participated in 11 public service or demonstration events, most of which were demos/displays at hospital employee disaster fairs. One of those activities however, was providing the communications for the various medical teams from St. Joseph Hospital in its support of the Disneyland Half Marathon. North Pole Network was also one of the special activities. HDSCS coordinators attended 35 hospital/EMS organized meetings during the year. That involvement is crucial for HDSCS to continue to be viewed as a resource in disaster planning.
And last but not least HDSCS reps were out on 14 field trips or special projects. The field trips in 2008 were primarily small group guided tours at UCI Medical Center to help communicators be more familiar with trauma center and intensive care terminology and patient care issues. The special projects were all antenna installs or to assist in determining best locations for antennas and coax termination.
The Certified Hospital Communicator (CHC) program got underway in 2008. As of this writing nine HDSCS members have achieved CHC status.
On the HDSCS Web site, there is a new feature, "First Steps." This article was written to help those who are interested in developing Amateur Radio support for local hospitals. -- April Moell, M.A. CHC, WA6OPS, Emergency Coordinator, Hospital Disaster Support Communications System, Orange County, California
Letters: Notification Solutions for ARES Ops
[The last issue featured a discussion of ARES notification methodologies in the setting of the recent ARRL drills. Here are some solutions from Texas - ed.]
Since I believe there is need for efficient activation of ARES/RACES members during drills and actual events, I thought I would share solutions we are using here in Denton County, Texas:
1) We have our members fill in two fields on their application for notification including: Cell Phone or Alphanumeric Pager Number and a spot for their Carrier.
2) We use a purchased Yahoo E-Mail account so that we may send mass notifications through this service.
3) We are currently looking at employing the regional E-Team from NC4 Communications to send our messages in an unrestricted fashion. This has drawbacks, the primary one being training on proper use of the notification feature and getting access to all those that would require this access.
4) The City of Denton recently purchased the "Code Red and Code Red Weather Warning" system. This system has potential as it can call several thousand numbers every minute. The drawback is that access to this system is restricted to certain users only. Furthermore, since the city owns the system they have restricted the numbers that may be called to only those prefixes that lie within the city limits.
5) More traditional methods include using the primary repeater and alternatively backup repeaters to spread the word. One of our members who works for a radio shop has been slowly acquiring Minitor II and III pagers;he has been reprogramming these pagers to support the primary repeater frequency. We have programmed in the necessary two tones required to set the pager off.
We are always searching for newer, more reliable means of notification to our members. One of the biggest drawbacks we've had to using the cell phones is that the network doesn't consider SMS to be a time critical function. We've had notifications delayed from 30 minutes to as much as three days. We have also noticed that a cell provider may drop a message and won't retry sending the message. Also, most carriers support a maximum of 160 characters in an SMS message including spaces. --Eric M. Gildersleeve, KD7CAO, Technical Specialist, Denton County Emergency Services, Volunteer Assistant Emergency Management Coordinator, City of Denton, Texas, Office of Emergency Management
OutpostPM Developer to Keynote EMCOMM University
The organizers of "EMCOMM U," a one-day training workshop for emergency communicators slated for Saturday, March 14, 2009 in Stockton, California, are pleased to announce that Jim Oberhofer, KN6PE, author of the widely-acclaimed OutpostPM emergency packet messaging software, will present two sessions at the event.
The first session will be the morning keynote, during which Oberhofer will introduce OutpostPM to those not already familiar with it and present examples of how the software is being used to provide communications to emergency operations centers, hospitals, and other facilities.
The second presentation will be a special session on set-up of an OutpostPM network for use in the community. Hardware, software, radios, and other aspects of a successful OutpostPM installation will be discussed.
Other planned sessions include the use of D-STAR in emergency applications, APRS, Winlink 2000, leadership skills, and an open forum for discussion of ARES/RACES/ACS issues.
EMCOMM U will be held from 7:30 AM until 5 PM on Saturday, March 14, 2009 at the new San Joaquin County Ag Center building and conference center in Stockton. Pre-registration is required. Speakers are sought. Attendees are encouraged to bring their gear for an "Emcomm Show-and-Tell."
Registration: Registration is limited and costs $25, including lunch and a $5 donation to the San Joaquin County Chapter of the American Red Cross. Register here.
EMCOMM U is organized by San Joaquin County ARES and sponsored by Tracy ARC, Manteca ARC, and the San Joaquin County EMS Agency.
FCC Emergency Declarations Policy
[Recent questions have arisen concerning current FCC policy on emergency frequency declarations. Here is the policy as it was last stated. - ed.]
In 2004, the FCC formalized its policy for issuing an emergency communications declaration (ECD) on Amateur Radio Service frequencies. This policy became effective on August 2, 2004 and states that ECDs will be issued for VHF or UHF repeaters--if the licensee consents--or on simplex channels in the 60-meter band. The FCC will not entertain requests to specifically sequester frequencies in other HF bands for emergency traffic only. The FCC said frequencies in other amateur bands--where emergency nets already have been established--may be used during emergencies under the provisions of §97.101(c). That rule stipulates that emergency communications have priority at all times and on all frequencies. This is the basis for the decision, as these nets already receive protection under Part 97.
Past emergency communications declarations--typically issued during weather-related emergencies--have put frequencies on 75 and 40 meters off limits to general use in an affected region. "ECDs may only be issued after a disaster disrupts normal communication systems in a geographic area subject to FCC regulation," the FCC said, citing §97.401(b). Under its provisions, when a disaster disrupts normal telecommunications systems in a given area, the FCC may declare a temporary communication emergency that sets forth any special conditions and special rules stations must observe while it's in effect. The policy clarifies that the FCC has authority to issue ECDs only for communication emergencies and not on the basis of anticipated emergencies. It also tightens up the requirements to request an ECD. The policy calls for VHF and UHF Amateur Service channels to receive preference for ECDs. Requests may indicate a specific repeater system, subject to permission from the repeater's licensee or trustee. On HF, the FCC says, an ECD may authorize the use of one or two 60-meter channels, centered on 5332, 5348, 5368, 5373 and 5405 kHz, subject to §97.303(s). See ARRL's Frequently Asked Questions regarding 60-meter operation for details.
Tip: OutpostPM Outpost is a Windows-based packet message client that lets clients send and receive packet messages with almost any Amateur Radio Bulletin Board System (BBS) or TNC Personal Mail Box.
Outpost is a Windows-based packet message client that lets clients send and receive packet messages with almost any Amateur Radio Bulletin Board System (BBS) or TNC Personal Mail Box.
Outpost was designed for the ARES/RACES packet user community. The thinking behind it was to create an intuitive, easy-to-use program that lets ARES/RACES organizations focus on the "message," not the "medium," as they pass packet traffic to and from an Operational Area BBS. Goals include hiding the complexity of the native packet environment and shortening the learning curve; providing an MS Windows-based packet messaging client; automating the packet message handling environment; creating a program that behaves like your e-mail client that you have at work or home; creating, sending, receiving, reading, deleting, replying to, or forwarding messages; and supporting the response efforts and requirements of local municipalities and served agencies.
Outpost has a similar look and feel to other contemporary mail clients. It features Windows-driven forms and screens that handle creating, sending, receiving, storing, and printing packet messages from your PC. It also can run automatically where it periodically checks for out-going and in-coming messages.
Outpost does not support any packet message forwarding protocol or SMTP. Instead, it interprets the information sent from the TNC and BBS, then it generates the TNC and BBS commands needed to send, list, and retrieve messages from the BBS. It essentially automates the keyboard entry and interpretation performed by the user.
Outpost uses BBSs and PBBSs as mail drops where a user can leave a packet message for someone without the other person needing to be on line at that point in time. Support for many BBS and PBBSs has been built into Outpost with new ones being added as they are identified.
Outpost has undergone several releases of functionality identified by the Outpost user community.
Letters: TextGateway Software
Steve Ford highlighted an interesting piece of software in his column in QST a few months back. It's called TextGateway, and in a nutshell it plugs into your computer soundcard and constantly monitors a frequency listening for DTMF tones. If it detects a pre-set string of DTMF tones, it will automatically send a "canned" e-mail message to any group of addresses that you have specified in advance.
For example, an ARES official could set this up on a 2 meter radio that was monitoring the county repeater. The computer running the software would need to be connected to an "always on" broadband Internet connection. For days or weeks, the program would detect nothing. But then one afternoon, while an ARES op is at work, he is informed of a train derailment. The op learns that police are evacuating a three square mile area, and opening shelters. He needs to activate his ARES volunteers, but is nowhere near his computer.
He keys up the repeater and makes a quick voice announcement of the situation, and requests the emergency net to go into session. He then informs the net that he'll be sending a short DTMF tone sequence. He keys in a short sequence 4,1,8,9,1,1. The TextGateway software detects this sequence and sends the following "canned" e-mail to all his volunteers' e-mail addresses and several of their SMS/Text message e-mail addresses:
"ARES NET ACTIVATION. MONITOR 146.98 FOR DETAILS DE W4TCA"
All over the region, cell phones receive this e-mail and amateurs respond. Other hams working at their computers receive the message, and activate. Quickly the ARES officer is able to deploy hams to Red Cross shelters, and the EMA.
Up Close and Personal: ARES Op Provides Sayre (California) Fire Communications
When I set up a portable Amateur Radio station at Olive View Medical Center as part of the Great Southern California ShakeOut preparedness exercise, November 13-18, 2008, I had no idea that I would be back there less than 48 hours later under very different circumstances.
Around 3 AM on Saturday morning following the ShakeOut, I received an urgent telephone call from ARES Northwest District Emergency Coordinator Dave Greenhut, N6HD, that the County Department of Health Services had lost contact with Olive View UCLA County Hospital, located in Sylmar, just as the flames from the Sayre fire were advancing on that facility.
Since I had not yet unpacked my equipment from my car after the ShakeOut, it was not long before I was on the road with radios, antennas, batteries and cables, heading from Chatsworth toward the hospital. As I approached Olive View on surface streets, I ran into one roadblock after another. With radio guidance from Scott Hanley, WA9STI, who was following my route on a street map, I finally got to a possible crossing point, stepped out of the car, quickly donning goggles, a dust mask and reflective vest, and walked over to the checkpoint. After explaining why I had been dispatched to the hospital and showing my credentials, I was allowed to pass.
I could not park close to the building due to the long line of ambulances waiting to transport patients to alternate facilities, so I grabbed what equipment I could carry, met up with Tom Turner, KI6CCW, another ARES member from Santa Clarita, and we made our way into the main building.
We were greeted by guards and a metal detector. I smiled and told them we had plenty of equipment to set off their detector and asked that we be allowed in. After a look at our ID cards, the guards waved us through, and we proceeded down smoky corridors to the command center. Tom and I quickly established radio contact with the ARES net control station, manned from the site of that morning's Catalina Marathon by Southwest DEC Jim Curio, KI6FGV, and then with Olester Santos, a manager with the County's Department of Health Services and a recently licensed ham, to give him a status report.
Tom and I stayed until power and telephone services were restored, at which time we were released. On my way home, I checked in by radio with the Los Angeles Fire Department's Auxiliary Communication Service, where I also volunteer. The net control operator asked me to stop by the evacuation center at Chatsworth High School. When I arrived there, I met with the shelter manager, and stayed until early afternoon just in case a communication problem among the shelters arose. All-in-all, it was a busy morning, but this is one of the reasons Amateur Radio exists.
I have been a ham radio operator for over forty years, so the combination of ARES training, teamwork and Dick McKay's excellent UHF repeater system made the communication aspect of our assignment the easy part. I encourage other hams to get the appropriate training and offer their services through ARES. When day-to-day communication systems fail, Amateur Radio comes through, and--despite all the high-tech resources being put into institutional preparedness--I don't see the need for our help going away any time soon. - Marty Woll, N6VI, ARRL Vice Director, Southwestern Division ARES Los Angeles Section-Wide Newsletter, December 2008-January 2009
SKYWARN Recognition Day: WX6HNX, Hanford, California
On December 6, 2008, ARES and SKYWARN operators from Fresno, Tulare and Kings Counties (California) participated in SKYWARN Recognition Day (SRD). "Team WX6HNX" made more than 30 contacts in rag chew style. They worked the Weather Forecast Office (WFO) in South Carolina, with operator Ed Vonderbeck, KA6PNL, at the helm.
After struggling to make less than ten contacts during the 2007 event, changes were needed. The San Joaquin Section's Weather Office in Kings County grew significantly during the year, with plans put into effect to improve the outcome for 2008. Meetings with the NOAA officials were fruitful, and upgrades were made: A new location for antennas was established, and a new Kenwood TS-2000 HF radio was installed, replacing the tiny mobile rig. A Club Call sign was requested and a vanity call established the San Joaquin Valley SKYWARN and Storm Spotters.
Although San Joaquin Valley does not have many weather events, when they happen they come as a surprise. Training is on-going and neighboring Fresno, Tulare, Madera and Kern counties help support SKYWARN. The group is upgrading its digital capabilities and hope to participate in the 2009 SRD using those modes. It has a dedicated computer for IRLP and APRS. All of these enhancements should return SKYWARN effectiveness to the Valley.
K2DCD For A Final
[Here is a guest editorial by ARRL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager Dennis Dura, K2DCD. -- K1CE]
Every week at ARRL HQ, we answer questions on the role of amateur radio and the medical community. This is an ever explanding relationship in which we can play a significant role, within the framework of the regulations which provide us our operating privileges.
Medical facilities have a need to be able to communicate in disasters. This communications need is twofold; having the ability to pass information to and from the local governmental-public safety structure and maintaining a capability to talk to operations and facilities of the medical facility itself. The first example is one in which medical facilities play a critical role in the emergency management structure of the community. The capability to deal with the medical needs caused by a disaster is an integral part of the preparedness and response characteristics of the community. Amateur radio naturally falls within this scope of supporting emergency management operations.
The second example is one that becomes a business continuity issue. Maintaining communications that enable a medical facility to continue conducting their business is not one that amateur radio can support. This is outside our regulatory provisions as set forth in Part 97. While we may be the cost effective, and easy to access mode to furnish communications, we are not the solution in this example. Just because we have the technical capability to do a particular task, doesn't mean we have the legal ability to do it.
We are seeing the integration of amateur radio and the medical community more and more every day. Amateur radio operators are lending their communications expertise and developing extensive capabilities at hospitals and other medical facilities all across this country. This is a good use of the mission capable resources we as Hams bring to the larger emergency management community. We need to remain focused on the role we play in this situation. Our role is not to enable businesses to remain in operation. Our role is to serve the public during disasters...and by providing communications to meet the needs the emergency creates, we do our job, and do it well.