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ARES Letter Issues

The ARES Letter
June 17, 2009
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE
The View from Flagler County

It’s open season for hurricanes. In its outlook for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season -- which runs from June 1 to November 30 – the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is calling for a 50 percent probability of a near-normal season, a 25 percent probability of an above-normal season and a 25 percent probability of a below-normal season. According to the CPC, global weather patterns are imposing a greater uncertainty in the 2009 hurricane season outlook than in recent years. There is a 70 percent chance of having nine to 14 named storms, of which four to seven could become hurricanes, including one to three major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5).

ARES members: Assess your communications assets now. Monitor major HF hurricane networks during events this season.

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) on 14.325 MHz (and beginning with this season, other HF bands) is one of several key players. It serves either the Atlantic or Pacific during a watch or warning period and coordinates with the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami. Frequent, detailed information is issued on nets when storms pose a threat to the US mainland. In addition to hurricane spotting, local communicators may announce that residents have evacuated from low-lying flood areas. Other amateurs across the country can help by relaying information, keeping the net frequency clear and by listening. See the HWN's Web site for more information. The net works closely with the hams at the NHC's Amateur Radio station WX4NHC.

The SATERN Net (Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network) provides emergency communication support to the Salvation Army and populations at large. They also handle health-and-welfare traffic. SATERN holds high profile nets on 20 meters (14.265 MHz) during major hurricanes and has a long history of excellence, discipline and service. Refer to the SATERN Web site for more information.

The Maritime Mobile Service Net (MMSN) meets on 14.300 MHz and is composed of hams that serve and assist those in need of communications on the high seas. According to its Web site, the primary purpose of the net is for handling traffic from maritime mobile stations. The network is recognized by the United States Coast Guard and has an excellent working relationship with that agency. The MMSN has handled hundreds of incidents involving vessels in distress and medical emergencies in remote locations, as well as passing health and welfare traffic in and out of affected areas. They also work closely with the NWS and NHC by relaying weather reports from maritime stations.

The newest member of the big player community, the VoIP SKYWARN and Hurricane Net operates by combining both the EchoLink and IRLP linked repeater networks, while handling critical wide area communications during major severe weather and tropical events. These operations have gained national stature in recent years, making the Net a critical partner with WX4NHC. Whenever tropical weather is posing a threat to the US mainland and certain other areas of interest, the VoIP WX net will be fully operational. See the VoIP SKYWARN and Hurricane Net Web site for more information.

During hurricane events, there are usually two or three regional nets (usually on 40 or 20 meters) that spring to prominence as major key assets to the disaster response on an ad hoc basis. Watch for these nets, as well as the nationally recognized networks described above, this season. Don't transmit on their frequencies unless you are absolutely sure you have something substantive to add, and then only under the direction of the net control station.

ARRL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager Dennis Dura, K2DCD, states that it is crucial that information flows up through the Section and is reported to Headquarters. "These reports allow us to develop the situational awareness and disaster intelligence that is required for us as an organization to support the Sections that are impacted." "In this way, we are able to respond to relevant requests from the media and finally to coordinate with the governmental and non-governmental organizations. This information also allows us to make the decision at Headquarters on whether to stand up our Incident Management Team to support and coordinate the operations."


Here in Northern Florida, a state-wide EOC/ARES meeting will be held this Saturday, June 20, at the huge State EOC in Tallahassee. Well-known emergency manager John Fleming, WD4FFX, of the EM staff called the meeting for all appointed Florida ARRL ARES officials. The purpose is to bring together all the staff leaders to exchange ideas, get questions answered and learn about the FEOC operations in anticipation of an event needing Amateur Radio emergency communications. The State of Florida is hosting this event, and Northern Florida SM Paul Eakin, KJ4G, has coordinated and organized the ARRL/ARES participation.


In This Issue:


Alabama’s Homeland Security Communications Interoperability Exercise A Success

It was a meeting of hearts, minds, and radios the week of May 4 – May 8, which brought together emergency responders and support personnel in Robertsdale, Alabama for an essential communications interoperability training and full-scale exercise, sponsored by the Alabama Department of Homeland Security. The goal: to help improve emergency preparedness communication in the State of Alabama.

Personnel gathered in a field near the Baldwin County EOC to test the quality and effectiveness of communications between State agencies and support personnel. The exercise was a simulated Category 5 hurricane, entering Mobile Bay and causing statewide damage.

Agencies participating included Alabama Emergency Management, Alabama National Guard, Alabama Department of Public Safety, FEMA Region IV, eight Alabama Regional Communication vehicles, the Alabama ABC Board, Virtual Alabama, Alabama Civil Air Patrol, Sheriff’s Office and ARES operators from SEMA Region 1 and other regions throughout the state.

A communications emergency can be caused when a critical communication system failure can put the public at risk. This failure can include, but is not limited to, overload or damage to critical day-to-day communication systems caused by

State Communications Vehicles (W4OZK photo)

telephone lines or radio towers destroyed, an increase in a communication system activity that causes overload, or the failure of any key component in a system that can cause widespread consequences.

During Hurricane Katrina, Amateur Radio volunteers played a key part in making sure that communications between agency personnel continued uninterrupted and that the public received the help and the timely response needed in this type of catastrophic event. The Alabama Department of Homeland Security recognized this need, and chose to include Amateur Radio in this exercise.

Greg Sarratt, W4OZK, ARRL Southeastern Division Director, and Patti Link, KI4JEO, District Emergency Coordinator for Region 1, worked diligently in conjunction with other amateur volunteers and alongside professional partner agencies to help coordinate and facilitate the role of Amateur Radio during the exercise. Sarratt acted as the liaison at the Incident Command Point to ensure all efforts were coordinated effectively with served personnel incident commanders, while Link, working in the Baldwin County EOC, coordinated amateurs from Region 1 and beyond, for dispatch with Alabama DHS Regional Communication vehicles, as well as dispatch to other pertinent locations in the nine County affected area.

Alabama Section Manager, Jay Isbell, KA4KUN, was dispatched to a mock reception center site 60 miles north of the incident and Alabama Section Emergency Coordinator Les Rayburn, N1LF, manned the radio at the State EOC.

Alabama District Emergency Coordinators, County Emergency Coordinators and hams across the state checked in on statewide HF and D-STAR nets and conducted local nets and scenarios in conjunction with the full-scale exercise in Region 1.

Dennis Dura, K2DCD, ARRL HQ's Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager, played a key role at ARRL Headquarters by making sure that any and all resources were at the fingertips of the volunteers and agencies involved. Dura used a Major Disaster Emergency Coordinator (MDEC -- see below) and new ARRL procedures were

Alabama Regional Communications Vehicles with Generators (W4OZK photo)

tested among field, Section and ARRL Headquarters and they worked well. The hands-on approach of ARRL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager Dura gives the field much needed resources, short response time and added credibility.

This was a typical full-scale exercise including rain, mud, two snakes, ants, bugs, heat, humidity and hundreds of people everywhere but we learned the critical value of prior training and practice for public service events. It is crucial to have the knowledge from the FEMA and ARRL EC training or we are basically in the Stone Age at today’s incident site. We have to provide a unified front of quick, reliable and competent operators to be a valued useful partner today.

Several months of planning went into this exercise, which followed the NIMS model where Amateur Radio was an equal partner from the start. The Incident Command System including communications forms were used in the exercise. The detailed ARES Incident Action Plan can be viewed here. A hot wash report can be found here.

At the after action review no stone was left unturned for the entire exercise and the lessons learned for all players proved invaluable. The Alabama Department of Homeland Security Director, Jim Walker, finished the hot wash with an all inspiring and to the point speech.

The exercise proved to be a much-needed assessment of what works, and doesn’t work, in Alabama emergency communications. Amateurs and state emergency personnel walked away with valuable information and tools to help further

Incident Command Post (W4OZK photo)

emergency communications effectiveness during the 2009 Hurricane Season, and in the future. There is still a lot of work to be done, but this exercise brought Alabama closer to better communications interoperability and new ideas and ways to be more successful in the future.

Blanche Bearden, N4LUV, said: “As a person new to emergency communications, and an Extra Class Amateur Radio operator, this exercise was informative and insightful. I enjoyed learning about all that goes into creating interoperability between first responders and support personnel. It is an exciting area that I am anxious to learn more about and become an active participant in. I didn’t realize, until this exercise, exactly how large a part Amateur Radio plays in the safety of our State and of our citizens. It is inspiring to me to just be a part of such a worthwhile and valuable exercise and to work with so many great Amateur volunteers. There is still much to learn, but I look forward to the challenge.â€?

Patti Link, KI4JEO: "While the simulated exercise provided valuable experience in a broad range of Amateur Radio modes and techniques, the most valuable lesson learned by all the operators was how vital a role Amateur Radio has in communications interoperability. The respect afforded each and every amateur operator is due in part to the long history Amateur Radio has of aiding and assisting our communities during times of local, regional, and national disasters."

Greg Sarratt, W4OZK: “It was a great exercise and we learned a great deal during the week. This was a good test of the ARES processes and improvements since Katrina in a full-scale exercise with other agencies. Everyone shared and learned about each others communications capabilities. The relationships built and lessons learned here are invaluable to the Amateur Radio Service.â€?

Jay Isbell, KA4KUN: “Since the major hurricanes in recent years, The State of Alabama and the Southeast Region of FEMA have really accepted Amateur Radio as a prime player in any major disaster. Under the direction of Section Emergency Coordinator Les Rayburn, N1LF, Alabama ARES has grown from several independent groups helping their local EMA or Weather Service, into a well organized First Responder team. The state Emergency Management agencies and other critical served agencies are helping with radios and training for local hams to step in and man critical emergency communications systems. Amateur Radio is being accepted as a critical tool during times that the daily manpower and technical resources are stretched beyond their design.â€?

Background: Major Disaster Emergency Coordinator

In re the MDEC referenced above, here is how the ARRL National Emergency Response Planning Committee (NERPC) envisioned the concept in its report of two years ago: “The regional coordination function, like similar roles described for federal officials in the Department of Homeland Security’s National Response Plan, will not be a new level of permanent Field Organization bureaucracy. Regional coordination is to be a function, not a position. It does not diminish the authority of Section officials over their own ARES operations. Coordinators will maintain liaison with the Field Organization leaders in the affected Sections. Following extensive discussion, the NERPC recommended that Amateurs fulfilling this function should be titled Major Disaster Emergency Coordinator (MDEC). The Staff person at ARRL Headquarters who activates and oversees the MDEC functions as the Disaster Response Emergency Manager. Again, this is a function, not a job title.

"MDECs will be activated by ARRL Headquarters only if they are needed to deal with field operators activated to serve agencies such as the Red Cross in a major disaster such as Katrina. The geographical area to be handled by an MDEC is not fixed or keyed to ARRL political geography. It will depend on the parameters of the disaster and the needs of the served agency.

"More than one MDEC may be activated, for example, if the served agency decides to geographically subdivide its own activity in a particularly large-scale disaster. When the disaster activation ends and the served agency no longer needs ham radio communications support, Headquarters will instruct the MDEC to stand down. The MDEC will go back to being a name on a list of potential coordinators and back to his or her normal Field Organization roles in the home Section."

Appalachian Trail Golden Packet Attempt

On Sunday, July 26, hams in thirteen eastern states will attempt the first annual Appalachian Trail Golden Packet attempt. The objective is to locate 15 drive-up or hike-up sites where simple APRS packet mobiles or HT’s can be used as emergency digipeaters to demonstrate emergency communications capabilities. The APRS stations and other hikers along the 2000 mile Appalachian trail area will be able to exchange APRS text messages live during the six hour event. The temporary RF links zig-zag across the trail to take advantage of the height above average terrain across valleys. Fifteen excellent sites have been identified so that all messages can be accomplished using a dual 7-hop digipeater path.

Although hikers along the trail can already get into the global APRS system from anywhere on the high parts of the trail using the national 144.39 MHz frequency, such routine operation depends on Internet gateways and is highly dependent on the established infrastructure. This golden packet event will use all portable equipment and an alternate frequency for six hours to attempt the 2000 mile all-RF packets. For details and current information see WB4APR’s Web site. -- Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, Glen Burnie, MD

Letters: “Runner Downâ€?

One aspect of Amateur Radio I enjoy is working public events. There are plenty of marathons and bicycle rides to choose from here in Atlanta, Georgia. They are the best training for emergency communications available: Net discipline, message brevity, accuracy, priority triage in addition to solving technical issues like extending battery life, locating a mobile station in a difficult location or using digital modes in a high noise environment are all useful skills that can be learned by participating in these events.

A more rounded ARES volunteer also seeks out additional training that falls outside of normal radio skills. SKYWARN, Basic First Aid and CPR are almost essential, especially if you are considering deployment into disaster areas. Our local ARES group has the benefits of having several members who are employed in the medical field. Among them is Phillip Newman, KE4LSH, a practicing nurse with instructor certification in CPR through the American Heart Association. Newman, in concert with his employer, Covenant Health, arranged for a CPR training session for our ARES members. It was almost prescient.

Recently, ARES supported a fund-raising 10Km run/5Km Walk around Roane State Community College. Check points were selected based on having visual contact with every part of the course, a station located with the organizers and a net control station.

"Runner down." We all heard the bouncing sound of 16-year old Cody Anderson, KI4FUV, racing toward the runner. In running events, a trip and fall isn't completely unusual. Blisters and road rashes are expected. But this one was serious.

"Roll EMS. We're halfway between checkpoint 1 and 2." Anderson had assessed the airway, breathing and circulation (the ABC’s) of the runner, which were not good. There were no more transmissions from KI4FUV for several minutes: Anderson was performing his new CPR skills. Since this part of the course was on a public road, the Sheriff's Office had a unit close by. That officer moved his vehicle into position and directed traffic and runners past the scene and to keep the way clear for the ambulance to move into position.

Net Control had a second radio with which to directly contact the EMS unit on standby for this event. They arrived and brought out their AED, the Automatic Electronic Defibrillator. The patient’s response to one shock from the AED was a good prognostic indicator that all would end well for this runner.

Event organizers expressed their thanks and appreciation for the ham’s ability above and beyond radio communication skill. Lesson: I urge everyone to get trained in CPR and Basic First Aid. You never know when that training will possibly be the difference between life or death. – Clifford Segar, KD4GT, Rockwood, Tennessee

ARES Briefs

Registration remains open through Sunday, June 28, 2009, for online course Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Level 1 beginning on Friday, July 10, 2009. The course has been developed in segments -- learning units with objectives, informative text, student activities and quizzes. It is interactive, and may include direct communications with a Mentor/Instructor. Mentors assist students by answering questions, reviewing assignments and activities, as well as providing helpful feedback. Interaction with mentors is conducted through e-mail; there is no appointed time the student must be present -- allowing complete flexibility for the student to work when and where it is convenient. To learn more, visit the CCE Course Listing page or contact the Continuing Education Program Coordinator.


The Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Enhancement Act of 2009 gained two new Congressional co-sponsors: Republican Roscoe Bartlett (MD-6) and Democrat Bart Gordon (TN-6). Originally sponsored by Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, a Democrat representing Texas' 18th District, HR 2160 is also sponsored by Madeleine Bordallo (Guam), Brett Guthrie (KY-02), Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), Zoe Lofgren (CA-16), Blaine Luetkemeyer, (MO-9) and Bennie Thompson (MS-02). Click here for information on how to encourage your Congressional representative to sponsor HR 2160.


Alabama ARES planned once again to conduct an FM Simplex Exercise designed to encourage members to test their range on FM Simplex. This was to be a two-hour exercise to be held during the ARRL June VHF QSO Contest to allow ARES volunteers to have the opportunity to contact more distant VHF contest stations, many of whom run high power and gain antennas. During last year's event, some ARES volunteers were able to make contacts over 200 miles away from their QTH.

During the event, stations exchange call signs and "grid squares.� You can obtain your grid square from by looking up your call sign and then clicking on "details.� Birmingham, Shelby, and Tuscaloosa are in EM63, Huntsville is in EM64, Montgomery is in EM62, and Mobile is in EM50, for examples.

ARES groups were encouraged to man their local EOC's to test the range of served agencies’ amateur communications. Other groups set up hill-top operations in high areas in communities and used Yagi (beam) antennas for greater range. It's also the perfect chance to test a backup power supply, and mobile stations. During hurricanes and winter storms, prolonged power outages can mean that even repeaters equipped with backup power supplies will fail in a few days. It's important to know the range of your station on simplex, and practice using it often. All ARES members are encouraged to take steps to improve their simplex range.

Letters: Alert Notification Systems

I have not tried it myself, but I've also heard good things about Phonevite and from what I can see on the Web site it might be useful in some situations where there isn't a fancy pre-paid TENS system sitting around waiting for someone to find an excuse to use it. – Thomas Currie, N4AOF, Louisville, Kentucky

Letters: A Really “Hotâ€? Rig

One of our local hams wanted to enjoy a recent day of sunshine outdoors but still monitor repeater activity. He moved his 2-meter radio near an open window, laid the microphone on the table, cranked up the volume and went outside for a bit of yard work confident that he could hear the rig and get back to it if he was called. Disappointed at not hearing even one voice after at least 40 minutes he went back inside, noticing the smell of something hot. Somehow the weight of the microphone cord had pulled it down off the table and wedged it between other items with the PTT switch depressed! The rig had been transmitting at full power for a considerable length of time. The radio case was so hot it could not be touched and papers near the radio had already started to discolor and curl. He quickly turned the rig off, disconnected the power cable and carried the radio by its power pigtail outside to the cement garage floor to cool. Would the rig have shut itself off or the fuses blown before starting an actual fire? Maybe, but indications are this operator got off lucky. No doubt he will be much more careful about laying down that microphone on any radio in the future. -- Lincoln Trail Amateur Radio Club Update/Newsletter, Elizabethtown, Kentucky, used with permission – submitted by David VanderMolen, AI4VF

Letters: Ambient Noise Solution

Something I've noticed in just about every photo of hams operating in EOCs, in communication trailers and vans, Incident Command Posts, etc: They all have mobile type microphones in their hands or desk mikes on stands in front of them. And they rely on the speakers in the radio or beside it to hear what is coming out of the radio.

A little over a year ago another ham and I had the privilege to tour an EOC in Cocoa, Florida. Although it was under construction, it had carpeted back walls and side panels to somewhat isolate the operating positions. I asked the EC who was showing us the room what would happen when there were operators at each position with the radios on? Would the operators keep turning up their radio louder and louder so they could hear it over the radio in the next position? He really didn't have an answer.

Later we stumbled upon another part of the ARES group who had a motor home/communications van set up on on Merritt Island to monitor a shuttle launch. Very nice setup, but again hand mikes and speakers. The ham who was giving us a tour admitted that it gets hard to hear in the van when more than one or two radios are in use.

The solution is a headset/boom mike. At my local EOC I talked them into the Heil Pro-Sets, adapters for the Kenwood radios and Heil footswitches. Expensive? I suppose, but the operators tend to talk softer and there is not that constant noise/chatter coming out of the radio. And the operator's hands are free to write and pass paper without having to hold onto a microphone. Or put it down every time they need to do something. -- Hank Kohl, K8DD, AEC Lapeer County, Michigan

EmCommentary: The Need For Information

We all have a need for information, whether it is about what is going on in the world and our community, how our children are doing in school, what that medical test was all about, will I still have a job, or do I really need to replace the old, yet reliable car. The same is true in Emergency Communications. Throughout the days, we pay attention to disasters that are occurring around our country. We are all disaster junkies on some level. At HQ, we are no different, except the need for information goes beyond what we see on the TV, hear on the radio or read in the newspaper or online. To us, these can be an opportunity for Amateur Radio, or are events in which Hams are performing a vital role. But the problem is, only those Hams that are performing the job know about it.

When disaster events are of a magnitude that generates more than a few minutes of media coverage on television, we begin to ask the question “Is Amateur radio involved?â€? In most cases, our answer is, we don’t know. To compound this, we are asked the same question by the same media that is covering the disaster. Our answer is the same. How can this be in today’s world with all the means at our hands to convey information? Simply no one is telling us.

We all know that one of our jobs is to sell the capabilities of amateur radio for emergency communications, and once we sell it, we must be able to perform. For the information piece, unless we know what is occurring, we can’t tell the story. If we are not told what is going on, the story is nothing is going on. It’s not a complex situation to remedy. Whenever something happens that rises to the level of National media coverage, which almost everything is these days, have someone on your team send us an e-mail telling us the story. Then, we can follow-up to get the details on your operation. This works for two aspects: We know what is going on for the media-news side, and we are better able to support the response operations with coordination from HQ if needed. We’d rather have too much information, than none at all. Where to send this information is easy to remember too: – ARRL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager Dennis Dura, K2DCD

K1CE For a Final

Here is a recent letter that made my day:

“Hi Rick, I don’t know if you remember me or not. You got me started in ARES. Well on April 25 I finally passed my Technician class test and got my ticket. My call is KJ4LRB. I officially joined ARES this past Tuesday night and yesterday participated in my first net. Just wanted to say thanks for pointing me the right way! Also I contacted ARRL today. I want to join and volunteer with them, too. Well, I hope you are doing OK and can write soon. Take care. – 73, Eddie, KJ4LRBâ€?

Makes it all worthwhile! Congratulations, and welcome, Eddie.

And another day-maker from Fred Jones, WA4SWF, whom we featured in the last issue:

“Mr. Rick Palm, Thank you for having me in the ARRL ARES E-Letter. I am very proud to be a member of the ARRL and work with the ARES Program. I don't know where Amateur Radio would be today without the ARRL. -- 73, Fred Jones, WA4SWF, Louisa, Kentuckyâ€?




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