April 20, 2011Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE
In This Issue:
By Friday, March 25, Japan Amateur Radio League (JARL) HQ stations had completed disaster relief communications on the 7 MHz band for the catastrophic northeastern Japan earthquake and tsunami of March 11. The JARL thanked radio amateurs for their cooperation in keeping 7.030 MHz clear for the relief communications effort. [March 28, 2011, statement, JARL]. A report can be found here.
Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Enhancement Bills
Of the two versions of the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Enhancement Act of 2011, H.R. 81 and S. 191, the latter is expected to move through the Senate before H.R. 81 is taken up by the House. Quiet efforts are underway to smooth the path of the legislation through the committees of jurisdiction. [ARRL Executive Committee, March 19, 2011]. Current information on both measures, and on HR 607 - The Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011, which poses a threat to our 70-cm band, can be found here. [Editor's note: Although I have not used it extensively at this point, I have found GovTrack.us to be an easy-to-use site for tracking congressional bills, events, individual members of Congress, and so forth. Although not vetted by myself nor ARRL, readers might want to try it, too, and please let me know of your experience.]
The ARES® E-Letter audio version is now available on iTunes: Click here.
Here is a very well done film on the issue of Interoperability, which should be required viewing for ARES® members who want to gain a greater understanding of the issues facing both our own service, and our served agencies. -- Les Rayburn, N1LF, Alabaster, Alabama
ARRL Partners Roundup
April 18, 2011 - Salvation Army: Response Efforts to Deadly Tornadoes, Wildfires Across Southern US
Wicked Tornadoes Rip Up the South; SKYWARN, ARES Respond
Devastating tornadoes swept through the southern portion of the country over the course of the last few days, and after-action reports so far are sketchy, but your editor reached a few key ARES® officials for some early indications of responses. ARES® and SKYWARN were activated in Atoka, Oklahoma and other areas of the state, especially the northeast and southeast, for the tornado emergencies, according to Oklahoma SEC Mark Conklin, N7XYO. Oklahoma ARRL Public Information Coordinator Lloyd Colston, KC5FM, reported that last Friday was a very busy day for the state, as it faced wildfire emergencies in the west and the tornadoes in the southeast. Both SKYWARN and ARES® were involved, said Colston: "These two groups of volunteers are married together for these types of situations. They work extremely well."
Alabama SM David Drummond, W4MD, said that many areas in western Alabama were activated, particularly in Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Greene counties, where tornadoes were on the ground. Numerous ARES® nets across the state were convened in support of these areas. SKYWARN spotters reported ground truths back to the National Weather Service offices in Birmingham via multiple modes, including D-STAR. Damage assessments were also provided to the Red Cross at Tuscaloosa, and the State EMA at Clanton. SEC Greg Gross, K4GR, called the Alabama ARES State Net on 3965 kHz, which was in session for more than six hours. Activity reports are still coming into the Section Manager and a more comprehensive report is pending.
In North Carolina, SM Bill Morine, N2COP, said "storms resulted in the most lives lost in the state due to a natural disaster since 1984 with 23 confirmed dead. Because devastation was highly localized due to the narrow swath of many of the tornadoes, there were few communications outages. Nevertheless, SKYWARN was active, and ARES® operators were on standby for much of the weekend."
From Tom Brown, N4TAB, North Carolina SEC: "Triad SKYWARN (Winston-Salem, Greensboro, High Point) activated under the Raleigh NWS, reporting events as the storm line developed, intensified and moved east. As it cleared their jurisdiction, ARES® Triad operators provided reports into Central Carolina SKYWARN about conditions on the back side of the storm line. John Hamilton, NC4JH, is the Triad SKYWARN EC.
"Central Carolina SKYWARN also activated under Raleigh NWS. It was very busy for many hours with rotating staff of at least two full-time operators on the air taking reports for the NWS and picking up the nets as reports were passed to the NWS. When the NWS office was evacuated to safe quarters, the SKYWARN operators moved with the NWS staff and continued their activities without interruption. That was an absolutely exemplary example of "how to do it right." Virginia Enzor, NC4VA, is the Central Carolina SKYWARN EC.
"Wilson County ARES® activated under Wilson County EM for about five hours, handling damage reports. George Diering, W3GJD, is the Wilson County EC.
"SEC Tom Brown, N4TAB, logged into and monitored the State Emergency Management WebEOC system for 20+ hours, maintaining situational awareness (SA). Most state ARES jurisdictions also maintained SA for the duration of the events. We had offers of boots-on-the-ground support from across the state and from surrounding states, from both ARES® and MARS."
The Newport, North Carolina, NWS SKYWARN operators in the northeastern part of the state, headed by SKYWARN EC John Hopkins, KJ4EJH, had two busy net controls, Pat Gorman, KE4WZY, and Tom Young, KF4VOL. Bertie County, a rural county, was hard hit but served well by the Newport NWS group.
In Virgina, Section Manager Carl Clements, W4CAC, reported that SKYWARN nets were activated throughout the state, sending reports to NWS offices, including the Wakefield NWS facility.
See also the above stories on Red Cross and Salvation Army involvement. They are both ARRL partners pursuant to formal and longstanding memorandums of understanding (MOU).
Western PA Tornado Response
March 30, 2011 -- Western Pennsylvania hams responded to a tornado emergency. At approximately 4:30 on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 23, severe thunderstorms started to roll into Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, producing golf ball-sized hail and heavy winds. Members of the Westmoreland County Public Service/ARES® group were involved. Learn More. -- ARRL Letter
Southern Cal Hospital Support Hams Fill In Communications Gap
March 25, 2011 - Hospital Disaster Support Communications System (HDSCS) amateurs provided backup communications when phones failed at a southern California hospital. When nurses and other caregivers picked up their phones at Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) in California in the early morning on March 21, there was no dial tone. A power surge caused the central processor in the hospital's phone switch to fail. Following established procedures, the Lead Operator at the CHOC switchboard immediately used an off-switch tie-line to reach April Moell, WA6OPS, head of this ARES® group that specializes in helping hospitals when their communications fail. More here.
Just 15 days later, HDSCS was activated again to another Orange County hospital. A group pager alert at 10:28 AM on April 5 brought hams to Saddleback Hospital in Laguna Hills after a digital equipment failure caused the inbound and outbound trunk lines to become inoperative. Again, the phone number of April Moell, WA6OPS was given to Orange County Communications agency so that ambulance companies and other hospitals could contact Saddleback Hospital via HDSCS. The outage lasted until 6 PM that day.
Of the 115 times that HDSCS has been activated for communications problems in Orange County hospitals, this was the 85th time that it was due to switchgear or cable failure. According to WA6OPS, who is an ARES DEC, "Many hams around the state and the country ask me why Orange County has so many phone system failures in hospitals. They seem to think that this doesn't happen in their own areas, but they're mistaken. We know from our own experience that phone equipment isn't 100% reliable. I know from talking to lots of hospital disaster planners around the country that they have plenty of failures, too. But far too often, hams think that Amateur Radio can only help in 'all else fails' disasters such as hurricanes, tornados and floods. Most ham emergency groups don't prepare and plan to help in these single-hospital incidents. They don't set up 24-hour alerting plans for the hospitals to use to contact them quickly when phones go down, so they never get the call."
Moell continues, "When a nurse on a hospital unit has an urgent need to contact a patient's physician at his office or home but the phones are down because switchgear has failed, that's just as severe an emergency as it would be in a widespread natural disaster. Orange County hospitals know and appreciate us because we come when they call and we connect their staff members to the outside, no matter the cause of the communications outage. We urge other ARES groups around the country to adopt our hospital support model, which includes robust alerting plans for each hospital, regular meetings with the hospital disaster planners, and ready-to-respond members who are trained in the special terminology and communications needs of medical facilities." More information about HDSCS and its successful model for hospital communications support is at the group's Web site. -- Joe Moell, K0OV, Fullerton, California
Bergen, New Jersey Members Active in Flooding Emergency
Hams from the Bergen Amateur Radio Association (BARA) provided communications for the Red Cross of Northern New Jersey. The five day response was in support of relief efforts in the wake of severe flooding that occurred in the area in early March. BARA hams leading the effort were Tony Izzo, K2AMI; Phil Barber, WA2LXE; and Bob Javits, WB2AIU.
Operating from a permanent station installed by BARA at Red Cross Disaster Relief headquarters in Ridgewood, New Jersey, the hams maintained contact with the Disaster Assessment Teams covering the flooded areas and relayed their reports to various departments as needed. Communications operations involved the use of the repeater of the 10-70 Repeater Association as it provided excellent coverage of the
flood area. According to Rob Pavlick, Response Manager for the Red Cross, "The continuing support from BARA for our efforts here in Northern New Jersey has resulted in a more timely flow of information, and data collection." Red Cross Disaster Assessment volunteers who are also hams provided the input from the field.
West Texas Wildfires Response
On April 9 at 4:15 PM, ARRL West Texas District 5 EC Bob Ward, WA5ROE, received a call from Jeff Davis County (Texas) Fire Marshal Stewart Billingsley, N5HXZ. Billingsley informed Ward that a fire had begun in the West Texas town of Marfa and was rapidly approaching Fort Davis, 22 miles to the northeast.
"Stewart asked me to call the National Weather Service to get it on the alert system, as well as the AM and FM radio stations in Alpine," Ward told the ARRL. "He wanted it broadcast over the radio stations that he needed the Mano Prieto and Fort Davis Estates sub-divisions evacuated. People in the area know that when an emergency happens, they need to tune into these stations for the latest information. This was the Rock House Fire. At the same time, another fire, the Roper Fire, had started on the eastern edge of Alpine." More here. - ARRL Letter
EmCommWest 2011 Next Month in Reno
The ARRL Specialty Event convention EmCommWest is coming to Reno, Nevada on May 6, 7, and 8, 2011. This is a premier event that specifically focuses on Emergency Radio. This year's keynote ARRL speaker will be Mike Corey, W5MPC, Emergency Response and Planning Manager from ARRL HQ. Corey will share the latest in the world of emergency communications and what we can look forward to having just passed the 75th Anniversary of ARES®. The Saturday night banquet speaker will be honored, special guest former ARRL President Jim Haynie, W5JBP, who served three terms as League president, and made major contributions to Amateur Radio, including "The Big Project" to attract young people into the hobby. His key support for emergency communications is well-known. More event info here. -- ARRL Sacramento Valley Section News, March 2011
Sure-Fire Ways to Kill Your ARES® Program
Last month, I offered what I believe are ten ways to grow an ARES® or EMCOMM program. This month, I'll offer a list of ways to do just the opposite. Most are related to leadership.
Politics - If you've been around a while, you've experienced the evil of Amateur Radio politics, often made worse because we're a passionate bunch and nobody really has an important (job, money, family) stake in the debate. ARES® is different. We have a public safety mission and people count on us. We do not have time for politics.
A commitment to community service and mission can fill the vacuum politics would otherwise be drawn into. Before you "start something" or play someone else's games, ask yourself, "Is this really worth it?" Sometimes you'll say "yes," but "no" is often a wiser, long-term decision. The best way to avoid politics is honesty and obvious goodwill.
Failure to communicate and delegate - This is absolutely key. One of the best ways to keep volunteers - arguably the only way - is to give the ones who want something to do a task they can do and want to do. You need to match the task to the volunteer and be careful to match the task and deadline to the volunteer's reliability. Getting others involved is the key to your group's success. Train these people to become your leaders.
Obviously, you need people to know what your plans are, what you need, and what progress is being made. A weekly e-mail is a good way to accomplish this. Monthly is probably too infrequent. If you can't fill at least a short weekly newsletter, you probably are not doing enough to be an active group.
Not loving your volunteers - Hot news: As a leader, you can't accomplish very much working alone. Your job is creating excellent volunteer experiences and keeping your volunteers involved, fulfilled, and happy. If you don't really love your volunteers, not merely respect or like them, but love them, you will fail. Think of your volunteers as an extended family and get them to think of each other the same way. Be the example.
Forgetting to say "Thanks!" - A wise manager once told me that there is really only one thing you can tell a volunteer - "Thanks" - because you can't force them to do anything. Remind your people constantly that their effort are (1) important, (2) make a difference and (3) are appreciated. You need to concentrate on all three.
Failure to apologize - As a leader, you're going to make mistakes. Decisions you make are sometimes going to make people unhappy. You must always weigh the gains made by doing something against the people it will upset and that potential loss. I generally find myself "doing something" while remaining sensitive to the people those actions might upset.
If you follow the adage, "it's easier to apologize than to get permission" then apologies really, really matter. And, you must be successful in the task for this strategy to work. Yet you still risk making permanent enemies.
In general: Apologize - sincerely - early, often, and sometimes even when you might not be wrong. But you must be sincere or this will totally backfire.
Misunderstanding served agencies - This is a topic for an ARRL Handbook-sized essay, but if you don't understand what your agencies need and want, how they function, and what they value, you will not have a good relationship with them. That could be your undoing. Work with multiple agencies to reduce the potential downside.
Not investing in growth - This is absolutely key. I don't care how you do it, but you need to constantly work to sign up and train new members. I am a big fan of ARES® groups and Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) working together. See my article in May, 2011 QST for more on that. Do what works in your area, but you may be better off creating new hams than re-recruiting the burnout cases.
Not investing in relationships - The primary job of ARES® leaders isn't radio, it's relationships -- with volunteers, agencies, one another, allied groups, etc. If you put your time and effort into building relationships among people, your communications capabilities will improve by multiples.
Personal burnout - Leaders need to look after one another as well as themselves. If you need help, support, or cheering up, ask for it, especially from the leaders you have created. You can always drop me a note, too.
I'd like to tell you I am an expert at all these things, but it would be a lie. Still, these are what I try to focus on: Excellent volunteer and program management. Members make the ARES® world go 'round. - David Coursey, N5FDL, Contributing Editor (visit his blog)
Setting Up a Twitter Alert System
One tool that might be useful for some groups is Twitter for rapidly sending out club, group or ARES® alerts or announcements. Anyone who has a cell phone that can send and receive text messages can easily enable these alerts to show up on their phones; no smart phone or complicated setup required!
Setting up a new Twitter account takes just a few minutes, and for your members to sign up to receive updates is even faster. To set up a new account visit http://www.twitter.com and look for the "Sign Up" button on the right side. For the name, put the name of your ARES® group or club. For the username, think carefully about this one as it will be in your URL address, and you won't want to change it later. For the Santa Cruz, California ARES® group I chose a naming scheme of "ares_xcz" with the plan that if multiple ARES® groups were listed they would be shown together alphabetically. Then I used a three letter county abbreviation. I created the main account, <http://twitter.com/ares_xcz> for official ARES® activations and alerts.
Next, choose a password. I would create a strong password that you might share with just a few people in your group so they could post the alert if you were unavailable. Board members or the club president would be some examples of who you might grant posting access to.
Next, put in an e-mail address (your own, or a club email address) that gets monitored regularly. Answer the other simple questions asked and click the "Create my account" button. You can then customize your page if you choose, add your organization logo, and write a description of the group with a link to your website for more information.
To post a "Tweet" or an alert to your group, simply type the text in the "What's happening?" box at the top and hit the "Tweet" button. Remember, Tweets are limited to 140 characters so they are easy to read on cellular phones via SMS, so keep it short. Your tweet is available to anyone who looks at your Twitter account or uses the search feature. A common method is to post the short alert message with a link to additional information. For our group I also created a second Twitter account for more general news and non-priority information like meeting reminders and announcements: <http://twitter.com/ares_xcz_news>
Signing Up To Receive Twitter Alerts
For your group members to sign up to receive alerts is easy. From their mobile phone they would simply create a new text message. In the "To" field of the message is where you typically put the cellular phone number of who you want to send the message to, but in this case, Twitter's number is 40404, so place that in the "To" field of the message.
In the message portion, simply write the word "follow" and the name of the Twitter account for your organization. As an example, to follow all alerts for the Santa Cruz California ARES® group, the message would be "follow ares_xcz".
Send that message and Twitter will reply with a few very basic instructions. The next time the organization posts a tweet, your phone will receive a text message within seconds. If you ever want to turn off these updates, simply send a text message of "leave ares_xcz" to 40404 and it will turn the notifications off.
There are a lot of other features of Twitter, and through the Web site you can read the tweets online, search past tweets, locate additional people, ham radio operators or organizations to follow, and more. If you want to get started to see how some Amateur Radio operators are using Twitter, check out http://hamtwits.com. - Dan Dawson, KI6ESH [Dawson operates primarily on VHF/UHF voice around Santa Cruz, California and also occasionally operates APRS while mobile or flying private aircraft. He can be reached with questions or corrections to this article on Twitter @KI6ESH or via http://ki6esh.com.
[editor's note: ARRL HQ is also on Twitter! We have a Twitter page set up for EmComm related posts. You can find us at www.twitter.com/arrl_emcomm - Mike, W5MPC]
In re several points made by correspondents in the last issue, on the subject of batteries for HTs, the number one thing we're told is to get an AA battery case since AA batteries are available anywhere. You're more likely to find AA batteries than a charger outlet for your NiMH battery pack in an emergency, power-out situation. But the truth is: There are times when you can get AA batteries but no charger outlet, times when you can get a recharge but not AA batteries, times when you can get either, and times when you can get neither.
Meanwhile, if AAA batteries are going to be in less demand in this scenario, then an adapter to make AAAs fit your AA battery case would be a good idea. There are some commercially available adapters, but an inexpensive approach that you could even do in the field is available here.
On the subject of commodity communication infrastructure, you can't count on being able to place a cell phone call in an emergency situation. SMS can still work, though. It's hardly the most efficient medium for emergency communication, but I can understand why it still works: SMS uses what was initially unused bits in the handshake protocol between cell phones and the network, so even if the network is flooded to capacity with voice and data traffic, as long as the phones can tell the network that they exist, they can send a text message. This suggests that SMS may not be an altogether bad way to make initial contact with your ARES® team.
On transportation, dogma seems to limit it to the emcomm truck, van or trailer. Bicycles don't seem to be part of our plans, though, not even for getting to fixed locations. I've gone bicycle mobile for parades, and I've also seen bicycle mobile use in marathon event communications systems. Just a thought. - Chris Bohn, N0RZT/4, Navarre, Florida [editor's note: Here in Florida, we see many public safety officials riding dirt bikeswith knobby tires, with hand-held radios on their belts. Bicycle use could be good for ARES® operators, too - plus, it's good exercise! - K1CE]
We need a national dialogue on what constitutes an easily usable hand-held radio that can be handed to anyone in an emergency and operated on the spot. All of the HTs that I own require that the operator have the manual close by in order to be able to program them. They are all different.
In a major disaster event, granted, many hams who have hand-helds know how to use them and will be instantly successful in communicating. But if you think about asking many other hams to get out in the field and help, they may not know how to program their units, or borrowed units, beyond the basics.
The KISS principle dictates that a simple hand-held for quick-study and emergency use be marketed. The simplest HT I can remember using was the Kenwood TH-22 radio with thumbwheel switches on the top (hard to knock off frequency) and dip switches on the front to choose the PL tone. Simple switches on the back selected offset and power levels. If an operator was handed one, he/she would quickly be able to get it into operation on frequency almost immediately.
I think you should start a dialogue in your newsletter about what we need, and what models are already available that are simple to use. - Bob Skaggs, KB5RX, Santa Fe, New Mexico [editor's note: I reviewed the ICOM IC-V80 in the Product Review column in March 2011 QST - it seemed to fill the bill as prescribed by Skaggs. - K1CE]
New to ARES®?
Here are some basic sources of good ARES® information:
The ARRL Public Service Communications Manual (PSCM) is the bible for ARES and NTS operators.
For field operators, check out the ARES Field Resources Manual. It is a quick trainer and field resource guide for the emergency communicator.
Find local ARES activity and organizations in your area here.
The 2011 National Hurricane Conference
As this E-Letter is getting ready to head out the virtual door Amateur Radio is being well represented at the 2011 National Hurricane Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
The ARRL is being represented by Southeast Division Director Greg Sarratt, W4OZK, and ARRL HQ is being represented by Emergency Preparedness Assistant Ken Bailey, K1FUG. There are presentations planned on a variety of topics of interest to Amateur Radio.
K1CE For a Final
I dusted off an older editorial I wrote for QST a number of years ago, and thought I would replay it now as it is still relevant, perhaps even more so today. It also appears in the ARRL's Public Service Communications Manual:
Meeting the communications needs of served agencies is a challenging, and often daunting proposition in today's complex post-9/11 disaster/emergency relief arena. With the proliferation of emergency relief organizations, increasingly sophisticated needs, all competing for that scarce resource -- the volunteer -- coupled with the emergence of other non-ARES® amateur providers, it's enough to make an operator's head spin. As more of the population moves to disaster-prone areas, and less government funding is available, more pressure is consequently placed on agencies to appropriately use the volunteer sector for support of their missions in disaster mitigation.
The League's formal relationships with served agencies are vitally important and valuable to radio amateurs. They provide us with the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the relief of suffering among our fellow human beings. Another substantial benefit not to be overlooked is that the relationships lend legitimacy and credibility for Amateur Radio's public service capability, and that is important when it comes time to defend our frequencies and privileges before the FCC and Congress. So, ARRL's relationships with the emergency/disaster relief world need to be nurtured.
What to do? First, it is imperative that a detailed local operational plan be developed with agency managers in the jurisdiction that set forth precisely what each organization's expectations are during a disaster operation. ARES® and agency officials must work jointly to establish protocols for mutual trust and respect. Make sure they know who the principle ARES® official is in the jurisdiction. All matters involving recruitment and utilization of ARES® volunteers are directed by him/her, in response to the needs assessed by the agency involved.
Make sure ARES® counterparts in these agencies are aware of ARES® policies, capabilities and perhaps most importantly, resource limitations. Let them know that ARES® may have other obligations to fulfill with other agencies, too. Technical issues involving message format, security of message transmission, disaster welfare inquiry policies and others should be reviewed and expounded upon in the detailed local operations plans.
Another challenge ARES® faces is the number of agencies that demand communications support during a disaster. A local ARES® unit only has so much to go around, and it can't possibly meet every agency's needs. While the League maintains several formal Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with disaster and emergency response agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Weather Service, Salvation Army, Red Cross, National Communications System and Associated Public- Safety Communications Officials - International. These documents merely set forth a framework for possible cooperation at the local level. While they are designed to encourage mutual recognition, cooperation and coordination, they should not be interpreted as to commit, obligate or mandate in any way that an ARES® unit must serve a particular agency, or meet all of its needs, in a jurisdiction. MOUs are "door openers," to help you get your foot in the door. It's up to you to decide whether or not to pursue a local operational plan with an agency, a decision that will be based on a number of factors including the local needs of the agency and the resources you have available to support those needs, given that you may have other prioritized commitments as well.
To address this, sit down with your fellow ARES® members, EC and SEC, and determine what agencies are active in your area, evaluate each of their needs, and which ones you are capable of meeting. Then prioritize these agencies and their needs. After you're all in agreement, sit down with your counterparts in each of the agencies and execute local, detailed operational plans and agreements in light of your priority list based on the above.
Given the above, however, you should also be working for growth in your ARES® program, making it a stronger, more valuable resource and hence able to meet more of the agencies' local needs. A stronger ARES® means a better ability to serve your communities in times of need and a greater sense of pride for Amateur Radio by both amateurs and the public. That's good for all of us. - Se you next month! 73, Rick K1CE
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