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ARES Letter Issues

The ARES Letter
January 16, 2013
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE
ARRL January VHF Contest - Perfect for ARES Practice, Too

The ARRL has added a new "FM Only" category to ARRL VHF contests, starting with the January VHF Contest, which begins this Saturday, January 19. The contest starts at 1900 UTC and runs until Sunday night at 0359 UTC. You'll find lots of "weak signal" VHF operators using high power and sensitive antennas working hard to work your station on FM. No special gear, no big expense -- you can operate in this contest and possibly win a certificate using just the radios you already own.

It's also a perfect opportunity for ARES, SKYWARN, RACES and CERT teams to test their ability to communicate without using a repeater, just as you might have to in an actual emergency. Want to have even more fun? Drive or hike to a local hilltop and you can exercise your deployment capabilities -- it's like "Field Day In the Cold!"

You'll find lots of VHF operators hoping to work YOU! Try transmitting a "CQ Contest" on the following frequencies: 146.550 MHz simplex; 146.580 MHz simplex; also 52.525 MHz (6 meters); 223.5 MHz (1.25 meters); and 446.0 MHz (70 cm band). Remember under the new rules, you're limited to 100 watts or less, but that means you'll be on equal footing with a lot of small stations. A gain antenna (like a beam or Yagi) can really help, and a high location is a big plus, too. You'll need to know your "grid square" as that is part of the exchange of reports with other stations. - Les Rayburn, N1LF, Birmingham, former Alabama SEC [See more discussion in this issue, from ARRL Contest Update Editor Ward Silver, N0AX and from Rayburn. - ed.]


Florida Amateurs to Drill with State in Major Interoperability Exercise

Florida's Division of Emergency Management is running a statewide interoperable communications exercise entitled "Operation RADAR II," to be held early next month. According to the state's lead agency for disaster response, the multi-day exercise emergency communication teams will utilize mobile communications units and work from Camp Blanding in northeast Florida to establish communications networks among one another and county Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) located throughout the state. This exercise has been designed to fully integrate multiple communications systems located across Florida into an effective emergency communications network. Amateur Radio programs have been invited, and will participate, according to ARRL Northern Florida Section Manager Paul Eakin, KJ4G.

Exercise objectives include identification of shortfalls in resources, limits in capabilities, and conflicts in planning for interoperable communications; demonstration of the ability to communicate throughout the emergency response community and establish interoperable voice and data communications between federal, state, and local first responders; evaluation of response partners' ability to share necessary, appropriate data in all environments; and demonstration that all response partners can effectively share information between communication modes.

Participation is by invitation only, and entities and individuals must apply for and be registered accordingly. Eakin reports that the exercise will be like Field Day, with amateurs bringing "everything we will need to accomplish the tasks we are given, including antennas, extra coax, connectors, spare radios, computers, wire, baluns, generators (gensets), tables and chairs, pens, paper, programming software and cables and the list goes on." "We will have to set up our own equipment and antennas, build operating stations, operate and tear down."

Eakin said that amateurs will need to have an elaborate command post up and running prior to the start of the exercise. The exercise scenario is a hurricane and will be managed under the Incident Command System (ICS). The Amateur Radio unit will be operating as an "agency unit," Eakin said. It will be given tasks relating to Amateur Radio, and is shown as part of the ICS in a Power Point planning guide, which can be found here. HF tasks will be assigned, and digital modes testing will be enhanced in the tasking, said Eakin.

Chosen applicants will be sent an official e-mail giving instructions on how to register on the state's exercise web page to receive their credentials. Walk-ons will not be admitted at Camp Blanding without proper ID from the Florida state EOC. Eakin said that "it is a precedent set by the FL-EOC to ask Amateur Radio to come into Operation Radar at this level of responsibility to participate and assist. The outcome of our performance may very well move Amateur Radio forward in the eyes of citizens, served agencies, press and government leaders." Section Manager Eakin is also the Florida State EOC's liaison for Amateur Radio.

Letters: On the Origins of CERT

I read your column in the January 2013 issue of QST regarding ARES and CERT. I'd like to provide a little historical perspective indicating that an ARES/CERT affiliation existed long before FEMA adopted the concept which, in fact, was created by local government. In the early 1980's the Coronado (California) Police Department, where I served as Police Chief, had a very large and active ARES program and as we were responsible for emergency preparedness in the city our department also had an active citizen emergency preparedness program. The nearby city of San Diego, through its fire department, developed the CERT concept. Indeed I believe they were the originator of it. My department's Emergency Preparedness coordinator, Sergeant Dick Stolpe, suggested that we "marry" our ARES program into a CERT approach and we did exactly that. Sergeant Stolpe's suggestion was soon copied by multiple other cities in Southern California, which saw the advantages of a citizens emergency response team having the reliable communications services that only Amateur Radio could provide. - Jerry Boyd, N7WR, former Chief of Police, Coronado, California

MMSN Celebrates 45 Years of Service

Thursday, January 3, 2013, marked the 45th anniversary of the Maritime Mobile Service Network. The need for the type of volunteer service provided by the network had existed for many years. The launching of an organization to meet this need was placed on the drawing board when nine Amateur Radio operators met at the home of Chaplain Alla Winston Robertson, USN, WB4AKB (now KB5YX), on December 27, 1967. Those meeting with Robertson were: S.C. Rock, WA4YVQ; Mel White, WA4IQS; D. Freeman, K1YLI; J.G. Kincade, WA4YVX; Art Werner, K3QYQ; H. Bretches, K4DBR; L.B. Lapman, W4SAW; and G.W. Powell, WA4RRO. This group agreed to launch the Maritime Mobile Service Network, or MMSN, on January 3, 1968 at 2130 UTC on 14.320 MHz but had to move to 14.317 MHz a few weeks later to avoid excessive interference. In 1969, when the net moved to 14.313 MHz, it also established 14.300 MHz as an alternate working frequency and for years operated on either frequency depending on nearby interference, but, since before 2000, the net has been operating exclusively on 14.300 MHz.

The original purpose of the MMSN was to "Serve Those Who Serve" in the United States military during the Vietnam crisis. Since that time, the network has grown considerably in hours of operation and services provided, and consisting of a dedicated group of radio amateurs who unselfishly volunteer their time, equipment, and efforts to serve and assist those in need of communications from foreign countries and the high seas. Our primary purpose now is that of handling legal third party traffic from maritime mobiles, both pleasure and commercial, and overseas-deployed military personnel. We also help missionaries in foreign countries, and volunteer net control stations from throughout North America maintain the network. Furthermore, these stations are assisted by relay stations to ensure total coverage of the Atlantic ocean, Mediterranean and Caribbean seas, and eastern Pacific ocean.

The network has been formally recognized for its work in handling emergency traffic by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the United States Coast Guard and the National Weather Service.

The Maritime Mobile Service Network has grown in hours of operation from a five-hour net operating seven days a week to the nine-hour format today, which is from 12:00 noon to 10:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time and until 9:00 PM during standard time. In the early years, phone patch traffic was heavy, with estimates of over 10,000 pieces of traffic handled each year from 1968-1977. One of our net control stations, Dave Wagner, WA2DXQ, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, ran well over 1000 phone patches during the two-year period of 1977-1978, mostly to United States Navy (USN) ships in the Mediterranean and Red Sea but also to a few missionaries and both private and commercial vessels. Though the need for phone patch traffic has diminished considerably over the past 15 to 20 years, the need is still there. If it hadn't been for a number of our net control stations equipped with a phone patch, some rescues the net's been involved in would not have been as successful.

Many mariners in the Caribbean Islands, Central and South America and the Gulf of Mexico view the network as a resource for weather information as well as a safety valve and trusted contact point for essential communications. In 2003, Frank Kelley, N3FK (SK), said "I would be remiss if I didn't say something about a great lady who used the net to get assistance with numerous medical problems. She was Ruth Paz, HR2RP, located in San Pedro Sula, Honduras." Frank was stationed in Panama from 1975-1977, and Ruth was a net control station for the MMSN during that time. Continuing, he stated "Ruth was a nurse and was the only medical person in her area. She used the net to get medical advice, medical evacuations and medicine in and out of Honduras. While I was stationed in the Canal Zone, Ruth ran many patches to the Gorgas Army Hospital in Panama. She used the tropical disease section on Gorgas to save and help many people from Honduras, many of whom were bitten by exotic creatures. At the time Gorgas was the place for anything tropical." Today, phone patch traffic has subsided, but
there remain some net control stations to help many of the missionaries and doctors in various locations with phone patching for assistance they can't otherwise obtain. Since March 2000, the net's been featured in many publications such as QST, publicizing the help and rescues of people in life and death situations.

Notable Rescues

There have been two notable rescues effected by MMSN nearly one year apart: the S/V Hayat on March 27, 2000 off the northeast coast of Honduras, and the S/V Lorna on March 20, 2001, off the northeast coast of Venezuela and west of Trinidad. In each case, one passenger was seriously injured from gun fire from modern day pirates and thankfully both survived.

The Maritime Mobile Service Network has a legacy of service that will continue due to the selfless volunteer Amateur Radio operators donating their time to train and be ready to help each and every day. Without such devotion, the net wouldn't be able to do what it does. As a member, I want to say a big thank you to all who've served in the past as well as those serving now. It's been a great 45 years, and may the net last to see another 45 years and more.

In honor of celebrating our 45th anniversary, the Maritime Mobile Service Network unveiled a new website design as well as announced our presence on FaceBook. We welcome everyone to visit our new-look website as well as signing our new "Guest Book" and liking us on FaceBook. -- Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, Brandon, Mississippi

Insight: New FM-Only Category Supports ARES Interests

The ARRL January VHF Contest offers an FM-Only category for the first time. The goal is, of course, to encourage new hams that have never used the "weak signal" modes to do a bit of DXing and find out what their stations are capable of. Contests are a terrific way to do just that but communicating with the target audience requires understanding their needs and expectations. Les Rayburn, N1LF, posted a thoughtful discussion on this topic to the VHF contesting reflector - it is food for thought for all of us who participate in both emcomm and radiosport. Thanks, Les. -- Ward Silver, NØAX, Editor, ARRL Contest Update, January 2, 2013, issue


As the previous Section Emergency Coordinator for Alabama, I understood that FM simplex capability translated to a greater level of capability during an emergency. Amateurs who improved their stations on simplex, also benefited by being able to reach more distant repeaters, which is a huge advantage during severe weather. Some "lessons learned" from cross-promoting FM activity during VHF contests were:
1) Tailor your message to your audience. I didn't try to pitch it as a "contest" as much as an exercise when talking to ARES, SKYWARN, and CERT groups. We encouraged them to test their ability to communicate without the aid of a repeater, as they might have to do in an emergency. We also encouraged Field Day-type operations from high locations.
2) Concentrating activity in a three- to five-hour period is going to be more successful than just putting out the dates and times for a two-day long contest. Nothing is less interesting than "dead air" to a non-contester. (It's not all that interesting to a contester, either - N0AX.)
3) It's vital that weak-signal operators monitor the FM simplex channels and participate during those concentrated activity periods. I tried to utilize the afternoon hours on Saturday, when conditions are poorest---so that operators didn't miss out on a lot of contacts on SSB and CW but that doesn't work well in June when six meters is liable to be open.
The point is that weak-signal operators often turn their nose up at FM - and this hurts the effort. If you give a new operator a taste of DX, they may become hooked for life. The best way to accomplish this is to get those "monster signals" active on FM. If your local big gun doesn't
support FM contesting, then try to change their mind on the topic.
You should hear some of the reactions you get from newcomers when they discover they can communicate 75-100 miles or more on their FM rig without a repeater. This is easily possible with a high-performance weak-signal station on one end of the contact.
4) Talk up the event on your local FM nets, club meetings, etc. Tailor the message to the crowd. A DX club isn't going to respond to the same "pitch" as your local ARES team.
5) Poll your club and see who has 222 MHz FM capability. I always make it a point to schedule contacts with those operators on 223.5 MHz simplex.
6) In the last few days before the contest, make a lot of calls on 146.52 MHz and talk to operators there about the contest. They understand the concept of simplex and use it often. They're your best candidates for participation in the contest. Nothing in the rules forbids promoting the contest on 146.52 prior to the event!
7) Don't get discouraged by the naysayers. The FM-Only category is a great idea, but it needs the active support of the weak signal community to work! -- Les Rayburn, N1LF, reprinted from the January 2, 2013, issue of the ARRL Contest Update

Letters: TERT Response and Mutual Aid in 911 Dispatch Community

You might find this article from APCO of interest. It's about the deployment (and the process) of additional personnel from unaffected 911 call centers to areas affected by storm Sandy. -- Robert Bauer, KC4HM, ARRL Life Member,

K5GM Honored for Nearly 30 Years of Service to NTS, TCC

Pete Jordahl, K5GM, of Austin, Texas, who recently retired as the ARRL National Traffic System, Cycle 4, Transcontinental Corps Director in the Central Area, was honored recently by the ARRL NTS Central Area Staff and ARRL Headquarters for his 29 plus years of service as a TCC Director.

The duties of this position include assuring that Transcontinental Corps stations are available seven days a week to make schedules with TCC stations in other parts of the United States and Canada to facilitate the movement of third party messages in service to the public. Pete has been a faithful and reliable member of the staff, and he made sure these positions were covered every day. He often covered positions himself when operator power was short. Pete retired from his position on August 1, 2012.

Jordahl received a plaque for his diligent and reliable service to ARRL and the public. Thank you, Pete! -- Richard Webb, NF5B, Chair, NTS Central Area Staff

National Traffic System: BPL Counts That "Count"

The Counting Basics. From its inception, the intent of the Brass Pounders League (BPL) monthly award has been to recognize individual operator dedication in "handling" a significant amount of messages in proper radiogram format. An operator's monthly BPL count is self-reported - without verification -- to the Section Manager (or Section Traffic Manager) who issues award certificates and reports operator results to ARRL Headquarters. Summary results are published in QST. BPL awardee-operators attaining three (3) monthly BPL awards are eligible for the coveted medallion issued by League HQ. This article restates the long-standing policy on the proper BPL counting to be used in submitting monthly counts for the award.

The BPL award is given for each operator reporting at least 500 messages each month (total of received, sent, delivered and originated), or at least 100 originated messages, and is based on counting "points" for particular categories of message-handling:

Received - One point for each message in proper format received by the operator over the air. This point is earned whether received for relaying (sending) or for delivery to a third party (not including the receiving operator) addressee. A message received by the operator addressed to that operator counts as a received point.

Sent - One point for each properly formatted message sent by the operator over the air to another operator. This point is earned either when the operator is relaying a message, or sending an originated message (see below). A message that the operator initiates and sends only counts as a sent message point.

Delivered - One point for each message in proper format delivered by the operator to a third party addressee. This point is counted as an "off-the-air" function. If the message is addressed to the receiving station, it only counts as a received message, not also a delivered message.

Originated - Extra credit of one point is given for each message from a third party for sending by the operator over the air in the proper format. Originated messages earning the extra point are an "off-the-air" function in recognition of the public service value. BPL counts should not include the originated extra point for messages created by the sending operator (not a third party).

Digital Station Counting

Beginning in the late 80s and early 90s, digital-mode store-and-forward operations (packet BBS and HF MBO stations) emerged as an effective method for rapidly relaying messages. Auto-forwarding of messages posted on such stations typically involves no operator intervention in actually "handling" the relay of each message. An initial NTS policy position on the proper BPL counting by auto-receiving/forwarded stations was published by HQ staff in the August 1990 issue of QST (at page 68), providing, in part: "The award is limited to those who actively, manually perform relay functions using their key, paddle, mike or keyboard. It is not for managers of automated stations where traffic introduced by others passes automatically with no operator intervention." (See also the ARRL Public Service Communications Manual, Section 10.2; and the ARRL Operating Manual for Radio Amateurs, 10th ed., at page 5-17.) This position was validated by the ARRL Board standing committee having jurisdiction over the National Traffic System.

In the March 1991 issue of QST (at page 70), additional guidelines sought to clarify the issue, adding, in part: "Installing and maintaining a voice repeater is a big job, as is maintaining a packet, AMTOR or other type of BBS. But it's the message handling itself, not the provision of the medium that we recognize with the BPL. BBS System Operators (SysOps) are not excluded from BPL recognition . . . A SysOp who manually transfers a radiogram from an NTS net . . . into his BBS files for autoforwarding, earns two BPL points: one for receiving it on the net and the second for "sending" it to the BBS for further relay down the road. When a radiogram is posted on the BBS and the SysOp takes it for delivery or relay to a local net, he may count one point for receiving the message over Amateur Radio and one point for the delivery . . . or for sending, if he transmits it to another amateur manually, not automatically. If the SysOp has to manually modify a radiogram posted by a user (to edit an improperly constructed header, for instance), we allow two BPL points - one for receiving it and one for sending it. The key is manual intervention, which we reward with BPL credits." Parallel articles emphasizing this policy guidance appeared in several additional League publications that same year.

Counts Need to "Count"

For the BPL award (and the Medallion) to retain its distinguished character, it is important that volunteer report integrity remain true to the award's intent by proper and consistent counting. It is hoped that this restatement will help serve that end. This guidance will be added to the next edition of the Public Service Communications Manual. - Rob Griffin, K6YR, Chairman, Pacific Area Staff, National Traffic System and Santa Barbara Section Manager; and Steve Ewald, WV1X, ARRL Headquarters

The Indian River County (Florida) Amateur Radio Emergency ServiceĀ® held their annual holiday party on December 12, 2012 -- 12/12/12. When it was learned that members Eric Larabell, KF4UJO, and Lisa Lindner, KK4CIE, were being married earlier that day the party turned into a surprise wedding reception, complete with wedding cake and champagne toast! - Sherri Brower, W4STB, Southern Florida Section Manager

K1CE For a Final

I almost hate to bring this up after such a devastating 2012 hurricane season - the loss of life and property was of epic proportions - but NOW is the peacetime to prepare for this year's season, which runs from June 30 to November 30. The National Hurricane Conference (March 25-28, New Orleans) and the Governor's Hurricane Conference (Florida, May 5-10, Ft. Lauderdale) will once again be good venues for learning and training, planning and networking. Meeting details to come. Attendees can count on a robust Amateur Radio presence, which is sure to include major related forums and coffee klatches, exhibits and presentations. And, of course, get your stations ready, and prepare your household and neighborhood disaster response and survival kits and plans. Now is the time to start a CERT team in your neighborhood - see January QST's Public Service column on that topic for ideas.


Last but not least, remember our friends and colleagues in other hurricane-prone areas of Region 2 - Bermuda, Bahamas, the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico - as you plan and prepare your hurricane response capability for this season coming up. I just returned from a week of touring several Caribbean island-nations, and listened to their residents talk of more severe weather and storms from climate change, destruction and lives lost from previous storms and how they count on the United States for aid and assistance following such calamities. They are poorer than us, and do not have the response planning and resources that we have here in the U.S. Be prepared to assist on nets such as the Hurricane Watch Net, VoIP Hurricane Net, and the network operations of WX4NHC, the famous group of operators at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, whether it is relaying transmissions and messages or standing by and conveying situation reports from affected stations to the media to make the public aware of the plights of our fellow radio amateurs and the residents of other affected countries. But, always bear in mind perhaps the Number One tenet in disaster response and emergency communications: Never transmit unless instructed to do so by net control or stations in the affected areas. Listen more, transmit only if truly necessary.


Hope to see some of you at the upcoming hurricane conferences this spring. Happy New Year! 73, Rick K1CE


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