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The ARES E-Letter
October 16, 2013
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE
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In This Issue:

 

From Your Editor: ARES E-Letter Goals for its Ninth Year

This issue of your ARES E-Letter marks the beginning of the ninth year of its publication as an ARRL monthly electronic periodical. The first issues came in September, 2005, during the Hurricane Katrina mega-disaster. Those issues contained much network and other critical information from the field, with anecdotes of amateurs performing yeoman's work directly in the path of harm's way. The initial circulation was a little over 8,000 subscribers. For almost a decade now, the circulation has ballooned to more than 37,000 subscribers. I am proud of that number, not as a reflection on your editor, but as an indication of the incredible growth of interest in the field for Amateur Radio as an emergency communications, disaster response and recovery radio-communications service that works so well on a strictly volunteer, unpaid basis, simply out of a collective desire to help our neighbors in distress.

I had a long conversation with the ARRL Headquarters Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U, recently to set some new direction and goals for the newsletter for the immediate future: First, as the Headquarters' lead staffer on ARES, HQ emergency response planning and operations, and served agency liaison, Corey would like to see more "ink" devoted to state-of-the-art, pioneering and envelope-pushing of emergency and disaster communications modes, systems and networks; he cited as examples the efforts of some groups to develop a broadband network for Amateur Radio public service operators (see, for example, http://www.hsmm-mesh.org/) similar in concept, if not scope, to the up and coming, much-publicized Public Safety broadband service development. For an amateur broadband network to exist, use of the frequencies in the GHz ranges would allow for the necessary speeds/bandwidth, of course, which, while enhancing our ARES volunteers' ability to meet the ever-more demanding needs for sophistication in services by emergency managers, would also serve to justify our access to those higher frequency ranges that are coming under ever-increasing pressure from commercial interests. Thus, as editor, I am seeking contributions of reports of such efforts from the field to stimulate the research and development of such activity on a broader scale. Henceforth, that will be one of the new pillars of direction for this newsletter.

Secondly, it will be the goal of this newsletter to focus on the ARES operator's service to his neighbor in an emergency or disaster situation. I've written and reported on the CERT program as a vehicle for this re-focusing on the neighborhood radio amateur concentrating on neighborhood communications and the immediate protection of safety of life and property at the street level. Essentially, the notion is that the "ham at the end of the street" helps prepare and train his/her neighbors (as a CERT) in disaster effects mitigation and, of course, radio communications in advance of hurricane season, for example. And when it hits the fan, he/she is able to activate the CERT, and effect the neighborhood emergency operations plan, with part of that plan being the establishment of a communications link to the world outside of the neighborhood: family, friends, and also the city or county EOC. The focus would be on limiting the radio amateur's travel to his neighborhood, and not so much on having him have to drive his family station wagon on potentially perilous road conditions to a distant EOC or Red Cross shelter. (Those facilities could be served by a radio amateur that is "in the neighborhood" of the EOC or shelter; that ham who could simply walk around the corner to it).

Radio amateurs are decentralized, found in just about every neighborhood across the country, and are the naturals for the most local emergency and disaster response. The professional responders are not decentralized: they are located in a handful of service facilities around the town, city or county, and in major situations, may not be able to respond to a neighborhood for hours, days or even weeks. The radio amateur, properly trained of course, is in the best position to respond to his neighbors because he is already there. (A good place to start for basic education and training is by reading "The Future of ARES is CERTain," in the January 2013 issue of QST, in the Public Service column).

A radio amateur and CERT trainer was just recognized by the White House. From an ARRL report: The White House this week (October 13) recognized Matt Brisbois, KI6RBS, of Newport Beach, California, as part of its Champions of Change program. The Newport Beach Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program coordinator "has trained and mentored more than 1000 residents, business and community leaders, and educators, resulting in the highest per-capita volunteer-to-resident ratio for CERT programs in all of California," a City of Newport Beach news release said. CERT, a FEMA program, seeks to train members of the community to prepare for and assist in the event of an emergency or disaster; Amateur Radio training and communications are among the Newport Beach CERT activities. Brisbois, a fire department life safety specialist, was one of 18 individuals selected this year as "Champions of Change for Community Preparedness and Resilience."

In summary, this is where we see the evolution of ARES headed: towards more sophistication of services in demand by the professional emergency managers and consequently the use of higher frequency band and bandwidth applications; and the trend towards reducing the focus of the operator to the neighborhood versus the big EOC on the other side of the county -- kind of a micro versus macro approach. I am taking this opportunity as editor of this newsletter to solicit readers' reports and stories along the above lines. Let's focus on these developmental issues going forward into our ninth year of publication. - Rick Palm, K1CE

News in Brief

IARU Emergency Communications Workshop Debuts in Cancun, Mexico --The first IARU Region 2 Emergency Communications Workshop, held September 24-25 in Cancun, Mexico in conjunction with the IARU Region 2 XVIII General Assembly, explored international issues facing Amateur Radio's response to emergencies and disasters. Sponsored by IARU Region 2 and the ARRL, the event was co-chaired by ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U, and IARU Region 2 Emergency Coordinator Dr. Cesar Pio Santos, HR2P. Full story here. Participants in the workshop represented countries throughout IARU Region 2 as well as observers from IARU Regions 1 and 3.

Representatives of the US Army Military Auxiliary Radio Service (MARS) met with ARRL staff at League Headquarters October 2 to discuss ways the two organizations might collaborate in emergency response activities. Army MARS Region 1 Director Bob Mims, WA1OEZ, headed the delegation. Mims, who is also manager of the Army MARS National Net, said most of the discussion centered on how ARRL Headquarters and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) could interact with MARS during its national-level test of backup communications set for early November, and going forward. Full story here.

The US Army MARS gateway station at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, is operating on its normal schedule during the government shutdown, but routine administrative activity is on hold, computer systems are down, and no membership paperwork can be processed for the duration. As a civilian contractor not covered by the shutdown, Operations Officer David McGinnis, K7UXO, is completing final preparations for the November 3-4 national communications exercise. The national net is functioning normally. -- US Army MARS news release

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On the Colorado Flood Disaster Response

The Colorado flash flooding disasters and ARES responses of September 2013 are well-documented in QST, the ARRL Letter, on the ARRL website and elsewhere, but some excellent coverage of ARES reports of sophisticated modes/applications like ATV, PSK, and APRS in use; newspaper and network television coverage, letters of appreciation from survivors; and some fantastic photos can be found on the Colorado Section Manager website here. Don't miss it.

I was struck by many of the accounts, but of special note were the efforts of the Boulder County ARES group, which has a history of serving emergency management officials by providing fast Amateur Television imaging to give managers a visual on what was happening on the ground: "Boulder County ARES group hams either communicated from the Boulder County EOC, one of the shelters at Niwot High School or Lifebridge Christian Church, from one of the flood isolated towns in the mountains west of Boulder, or on the flight line of the Boulder Municipal Airport sending live ATV pictures from drone aircraft of the search and rescue, and evacuation efforts to the Boulder EOC and via uStream across the country. Some of these hams doubled as communicators for the Boulder County and American Red Cross Disaster Assessment Teams as well, providing ham radio, the only communications available at the time, and automatically transmitting their DAT vehicle positions via APRS. There are many other ARES teams around the Front Range with similar activities and hours to report. The total number of volunteer hours provided by the ham radio community will be in the thousands and all at no cost to their cities and towns."

And this report on APRS use: "The Boulder County Land Use and the American Red Cross Disaster Assessment Team both requested ham radio operators to ride along and provide their VHF radio communications back to the Boulder County EOC because there was no other reliable source of communications to be had at the time. These hams also carried APRS gear along with them and provided complete time, location and distance data along their routes. That APRS info has proven valuable in the aftermath for showing what areas have already been surveyed." For these info leads, thanks go to John Murphy, KCØJPO, ARRL PIO for Adams County (CO) ARES, who also passed along this additional report, which reflects much of the activity as typical of many ARES groups across the region: Region 1/District 1 ARES was deployed on September 12 in response to the September Front Range major flooding and road closures. A shelter was setup in the Adams City High School on that afternoon. The Red Cross started to setup the shelter and quickly discovered that cell phone coverage for that area was poor. A request for Amateur Radio operators to provide communications was sent to Red Cross Headquarters, and the call went out to R1D1 ARES in Adams County for support. Within two hours, Amateur Radio communications were setup and providing a clear link to the Red Cross Headquarters, and the Colorado State Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The shelter saw an influx of 150 to 200 people with 150 people spending the night. With the communications link open, food, water, cots and a dumpster were provided for the shelter. The shelter manager was greatly appreciative of ARES efforts and said "we made things happen." The shelter was open for 30 hours then demobilized.

San Joaquin Valley SM Commends Wildfire Team

ARRL San Joaquin Valley Section Manager Dan Pruitt, AE6SX, had this to say about his team of operators involved in wildfire communications over the summer: "If you were involved with emergency communications, then you were paying attention to the Fire Outlook this month [August]. There were a number of smaller fires in San Joaquin Valley but the Rim Fire tested our resources. We worked with familiar organizations, but in Central San Joaquin, there were new people in the leadership positions. We handled ourselves professionally and expertly. We served the agencies as they requested and that we mostly trained to accomplish. Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. We put untested skill sets into practice (such as the use of the PSK mode). This allowed us to be more effective. I would have to say these are not unusual conditions. I did not receive any bad reports. This makes me very proud of ARES and all Amateur Radio volunteers. I am honored to be affiliated with such mindful and considerate citizens."

Amateur Radio volunteers had supported the Red Cross and local government in the wake of the gigantic Rim Fire, in and near California's Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest, finally standing down after 16 days on duty. The initial call out on August 19 responded to a request to assist the Red Cross in setting up an evacuation center in Groveland, California. More information here.

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CERT Training in Denver to Include ARES

A full scale training exercise for CERT training grads needing a graduation exercise to complete their training is scheduled for next week, October 20, 2013, in Denver, Colorado. All Denver CERT trained students will serve as the responders for the graduation exercise. Role players (about 100) are needed to play injured citizens in a disaster scenario. Participating CERT training graduates are being asked to bring a friend to serve as a role player. Assignments will be given the day of the exercise. Denver-area ARES personnel will support the exercise with radio communications. Participants will receive a go-kit. Registrations and information can be found at http://www.denvergov.org/DenverCERT. "This is an excellent opportunity to participate and help prepare our communities for times of disaster," said Carolyn H. Bluhm, Community Preparedness and Relations, Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, City and County of Denver

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More information on the CERT program can be found here. More info on CERT disaster-emergency communications here. And ARES/Amateur Radio-specific information can be found in the article, "The Future of ARES is CERTain," in the January 2013 issue of QST, in the Public Service column).

Volunteers Needed for Marine Corps Marathon Operation

There are only 45 more days until one of the premier Amateur Radio supported public service events takes place: the Marine Corps Marathon. The communications support is a joint effort between Amateur Radio operators in Maryland, DC and Virginia. ARRL Maryland/DC Section Manager Jim Cross, WI3N, reports "We are still uncomfortably below the threshold of volunteers that we need." Cross says "If you've never done anything like this before, don't let it scare you. After signing up, there are team leaders who will match your equipment to the task and work with you to explain the task and how to accomplish it." Cross adds that "In general the major need is for eyes on the course, although if you have digital mode skills, we have a job for you! " There is also an all hands briefing that will be held on Saturday, October 19, for more instruction. Registration and further information can be found here: www.ncacdc.com - ARRL Maryland/DC Section News

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ARRL Iowa Section ARES Code of Conduct

[editor's note: Here is a good code of conduct for ARES members, as promulgated by Iowa ARES officials. - K1CE]

Whereas the ARRL Iowa Section ARES members are the personification of Amateur Radio to the public and to the governmental and quasi-governmental agencies they serve, they elected to publish guidelines for ARES registered volunteer behavior. Although these are not conditions for participation, the Iowa leadership strongly encourages each ARES member to abide by these standards:

· ARES members will conduct themselves with respect and courtesy to those whom we serve. We will be listeners and communicators.

· ARES members will not act as or be perceived as agents or employees of the agencies whom we serve. We are a serving agency and have no authority to act on behalf of the agency.

· ARES members will not use profanity, vulgar language or language or expressions which may be considered derogatory when in public.

· ARES members will not park in restricted areas, unless specifically authorized or invited to do so by the agencies we serve.

· ARES members will not use flashing lights while vehicles are underway. Use of flashing yellow lights is permitted only when vehicles are stationary for the purposes of collision avoidance. If in doubt, please inquire with Net Control and they will request clarification from the Emergency Operation Center.

· ARES members will not solicit contributions or gifts, merchandise or services from any individuals or businesses while using the name of local EOC or the phrase Emergency Services. All solicitations using the name of Amateur Radio Emergency Service or associated, related names must be approved in writing by those associated agencies, in advance. No ARES member (including ARES leadership) is authorized to use the name of the agencies without their prior written permission.

· ARES members will not use the logos or identifying marks of the agencies that we serve without prior approval in writing by those agencies.

· All prospective ARES members must be able to pass their respective County EOC credentialing requirements. These requirements are not negotiable. (adopted March 10, 2012).

Essay: Amateur Radio is an Application Mash-Up

During presentations on Amateur Radio contributions to emergency and disaster response, invariably questions arise from non-hams trying to understand how it is that Amateur Radio is such an effective and reliable communication system, available to the public at no cost, but is also an avocation. Hams invariably respond by emphasizing Amateur Radio's use of modern technology, the dedication of individual hams to their public service role, that hams bring their own equipment to the service, the non-pecuniary nature of ham radio, et cetera.

Yet the public remains puzzled. Except for the non-pecuniary aspect, those answers also apply to the commercial systems. And the public seldom understands the cost savings anyway. I offer the following as a better approach for explaining Amateur Radio value in emergency and disaster response radio communications services.

In today's Internet-savvy culture, Amateur Radio's distinguishing characteristic for emergency service communications is that it is an "Application Mash-up." It is a primary reason that Facebook, eBay, et cetera are so successful. Let's examine three principal characteristics of Amateur Radio under this moniker.

Operating time. Individual hams operate frequently. Thousands of hams practice their skills and ensure their equipment is fully operational every day of the week, not just during some pre-scheduled emergency communication test.

Operating Interests. Hams have diverse interests and a variety of talents. Some try to operate independently of the commercial power grid. Others operate at very low power, gaining practice in techniques to overcome adverse conditions. Some only use home-brewed antennas, learning exceptional antenna construction skills. Many operate nets where they control traffic flow, and routinely switch frequencies to overcome poor conditions. These and innumerable other examples develop thousands of special skills that contribute to instant value added to Amateur Radio and hence the public, over other systems.

Self-sufficiency. The skills hams acquire in all of the above allow overcoming the most adverse of conditions. Hams have no expectation that their "IT Department" will come and fix their computer, or that an electrician will restore their power sources, or some other repairman will arrive to fix failed equipment. Hams do it all themselves. The ham operating in an emergency situation is self-sufficient.

The web-centric definition of "Application Mash-up" is: "An application that combines data and/or functionality from more than one source." When an emergency occurs, what do hams do? They bring astonishing diversity of talents and assets to the table, in terms of capabilities, as the commercial infrastructure fails due to a number of factors. This is a human and equipment resource treasure that cannot be duplicated by any amount of money from any government or private resource. It is the essence of how Amateur Radio is the emergency communication service that never fails.

So when someone asks why Amateur Radio When All Else Fails? The answer is simple: "Because Amateur Radio is an Application Mash-up." -- Charlie Ristorcelli, NN3V, Poway, California, nn3v@arrl.net

K1CE For a Final

As promised, following up on previous issues' closing remarks, I spent some time this past month downloading and operating the NBEMS suite of programs and utilities for multi-mode digital operation with a sound card (no hard TNC or other special "black box" needed; nor, Internet or other digital infrastructure). The software is free and easily downloadable at www.w1hkj.com/nbems. A good overview of the suite can be found on the ARRL website here. Essentially, as the website overview states: "Narrow Band Emergency Messaging Software (NBEMS) is an Open Source software suite that allows amateur radio operators to reliably send and receive data using nearly any computer (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and any analog radio without requiring a dedicated digital infrastructure or specialized modem hardware. NBEMS works on both VHF/UHF FM and on HF. In a presentation you will learn the basics of sending and receiving data using Fldigi. You will also see how to easily send and receive verified files and forms using Flmsg. NBEMS is the standard digital emergency/disaster communications package for Western PA ARES." A good update on the NBEMS suite was published just recently, in September 2013 QST, pages 70-71. Development has focused on making the programs and utilities more user friendly, to reduce the risk of errors when operators are under stress from an emergency situation. A real life hospital account is included.

My initial experimentation with NBEMS has been very satisfying. There is nothing more exciting to get a new program to work on the air - and that was the case with me and NBEMS. And, well, truth be told, its flagship fldigi has become my personal default program for DXing at night on 20-meters (around 14.070 MHz) using PSK31. The waterfall is better, the tuning is better, and works well to dig the data out of seeming nothingness.

I tried the flmsg utility, and its value as a tool for completing and transmitting common Incident Command System (ICS) and ARRL forms is in evidence. I practiced completing an ICS-204 form and an ARRL Radiogram form, and then mock-sending them (with my radio's output power off) via the new fldigi feature Autosend, which eliminates the multiple steps needed to send a form before the function's adoption.

As I mentioned, this report covers only my initial trials, and I am looking forward to trying some of the modes other than PSK31 - and gaining new thrills! Congrats to the NBEMS developers on making an open source program so available and as an obvious tool in the emergency communicator's tool box. - K1CE

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