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ARES E-Letter Issues

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The ARES E-Letter
January 15, 2014
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE
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In This Issue:

 

Special ARRL Centennial Open Letter to ARES E-Letter Readers from ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U

First off I would like to wish a Happy New Year to our ARES E-Letter Readers, may 2014 be a good one. This year, as most of you are well aware of, is the ARRL's centennial celebration. The festivities began on January 1 as W100AW went on the air and W1AW/p stations went on the air from West Virginia and North Carolina. This year there will be many centennial events going on to celebrate 100 years of the ARRL. I would like to take a moment though to talk about one of these events, the ARRL Centennial QSO Party.

Anyone that has heard me speak at a hamfest or convention knows that the first thing I talk about is the importance of putting your license to use through on air activity. For those interested in public service communications this is our first level of training. There are plenty of opportunities to get on the air: contests, DXing, rag chewing, nets. Contests and QSO parties are great ways to improve operating and traffic handling skills. The ARRL Centennial QSO Party is unlike any other, it runs every day of 2014! The goal is to contact members, field organization leaders, ARRL elected officials, HQ staff and others, and with each QSO you earn points. This is a great opportunity for ARES groups to get new hams on the air and for seasoned veterans to be elmers. You can even create a friendly competition among your ARES group's members to see who can make the most QSOs or points. And it is a good chance to try out new modes, bands, work on awards like WAS, and try your hand at running a small pile up.

All contacts with ARRL members are worth 1 point, and QSOs with ARES and NTS field organization appointees are worth even more points. You can find more information about the Centennial QSO Party here. And don't forget to upload those QSO's to LOTW. I have made it a personal goal to be even more active on the air this year. To be exact I've set a goal for myself of 500 QSO's per month. My centennial year challenge to all our ARES E-Letter readers is to make that same goal, be more active on the air. I hope to see you in the log! 73, Mike, KI1U

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Editorial: The View from Volusia County

A few years ago, I wrote almost every month about the triumphs, trials and tribulations of the local ARES program in Flagler County, Florida, where I lived at the time and participated in the activities of the amateur community there. The purpose of doing so was to provide readers with a glimpse into an active ARES program to possibly glean ideas from, or at least identify with some of the victories and pitfalls associated with a program's relationships with served agencies, principally the county emergency management and EOC, and its accomplishments and struggles. Not quite a reality TV show, but you get the idea.

I now live in the county just to the south of Flagler, in Volusia county, where I work at the main city hospital in Daytona Beach, a major resort and vacation destination for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. I met recently with the District Emergency Coordinator Steve Craft, W1SGC, over coffee to discuss his vision of ARES in the county. Craft is a professor of history at Embry Riddle University, is level-headed, well-spoken, and well-versed in Amateur Radio and disaster and emergency response communications. He is currently looking for an EC for the county. He has experienced some of the same challenges that many ECs and DECs share across the country, and I thought I would give you his view of the state of affairs here in Volusia, a hurricane prone part of Florida on the upper east coast of the peninsula.

After a period of a cool relationship with the large EOC staff in the county, Craft was happy to report that relations are more positive. Chuck Hennis, W4CFH (Team Leader for Hacienda Del Rio CERT and AEC for Volusia County ARES) and Craft worked hard to engage the EOC staff and learned that the new EMA director "wanted to know why we had not been out to the communication room lately." Craft immediately saw this as a positive sign "that we were still viewed as an asset should the county lose all communication." Craft said "we have been quick to show more of a presence at the EOC." [There are a couple of good photos of the new EOC communications room here on the Volusia County ARES website.]

Craft reported that the EOC underwent voluntary accreditation through the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP). Craft said that both he and Hennis were contacted by the EOC to "provide information about ARES, the service that we have provided this past year, and other information as it relates to ham radio. The EOC views this accreditation as beneficial and we are glad that we could provide assistance." The EOC staff informed them that it has a $3000 grant to purchase new equipment, and Craft and Ennis have recommended an HF rig and are working to get a vendor or dealer to fill out the necessary paperwork to make this happen.

Craft is pleased with the inroads they have made, and "as long as we maintain that type of trajectory, we should be able to overcome some of the problems that arose in the last year or so." Hennis and Craft will remain the main points of contact with the EOC.

There are still challenges to be faced. First, Volusia ARES needs a new EC. This problem will hopefully be resolved soon, and an announcement will be made.

Second, because ARES has so few members that can deploy, the county emergency management is thinking of rewriting the memorandum of understanding (MOU). "We think it is good policy that the county write the MOU because the EOC is the served agency, and only the served agency can set forth what the mission and expectations would be for ARES and not the other way around," Craft said. Once the mission is laid out, ARES can recruit, train and plan on that basis.

It is quite possible that the traditional ARES mission of manning shelters may have to be changed. First, there are 37 shelters in Volusia County not to mention possible water/ice distribution points that could be established, but ARES is shorthanded. The EOC is willing to drop some of the requirements to operate in a shelter, but still insists that anyone working in a shelter must undergo a background check. The EOC would like to see a strike team that could go into the field and this means having members who have go kits and the knowledge of how to work in different environments. There is a preference for hams that can go mobile rather being engaged in fixed, base operations.

Second, a shelter survey performed by ARES a few months back showed some glaring weaknesses in the communications infrastructure. In some cases, no antenna was installed; in several others, no one in the school knew they had an antenna and even after the operator pointed out the antenna, the coax could not be found; some antennas showed need for replacement; in a couple of cases, school principals seemed to not care whether they had an antenna or not because they believe that their school will never be opened as a shelter. This survey, which did not touch half of the 37 shelters, was an eye opener for both the EOC and ARES. The EOC has no control over these shelters. It is up to the School Board to improve the infrastructure at the shelters.

Third, the County believes that it has enough redundant communication systems in place that the chances are slim, though not impossible, that a shelter would lose all communication. All of this does not mean that ARES would totally lose the mission of supporting shelters -- it just means that some shelters are viewed as most important or vital (such as special needs shelters) and in those few locations, hams would be needed.

Regardless of whatever MOU the County draws up, ARES will still be dedicated to training and education. One suggestion made by Tom McCombs, N6WTM, at the November 2013 ARES meeting was for ARES to play more of a role in the emerging Community Organizations Active in Disasters sponsored by Volusia County. Through COAD, ARES could educate and possibly recruit volunteers to support the County.

There may be other opportunities: Craft reported that last month, he and Hennis participated in an exercise at Florida Memorial Hospital "in which we established communication with Florida Memorial-Palm Coast and the Florida Memorial hospital in Lake County. This was an exercise led by Flagler and Lake ARES, but we were able to make a positive impression on the administrations at the hospital here."

Craft concluded "So we look forward to some positive changes this new year, and to meeting the challenges." He thanked all for their support.

Observations

With 60 years now of life experience and observing human and organizational behavior, I think I've honed the ability to assess people rather quickly -- their motivations, assets and liabilities, and expectations and dreams. Steve Craft struck me as a DEC who has all of the requisite qualities any ARES program would want in a leader. He exuded self-confidence, while maintaining a healthy sense of humility. He has a droll sense of humor, a perfect defense mechanism for some of the stresses of the job. He presents himself professionally, he's quiet but speaks when he has a point worth making. He speaks with articulation and eloquence. Craft has a realistic appraisal of his ARES program and its volunteers' capabilities, and the right attitude when it comes to working with the served agency, in his case, the EOC. He is enthusiastic, positive, and wants to see the ARES program succeed in the county. He is up on the latest technology, and recognizes the benefits of its applications to his programs. Yet, he also has deep roots in some of the more traditional -- and important in the context of emergency communications -- modes and bands: He is a dedicated CW QRP operator.

I'm meeting with Craft again later this month with another radio amateur who is a leader in developing Mesh network technology for amateurs, and who has proposed a network to tie together major hospitals in the area, including mine. More on this proposal can be found below. I wish Steve the best of success in ramping up the ARES program here in Volusia county.--K1CE

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ARES Visits New Operating Quarters at Major New EOC in Florida

Amateur Radio operators who represent the staff of the Lake County (Florida) Amateur Radio Emergency Service visited their new accommodations in the recently constructed Lake County Emergency Communications and Operations Center (ECOC) in Tavares, Florida on December 13, 2013.

The new ECOC building was constructed to house not only the Emergency Operations Center but also the 911 facility for several Lake County communities as well as dispatch centers for the Lake County Sheriff's Office, Lake County Medical Services and police and fire departments for nine Lake County communities. This is a very secure building that will stand up to just about anything Mother Nature could send its way. It was designed to withstand 175 mile per hour winds and if the power goes out a very large diesel generator will supply the needed electrical power. This assures that public safety radio communications will continue to operate when the power goes out and the telephones become inoperable during hurricanes or tornadoes, which are not unusual in Lake County.

Nine local ham operators were greeted by Thomas Carpenter, Manager of the Public Safety Department-Emergency Management Division, and who deferred to Jason Matthews, K4AUS, and Rob Richardson, KI4NNU, Radio System Coordinators for the Lake County Sheriff's Office to conduct the tour. The pair had a lot to do with the design and construction of the new ARES radio room. This room is located on the second floor adjacent to the main floor of the Emergency Operations Center. It contains two operating positions, which provide emergency radio communications on VHF, UHF and HF that will cover all of Lake County, the State of Florida as well as throughout the United States.

Position One contains an Icom HF rig F-8100, a commercial radio not seen in most ham shacks, a Kenwood D-710 dual bander, Motorola XPR 7550 (DMR) and a Motorola XTL 2500 P-25 VHF radio. Position Two features a Kenwood TS-570 HF all mode radio, Kenwood D-710 VHF/UHF dual bander, another Motorola XTL-2500 P-25 VHF unit, and a Motorola 800 MHz public service radio. With the exception of the Kenwood TS-570, all equipment is controlled by their remote heads at the operating position with the main bodies of the radios located in equipment racks at the rear of the room. All of the gear is controlled by Zetron Model 4010R dispatch consoles at each position. Two flat screen TV monitors are available at each position for functions such as Packet or PSK31. Future plans call for D-Star equipment and D-Rats capability. Operators will be using wireless headsets so there will be little or no local interference between them.

L to R, Fred Fitte, NF2F, Lake County ARES Emergency Coordinator and Rob Richardson, KI4NNS, Radio System Coordinator for the Lake County Department of Public Safety, discuss the advantages of the new ARES radio system. (courtesy K1AYZ)

The equipment racks at the rear of the room also contain back up public service commercial radios for police, fire and EMS services as well as power supplies. All cables come down neatly from the roof of the building to their appropriate radios and are lightning protected with Polyphasers.

The first impression one gets when they walk into this room is that they are entering a 911 dispatch center with the difference being that this is an ARES dispatch center. In the event of a disaster situation, trained ham operators will be assigned to operate this equipment to augment other public safety radio communications systems.

Many Lake County hams were deployed during the Ground Hog Tornado that struck the area in 2007. The ARES volunteer members train for these situations by providing radio communications throughout the year for various community events such as the Mount Dora Bicycle Festival or the March of Dimes Walkathon.

The equipment in the ARES radio room is state of the art and it will make it much easier for amateur operators out in the county to get timely information back to the ECOC, which can be acted upon by other public safety groups such as police, fire and EMS. At other times it will make it possible for ECOC personnel to ask questions of ham operators to better understand conditions at remote locations during an emergency.

Please see www.n4fla.org or www.k4fc.org for more. -- John T. Luebbers, K1AYZ, Lake County ARES PIO, Tavares, Florida

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Public Service Events: Those Liability Waivers

"Be sure to pick up your T-shirt and sign your volunteer form before the event." Any ham who works public service events like marathons and bike rides has probably heard similar words. Part of the event ritual is a meeting, often an early breakfast the morning of the event, where the communications coordinator sits at a table with a pile of shirts and a stack of forms provided by the served organization. As I have witnessed this ritual, I have seen great care shown over whether the shirt is the right size, but the form is signed without so much as a quick read. Most people have a vague understanding that the form includes some kind of waiver or release of the served organization, but what are you really waiving or giving up in exchange for the privilege of helping this entity? Perhaps more importantly, what liabilities are you taking on when you sign the form? The answer varies with the wording of the form and the law of each jurisdiction, but in many cases you are giving up a great deal and in some cases, you may be putting everything you have at risk.

In most instances, people are entitled to damages if they are injured due to the negligence of another person or organization and they are liable for injuries to others if they were negligent in causing those injuries. People or organizations are not liable if they or someone for whom they are legally responsible (like an employee) was not at fault. The pieces of paper we sign before events are contracts that change these rules, sometimes profoundly, and never, in my experience, in favor of the volunteer.

Most every form includes a waiver or release of liability in favor of the event organizer. What if you get hurt? You are probably out of luck, even if you were blameless and the sponsoring organization was negligent. If you incur millions in medical expenses and can never work again, you will have to rely on your own assets and insurance to help you out, because you have given up your rights against the negligent parties and their insurance companies.

Some forms include broad indemnity agreements. I have seen forms that have said that the ham volunteer would be responsible for any claims arising from or related to the participation of the ham in the event, even if the claim arose solely from the negligence of the event organizer. Let's say you properly set up your portable tower in accordance with all codes and standards. An employee of the event organizer, who has never driven a truck before, loses control of a box truck while driving and texting his girlfriend at the same time and hits your tower, knocking it over on a bystander and permanently disabling him. The event organizer is sued and has a multi-million dollar judgment rendered against them. If you signed the form, you could get the bill for the judgment, the organization's costs and their attorneys' fees. Particularly troubling is that the liability insurance policies many of us have may not cover liabilities assumed by contract, so your insurance company would not help you if you are the victim of such a form.

In some cases, when I have seen language like that early enough, I have been able to discuss it with the event organizer and get the form changed. Usually this is after I have persisted against the initial "that's not what we really mean" or "it might say that, but we would never do that" or "I don't know, we had a lawyer draw it up." I have also seen hams sign forms with these provisions without a second thought.

What is the answer? Probably the right answer is that in exchange for your volunteer service, the sponsoring organization should ensure that you are covered by their insurance for claims asserted against you. They should do the right thing if you are injured by their fault while in their service. That is probably not going to happen in most cases. What kind of risk any person takes on or what kind of claims one will release in advance is ultimately a personal decision based on your financial resources and personal insurance coverage. You should know what insurance coverage you have in the event you are hurt or in the event you hurt somebody else and how that coverage could be impacted by any forms you sign. Organizers should provide their form well in advance. That way, the hams can get a legal opinion either individually or collectively as to what they are giving up or taking on when they sign it. With this knowledge, volunteers can make an informed decision as to whether they want to sign it, ask for changes, or simply pass on the event.

This article is intended to provide general awareness and is not intended as legal advice for any particular situation. Consult legal counsel of your own choosing to determine what impact signing a particular document might have on you. -- Matt Woodruff, KA5YYD, Houston, Texas [Woodruff is a corporate attorney for governmental affairs - ed.]

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K1CE For a Final: The MESH Network

Last year, ARRL reported on the Broadband-Hamnet™ (formerly HSMM-Mesh™) firmware, developed by Amateur Radio operators to provide hams with a high-speed digital wireless communication mesh network that won both US and global awards from the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM). The firmware was the subject of a cover story article in the July 2013 issue of QST, "A Broadband Ham Network Crosses the Finish Line," by Lynn Jelinski, AG4IU. The firmware is available at no charge via the project website, which describes Broadband-Hamnet as "a high-speed, self-discovering, self-configuring, fault-tolerant, wireless computer network" with very low power consumption and a focus on emergency communication. The current form uses Linksys WRT54G/GL/GS wireless routers and operates on channels 1-6 of the 2.4 GHz ISM band, which overlaps with the upper portion of the 13 centimeter Amateur Radio band.

Fred Kleber, NP2X, K9VV, the ARRL Virgin Islands Section Manager, reported last year that Mesh was brought to his section and the networking has spread like wildfire. At the time of Kleber's reporting, there were three dozen nodes in the USVI, and more are coming on-line quickly. "We found a source for "rootennas" (outdoor router-antenna combinations) and are in the process of building up those for permanent deployment in strategic locations, i.e., attended locations with backup power, particularly at radio amateurs' home sites. We also have a cheap mesh go-kit design using kitty litter/food plastic containers."

A demonstration of mesh network capability was given to the local EMA, VI National Guard, TSA, E-911 and VI PD. "It was well received and we are moving toward designing systems to provide backup voice/data /video communications at key locations: the EOC, E-911, shelters, points of distribution, airports, and ports," Kleber said.

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Here in Volusia County recently, a sophisticated proposal to network major hospitals for backup emergency communications was put forth by the Volusia ARES dubbed The Volusia Mesh. In a PowerPoint presentation of the proposal, the proponents asked "Is it possible to use RF to send and receive data at Internet speeds on ham radio frequencies without expensive radios? Is there one piece of free software hams can access via RF and/or computer networks where multiple users can: send and receive WL2K email, send and receive Internet e-mail, engage in real time chat in groups and private channels, and share files?" Yes, and yes, are their answers.

Their proposal to link the five major hospitals in the county was enhanced by links also to the county EOC, all by line of sight, through the use of horizontally-polarized 24 dB gain 2.4 GHz parabolic dishes. A Winlink 2000 HF gateway, a VHF RMS gateway, a D-RATS RatFlector platform, and Internet e-mail and WL2K Telnet capabilities rounded out the proposal.

Current EOC Service offerings are limited to analog and digital VHF, UHF and HF Voice Nets, and a Winlink 2000 capability. Potential additional EOC service offerings under the instant proposal would include: D-RATS RatFlector providing Live chat, messaging and file transfer via Internet, DSTAR digital voice (DV) and data (DD), an Internet Gateway to WL2K via D-RATS Telnet, SMTP Internet email forwarding via D-RATS from RF and mesh-connected D-RATS stations, and mesh webserver for form and information distribution. The ARES proposal also includes point to point server-less video chat with FocusPhone.

The principal architect of the proposal is a retired Microsoft-Certified Systems Engineer, Mark Friedlander, KV4I, and I am planning to meet with him and DEC Steve Craft, W1SGC, later this month to learn more.

But the implications are clear to me: just as Public Safety is rolling out its broadband network for many of the same capabilities discussed in Mark's proposal, we as radio amateurs have been given the inspiration by people like Mark for a largely untapped potential resource with almost limitless data communications possibilities that we can bring to the table when approaching served agencies like emergency management and the Red Cross et al. We will be sharing a lot more information and news on the development of our own broadband offerings in the months to come. I'm really excited about the possibilities.

See you next month! 73, Rick Palm, K1CE, Daytona Beach, Florida, "The World's Most Famous Beach"

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