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ARES Letter Issues

The ARES Letter
January 21, 2015
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE

In This Issue:


News Briefs

A January 9 article in Virginia's Roanoke Times newspaper features the participation of ARRL President Kay Craigie, N3KN, and her husband Carter, N3AO, in the SKYWARN weather-spotting program. The Craigies, who live in the Southwest Virginia town of Blacksburg -- home to Virginia Tech -- have a home weather station and, when severe weather threatens, are able to supplement local National Weather Service (NWS) office meteorologists with "ground-level" weather observations.

Members of Australia's Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network in South Australia (WICEN SA) have been assisting an emergency animal rescue and recovery organization in the wake of the so-called Sampson's Flat bushfire in the sheep and cattle-ranching region of Adelaide Hills. More here.

The Philippine Amateur Radio Association's (PARA) busy Ham Emergency Radio Operations (HERO) network has again activated, this time for Tropical Storm Jangmi (Seniang), which made landfall on Mindanao Island on December 29, then moved inland, causing massive floods and landslides. More here.

ARESĀ® volunteers in northeast Ohio activated on January 13 after 911 and other telephone services went down in six counties due to a power failure at a major AT&T center in Akron. The outage was blamed on a burst steam pipe. Cell telephones and the 800-900 MHz digital Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) remained functioning. More here.


On the Importance of Reporting; Development of a Web Based Platform

Documentation and reporting of planning, activity, and results are pervasive and critical factors in all aspects of a productive society, across all sectors. For example, I work in the healthcare sector: Documentation and reporting of medical diagnoses, interventions, and outcomes are absolutely essential for identifying needs for changes and upgrades to diagnostics and procedures for improving the health of our citizens. Indeed, federal reimbursement to hospitals is almost wholly dependent on such reporting. The goal is better and more efficient health care in this country. Such documentation and reporting requirements can be found in all other sectors of the economy as well.

And such documentation and reporting is also absolutely essential for us as radio amateurs serving in programs like ARES, which are productive with our partners for the public interest in safety of life and property. Documentation and reporting allow us to assess, diagnose, and then plan, intervene, and evaluate outcomes of our interventions (deployments, actions, operations) for identification of areas for improvement and enhancement of our value to the public.

Our documentation and reporting, hard data and anecdotal reports, are not only essential for use in educating the public of our contributions, but are used by local radio amateurs in justifying our antenna systems before government boards, and by the ARRL in its filings with the FCC and other entities to defend and enhance our access to priceless spectrum, without which we would be like artists without canvasses.

Monthly or otherwise regular reporting is a requirement of all ARRL Field Organization appointees. It's a function that should be made as routine as turning on our radios. It should be made easy to do by the administrative support staff and program managers at ARRL HQ. All of the above was recognized by the Board of Directors last July when it passed the following resolution:

WHEREAS, the central gathering of information on Amateur Radio activities involving Field Organization volunteers is vitally important for the League to be able to educate and inform the public of our contributions, and to assess program success;

THEREFORE, the ARRL Board of Directors directs staff to work with the Programs and Services Committee to design and implement a web based reporting system to gather information on activities performed by field volunteers. The first phase of the reporting system should be implemented during 2015.

You will see much more on this system roll-out over the course of this year, but this is a heads up that we are entering into a new era of reporting our activity for the interest of the public we serve, and also for our own self-interest. -- K1CE


AshEX, Oregon SET 2014

The Oregon SET dubbed AshEX was held November 22, 2014, and was based on the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption and ash fall that affected much of the state of Oregon. Simulated traffic incidents, public health concerns, power and communication failures that actually occurred in 1980 were played out by the participants. This SET included, for the first time, Oregon ARES/RACES Leadership Team members SEC Vince Van Der Hyde, K7VV, and Lisa Clarke, KE7NIY, as "simulation cell" (SimCell) players who both originated traffic from the state Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to the county EOCs and responded to county EOC traffic received by OEM.

After Action Reports (AARs) provide an opportunity for the county Emergency Coordinators to evaluate unit readiness, identify equipment problems and train operators. Comments on the overall design of the SET were encouraged. Received reports are all posted on the Oregon ARES/RACES website on the "Previous SETs" page. Several noted that AshEX was the best SET yet organized by Oregon ARES/RACES.

AshEX participants included 18 county units and the OEM Amateur Radio Unit. There were many (11) medical/hospital teams active from many parts of the state as well as several city EOCs and public safety organizations. Many (probably most) of the hospital, city EOCs and other stations are operated by ARES members. This provides training opportunities and involvement by far more ARES members than would be possible if only the county EOCs participated. About 180-200 radio operators were involved in addition to eight emergency managers that worked with their county ARES units writing and directing traffic flow. Total volunteer time to organize, conduct and complete reporting on the SET totaled in excess of 1,500 hours.

The Oregon Emergency Management Amateur Radio Unit (OEM ARU) received nearly 200 Winlink messages from EOCs statewide during the SET. Operators there replied to 170 of these messages and originated an additional 20 messages. Traffic volume at OEM ARU averaged 80 messages per hour, primarily via Winlink.

The success of AshEX was in large part due to the addition of a 2-person SimCell group of ARES/RACES Leadership (K7VV and KE7NIY) who worked with OEM ARU during the SET, replying and originating to participating EOCs around the state. Many county unit after action reports commented on the value that this added to the SET.

In the days prior to the SET, the Leadership Team drafted about 50 ICS-213 messages that were prepared and ready to go out from OEM immediately at SET startup to kick-start the flow of traffic to and from OEM. Hourly bulletins were prepared to be distributed statewide during the SET. The OEM ARU staff spent considerable time before the SET to prepare all of these messages for quick transmission. All of the prepared traffic, the SET schedule and participant responsibilities were included in a "Playbook" that was copied, bound and distributed to OEM and SimCell staff about a week before the SET.

Lessons learned: The OEM ARU HF Pactor capabilities need to be expanded to accommodate the heavy load of traffic that is being received and sent during these SETS and more training is needed on RMS Express.

The message preparation and record-keeping challenges identified during the Fall 2013 SET continue. Several counties have gone (as OEM has) to message entry onto ICS forms using computers outside of the Radio Room. The prepared messages are moved in/out of the radio room by thumb-drives thereby eliminating a serious bottleneck in traffic flow. However, the sheer volume of traffic creates problems in efficiency: If two PC-Winlink stations are using the same call sign (one on Pactor and the other on VHF RMS packet or telnet), messages replies don't get matched up with the originating message. More ARES members are needed to just keep the paperwork straight! This seems to be a common problem in need of a common solution.

At the County Unit Level

The most common equipment problems were with HF antennas, inoperable RMS Gateways and inexperience with the RMS Express software. Nevertheless, ARES operators did manage to send their traffic successfully. In some cases, groups had to rely on telnet connections rather than RF, however. There were problems using the correct ICS forms but large improvements in use of the Date-Time Group were evident from last year' SET. As in all previous SETS, County Unit planning, problem solving, operating, on-demand station fixes, training and discussions involve ARES/auxcomm groups statewide for many hours before, during and after these SETS. They have proven to be valuable learning experiences.

All participating groups were asked to submit an ICS-205 Communications Plan to the SET Coordinator to be uploaded to the Oregon ARES/RACES website for use during the SET to facilitate traffic between participating stations and to encourage the County Units to periodically review their plans.

We need to recruit more County Units to participate in these SETS, and more ARES/RACES members as well, as we prepare and plan for the spring 2016 FEMA Cascadia Rising Exercise. This spring's QuakeEX I SET to be held April 25 will have a similar structure to AshEX but will be an all day, 8-9 hour exercise requiring several shift changes. We will again use the SimCell group at OEM to generate and reply to OEM traffic and be regional in scope. QuakeEX I will be a Cascadia Subduction Zone scenario based on the latest available estimates of what might actually happen during a major earthquake event. The fall 2015 October 10-11 SET QuakeEX II will be a similar two day event. - John Core, KX7YT, Oregon ARES/RACES ASEC, SET Coordinator


Letters: Update on San Diego/Baja High Data Rate Emergency Network

There is progress on the HDRENS (High Data Rate Emergency Network of San Diego) project: Our team has just completed installation of a new high data rate relay point on the University of California, San Diego tower, located on Mt. Soledad, California. There are two dishes at the top of the main structure of the tower; one is for a 5 GHz link from our central radio room location in Coronado, California and one 2.4 GHz dish serves as a relay looking out into our "client territory." Both dishes are on rotators. The 2.4 GHz link has been positioned to serve a number of our active ARES associates including our ARES EC Bruce Kripton, KG6IYN.

The TX/RX data rates we currently measure on the 5 GHz link are in excess of 50 Mbps. Our long range plan is to continue to expand the high data rate network up the coast and inland to provide high data rate private LAN backup for more and more emergency communications clients including those San Diego County hospitals that choose to participate.

The Mt. Soledad installation will now serve as a key relay point as we reach out further into the lower and central San Diego County region. We continue to share the high data rate emergency network with our sister organization, CREBC, in Baja California, Mexico. -- Ed Sack, W3NRG, Coronado, California

[For background, see High Speed Networking: Time to Net its Benefits, pp. 80-81, April 2014 QST. - ed.]


Winlink Used for Support of Utah 100k Back Country Event

The Bridgerland Amateur Radio Club and Cache County ARES group in northern Utah participate each fall in an ultra marathon event called the Bear 100, a one hundred mile all-back-country race. The event starts in Logan, Utah and ends in Fish Haven, Idaho.

Since the event is entirely held in the back country, the only event communications is by ham radio. There is no cell coverage or any other kind of data communications available except at the start line and finish line.

At each aid station, 13 in total, plus start line and finish line stations, the communications team records the in-time and out-time of each runner. The race starts with 300 runners but thins out substantially by the end of the race!

Amateur Radio support for the race is primarily for runner safety, although other communications are provided, too, including messages for DNS's (Did Not Start), DNF's (Did Not Finish), supplies, runner status inquiries, and lost runners. In the past, messages were

Operators in the snow, Bear 100 marathon checkpoint. (photo courtesy N7UWX)

communicated to net control via voice and as a consequence, the FM repeater in use for the event was tied up about 80 to 90 percent of the time. Net control took the data and recorded it into a database, manually one by one.

Over the last couple of years, the group started using Winlink to communicate data, especially runner times. Club member Cordell Smart, KE7IK, wrote a program for compiling the data automatically into a CSV file that enters the times with the runner. Periodically, this file is copied off the computer and sent via RMS Express to net control via e-mail using packet and Winmor. Sending a file takes 2 to 3 minutes whereas on voice it took hours, freeing up the repeater for other event communications.

This year, 80% of the aid stations either used Winlink or attempted it and the result was a significant improvement in efficiency in tracking runners and their times. -- Tyler Griffiths, N7UWX, Cache County (Utah) ARES EC; Winlink RMS Packet Sysop N7UW-10


SKYWARN Critical in Santa Fe County, New Mexico

Santa Fe County, New Mexico is high-desert country and greatly impacted during severe weather events. The County depends on outstanding weather forecasts from the National Weather Service (NWS) and those forecasts continue to improve with new observations and better communications. New Mexico is the fifth largest state in size, ranks 36th in population and 46th in population density. Another way to view New Mexico is a large state with a few cities and lots of wide-open spaces. Those wide-open spaces are observational black holes.

One of the many organizations in the County that supports the National Weather Service's SKYWARN program is the Santa Fe Amateur Radio Emergency Services© (SFARES) functioning under the ARES program of the ARRL. SFARES provides communication support to partners when requested. There are two primary partners we work with: Santa Fe county and the Santa Fe city emergency management entities. In order to provide support for SKYWARN as requested by the City or County Emergency Manager, SFARES members have received NWS-organized training as spotters to enable them to recognize weather phenomena. When requested by either Emergency Management, SFARES members can make observations from their home or while mobile and report them to the Emergency Manager and the National Weather Service directly. There is a robust network of amateur band repeaters in the county as well as throughout the state. The NWS Forecast Office in Albuquerque listens to radios tuned to amateur bands during severe weather. Since there are seven NWS members that have amateur licenses, a SFARES mobile member can immediately provide observations directly to the NWS Forecast Office on amateur bands. This ability for direct communications allows a forecaster to not only have the observations but to query a trained spotter for more information, e.g. is the hail intensity getting bigger or smaller?

Due to the terrain in northern New Mexico, the Albuquerque NEXRAD radar doesn't "see" the first 10,000 feet above ground level around Santa Fe City, which is about 75 miles to the northeast of the radar and a few thousand feet high. The Albuquerque-based NWS Forecast Office often knows that there is a strong cell near Santa Fe on the radar but not what is happening directly beneath it. SFARES spotters can and do fill-in that missing information. One striking example of how valuable SFARES spotter input can be, was a severe thunderstorm during the summer near Santa Fe with large hail falling on a portion of Interstate-25 with a major road grade of more than 6%. The hail was so intense that the road became icy and dangerous. Two minutes after the spotter talked to the Albuquerque forecaster on an amateur repeater system, a road alert was issued by the NWS. Until the Spotter made his report, the forecaster didn't know that copious amounts of large hail were falling.

Hail isn't the only danger that SFARES spotters are trained to spot. Strong winds, tornadoes (which do occur in New Mexico), rotating wall clouds, flooding or torrential rain, significant snow or ice, and wildfires all occur. SFARES members live in a tinderbox in the summer. Surrounded by National Forest and experiencing a multi-year drought, we constantly scan the horizon in the fire season (most of the year) for signs of smoke.

Another facet of SFARES support is our ability to listen to the NOAA Weather Radios. There are six in New Mexico and often a SFARES member is contacted by the NWS Forecast Office to determine if the local NOAA Weather Radio is broadcasting. Although not a SKYWARN function, SFARES also provided communication support for search and rescue missions and always listens to the NOAA Weather Radio broadcast since weather can and does have a big impact on search missions. Many SFARES members have automatic weather stations that report directly into the NWS network and some have highly accurate rain gauges.

SFARES communication support uses many different modes and frequencies. For SKYWARN, we depend heavily on the robust VHF/UHF repeater systems available in the county and state. We also embrace new technologies when they would augment our communication capabilities. One such new technology is WiFi. While WiFi isn't new -- there probably is a WiFi in almost every home -- Amateur Radio operators have a radio frequency allocation in some of the standard WiFi channels. And the allocation allows operators to use power amplifiers and high-gain antennas not available to the general public. The net result is WiFi ranges in the tens of kilometers instead of the tens of meters. Four or five strategically placed SFARES Mesh nodes using the amateur WiFi completely cover Santa Fe City. So, in times of emergencies if there is also a loss of the Internet, the SFARES Mesh can provide intranet capability linking all the emergency centers. The Mesh can move digital traffic, support live IP cameras and provide VOIP digital voice communications without any Internet available. The Mesh uses 12V power and can continue even with the loss of main power as long as the nodes are outfitted with solar panels. With 300 out of 360 days of sun, there is lots of solar power available in New Mexico. The Mesh also allows a mobile SKYWARN unit with a high-gain directional antenna to link back into the main Mesh and thus provide digital communications including imagery in real time.

There is a strong relationship between the National Weather Service and SFARES. The SFARES Emergency Coordinator is a retired meteorologist with more than 40 years of experience including 21 years with the United States Navy as a geophysicist and 20 years with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). His last position in WMO was the Director of the World Weather Watch, the flagship intergovernmental program involving observations, communications and forecasting. Additionally, the Emergency Coordinator is a Fellow of the American Meteorological Organization. -- Donald Hinsman, N4VIP, AMS Fellow; Santa Fe County Emergency Coordinator; Santa Fe and San Miguel Counties District Emergency Coordinator


Letters: Emergency Manager Checks In with More (Informal) Definitions

As a longtime Emergency Management professional I'd like to offer more of our definitions, in the context of last month's piece by OFDA's Art Feller, W4ART.

Conditions: elements are present that may create a problem. For example, oily rags being stored inappropriately, or a 7 day weather outlook shows heavy weather on the horizon.

Situation: the oily rags have been moved closer to a heat source and are smoldering, or weather fronts are combining and a watch has been issued.

Event: our rags have now caught fire in a bucket; or we have rain, hail and high winds currently.

Emergency: Actual event with impending threat to life or property, handled adequately with resources and assets routinely available to the affected area.

Disaster: The event and its aftermath are beyond the abilities of the local area to cope with, but through mutual aid and accessing resources outside of the area, possibly going regionally, the response and recovery effort can be handled effectively.

Catastrophe: Response and recovery efforts and resources required to contain the elements of the event are beyond the capabilities of the region.

Although not widely written down and shared, these informal definitions are widely held in the emergency management community, and may help planners, responders, adjunct agencies, and, of course, radio amateurs understand the dynamics. -- Richard (Ryc) Lyden, KD0ZWM, Cottage Grove, Minnesota

[Lyden has 25 years of experience in Public Safety, including 15 years of Emergency Management, and eight years in the US Air Force as a Medical Services Technician. He also served eight years in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). He is a former Senior Planner, Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management; Disaster Preparedness specialist in the USAF; and Chairman, Northland Chapter, American Red Cross. - ed].


Colorado ARES Member, 5, Passes Tech Exam

Centennial, Colorado resident Colton Ragsdale, KEØCRD, has passed his Amateur Radio Technician examination at five years of age. Colton certainly took an interest in radio at a young age! There is no age limit to taking the federal test, but it is extremely rare for anyone this young to pass it. Applicants must demonstrate an understanding of FCC regulations, radio station operation, electrical principles, and safety considerations by passing a 35 question, multiple choice, written examination. Although Colton was unable to meet the 74% threshold to pass the test the first two times he tried in December, persistence paid off as he passed the exam with a 91% on January 3 in Centennial. His parents Zeke and Debra are also both Amateur Radio operators. Colton plans to use his license for community service, particularly by providing communications for emergencies and disasters. -- Jack Ciaccia, WMØG, ARRL Colorado Section Manager


Letters: More on Supporting Public Events

I can't believe that it's been over 20 years since you published my articles on supporting public service events in the September and October 1994 issues of QST. I continue to create nets supporting various events here in Tucson, Arizona.

Over those years much has changed, yet a lot remains the same. We now have APRS to track the progress of races, and we have D-STAR knocking at our door to provide accurate communications traffic handling for future events. The biggest event we support now is the El Tour de Tucson, planning and directing communications for the 104 mile charity bike race, which attracts over 9,000 riders who navigate a course covering the perimeter of the city of Tucson. It takes place every November (for the past 32 years) and benefits various charities.

Your article in the January 2015 issue of QST on planning and operating for public service events was quite informative and comprehensive. I would add one thing: I've asked all Net Controllers (we have four sectors, each with its own Net Controller and each using different primary and back-up repeaters) and all stations on the route to maintain a written log, eg, an ICS 309 form, to log all significant traffic. These log sheets are collected at the end of the event and used for various purposes and are quite important: The event sponsor uses them to track any issues that may have legal implications. The police and the county EOC use them to compare notes and issues that may have resulted in 911 or EMT actions. And I use them to determine the number of public service hours that were provided by Amateur Radio. We all use them for after-action reports and the drafting of lessons learned exercises. -- Cary Fishman, WB2BSJ, Tucson, Arizona


NVIS Antenna Day in April: "Sure, But Does That Emergency Antenna Really Work?"

Ohio ARES is sponsoring the NVIS Antenna Day, April 25, 2015. We are encouraging groups in every Ohio county to devise several portable NVIS antennas that they think will perform, and then test them on the air. The program grows out of an annual antenna party in Ashtabula County, which is both an operating event and a great time in early spring to break out the hamburgers and have some fun. They have found a vast difference in actual antenna performance, and have been able to narrow down their choices for a real emergency setup.

The NVIS Antenna Day will begin at 10 AM Eastern time. We will operate on both 40 and 80 meters, operating at 100 watts as you might during a real emergency. While a typical session might go through the afternoon, there is no official closing time. It is not necessary to set up a completely portable or remote station, although the location should have enough room for several antennas and be in a fairly quiet RF environment. This is not a contest for QSO rates and points; rather it's aimed specifically at determining the best of several NVIS antennas through signal reports, and through coverage. A group could make several contacts with the same station as they try different antennas. Stations at key locations such as the Ohio state EOC will be on the air.

Groups should compile a list of their top three antennas with descriptions and photos. Ohio ARES will see if any particular antenna design bubbles up as the top performer across the entire state.

Antenna experimentation is an integral part of the hobby and the outcome will benefit each ARES group or club by helping to create an arsenal that can be deployed during a real emergency. It could be a great time to test potential Field Day antennas, too. This is open to all hams as we hope they will become interested in joining their local ARES organization. - Stan Broadway, N8BHL, Section Emergency Coordinator, Ohio


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