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ARES Letter Issues

The ARES Letter
February 18, 2015
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE

In This Issue:


In Brief:

The Government of Canada will provide more than $25,000 (CDN) to the Saint Lucia Amateur Radio Club to improve Amateur Radio coverage and communication in the small Caribbean island nation in the event of a disaster. The project will install two repeater systems including solar back-up power, train 90 radio operators, and increase coverage for all of Saint Lucia's 18 districts. Full story here.

The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Emergency Communications will offer its Auxiliary Communications (AuxComm) course May 12-14 prior to Hamvention® 2015 in Dayton, Ohio. More than 1000 Amateur Radio operators have completed the course, which trains qualified hams to assist local, county, and state government with emergency back-up communication. The AuxComm course covers emergency communication in a public safety context within the National Incident Management framework. It also introduces the auxiliary communicator to the Communications Unit Leader function. More here.

Amateur Radio Emergency Service® teams and SKYWARN weather observers along the US Eastern Seaboard went on alert Monday, January 26, as a winter storm began working its way into the Northeast. The storm, which brought blizzard conditions to some areas, shut down transportation and kept residents at home in several states. Eastern Massachusetts and the City of Boston may have been hardest hit, with record or near-record snowfall amounts and storm surge flooding in some coastal communities. ARES units on Cape Cod deployed to staff six shelters and the Multi-Agency Coordination Center, which serves Barnstable County. More here.


Mt. Hamilton Classic Road Race: Communications Challenges Posed to Operators

The Mount Hamilton (near San Jose, California) Classic Road Race is a 63.5 mile road course for bicycles that climbs 4,500 feet in the first 20 miles to the top of Mt. Hamilton, and then continues 43 miles through remote ranch lands to the finish in Livermore. Total elevation gain exceeds 6,000 feet. The bike race is sponsored by Summit Bicycles and the San Jose Bicycle Club. A water bottle handout station is sited at Isabel Creek, mile 25. And a feed zone is at mile 40 at a fire station. Every year for at least 15 years the Livermore Amateur Radio Klub with help from San Jose Races supports the event with radio communications.

The bicycle riders are truly racing and the fastest rider last year (2014) reached the summit in one hour, 11 minutes. That's an average speed of 17 mph for 20 miles and climbing 5000 feet.

Amateur Radio operators are assigned to the downhill portions, the dangerous spots where accidents are more likely to occur. Bottoms of downgrades are chosen for checkpoints. The operator will either see the accident or other racers will inform the operator of an accident as they pass the checkpoint. The net control station then directs the appropriate investigation of the incident. Often, the rider has gotten up, back on his bike and continued, or the injuries were minor. Unfortunately, some of the accidents require a hospital visit, and some victims are airlifted to the facility by helicopter.

Of course, the problem faced by hams at the bottom of downgrades is that they are in the worst place for radio communications coverage. Hills or canyon rims block or diminish VHF signals that travel mostly by line of sight, posing tactical and strategic challenges.

Over the years, however, the communications plan has evolved to a point where it works well. Formerly, a net control station on the mountain could hear and communicate with most checkpoints, but the checkpoint stations/operators could not hear each other, so all traffic needed to be repeated by net control (use of repeaters was not an option at that point). Stations that couldn't communicate directly

Med-evac helicopter airlifts a victim from the Mt. Hamilton race course. (photo courtesy Arnold Harding, KQ6DI)

needed the relay. A larger problem occurred when one checkpoint was transmitting important information, and another station, hearing nothing on the frequency, also began transmitting. More "doubles" were occurring, and less real information was getting passed. A repeater would solve most of the problems, so constructing a portable repeater system was started.

The geologic aspects of the western side of Mt. Hamilton had posed problems for communicators until the last couple of years. There are two ridges between the summit and the race's start line, which is on the edge of a hill at the bottom of the mountain, so that operators there could not hear a station at the summit. The work-around first tried was for communications to be handled/relayed by simplex to another ham checkpoint in a clear location, with a relay to the net control station. Multiple 440 MHz repeaters were then tried over the years, but the locations of all involved just didn't quite work. Finally, an existing, but closed, linked 440 MHz repeater was tried, after coordination with system operators who opened the repeater for the day for the race operation. This repeater now provides the efficient and effective coverage needed, working perfectly on the west side of the mountain, and to the net control station on the mountain.

The portable 2-meter repeater was finished and placed on a small hill part way down the east side of the mountain, providing coverage for a large portion of the rest of the race course route. All of the check points on the first 25 miles of road from the summit can access this repeater, even with just an H-T. An unanticipated benefit was that newer hams with just an H-T were equipped to help effectively!

Between the checkpoint at 25 miles from the summit and a checkpoint called "Relay" at 35 miles from the summit is an area called "The Narrows," a narrow, deep canyon. For coverage here, a cross band repeater is sited at the Relay point. The cross band repeater links the portable 2-meter repeater to all of the checkpoints from The Narrows to the Finish line.

There are two EMT vehicles providing medical emergency support, followed by ham operators using FRS radios to provide communications between the vehicles. There is also a ham assigned to a CalFire station, also using an FRS radio to communicate to the engine if needed.

There are ten categories of racers for this race, and they are stretched out along the road. Once the last rider has passed mile 25, the primary communications changes to another 2-meter repeater that reaches into the Narrows, and the portable repeater is removed. Also, at this time, primary net control functions are transferred from Mt. Hamilton to the Relay check point. Four primary amateur frequencies are used, with another four frequencies available as backup as needed. For the 2014 event, 43 radio amateurs were involved in providing communications support. - Arnold Harding, KQ6DI, Livermore (California) Amateur Radio Klub


Tip: Blackout Buddy

Just got an ad from Radio Shack and saw this device -- Red Cross Blackout Buddy -- that might be good for a ham's go-kit, especially for not having to worry about batteries going bad. -- Frank Krizan, KR1ZAN, Sachse, Texas


Letters: On the Importance of Reporting

In re your opening editorial in last month's issue, I would like to call your readers' attention to a Report to America -- Amateur Radio: Science and Skill in Service to your Community -- on the subject of the importance of Amateur Radio as a national resource. The documentation for it comes from field reports of public event, disaster and emergency responses. The report showcases these responses and should convey to ARES officials and members the importance of reporting their activities to ARRL HQ and other officials for such purposes. Not all reports will be showcased or otherwise published as anecdotal evidence, but almost all of them are included in hard numbers supporting our significance as a major public asset before regulatory agencies and the public at large.

I hope the results of web-based ARES reporting will be summarized each year at the national level and will be included in future editions of this report. -- Art Goddard, W6XD, Costa Mesa, California


Lake Amateur Radio Association (Florida) Presents President's Award

On January 17, 2015 the Lake Amateur Radio Association of Florida presented its 2014 President's Award to John Walton, WB4HV, at their club house meeting in Leesburg, Florida. Walton is the first recipient of the President's Award. This award will be presented annually to the Amateur Radio member who has demonstrated meritorious service.

Walton has demonstrated his dedication for many years and in many capacities. He works closely with the Lake County Amateur Radio Emergency Service by helping to provide for emergency radio communications between emergency shelters and the Lake County Emergency Operations Center. Walton works with Lake County government to provide for official recognition of Amateur Radio operators who support Lake County Emergency Management to make sure they are properly vetted. For more information about LARA, click here


Letters: Web-Based Reporting

I enjoyed reading your lead editorial in last month's issue. Here in Kentucky, we have been using a web-based form to allow all ARES members to report their activities. The forms are completed and get sent to a specific e-mail box. I then take the e-mails and compile the information in an Excel spreadsheet. Once complete, I provide the spreadsheet to the Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC) and ARES leadership team. The SEC then uses the summary information to complete his report to HQ. I would say it takes about three hours a month for the manual processes I perform. Readers can find our main Report page here. -- Roman Rusinek, KE6YCW, KYHAM Administrator,,


Letters: Follow-Up on Five Year Old ARES Member

In a follow up to last month's issue news item on Colton Ragsdale, KE0CRD, the five year old newly licensed ham, here is a great video piece about this achievement from our local channel 9 NBC News affiliate in Denver. Ragsdale also became an ARRL Life Member. -- Jack Ciaccia, WMØG, ARRL Colorado Section Manager


Amateur Radio Saved My Life

September 30, 2013 started out as a beautiful day in the east-central Iowa town of Clinton, on the Mississippi river. I had just left my job at the end of the day and wanted to enjoy the fabulous weather. I decided to throw my leg over my motorcycle and see what the Fall countryside looked like.

After an hour of riding, the wind whipped up to the point where I decided to head home. My route took me by a construction site on the edge of town. This is where everything went wrong. I must have been gawking at the construction site and not paying attention to the road. A big gust of wind hit me and I landed in a 10 foot deep ditch.

I was unconscious and when I awoke in the ditch, by estimate an hour later, I had to figure out where I was. The motorcycle was on top of me pressing me into the dirt wall of the ditch. I looked up and could see the edge of the road, six feet above my head. I removed my helmet and considered my options deep in the ditch and unable to move my lower body.

I heard cars approach and stuck up my hand and waved -- nobody stopped. They could not see me in the ditch. I thought about trying to throw my helmet onto the road to attract attention but could not get my arms to work well. That is one of the last things I remembered for six days.

The balance of my ordeal was conveyed to me long after the accident by friends and two daughters. I had been riding the motorcycle with an H-T hooked into my pants pocket with a speaker mic attached to my collar. I was informed later that I had put out an emergency call on the 145.430 MHz machine in Clinton.

Two ham-friends heard the distress call and responded. One called 911, and the other drove to the area I described on the radio. He drove by my location twice and even the police could not find me from their cars. The other operator stayed on the phone with the dispatcher and tried to get me to give a better description of my location. My speech was slurred when I responded and then I apparently lost consciousness. The 911 dispatcher wanted me to call on my cell phone and give them a better description of my location - I never heard the request.

The officer that found me in the ditch said he and his partner had exited the squad car and walked along the side of the road until they spotted me at the bottom of the ditch, which had washed away at the bottom, wedging the bike and me into the wash out. Having lost consciousness, I never saw nor heard anyone until one of the emergency personnel woke me, stating they were going to get me out and to the hospital.

The next day October 1, 2013, I was transported by ambulance to the hospital in Iowa City. CT scans revealed a broken back pinching the spinal column, five cracked vertebra, a fractured pelvis, broken elbow and a bleeding brain injury. A year of surgeries, infections, pneumonia and physical therapy followed. I am grateful to be able to tell my story.

Amateur Radio, good friends, and emergency and medical professionals saved my life. -- Gerald Johannsen, K9STP, Clinton, Iowa


ARES Reporting

Following up on Rick's article in last month's E-Letter on the importance of reporting on ARES activity I would like to share with our readers the HQ side of reporting.

ARES reports begin with the local Emergency Coordinator. Each month the EC submits a report to the SEC providing information on the health of ARES in their area of responsibility. This information comes from two forms; the EC monthly report and the public service activity report. The monthly report gives the overall picture of the local ARES group and the public service activity report gives details on specific ARES activations. Additionally the EC submits to ARRL HQ an EC annual report.

The next level of reporting comes from the Section Emergency Coordinator. The SEC submits a monthly report to ARRL HQ based on the information he/she recieves from the DECs and ECs in their section. This is the report that HQ uses to determine how many ARES members there are in each section, number of nets, and how many hours were spent on various ARES activities.

When Amateurs go to local government agencies, whether to offer communications assistance or to seek permission to put up an antenna, our role in emergencies and disasters is often a focal point. To back up our case requires data, specifically numbers that tell the story on what we do. This comes from the ARES report forms. They tell what we do locally, in our state, and nationally. an ideal world they do.

Unfortunately we have a reporting problem. I often hear from SECs that say their ECs are not reporting regularly either with monthly reports or activity reports. And the total number of EC annual reports received at HQ do not refelct the actual number of ECs in the field organization. Likewise we're not hearing from our SECs either. In 2013 only 32% of ARRL sections submitted an SEC monthly report. The reports received that year paint a picture of only 12,000 ARES members in the entire United States, that's less than 175 members per section. Not an impressive number at all, but we know it is not accurate and a better picture can be painted by estimating the amount of ARES activities in the non-reporting sections. Unfortunately it does not held us when we go to state or national partners and don't have accurate numbers to back up what we do. Granted we may never see 100% reporting, but we should see better reporting numbers that what we have in the past.

There are many causes of the reporting problem. Many sections have their own online resources for managing ARES, but generally these systems don't have a mechanism to provide data to ARRL HQ. On the HQ side our online forms need a tremendous amount of work. They lack standardization and data processing capability on the back end. These are issues we're working on and hopefully you'll see progress in the next few months. And finally, as I know from my own experience in the field organization, boredom is an enemy to reporting. Simply put, you're less likely to submit a report if nothing happened that month; and as we know missing one month's report makes it easier to miss the next month's report.

So, what do we need to do? Here at HQ we need to continue working to improve the reporting mechanisms for the field organization. At all levels of ARES we need to be better about submitting the necessary report, even when nothing is going on. These reports are useful at all levels to support the ARES mission. And all of this information needs to be more useful to all levels of ARES. -- Mike Corey, KI1U, ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager


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