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ARES Letter Issues

The ARES Letter
July 20, 2016
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE

In This Issue:


We hope that you value the ARES E-Letter as your source for current events, after action reports, tips, and developments in the amateur emergency/disaster communications community. Can you think of anything we could do to improve the newsletter? We would appreciate your opinion! Please click on this link to take a brief survey. Thank you for subscribing to the ARES E-Letter! -- Rick Palm, K1CE

One survey respondent wrote "my main feedback is the lack of Lessons Learned from the various events reported. It's great that the overall result of these events was successful, but hams can almost always see ways to improve their response 'next time.' Most of those of us who have been in ARES® for some time know what we should do. It is What Went Wrong from which we can learn. It is those Lessons Learned that could be helpful to everyone else. Keep up the good work." - Rich Stiebel, W6APZ, Palo Alto, California [We took Stiebel's suggestion, and added a lessons learned summary at the conclusion of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon communications report in this issue - ed.]

Steve Hansen, KB1TCE, of Knox and Waldo counties (Maine) ARES/RACES, wrote "The ARES E-Letter should provide some coverage to the National Traffic System (NTS™) as both ARES and NTS are public service entities of the ARRL . . ." [A recent ARRL news item reported "NTS was formally created by ARRL in 1949. It continues the long-standing tradition of formal message handling via Amateur Radio, an integral component of the Amateur Radio Service. NTS would not be possible without the thousands of volunteers who keep the distribution network running."] Other NTS news: ARRL Programs and Services Committee Appoints Bud Hippisley, W2RU, as NTS™ Eastern Area Chair; and ARRL Programs and Services Committee Expresses Appreciation, Support of NTS.]

ARES Briefs, Links

Philippines Ham Emergency Radio Operations Network Bracing for Effects of Super Typhoon (7/8/2016); West Virginia ARES Units on Alert for Possible Activation in Wake of Flooding (6/28/2016); Nepal Amateur Radio Earthquake Response Presentation Available (6/27/2016); Dog Head Fire Largely Contained, ARES Teams Expected to Stand Down in a Few Days (6/22/2016)

2016 ARRL Hurricane Season Webinar: Tomorrow Night!

The ARRL will sponsor a 2016 Atlantic Season Hurricane Webinar on Thursday, July 21, at 8 PM ET (0000 UTC on Friday, July 22, UTC). The approximately 90-minute session will address the role of Amateur Radio during the 2016 Hurricane Season. Anyone interested in hurricane preparedness and response is invited to attend this online presentation.Topics will include a meteorological overview of the upcoming season; Amateur Radio station WX4NHC at the National Hurricane Center: Who We Are and What We Do; ARRL Media and Public Relations; the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN); theVoIP Hurricane Net, and ARRL coordination and interface.

The program will include presentations by representatives of the National Hurricane Center and WX4NHC, the VoIP Hurricane Net, the HWN, the Canadian Hurricane Centre, and the ARRL. Webinar registration is open to all, but should be of particular interest to radio amateurs in hurricane-prone areas. The webinar will conclude with a Q&A session. For additional information, contact ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U.

Contesting as Training for Public Service -- Webinar, This Sunday!

A free ARRL webinar "Contesting as Training for Public Service," hosted by Ward Silver, N0AX, will take place on Sunday, July 24, 8 until 10 PM EDT (0000-0200 UTC on July 25). All are invited to join the audio-slide presentation online or via telephone.

"Think of contests as a ham radio fitness center," Silver said. "Public service teams are always looking for enjoyable activities to improve operator skills. Just as sports provide good physical exercise, contests are great at developing radio skills, and both are a lot of fun." Silver pointed out that contests originated as a way to hone traffic-handling skills and develop an effective station.

Register here.

In addition, ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U, is seeking anecdotes from radio amateurs who have activated an emergency operations center (EOC) for a bona fide contest, such as ARRL November Sweepstakes or a state QSO party -- but not ARRL Field Day, a SET, or SKYWARN Recognition Day.

"Just a brief overview of event, results, number of participants, interesting outcomes," Corey said, in describing what he's looking for. Contact Corey via e-mail.

The presentation will be available via YouTube following the webinar.

Upcoming Meetings


Pikes Peak ARES Provides Major Support to International Hill Climb

If this were a video, a baritone voiced announcer using an ominous tone and deliberate articulation would lead off the narration - "Over twelve miles long, with one hundred and fifty-six turns, and four thousand seven hundred and twenty feet in elevation gain . . ."

June 26, 2016, saw the 100th anniversary of the Pikes Peak (Colorado) International Hill Climb. First held in 1916, it is the second oldest motorsports event in the United States; only the Indianapolis 500 has been around longer and only by about 3 weeks. One hundred vehicles would make the race from the starting point at 9,390 feet above sea level to the 14,110 foot summit. That is, if they make it to the top - not all do. For many, a good run is under 10 minutes, though two made it in under 9 minutes this year.

The race would be impossible for organizers to conduct without an army of volunteers. Though the race occurs the same day as Field Day, members of Region 2, District 2 Colorado ARES were glad to once again support the Hill Climb, as we have done for years. Otherwise known as Pikes Peak ARES, Region 2 District 2 deployed 27 operators along the course to provide vehicle tracking, alternate communication, course status, weather observations, and other functions. One operator comes from Texas each year to support the race, while most of the others are locally based.

The radio calls start off slowly: "Start nine nine start," "roger, nine nine start." Once there are multiple vehicles on the course at the same time, the pace of radio communications and messages becomes lightning fast: "Eighteen-Mile, three nine Eighteen-Mile," "Devil's one zero Devil's," "Ragged one seven four Ragged", and the replies "roger, three nine at eighteen mile, one zero Devil's, and one seven four Ragged - there was a double, other station go." "Low Gear two seven stopped in the groove above Low Gear," and the reply "copy two seven in the groove above Low Gear." "Liaison," "Liaison go," "Course is red, Liaison," "Control copies course is red." That entire exchange would consume only 20-25 seconds! Such exchanges can run together very long stretches of time unless something happens to stop vehicles. The pace is so fast that only tactical calls are used with FCC i-d's announced every ten minutes to stay legal.

With vehicles launching from the starting line as frequently as every 60 seconds, this is not an event for a novice operator; it calls for strict net discipline, use of very specific terminology, being able to pick out hard to read vehicle numbers as they go past at speeds of over 100 mph, noticing if something is amiss with a vehicle like a leak, loss of power, etc, and being ready to quickly adapt from normal race pace to a full-on emergency in seconds. Led by veteran race operators Don Johnson, K0DRJ, at Net Control, Al Glock, KC0PRM, at Liaison with race officials, and Dan Martin, KD0SMP, as the Mission Coordinator, the team handles many hundreds of calls during the event. Listening to K0DRJ work, one imagines an operator with four hands - he is not unlike those operators who can keep ten calls in their head as they work a contest pile-up.

When a racer slammed into a guard rail and needed to be helicoptered off the course, the ability to get the initial report to race officials and to maintain control of the net was a testament to the skills of all the operators, especially the reporting station and the three leadership positions. This can very easily be a life or death situation; in 2014 a racer crashed and died during the race and in 2015 a racer crashed and died during a practice run. In 2013, a vehicle rolled and flipped about 12 times in a non-fatal incident. The amateur radio operators also were the first to notice debris and fluid on the course, alerting Race Safety officials who closed the course until the hazard could be cleared. There were no fatalities this year and the racer who was evacuated appears to be doing better at this writing.

Weather on "America's Mountain" can be temperamental. It can be 70+ degrees down at the start line and 40 degrees at the summit. Even though it was the end of June, the start of the race was delayed as snow and snow melt was cleared from the top of the course. Afternoon storms can build up quickly, dumping rain, hail, and snow on an area in minutes. Lightning is always a concern, especially above tree line and at Devil's Playground, so named because of the propensity for

An original race car, the Yellow Devil, comes back down the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb course, June 26, 2016 (photo courtesy John Bloodgood, KD0SFY)

lightning to jump from rock to rock. In 2015, six people in a car were struck by lightning just hours after the racer fatality during practice. As the clouds began to build up, the weather spotting skills of Pikes Peak ARES operators came in to play. With just a few racers left to go, snow pellets, rain, and hail began to fall and while the precipitation was nowhere near the reportable conditions for the National Weather Service, it was a huge concern for the racers.

Last year a storm cell moved in during the race and dumped so much hail that the snow plows could not get the road cleared and the race was shortened to only six miles. This year, the only car to not go to the summit due to weather was an exhibition vehicle driven by a quadriplegic, which stopped half way up.

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb makes for a long day - getting in queue at the gates at midnight to head up the mountain at 2 AM, finding positions in the dark, being completely self-sufficient for the duration, and not coming down until after the downhill parade of race and support vehicles are past -making it back through the gates to the mountain about 17 hours after heading up. This, while tens of thousands of operators around the rest of the country enjoy Field Day festivities. The mountain and Colorado weather often throw curveballs at us. Spectators often do things they are not supposed to. Racers crash and vehicles break.

Through it all, Pikes Peak ARES and associated amateur radio operators perform magnificently, providing a vital volunteer service year after year. We were excited to be a part of the 100th anniversary of such a prestigious event and look forward to next year! - John Bloodgood, KD0SFY, Emergency Coordinator, Region 2, District 2, Colorado ARES (Pikes Peak ARES)

Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon: Run to Remember

April 26, 2016 saw the 16th running of the Memorial Marathon for the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building and the loss of lives that occurred in 1995. Since its first run in 2010, the role of the Amateur Radio community has grown as the Marathon has grown.

After the first few runs and as the number of runners increased, the organizers realized that a better communication system needed to be developed. In the initial years, contact between the Start/Finish line and various points on the course were attempted by cell phone, which proved to be unreliable, with many areas not able to contact the Control's base. Thus, event organizers/managers turned to radio amateurs for more reliable communication services.

As the Marathon grew from several hundred runners to today's 25,000+, and as additional courses/runs were added, the communications requirements have become more demanding, complex and critical. The Marathon itself consists of a full 26 mile course, with a half Marathon of 13 miles as well as a "walker's course" and a children's course, all starting, at various times from the same point, returning to that point, but using slightly different course layouts. In addition to the single runners, there is also a Relay course for team participation. The coordination of radio communications along the various courses as well as between the police, fire and EMS service for the City of Oklahoma City has grown into a complex, but interoperable system.

Primary communication is handled through the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). The OEM is tasked with overseeing cooperation/coordination among all involved City, County and State organizations as well as keeping the Marathon officials informed of any emergency situations/conditions and traffic that may impact the runners on, and the spectators along the Marathon course. There are several radio amateurs assigned to the OEM base of operations who are responsible for getting messages out to on-course directors to ensure public safety.

Working down to the next level, the amateurs establish stations at several points on the course. Other operators are assigned to the Medical Tent (the "MASH") located at the start/finish line. This group keeps the Medical teams informed of any emergent situations on the courses involving runners and spectators. If an injury occurs, the MASH is informed of the person's condition and if EVAC transport is needed. This information is radioed to the MASH from operators assigned to the First Aid stations positioned along the course.

Communications for SAG vehicle dispatch and coordination are handled through the SAG net control point located near the start/finish line. Each SAG has an operator on board who maintains contact with the SAG net. Each vehicle has an APRS/radio station aboard and active so that SAG control can look at a computer screen and determine which vehicle is closest to where a pick up is needed. This system has been used successfully for the last several years. One rule for SAG pickups: all runners picked up must be transported and seen at MASH to ensure health and safety.

New for this year, the amateur group was asked to provide additional operators to help move supplies, water and ice among the various check points. Last year, some check point staffs ran out of ice, water and other supplies while others had too much. A "water net" was established to cover this issue, and it worked successfully.

Hard data: Ninety operators were deployed this year, with more being needed. Ten primary repeaters were employed, with many simplex frequencies and backup repeaters available in case there was a failure.

Lessons Learned

All communication systems remained open and viable over the event's course, thanks to advance, rigorous direction to all operators that the various nets were strictly controlled. Net and operator discipline prevented informal cross talk and mixed or missed messages, thus promoting smooth and reliable traffic handling with no garbled nor duplication of messages, and allowing for response times to be kept as short as possible. This was particularly important for emergency/priority messages/calls for the SAGs to pick up and transport runners who needed assistance and keeping the MASH informed of the runner's condition on route and ETA.

We also returned to the practice of using runner bib numbers for identification purposes to reduce confusion and duplicate calls, and ensure that the correct person was picked up at the right station. There was one incident where the station calling for assistance did not give the bib number; there were two runners that needed assistance at one station at the same time. One runner left the check point on their own (only to need pick up further down the route) and the case of the other runner who was picked up by a SAG vehicle should have been referred to EMS/EVAC for pick up due to the severity of the runner's medical issue. This incident will be studied by the amateurs' administration and medical staff for protocols review and improvement for next year.

The final key point that came out of this year's marathon was simple: The separation of special services (SAG, water, medical and control) made it easier to achieve one of the best marathons run yet in Oklahoma City. Planning before the event and a thorough review and anticipation of possible problems were also very helpful. Two things hold true for this and any other incident, event or exercise: First, you can never plan for all contingencies (but you can try), and second, you can never have too many radio operators! -- Carl Rod, AB1IG, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Letters: A Proposal for an ARES Standard Headset

In response to a letter from Douglas McCray, K2QWQ, in June 2016 QST, and study by the San Luis Obispo (California) Emergency Communications Council, the council has put forth a proposal for an ARES standard headset connector. As an example of a good ARES standard, the ARES/RACES standard Powerpole® DC connector is now well understood, accepted and used in the field. Also, of course, there are a number of time-tested, well-accepted standard RF connectors on the back panels of our radios, such as the SO-239, and on the ends of our HF coax - the ubiquitous PL-259 or "UHF" connector, for example. But, as McCray points out, what about the microphone? This is the most complicated connector to standardize so it's not surprising that it's the last. But can we do it? There are lots of different mic connectors in use in the field -- some are easy to obtain, such as the RJ series connector, while others are more difficult to come by. There is a wide range of audio levels to consider: from about -60 to about -20 dBm. Further complicating things is that there are several different push-to-talk (PTT) schemes; some mic elements need power, some don't; and some mics have lots of extra functions.

We are asking your readers for feedback on our proposal, which can be found here. A survey platform for submitting feedback can be found here and/or readers can e-mail me at Thank you! -- Tom Tengdin, WB9VXY, San Luis Obispo, California

FEMA Mobile App for Apple, Android, Blackberry Platforms

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