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ARES Letter Issues

The ARES Letter
September 21, 2016
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE

In This Issue:


ARES Briefs, Links

Amateur Radio Volunteers Needed to Support Marine Corps Marathon (9/14/16); SKYWARN Youth on the Air Net Debuts (9/14/16); Mexican Emergency Communication Net Activates for Newton (9/7/16); Tropical Storm Hermine Gains Attention on the Eastern Seaboard, Hurricane Watch Net Secures (9/2/16); ARRL CEO Urges New York City-Area Hams to Join Him as Marathon Volunteer (9/1/16); Big Island ARES Districts Activate to Support Possible Hurricane Response in Hawaii (8/31/16); SKYWARN Set to Activate in Hawaii as Hurricanes Threaten (8/30/16); Nominations Open for the George Hart Distinguished Service Award (8/29/16)

September is National Preparedness Month

Don't Wait.Communicate. Make your Personal, Family, CERT and ARES® Emergency Plans Today.

September is National Preparedness Month (NPM), which serves as a reminder to prepare, now and throughout the year, for the types of emergencies that could affect us where we live, work, and visit - and certainly for ARES (September also marks the beginning of the ARRL SET period, see below) responses. For more information, including a social media toolkit, visit In June 2003, ARRL became an official affiliate program of Citizen Corps, an initiative within the Department of Homeland Security to enhance public preparedness and safety. The Statement of Affiliation makes ARRL an affiliate under the four charter Citizen Corps programs--Neighborhood Watch, Volunteers in Police Service, Community Emergency Response Teams and Medical Reserve Corps.

See to help you make your plans. Also, in recent Facebook posts and tweets from @ARRL_ARES, ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U, gives tips on how to prepare ourselves and our stations for emergency/disaster response. A recent post suggested "communication becomes easier when you know what band fits your needs. Learn how to determine the best band for getting the message to where it needs to go." Follow the ARRL ARES® program @ARRL_ARES on Twitter. Follow National Preparedness @readygov Follow America's PrepareAthon @PrepareAthon

Get Set for ARRL Simulated Emergency Test (SET)

The ARRL encourages you to consider this year's Simulated Emergency Test and preparations for it as a demonstration of Amateur Radio's readiness and as an active participant in National Preparedness Month. Click here and choose the tab for this year's SET guidelines. SET is a nationwide exercise in emergency communications, administered by ARRL Field Organization leaders including Emergency Coordinators, District Emergency Coordinators, Section Emergency Coordinators and Net Managers.The SET weekend gives communicators the opportunity to focus on the emergency communications capability within their communities while interacting with NTS nets.To participate in this year's emergency test, contact your local ARRL emergency coordinator or net manager. ARRL Sections, ARES teams and nets may conduct their exercises anytime during September through December.

Spotlight: Georgia Mountains' District ARES Trains On Public Event Communications Support

The mountainous Northwest Georgia District ARES program supports four public events each year as a public service and training exercises for its operators. This month, the organization is supporting the Georgia Jewel foot races of 35, 50 and 100 miles and the seven aid stations situated along the course. ARES operators establish communication centers at each station and track all runners for event safety and progress. The 36 hour event in the mountains has only 5% cell coverage, hence the focus on Amateur Radio for essential communications.

Last year, the DEC for the district and for the Georgia Digital program at large, Frank Dean, K4SJR, moved the operation from a VHF/UHF FM voice platform to Winlink Packet. Dean reported "We sent just under 400 messages via VHF Packet -- it was so much easier than sending 150 runners' information from station to station by voice." "From the start of the race in Dalton, we had a complete spreadsheet of all runners and their locations on the course."

For this year's event, Dean added more communications tools at the net control center on the summit of Johns Mountain (1880') including a 70 cm repeater, six packet gateways with two VHF digipeaters, and a portable D-STAR repeater for use with six area D-STAR repeaters. Systems new and old have been tested twice in the last two months, with trials of different antennas and modes at all aid station sites. Dean reports 100% reliability of packet radio and D-STAR/D-RATS at all aid stations. They are ready to go for this month's event.

Next April, Dean's ARES group will serve the Georgia Death Race - a 70 mile route over 24 hours and 40,000 feet of elevation change, a serious communications challenge.

Western Washington Section Manager Comments on June's Cascadia Rising; See September QST Article

Amateur Radio played a major role in the June 6-10 Cascadia Rising 2016 FEMA exercise in the Pacific Northwest, discussed in the comprehensive, excellent September 2016 QST article "Cascadia Rising 2016: Pacific Northwest Amateurs Called to Serve" by ARRL Oregon Section Manager John Core, KX7YT, and Western Washington Section Manager Monte Simpson, AF7PQ. The scenario was a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and consequent tsunami, causing a blackout of all conventional communication channels.

"Amateur Radio operators not only provided communications continuity for Emergency Management agencies, they worked with the Washington State Patrol, Washington State Guard, Washington National Guard, and the FAA," Simpson said in his recent after-action report. Simpson is also Washington's State RACES Officer. He said radio amateurs supported approximately 32 city, county, state, tribal, and federal agencies during the event.

"We were able to support all our served agencies and clients," Simpson recounted. "Volunteers were able to provide communications support on location and during the planned participation period." He said US Amateur Radio responders established cross-border communication with the emergency operations center in Langley, British Columbia, which was holding its own province-wide exercise, Coastal Response.

"Overall, our objectives of being able to communicate with external agencies via voice and Winlink were achieved," Simpson said. "It was great to be able to participate in an exercise of this magnitude to get a feeling for what it would be like to have this many people trying to send and receive data. All of our operators felt this was very beneficial."

Simpson said that including Amateur Radio as "an actual functional part" of Cascadia Rising was a big plus, and that the participants felt they were "actually part of the team and not some ancillary group that was just being tolerated."

Among his recommendations, Simpson said there should be more standardization on language and forms, as well as coming up with a method of establishing contact with communities that lack communication if repeaters go down. He also advised that ARES and RACES teams exercise their equipment on a regular basis, to avoid unexpected outages and failures during a real-world event. - Thanks, Rick Lindquist, WW1ME, ARRL Letter and QST Contributing Editor

Tech Tips: The North Country's Solar Powered APRS Digipeaters

While there are a few good mountaintop Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) digipeaters in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, there are gaps in local coverage -- many roads and towns are in valleys, shadowed by high mountains on either side, blocking access to the digipeaters. Thus, "fill-in" digipeaters are required, critical for support of large ­scale public events such as the Prouty Century Bike rides. For this event, the local Amateur Radio club deploys two dozen trackers, and employs several fill-­in digipeaters for local use and access to the mountaintop machines.

A recently introduced, compact, all-in-one APRS unit (receiver, transmitter, and TNC) is easily incorporated in the fill-in digipeaters, easily transported by off highway recreational vehicles or backpack, and capable of operating for extended periods off the grid. A solar powered digipeater can be employed for short term use as with our bike rides, or as a permanent installation. Here are a few considerations we factored into our systems.

Basic Design

First, in selecting the components, economy was an important consideration - theft or vandalism at remote sites is always a possibility. We used the Byonics MTT4B 10 watt transceiver, packaged in a plastic case about the size of two cigarette packs. The MTT4B draws about 50 mA in receive mode, and 1700 mA when transmitting. To conserve power, a system operator can program fixed coordinates into the unit (a GPS receiver draws about 65 mA when acquiring a set

Components for solar powered digipeater project. (photo courtesy Bob Harris, K9UDX)

of coordinates). Alternatively, the operator can program the MTT4B to turn the power to the GPS receiver on only long enough to get a fix and transmit a position packet. By programming the APRS transceiver to insert the call sign of the station into the packets it digipeats, the operator can use infrequent position packets and still meet FCC requirements for identification.

A plastic ammunition box (dry box) similar to a Flambeau fourteen inch dark green plastic ammo box model is an ideal enclosure for this project. They are watertight, even in a heavy downpour. We replaced the lift out tray with a piece of 1/8" thick Masonite® pressed board, and attached the transceiver to it.

Based on the experience of a fellow ham who operated a stealth digipeater in the central part of the state, system operators can expect to have adequate reserve power for night time and cloudy day operation with two 18 amp/hour sealed lead acid batteries, although the batteries are too heavy to be transported in the plastic dry box for any distance (the box bows when carried by the handle). A luggage strap could support the box with battery, or the batteries could be transported separately and installed in the box at the site. Batteries should be kept charged with a 35 watt solar panel, which measures about 18" by 26". A charge controller regulates the amount of voltage going to charge the batteries; longer battery life results when controllers sense and adjust the output voltage based on the chemistry and type of battery.

The batteries are placed in the bottom of the dry box, wired in parallel, and connected first to the charge controller, before the panel is connected. We placed a small shelf to fill the gap between the batteries and one end of the dry box, preventing the batteries from shifting and providing a convenient mounting point for the controller. We employed the ARES/RACES standard Anderson Powerpole connectors for DC power connections.

It was necessary to breach the sides of the dry box in two or three places for wires and cable. Altech sealing glands (available at major national electronics distributors and a network of regional distributors) can be used to obtain a waterproof seal around the wires and cable. The solar panel comes with two heavy gauge conductors: we used two sealing glands for the power leads that bring the solar power into the enclosure. Alternatively, we spliced a length of zip cord to those conductors and use one of the Altech sealing glands for flat wire, reducing the number of holes in the enclosure from three to two.

The remaining hole is for the coaxial cable run from the transceiver to the antenna. Since the MTT4B incorporates an SMA connector for the antenna, the builders purchased an SMA to SO­239 adapter cable made with a couple of feet of good quality coaxial wire. With the proper Altech sealing gland, the SMA connector will fit through the rubber seal of the gland and when tightened, the sealing gland will close around the cable. The SO­239 connector is connected to the PL­259 connector from the antenna, and sealed with coax seal.

There is a slot in one end of the Masonite® shelf. When placed in the ammunition box, the shelf will be at about the same level as the sealing gland for the coaxial cable, thus the slot is used to route the coax from the MTT4B through the sealing gland without undue stress on the coax.

Installation in the Field and Results

Our first unit was installed near the height of land at a nearby farm in 2015. A JetStream fiberglass antenna mounted on a twenty foot pole completed the setup. It has been in constant operation since then (including use in one Prouty Century bike ride). The two batteries have more than enough reserve power, even after several days of heavy overcast, rain, or winter gloom for the amount of traffic this digipeater

System deployed in the field. (photo courtesy K9UDX)

is handling. The solar panel leans up against a tree with its bottom edge about a foot above ground level. It is angled up at about 60 degrees from the ground and faces south. While 60 degrees is more than optimal (45 degrees is preferred, depending on the site's latitude), the steeper angle helps shed any snow during the winter.

The MTT4B transmits its telemetry data (voltage and internal unit temperature) hourly so we can monitor its health remotely. It relays its received packets to the APRS equipment at my home where they are forwarded to the APRS servers by my Igate. - Bob Harris, K9UDX, Bath, New Hampshire [Harris is a retired programmer for embedded systems. He volunteers for the Prouty Century bike ride and serves as its APRS coordinator, helping the two dozen hams on the road course use APRS. Harris works on improving the APRS infrastructure in rural northern New Hampshire].

Letters: 12 Hour Shifts

Granted, long shifts and fatigue often cannot be avoided in emergency operations, but it comes with a price. Numerous private and public studies show that long shifts cause health problems and mistakes. Aside from the wear on personnel, it has been found that errors increase. So as many emergency responders and the military are often taught, "Rest your troops!" Granted, sometimes you may only have two operators to rotate and cover a position all day every day for a week, but everyone needs at least one six-hour "great sleep" every 24 hours, to avoid excess fatigue. And almost no one can really focus for more than two hours at a time, meaning that even an eight hour shift is too long if there are no breaks. Better to rotate in shorter shifts, or at least ensure the personnel literally get up, get out, and stretch their legs every hour or two. Twelve hour shifts are a good way to cause bad things to happen.

Get on Board the Simplex Contest Train!

Last month, we solicited information on locally oriented simplex contests across the country, and the readership came through. Here are a few examples that may serve as models for local ARES and other groups interested in exercising and enhancing their capabilities.

The Wireless Society of Southern Maine conducts its 2 Meter FM Simplex Challenge each February. Originally, the Challenge was created to allow all classes of licensees an opportunity to participate in a contest. It was quickly discovered that a great deal of information could be gained about VHF simplex paths in the State of Maine to aid in emergency communications planning. The inspiration for this contest came from the Plano Amateur Radio Klub, of Plano, Texas. -- Frank Krizan, K5HS, Founding President, Wireless Society of Southern Maine

I wrote an article in April 2014 QST "The 2M Simplex Sprint - a Contest for Everyone". The contest inspires and boosts membership, garners knowledge of 2-meter simplex operation and capabilities, and promotes creativity with height, power, and antennas to develop communications strategies and getting to know and network with local and regional like-minded operators. Plus, it's just plain fun.

Last year was our banner year for participation and results. Just like the key to house-buying is location, location, location, so goes this contest: You have to communicate, communicate, communicate. For more info, click here. -- Paul Lusardi, N0VLR, Corvallis, Oregon

The San Francisco Radio Club (in its 100th year, W6PW) held its second annual 2-meter QSO Party in August. More info on the event here. -- David R. Dull, KK6JKC, San Francisco, California

The Aulani Hui Amateur Repeater Club sponsors the Hawaiian Islands Grid Madness, an event for all hams in the State of Hawaii. This event is designed for fun and to test equipment, coverage and operating skills using simplex FM on 2 meters and 70 cm. The idea is to contact as many stations in as many Grid Squares as you can, using simplex only. More here. -- Stan Froseth, AH6KO, Kailua Kona, Hawaii

The Huntsville (Alabama) Amateur Radio Club engaged two Simplex Sprint contests in 2015 and again in 2016 with another scheduled for next year on June 17, 2017. For complete information about the event, including rules, simplex frequencies, past winners, scores, etc., see the club's website here. A custom logging program is available to assist with scoring. All contacts are multiplied by the power level, and then the number of unique zip codes the operator has logged at the end of the 3-hour sprint. We sure found out how far a 5 watt HT can get out with simplex with some antenna height and elevation. -- M.D. Smith, WA4DXP, Huntsville, Alabama

K1CE For a Final

I rode out Hurricane Hermine in a cabin in the Suwannee river (northern Florida) basin, to the east of landfall, with emergency supplies, water, and battery-powered station and antennas. During the day, September 1, prior to the storm's arrival, I charged batteries and monitored area repeaters and the Hurricane Watch Net on 14.325 MHz. Later that evening, I checked into the Columbia (county) Amateur Radio Society emergency net on the group's Lake City NF4CQ repeater on 146.94 MHz, listening to weather reports from operators in the coverage area. After the net closed, I checked into the Alachua County ARES/RACES net on Gainesville's 146.82 MHz repeater. Both nets were controlled by excellent net control stations; the nets ran efficiently and effectively. After that net closed, I scanned area repeaters, and listened to NOAA weather broadcasts. At 1 AM the wind rose, sounding like a freight train; trees and limbs hit the ground. Power mains went out, but on battery power, I monitored my radios for information. Thanks go to the Hurricane Watch Net and the area ARES groups and nets cited above for a job well done.


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