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ARES Letter Issues

The ARES Letter
July 17, 2019
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE


ARES Links, Briefs

WX4NHC operators at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami were active for two days gathering surface reports for use by the hurricane forecasters from stations located in the affected areas of Tropical Storm/Hurricane Barry in Louisiana and Mississippi over this past weekend.

"We received many reports about flooding, downed trees, road closures and power outages," said Julio Ripoll, WD4R, Assistant Coordinator of the NHC station. Although Barry only reached a

L to r, Susie Blank, WX2L; John McHugh, K4AG; and Alan Wolfe, WB4L -- operators of WX4NHC at the National Hurricane Center for TS/Hurricane Barry activation. (WD4R photo)

Category 1 Hurricane level on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the major concerns were about the amount of rain and the flooding for low lying areas. "WX4NHC is very grateful for the support and the outstanding operations of the Hurricane Watch Net and the EchoLink VoIP Hurricane Net (WX_TALK)," Ripoll said.

Ripoll offered special thanks to James Lea, WX4TV/M, for his many eyewitness reports from Louisiana, and to Joe Glorioso, N5OZG, for reporting from the New Orleans EOC. "Thank you to all reporting stations and we hope everyone fared well through the storm," Ripoll said. [See editorial note at the end of this issue. -- ed.]

Here is a link to the video of NHC Director Ken Graham, WX4KEG, featuring Amateur Radio at NHC. The Amateur Radio portion starts at 5:00 minutes into the video.


The first annual ARRL Northern Florida Section Hurricane Exercise will be held on Saturday, August 3, 2019, from 0800-1000 hours eastern time. The exercise has a limited function: to test the section's HF voice and digital ability to send and receive message traffic between county Emergency Operations Centers and the State Emergency Operation Center in Tallahassee. The exercise plan includes two messages for each county EOC to send to the State EOC by either voice or Winlink. Stations will also check into the SARnet as indicated in the plan. [The Statewide Amateur Radio Network (SARnet) is a network of linked UHF voice repeaters that serves the State of Florida.]


Pikes Peak International Hill Climb -- ARES Meets Demanding Communications Needs

The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC), also known as The Race to the Clouds, is an invitational automobile and motorcycle hill climb to the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado, held annually on the last Sunday of June. The course is 12.4 miles, with 4700 feet gain in altitude (from 9400' to 14,115'), with 156 turns to be negotiated. It is the second oldest motor sport event in the US (the Indy 500 predates it by a few years). Last month's running had 85 registered entrants -- 58 cars and 27 bikes - with 17 countries represented. Pikes Peak ARES has a long history of providing communications in support of event safety.

John Bloodgood, KD0SFY, Emergency Coordinator and Public Information Officer, Region 2 District 2, Colorado ARES (Pikes Peak ARES), reported on this year's ARES effort, which had 23 operators stationed at points along the route. "This is always a tough event, requiring very long hours, sometimes difficult conditions to include the altitude and weather, and tight communications protocols," Bloodgood said. "This year was no different, though it included a rare fatality."
Things can and do quickly go wrong on the mountain. Bloodgood reported that the very first contestant to start up the mountain only made it 4.4 miles up the course before having to be evacuated off the mountain. Three hours later, a rider suffered a fatal crash at the 12.1 mile mark, out of the line of sight of two operator positions. Throughout the day, several air and ambulance evacuations were conducted for racers and spectators. While the weather started out great, the very long course red (stop) times pushed many racers to later in the day. "We had to contend with wind, rain, hail, and lightning as well as the eventual shortening of the race."

This year, gates opened for ARES operators to head up to assigned positions at 0130; they were in queue from 0030-0100. Once on the mountain, operators were required to stay on the mountain and "be ready for anything." Most operators were in position by 0230. Communications checks commenced at 0600-0630 and roll was called between 0630 and 0700. The race started at 0730. Most operators started descending to the Start at 1730. An estimated 391 man-hours were given to the mountain operation. George Sedlack, KY0D, served well in his first year as Mission Coordinator. Don Johnson, K0DRJ, served as net control and performed the tracking function, with Matthew Tuttle, KD0YBE, as back-up. Bloodgood lauded the excellent work of these coordinators.

Lessons Learned

Bloodgood summarized lessons learned and told his ARES operators: "The events of the day show the importance of not just logging vehicles as they pass your position, but other positions as well, most significantly the ones just below and just above yours, with the time. This can be a real challenge when there are 3 or 4 vehicles on the course at the same time, but it repeatedly allowed us to narrow down when a vehicle was overdue and when it passed the last station."
He thanked all participating ARES operators for a great job, which "demonstrated the value that radio amateurs add to public safety in a demanding environment." Bloodgood said it also drives home the reason why we need to bring our "A" game to even the most routine or mundane event communications assignment. "Think about it: Some of the things we have had to deal with during area events over the last several years include a bear on a race course, a car crash along a bicycle ride course, cars on a foot race course, lost and injured runners and riders, severe weather, and even fatalities. Even on the most seemingly routine event where we are just tracking lead runners and coordinating for more Gatorade, things can go wrong in an instant."
"The truth is that these events do indeed help us practice for real world disaster situations, and these events can quickly turn into real world emergencies on their own." - Thanks, John Bloodgood, KD0SFY, Region 2 District 2, Colorado ARES (Pikes Peak ARES)

See photos from this event on the PPARES Facebook page here.

[Editor's note: This ARES communications mission unfortunately involved a fatality. It was reported that some operators did have some emotional distress days after the race. Such events can lead to mental health issues with support personnel, including radio amateurs. There is a plethora of government, private and public resources available to help volunteers cope with such traumatic events. See ARES, EmComm and Mental Health Risks, Public Service column, July 2012 QST, pp. 75-76, for starters. See also a government resource here. - K1CE]

ARES Emergency Communicator Individual Task Book Available

As part of the new ARES standardized training plan, ARRL has added an ARES Emergency Communicator Individual Task Book to its on-line resources. The book is a working document that enables ARES communicators electing to participate in the ARES training plan to track and document their training elements as they are completed towards increasing levels of proficiency. The Task Book should contain all training plan items, completion dates and sign-offs as the ARES communicator transitions through the skill levels.

The ARES communicator is responsible for maintaining their Task Book and having it with them during training and assignments. The Task Book contains sections with definitions of the communicator levels, as well as common responsibilities. Recommendations for minimum proficiencies and skills per level are listed. Emergency Coordinators, at their discretion, can add or substitute skills that they consider important with DEC or SEC approval. Prior known experience may be substituted for some listed tasks. It is suggested that items in the proficiency/skills section be used in training sessions or for meeting/event presentations.

The approving EC must meet/exceed the qualifications for each level they are signing off on. [Skill levels include an entry level into the ARES organization, which assumes certain basic proficiencies. Next level candidates hold a set of validated skills desired by ARES, including completion of basic ARRL and FEMA courses. The top level candidate has increased skill set validation for candidacy to leadership positions and ARESMAT deployments.] Candidates review and understand task book requirements and demonstrate completion of tasks for each level; assure the evaluations are completed; and keep their task book up to date and available during assignments.

Fillable ARES Emergency Communicator Task Book

Non-fillable version of the ARES Emergency Communicator Task Book.

See also the new ARES Plan for background.

Major US Contest Station, Winlink Support Mexico Fire Response

In May, Mexican radio amateurs provided message communications from a conflagration in a remote area to civil protection authorities in Monterrey, Mexico. Two-member teams of volunteer operators were flown in via helicopter. Teams used Winlink connections with Winlink Express software using the weak-signal protocol Vara HF.

Use of Major Contest Station a Boon

A significant factor in this effort was the assistance and support of retired US contest operator and station, Tom Whiteside, N5TW, who dedicates his station to disaster response support using Winlink. His station in Georgetown, Texas, supported the effort from across the border with his 40- and 20-meter arrays. The volunteer teams at the fire site used a 40-meter dipole and a steerable portable dipole.

In addition to the Monterrey fire, Whiteside's station supported the International Health Service effort in Honduras and was the main link for the ARRL's effort in Puerto Rico in 2017 following the calamitous hurricanes there. Whiteside has served as the ARRL Section Emergency Coordinator for the South Texas section from 2009 through 2012 and continues as an assistant SEC. He is also a member of DHS NCC SHARES. Whiteside maintains a major antenna farm and operates a Winlink HF Trimode station (PACTOR, ARDOP, Vara and WINMOR) and three VHF RMS Packet stations.

ITU/IARU, Telecoms' Winlink Initiative Bears Fruit in Fire Response

In 2018, ITU teamed up with regional telecommunications bodies in the Americas and the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) to set up Winlink as an alternative telecommunication system for use in times of emergencies. Winlink is a worldwide email service that uses radio pathways and can operate completely without the Internet. Winlink served well for this fire response, and has a proven track record of disaster relief communications, providing its users email with attachments, position reporting, weather and information bulletins. The IARU and the Mexican IARU Society FederaciĆ³n Mexicana de Radio Experimentadores (FMRE) have worked cooperatively to extend this solution to the Americas region.

[Editor's note: The main takeaway for me from this incident response was the example of the bridge between the amateur disaster response communications community and the "Big Gun" contest community, a bridge that is largely non-traversed but with fantastic potential to fill gaps in the face of poor propagation with high power and large antennas when the message must get through. It seems to me that ARES leadership would be well advised to contact and consult with the major contest stations in their sections to enlist them in advance for plans and procedures for supporting disaster response. - K1CE]

Communications Response to Catastrophic Events: Pacific Northwest's Venerable Communications Academy Convened in April

The Pacific Northwest's annual Communications Academy was held over the weekend of April 13-14, 2019, with the theme of "Communications Response to Catastrophic Events." From its website: "Communications Academy is a non-profit coalition of volunteer communications teams to provide a high quality, professional-grade training opportunity for the various emergency communications teams around the Pacific Northwest. By providing a once-a-year large-scale venue for training, volunteer communicators are exposed to topics in emergency management, communications techniques and protocols, real-life emergency responses, and other pertinent subjects, which might not otherwise be available to them."

The Communications Academy is open to anyone with an interest in emergency communications, volunteer or professional. The presentations are designed to promote the development of knowledgeable, skilled emergency communicators who will support their local communities during a disaster or emergency response.

Thirty one sessions were presented over the weekend, including Disasters: Hurricanes, Volcanos, and Lessons Learned from Alaska 7.0 Earth Quake; Maritime Disaster Preparedness: Tsunamis in The Northwest; Communications for SAR Dog Handlers; Digital Sound Cards for Winlink: Packet, Winmor, ARDOP, VARA; Integrating Amateur Radio into a Catastrophic Exercise; and many more. The Academy was held on the campus of South Seattle College, Seattle, Washington.

PPT and PDF files of presentations can be found here.

The Academy is sponsored by King County Office of Emergency Management, Bellevue Fire EP Department and Bellevue EARS, Washington (state) Emergency Management Division, other city and county emergency management agencies, and the American Radio Relay League.

ARRL Simulated Emergency Test More Important Now Than Ever: Start Planning for Fall SET

The main weekend for the 2019 ARRL Simulated Emergency Test (SET) is just a couple of months away. The primary League-sponsored national emergency exercise is designed to assess the skills and preparedness of ARES and other organizations involved with emergency/disaster response. The SET has never been more important than now given the emphasis on training, the Incident Command System (ICS) and emergency management at large.

Local ARES teams and ARRL Sections as a whole will conduct exercises on scenarios and work with served partner entities including local, regional and state emergency management agencies and organizations with which ARRL holds formal memoranda of understanding (MOU) such as the American Red Cross and many others. Although the primary SET weekend is in October, SETs can be scheduled at the local and Section levels and conducted throughout the fall season to help maximize participation.

ARRL Field Organization Leaders -- Section Managers, Section Emergency Coordinators, Section Traffic Managers, District Emergency Coordinators, Emergency Coordinators, and all of their Assistants and Net Managers -- are among those tasked with developing plans and scenarios for this year's SET.

The object of the annual nationwide exercise is to test training and skills and to try out new technologies and methodologies while working with partners to cement relationships in advance of real world need. The resulting networking helps ARES members and leaders get to know their counterparts that they would be working with during actual incidents.

To get involved, contact your local ARRL Emergency Coordinator or Net Manager. See the ARRL Sections web pages or your ARRL Section Manager (see page 16 of QST for contact information). For more information and forms for ARRL SET, click here.

Keeping Lines of Communication Open--CERT & Ham Radio

[This article is from the July 2019 issue of the FEMA Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter.]

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members know that communication during an emergency is vital. Don Lewis of the Alexandria Radio Club in Virginia wants CERTs around the country to know how Amateur Radio can help.

Amateur Radio is a useful tool. Lewis, who is trained in CERT, explained that ham radios are more powerful than regular radios. They aren't incredibly expensive, and they have a wide range of uses.

Sometimes CERTs may need to work together throughout a large area. They need to be able to report things that they have found. They sometimes even need to request medical support. Using a radio is easier, safer, and more efficient than sending a person back with messages, says Lewis. Ham radios enable a CERT to communicate over much greater distances than standard radios. This can improve the level at which a CERT can coordinate. CERTs already use ham radios in exercises and they have extended their range and effectiveness.

The City of Berkeley, California's CERT has already begun using ham radio in city-wide disaster drills. In the winter of 2018, they held a 24-hour mock disaster where they practiced their ham radio skills to better prepare their city. They were able to maintain communications in the whole city for the entire 24-hour exercise. This allowed them to relay critical information to citizens and disaster crews. They were also able to use hams to aid the city during a blackout in November of 2017. The CERTs used solar powered batteries in their ham radios. This allowed them to function even when power and phones were down.

Amateur Radio protocols are also built into Pasadena, California's emergency management system. The area experiences earthquakes several times a year. The quakes can destroy cell towers and phones lines in an instant. Amateur Radio can be a huge asset during a disaster like this, so Pasadena has a network of radio operators trained to provide communications at any time they need. They can contact hospitals or fire stations to better serve their community. Ham operators can even aide families in contacting one another once a disaster has passed.

Are you interested in learning how to operate a ham radio of your own to serve your community? Then the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) may be for you. They are a group of radio operators who volunteer for various disasters and public service events. They can provide guidance for training, equipment, and licensing.

K1CE For a Final: Hurricane Barry and the Hurricane Watch Net

As I draft this issue of the ARES E-Letter, Hurricane Barry is nearing landfall on Louisiana's Gulf coast and I am monitoring the Hurricane Watch Net on 14.325 MHz, listening to the net controls reciting hurricane advisories issued by the National Hurricane Center and taking weather and status reports from stations in the affected areas. Propagation is not perfect, but I could hear the net controls and the reporting stations with good readability at minimal signal strength. The net was run proficiently with complete observance by all stations on frequency of the "listen, and do not transmit unless absolutely necessary to supply critical information or upon request of the net control" protocol. I heard absolutely zero superfluous transmissions. Stations in the affected areas reported data based on meteorological measuring equipment; in fact, net control would ask the reporting station what make and model of instrumentation they were using. One mobile station (James Lea, WX4TV) in Cypremort Point, Louisiana, reported observing an increase in water level (storm surge) of 4-5" in just 30 minutes. He reported an hour later that water levels were rising at a rate of 6-8" per hour and he was leaving the area for safer ground; roads were becoming impassable.

Bravo to all operators of net control stations, reporting stations and standby stations involved in this activation of the net, which seems poised once again to play a major role in getting "ground truth" data to the National Hurricane Center expeditiously.


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