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ARES Letter Issues

The ARES Letter
August 21, 2019
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE


ARRL Policymakers, Staff Continue Efforts to Enhance ARES Program, Add Resources

The ARRL Board of Directors, committees and administrative staff have focused on enhancing the venerable ARES program. A major ARES Plan was adopted, providing new direction going forward. A standardized training plan was adopted and a new ARES Emergency Communicator Individual Task Book was approved and published.

Last month, the Board considered the report of its Public Service Enhancement Working Group (PSEWG). A "change log" is proposed for the Task Book that will highlight changes made as the book is periodically revised and updated. ARES position guidelines were posted to the on-line ARES workbook and major revising and updating of ARRL's Introduction to Emergency Communications course (now designated as IS-001) has been completed. [The course is now available at no cost to any ARES registrant, and a "tutorless" format has been added as a parallel path for completing the course. Additional tutors were successfully recruited to help handle the huge initial interest as the changes were extremely well-received by the field organization. A "challenge" path directly to the final exam is also being implemented.] Similar updating and introduction of IS-016 - Public Service and Emergency Communications Management for Radio Amateurs -- will follow in the next few months.

The ARRL HQ staff has brought veteran Ohio Section Manager Scott Yonally, N8SY, on board to assist in the implementation of ARES Connect and to field questions about the new software package from users.

The League's Ham Aid program was reviewed, with some modest revisions to procedures. Most recently, the PSEWG has begun its examination of the future role of the League's National Traffic System in concert with ARES. A brief survey of selected SMs, STMs and SECs is to provide a beginning point for a more extensive analysis of the program. This review and evaluation is expected to be a major part of the PSEWG's efforts in the upcoming months.

A Board Ad Hoc EmComm Manager Requirements Report specifies the job requirements of a new position at ARRL HQ -- Director of Emergency Management -- who will lead a team responsible for supporting the ARES program and will work with HQ staff to develop standards, protocols, and processes designed to support the Field Organization.

Partners in Service: FEMA Announces Plans for September National Preparedness Month

Next month is National Preparedness Month with the theme Prepared, Not Scared. Be Ready for Disasters. National Preparedness Month (NPM) is recognized each September to promote family and community disaster and emergency planning now and throughout the year. This year's campaign will feature PSAs and multimedia products around four weekly themes:

· Week 1: Sept 1-7 Save Early for Disaster Costs

· Week 2: Sept 8-14 Make a Plan to Prepare for Disasters

· Week 3: Sept 15-21 Teach Youth to Prepare for Disasters

· Week 4: Sept 22-30 Get Involved in Your Community's Preparedness

Content has been loaded on the National Preparedness Month Toolkit webpage. This year, FEMA wants participants, which include ARES operators, to share their activities and success stories. The longtime ARRL partner wants brief descriptions of what you are planning for National Preparedness Month. Send them to with the word NPM in the subject line. An appropriate, brief submission would be your planned or conducted ARRL Simulated Emergency Test (SET) activity. Many groups will be holding their SET during September and through the fall. 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. Here's an opportunity to let FEMA know about it.

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.

Cape Cod ARES and SKYWARN Provide Support in Rare Tornado Event

Cape Cod, Massachusetts ARES and SKYWARN operators responded as a storm system on July 23 produced three tornadoes there. Hurricane-force winds resulted in significant tree and utility wire damage. Amateur Radio SKYWARN spotters were the first to provide critical ground truth information. Under the direction of Cape Cod District Emergency Coordinator Frank O'Laughlin, WQ1O, and Eastern Massachusetts Section Emergency Coordinator Rob Macedo, KD1CY, a SKYWARN net ran for several hours on the Barnstable repeater.

"Dozens of reports of trees and wires down and some structural damage reports were received during the SKYWARN net, and Amateur Radio operators supported initial damage assessment in the hardest hit areas, providing photos and videos that were shared via social media and other outlets," Macedo said. "This provided critical situational awareness and disaster intelligence information to the National Weather Service (NWS), state emergency management, local media outlets, and helped to diagnose the areas for NWS meteorologists to survey to determine whether a tornado or straight-line wind damage occurred."

An ARES net supported communications between a shelter at the Dennis-Yarmouth School and the Barnstable County EOC, which serves as the Multiagency Coordination Center (MACC).

Operations continued around the clock, with six radio amateurs engaged in shelter and EOC communications over the course of two days. "Traffic involved the logistics of care of shelter residents until power restoration efforts were near completion," O'Laughlin said.

A NWS-Norton office team of several meteorologists surveyed damage and confirmed the three tornadoes and destructive straight-line winds. Since tornado records have been kept, starting in 1950, only three tornadoes were recorded on Cape Cod up until last year, highlighting the rarity of the July 23 weather event. -- source: Rob Macedo, KD1CY, Eastern Massachusetts Section Emergency Coordinator, SKYWARN

Arizona ARES Gives Communications Support for Museum Fire

Members of the Coconino County Amateur Radio Club (CARC) in Arizona activated on July 21 as winds accelerated the Museum Fire beyond 50 acres, triggering the activation of the county's EOC. Members of the club, many of them ARES volunteers, staffed the EOC.

"The club has a great working relationship with Coconino County," said CARC's Public Information Officer Dan Shearer, N7YIQ. "CARC's ARES component has a dedicated position in the EOC structure and has assisted on many incidents over the last few years, providing communications to field personnel when cell and radio coverage is limited or nonexistent." Shearer said Amateur Radio equipment and antennas are stored at the EOC, and CARC members have been trained to set it up and have everything operational within an hour of activation.

The fire grew larger than 500 acres and became a top fire-fighting priority. A Type 1 Incident Management Team took over the fire-fighting effort late on July 22, and more than 12 Hotshot crews (teams highly trained in all aspects of fire management), fire engines, water tenders, and aircraft were engaged in suppressing the blaze. Residents in some neighborhoods were ordered to evacuate, although no homes and structures were lost.

There were fears that the fire might overrun communications sites on Mount Elden, which include public service, private, and Amateur Radio repeaters. "The loss of one or both of these complexes would have been catastrophic," Shearer said. CARC members were prepared for the risk and quickly assembled spare equipment, including extra radios and repeaters. Air tankers dropped many loads of fire retardant around the repeater sites, and the exceptional work of the fire crews prevented the fire from running up the slopes to the complexes, Shearer said.

The Coconino Amateur Radio Club is an ARRL Affiliated Club with about 50 members. Its large ARES component regularly trains and conducts SKYWARN and ARES nets weekly.

"CARC personnel provided well over 250 hours in support of the Museum Fire disaster response and in direct support of the joint EOC," Shearer said, adding that the EOC professional team and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey expressed their appreciation to CARC operators when the governor visited the fire operations.

ARES Responds to Earthquake Incidents in Southern California

On the morning of July 4, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit the California High Desert, with its epicenter near Trona in the Searles Valley, not far from Ridgecrest, population 29,000. ARES member Jerry Brooks, KK6PA, activated the Eastern Kern County ARES Net, and as members assessed their own situations and were able to participate, activity grew on the emergency net. Steve Hendricks, KK6JTB, assumed net control duties through most of the first day, and others filled in as the activation progressed. The Logistics Chief with the Ridgecrest EOC, Robert Oberfeld, contacted ARES leaders to request a radio operator be assigned to the Ridgecrest Police Department mobile communications van at the EOC.

Eastern Kern County ARES was able to relay reports of roadway conditions from mobile operators to the EOC as several main highways -- including Highway 178, the only route between Ridgecrest and Trona -- had been rendered impassable. CalTrans was alerted, and repair crews had the route opened for limited traffic within a short time.

As the aftershocks lessened and the extent of the damage by the first temblor had been assessed, the EOC requested that ARES stand down but remain on standby. The next day, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck, followed by 19 aftershocks, ranging in magnitude 4.5 to 5.5. When Eastern Kern County ARES reactivated, significantly more damage had occurred, with the result that fewer operators were immediately available as many residents dealt with serious issues within their own homes. Additional operators became available to provide their observations to the EOC, however. In all, 57 operators were active at various times on the emergency net, providing status reports and updates.

"The ensuing days brought thousands of aftershocks of generally small magnitude, but the threat of larger aftershocks remained, so Eastern Kern County ARES remained on standby," said Dennis Kidder, W6DQ. A number of homes and businesses were destroyed or severely damaged. Some 150 residents were in shelters. Aftershocks continued to be expected. -- source: Dennis Kidder, W6DQ, Eastern Kern County ARES, California

Flmsg Used in Maine Red Cross Mass Care Exercise

On August 9 and 10, the Waldo (Maine) County EMA conducted a 24 hour mass care exercise. A designated Red Cross shelter in Thorndike was staffed with volunteers with the public invited to have meals and stay overnight. Several Red Cross volunteers served as shelter managers and 62 Boy Scouts volunteered to act as residents of the shelter. A meal to which the public was invited was served on Friday evening and over 60 people from the community attended.

The radio communications component of the exercise was focused on the transfer of Red Cross forms by radio. Jim Piper N6MED, a registered nurse and Amateur Radio liaison for the Gold Country Region American Red Cross, headquartered in Sacramento, California, was enlisted to initiate a Red Cross 213 form using the popular flmsg utility of the flidigi suite of digital interfaces. Piper has been an advocate for flmsg as a message tool as it may be used with virtually any electronic communications medium. Based on this need, Dave Freese, W1HKJ, the author of flmsg, created a highly simplified "Agency" GUI for flmsg that is designed to be used by personnel with limited computer skills. There are only three buttons that permit the volunteer to create, view or edit the contents of a form. In the Gold Country Region implementation, flmsg and the Red Cross custom forms are contained on thumb drives that are deployed to all shelter disaster response trailers and that can be handed out to volunteers. There is nothing to install on the computer.

Piper sent an ARC-213 form (a 1kB text file reduced from the custom HTML file) via Winlink attachment to the Waldo County EMA in Belfast, Maine. At the EMA, a radio operator moved the file to flmsg where it was sent by VHF using fldigi to the shelter. A volunteer at the shelter then used the flmsg Agency tool to compose a reply, whereupon the process was repeated to get the reply back to Sacramento. The process worked very smoothly and served to demonstrate to the shelter staff the usefulness of the flmsg tool. The Red Cross forms and information on the message utility can be accessed here. [Fldigi (Fast Light digital) is a free and open source program/suite of utilities that can be used for emergency messaging with simple two-way data communications using a laptop's sound card].-- source: Steve Hansen KB1TCE, Waldo County, Maine ARES/RACES

Hurricane Zebra, Florida Hurricane Season Exercises Yield Good Results

The first annual ARRL Northern Florida Section Hurricane Exercise was held on Saturday, August 3, 2019, from 0800-1000 hours eastern time. The mission was to test the section's HF voice and digital ability to send and receive message traffic between county EOCs and the State EOC (SEOC) in Tallahassee. The plan called for two messages for each county EOC to send to the State EOC by either voice or Winlink. Stations were also to check into the Statewide Amateur Radio Network (SARnet), the network of linked UHF voice repeaters that serves the State of Florida Department of Transportation.

According to an after action report submitted by Dave Davis, WA4WES, Assistant Section Emergency Coordinator, stations throughout the section participated. Davis said "Overall, it was a good first effort, and we did well." Objectives included stations to communicate with the State EOC by voice and/or digital modes; become familiar with net procedures including message handling using the ICS message form 309; determine viability of communications on different bands, times of day and different modes (voice and data); and network with other message handlers likely to be involved during real incidents.

Results and Lessons Learned

The EOCs at Bay and St. John's Counties were opened. While the State EOC was unavailable, several stations were able to establish links with KK4SIH in Leon county where the SEOC is located. On 3955 kHz, many stations were able to send messages to the station using Winlink. Operators successfully met the objectives of learning net procedures, and using the ICS form 309 to send messages on different bands at different times of day using both voice and data modes. 80-meters demonstrated the most consistent reliability, followed by 60-meters and 40-meters.

The use and reliability of the HF bands must be mastered by those responsible for using them as they do exhibit periods when they are unusable. The use of propagation charts can help identify the frequencies for optimal communication for any given part of the day. Alternate frequencies and modes need to be part of the plan, and stations must know when to move to the other designated frequencies and modes.

The lack of back up net control stations was an issue: backup NCS and other critical positions need to be pre-assigned. Stations that passed traffic on HF generally spoke too fast. They need to slow down. All messages need to have a standardized message header. See Florida ICS-213 Message Training.

All messages must be originated/written by a person in authority, not by the radio operator. Message logs need to be maintained, and the ICS 309 form is good for this purpose. Its uniform use throughout the section is encouraged. All participating stations should become familiar with Winlink.

ASEC Davis concluded "The response to this exercise was very good. Of course, more work needs to be done, but for a first time effort, I was impressed with the knowledge, enthusiasm, and skill demonstrated by operators throughout the section. The objective now will be to build on what was learned."

Florida Region 4 RACES Communications Exercise Also Conducted

Sumter County (Florida) Emergency Management/RACES hosted a Region 4 Communications Exercise. (The State's Division of Emergency Management divides Florida into Regions for emergency management purposes. Region 4 encompasses the counties in the Tampa area).

The exercise was intended to test RACES capability to communicate from county to county within the region. Systems used included the SARNet for initial coordination and then FM repeater, simplex and/or or HF systems to pass messages from county to county and back to Sumter County, which had originated them. This procedure included sending the message in both directions so each county could test its capability with its connecting county on each side.

As with most exercises of this nature, several counties did have some minor issues, which were ultimately resolved. It showed that the goals of discovering those minor issues, finding their solutions, and implementing them were met. RACES Officer Gene King, KI4LEH, said "Our hope, of course, is that when we are activated/deployed we will have a properly working communications system, know which system or mode works best for our needs, and fulfill our role as emergency communications operators in serving our respective agencies to the best of our abilities."

The exercise was well received by those who participated; a good hot wash was conducted via a telephone conference call where each county's participant(s) related their take on the exercise. There is unanimous support for quarterly exercises. Participants will meet in person for an hour at the Tampa Bay Hamfest, Friday, December 13, and Saturday, December 14, 2019. "This way, we can get to know each other a little better than by just over the airwaves," King said, adding "we hone our skills as radio operators, enhancing our abilities to serve no matter if we operate under an ARES or RACES umbrella."

New Books: Volunteer Amateur Radio Operator Hospital Orientation

The new July 2019 edition of the Volunteer Amateur Radio Operator Hospital Orientation, by Duane Mariotti, WB9RER, has just been released. Mariotti is the Volunteer Coordinator of the Kaiser Permanente Amateur Radio Network and has been involved with emergency communications for 30 years as an electrical engineer, responder, and policy leader. His specialty is biomedical technology and he works to improve hospital disaster preparedness and communications systems.

Amateur Radio operators have a long history of providing hospitals with emergency backup communications, but the hospital operating environment has special considerations to understand before an operator is prepared: There are special rules, regulations, policies and protocols in place to protect patient safety and patient privacy that must be observed. The amateur operator also needs to have an understanding of how a hospital works during disasters and in "peacetime," which can often be complex and even daunting. Mariotti's book goes a long way towards helping the potential hospital radio operator develop the knowledge necessary to serve on a communications team.

The book is a self-paced orientation, one component of a comprehensive orientation to be completed by hospital personnel and Amateur Radio team leaders. To its credit, the book is not a dense, jargon-laded treatise; rather, it lays out its information in large print, sparse words, boxes, summaries, and graphics. It should take the average reader just a couple of hours to read and study the manual, and take the 50-question summary quiz at the end.

Arguably the most critically important guidance is found at the beginning of the book: Amateur Radio operators are limited to public spaces and specific secure locations such as the Hospital Command Center (HCC). It is not the intent for radio operators to be in patient care areas or situations. The orientation training provided in this book is for the Amateur Radio operator . . . and their limited but critical role in support of hospital emergency management in non-clinical settings.

The remainder of the book is devoted to hospital orientation - departments, safety policies, infection control, privacy and other laws, which include laws requiring hospital orientation of all contractors and volunteers, virtually anyone having any business relationship to the hospital. As the author states early on in the book, "We are supporting hospital emergency communications - we should know something about hospital operations."

This is not a book about radio operating, modes and frequencies, antenna placement, message types, etc. It is rather a book to convey the sometimes complex aspects of hospital functioning, and how radio amateurs must act accordingly while on assignment there.

The new book is available on Amazon for $12.50. I highly recommend it based on my experience as a veteran ICU RN working on the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) of a major city hospital over the course of many years. - K1CE

First Joint FEMA Region X, Washington State Emergency Communications Working Groups Meet in Eastern Washington

The FEMA Region X (AK, OR, ID, WA) Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Group (RECCWG) and the State of Washington Emergency Management Division's Washington Emergency Communications Coordination Working Group (WECCWG) held a combined meeting in Spokane Valley, Washington last weekend on August 14 and 15, 2019. The purpose of this meeting was to bring together "state, federal, local, tribal, and private sector partners who support or manage emergency communications systems, communications service providers, business continuity professionals, and others that have a stake in the public communications infrastructure."

Meeting attendees included representatives from FEMA Regions IX and X, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), National Guard, NOAA, Washington Emergency Management and Department of Transportation, the Lummi tribe, Spokane County, public utilities, wireless carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon), and volunteers. Quite a few Amateur Radio leaders from throughout the state attended, including ARRL Eastern Washington Section Manager Jack Tiley, AD7FO, and Western Washington Section Manager Monte Simpson, AF7PQ, two DECs, and several ECs.

Each of the previous nine WECCWG meetings has examined communications responses to various threats. The focus of this event was on cyber security, which is a part of the Communications Function, Emergency Support Function #2. Washington Emergency Management Division Director Robert Ezelle was keynote speaker on the first day, and talked about "the flow of ones and zeros" and how everything today is linked or networked, dependent, and with dependency comes vulnerability. Spokane County Undersheriff John Nowels served as keynote speaker on the second day, and predicted that the next major attack on the United States will be a cyber-attack.

Meeting presentations included examples of how current phone devices are vulnerable to hacking. Mark Hasse from Sprint reminded everyone that in cyber security defense, you need to be right 100% of the time, while a hacker only needs to be right once to cause damage. One of the ARES ECs commented later that "for someone not familiar with cyber security, the amount of damage that can occur as a result of that hacker being right just once is hard to comprehend."

As for support resources, FEMA, CISA and the Interoperable Communications Technical Assistance Program (ICTAP) serves all 56 states and territories and provides direct support to state, local, and tribal emergency responders and government officials through the development and delivery of training, tools, and onsite assistance to advance public safety interoperable communications capabilities.

Amateurs who are experienced in cyber security may be interested in taking the new FEMA All Hazards Information Technology Service Unit Leader (ITSL) class when it is available in a city near them. College-bound amateurs interested in cyber security may be interested in the Scholarship For Service (SFS) "program designed to recruit and train the next generation of information technology professionals, industrial control system security professionals, and security managers to meet the needs of the cyber security mission for Federal, State, local, and tribal governments."

By far the most common theme mentioned by the RECCWG/WECCWG meeting speakers was that adequate ESF #2 responses to emergencies and disasters (both radio and cyber) depends on building relationships between all entities well before the incident. -- Steve Aberle, WA7PTM, Assistant Director, ARRL Northwestern Division; and Assistant State RACES Officer, Washington

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