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ARES Letter Issues

The ARES Letter
October 20, 2021
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE


ARES® Briefs, Links

ARESLAX, an arm of the ARRL Los Angeles Section, has used a $23,600 grant from Amateur Radio Digital Communications to purchase equipment that will help ARES team members to locate and eliminate sources of radio frequency interference (RFI) that could hinder their operations.

"ARESLAX is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization supporting emergency communication initiatives of the Los Angeles Section's ARES program," ARRL Los Angeles Section Manager Diana Feinberg, AI6DF, said. "Earthquakes and wildfires are the primary disaster threats this region faces. Because these incidents occur without any advance warning, disaster communication groups in the Los Angeles Section must maintain a high degree of readiness."

In conjunction with International ShakeOut Day on October 21, 2021, the Winlink Thursdays EmComm Training group will introduce the new Did You Feel It (DYFI) Winlink template form for this week's Winlink Thursday exercise. See the group's website for details on how to participate. The Did You Feel It (DYFI) system was developed by the US Geological Survey (USGS) to tap the abundant information available about earthquake effects from the people who experience them. By taking advantage of the vast number of internet users, and amateur operators with Winlink radio clients, the USGS gets a more complete description of what people experienced, the effects of an earthquake, and the extent of damage. And best of all, with the amateur radio community's help, they can do so rapidly.

2022 ARRL National Convention Emergency Communications Training Track -- Plan on attending the 2022 ARRL National Convention, set to take place at Orlando HamCation® on February 11 - 13. A day-long workshop on emergency communications is scheduled as one of the training tracks that will be offered as part of the National Convention program that will precede HamCation on Thursday, February 10. The training presentations will feature current protocols, techniques, and responsibilities for the modern volunteer radio operator serving partner agencies and organizations. The presenters are all subject-matter experts. Topics to be covered include the ARES, AUXCOMM, and Florida Emergency Communicator Position Task Books, an overview of amateur radio responses to disasters, basic voice traffic handling with hands-on voice traffic net/message transfer practice, using the ICS-213 form, Winlink's ARDOP (Amateur Radio Digital Open Protocol) and VARA protocols, and the Radio Mail Server (RMS) hybrid internet/HF radio gateway system. The event will be held on Thursday, February 10, 2022 at the Doubletree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld. Participants should arrive at the hotel, check in at 8 AM, and be in seats by 8:30 AM. A National Convention Luncheon (for everyone) runs from noon to 1 PM in the banquet room. The track ends at 5 PM.

Visit the ARRL Store for items of special interest to the ARES emergency communicator.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Emergency Communications Division (ECD) announced the release of the updated National Interoperability Field Operations Guide (NIFOG). NIFOG Version 2.0 has been many months in development.

The NIFOG is a technical reference for emergency communications planning and for technicians responsible for radio, telephone, satellite, and internet communications, that will be used during exercises, special events, or disaster response. It includes rules and regulations for use of nationwide and other interoperability channels, tables of frequencies, standard channel names, and other reference material. It is also a great one-stop reference guide. A PDF version of the NIFOG 2.0 can be viewed and downloaded on the CISA/SAFECOM website.

Hams Support Chicago Marathon

A team of 135 ham radio operators from the four-state region supported medical teams volunteering for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 10, 2021. The Chicago Marathon is the third largest marathon in the world. This was also one of the largest events Chicago has hosted since the pandemic shut the city and the Marathon down in 2020. This is the 13th year that ham radio operators have partnered with the medical teams to help them coordinate medical responses, arrange for medical supplies to be redeployed and provide situational awareness for the organizers.

Ham teams are often built around veteran operators, but this year, many newly minted hams applied, most of whom have had little or no public service experience. The ham team leaders offered several Zoom training classes before the event to get everyone acquainted with the event and their respective roles.

The largely flat marathon course has 20 aid stations on its 26.2-mile course, and each has a Course Medical Tent. Hams are deployed at each medical tent, and are there to provide critical communication for the medical teams. Each Course Medical Tent has a team of about 15-20 doctors, nurses, massage therapists, and other specialists.

There are two main communication nets: a medical net and a logistics net. To support those nets, the hams use nine repeaters. Most of the repeaters with course-wide footprints belong to local clubs, but hams also deploy five special use temporary repeaters. They also have several backup strategies in case of complications. For instance, this year, they had to abandon one key logistics repeater because of RFI noise that was not experienced previously, and so the entire team moved quickly to another repeater channel.

While one job is to pass urgent medical traffic to the ambulance company that sits next to the hams in the Forward Command tent, hams also provide situational awareness reports to the organizers. They report the number of patients being cared for at each Course Medical Tent, and the stress level the medical teams face in providing

Hams at Chicago Marathon Med Team #4 Tent [Photo courtesy Rob Orr, K9RST]

care. Stress is a subjective value, but does communicate to the medical director if a situation is growing more complex. Higher stress levels can be the result of an unusually high number of patients, reduced supplies or a sudden increase of serious medical cases.

At each Course Medical Tent, the hams are also responsible for changing the Event Alert flag. This is an innovation that was introduced after the near-disastrous 2007 Marathon when the high heat and humidity forced the race to stop. That became a very complicated problem, because runners didn't want to stop running and the organizers did not have systems in place to communicate to the field. The organizers came up with a visual way to show the runners what the course conditions were, so runners could better adjust their pace. The EAS conditions are green, yellow, red, and black. This year's event started in yellow because of the unusual heat, and changed to red because of the humidity and the increased potential for serious heat-related injuries. Generally, when a red flag is displayed, many runners adjust their pace and often start walking. This helps to cool them down and prevents many serious injuries.

Following the 2007 event, the organizers reached out to the ham radio community to see how they might be able to help. Once a proper role was defined, it was agreed that hams would serve the Medical Director and provide health and welfare traffic. Doctors, they admitted, preferred to serve patients and would rather not be responsible for communications. They seemed happy to pass those tasks to a ham radio team.

Most of the hams communicate using FM repeaters, largely because those repeaters are in place and many hams have that equipment. They have experimented with Fusion and DMR radios. DMR is used with the teams on the final mile, where teams of hams work with a team of medical personnel. Historically, the last mile has proven to be the most dangerous area for runners.

The hams serve as communicators and call for additional medical support if such support is required. Ham teams also work in small tactical teams that roam the finish line area. If a runner collapses for any reason, spotter towers call out the person to the rapid response medical team to provide aid. Each medical team has a ham to handle communication. If the case needs to be escalated, the hams call into Forward Command to dispatch mobile professional medical teams to assist.

In Forward Command, the hams have 10 people who serve as net controls, traffic handlers, logging specialists, and expediters. They work alongside the ambulance company and the resources of the entire city of Chicago, so if the Medical Director wants water to spray on the runners to help cool them off, the ham might need to communicate with the fire department to find out whether certain hydrants need to be opened.

The event has plenty of personal challenges for the hams. Many report to their duty stations very early in the morning so they can do roll calls at 6 AM, and many remain on course working until the event ends around 4 PM. Rain or shine, snow or wind, the hams and the medical teams must adjust to the weather. Hams also serve the aid station (co-located with each Course Medical Tent), which can have as many as 300 volunteers handling water and Gatorade. In the event of an emergency, hams shadow the aid station captain to facilitate communication back to Forward Command.

All communication from the Course Medical Tent to the Forward Command tent is handled with two mobile radios - one dedicated to medical traffic, and the other for logistics. They in turn talk to the remaining members of their team using simplex frequencies. Three stations provide local wet-bulb readings to the meteorologist sitting in Forward Command. He happens to be a ham as well, and provides custom forecasts for the event.

Hams are not the only communication link these days. Everyone has cell phones, and the race does have its own network of commercial radios, but those are used for race operations. Cell phones have proven to be unreliable when there are so many spectators lining the park and streets. Ham radio provides an independent resource to the event organizers that can be a backup to all other communication. The hams also created a remote backup command post that the city command center can use in the case of an emergency when continuity of operations is required.

Like hams who serve other large public events, the primary skill needed is the willingness to serve the event and its Medical Director. It demands a commitment to perform and execute at a high level.

Hams today compete with many other services to be relevant. Staying focused on the customer and delivering quality service keeps us at the table. Chicago has been recognized for how well it integrates all of its resources, and the hams have been publicly recognized by FEMA observers for their performance.

Ham radio is important, but it is just one small component of this very complex event that demands 20,000 volunteers to be successful. Ham radio has a unique role, and it works right alongside the other specialty service groups. -- Rob Orr, K9RST, Glenview, Illinois

Can an Amateur Radio Handheld Stop a Train? Texas Club Averts a Train Disaster

Every year in the city of Weatherford (Parker County), Texas, the Peach Festival is held. As part of the festival, a bicycle ride - the Peach Pedal -- is conducted, supported by the cooperative efforts of local amateur radio clubs and their volunteers. This year, the Tri County Amateur Radio Club of Azle, Texas, performed the prevent legwork and organized the net control operators, rest stop operators, and the SAG (support and gear) vehicle operators. The Amateur Radio Club of Parker County and other clubs' members were signed up for other various radio positions to support the bicycle ride event. The forecast was fine.

The net control plan also called for a Parker County RACES operator to work the radios in the Parker County Emergency Operations Center (EOC). This operator would be able to help with radio traffic between the Fire/EMS Dispatchers, the bicycle ride amateur radio net control, and the county Sherriff's deputies performing traffic control at busy intersections. The usual ride start-up radio traffic came and went, and then the calls for SAG began to increase for flat tires, broken chains, muscle cramps, and exhausted riders.

And then, cutting through the steady amateur radio traffic between the net control, rest stops, and SAGs, a SAG radio operator's voice could be heard transmitting, "Emergency, Emergency, Emergency." Mike Burns, KE5NCS, SAG 3 was sweeping the 61-mile course northbound on Bennett Road, following a pilot car and tractor/lowboy trailer with a large piece of equipment. The tractor-trailer high-centered and stopped on the Union Pacific Railroad road crossing. And then Burns heard an eastbound train blowing its horn for the road crossing. Net control Jon Diner, N5JLD, issued a stand-by, hold all radio traffic order, and transmitted, "Go ahead with your Emergency traffic, SAG 3."

Burns then transmitted: "Yes, there is a lowboy heavy equipment hauler with a bulldozer on it that just got high-centered on the railroad tracks at Bennett Road and Goen Road; it can't move, and there is a train coming." In the EOC, the Fire/EMS dispatcher said, "What did he just say?" just as net control N5JLD transmitted, "Please repeat your Emergency traffic."

The EOC Ride Control operator, Thad Weikal, KG5ATD, turned up the radio audio to near maximum so the dispatcher could hear the radio traffic clearly. As SAG 3 KE5NCS was repeating his Emergency traffic, the dispatcher said, "I am getting Union Pacific Railroad on the phone right now." Weikal at the EOC used a Fire/EMS radio to make a county-wide call to the county law enforcement dispatcher: "County, this is EOC Ride Control with Emergency traffic." The county dispatcher replied, "Go ahead with your Emergency traffic, EOC." "County, the railroad tracks at Bennett and Goen Roads are blocked by a tractor-trailer hauling a bulldozer, and there is a train approaching." The EOC dispatcher said, "U-P has put out an all stop on all trains on that track." A County Deputy asked, "EOC, what was that location?" "Bennett Road and Goen Road." "Copy, I am en route," followed by radio silence.

When the EOC dispatcher's phone rang, the dispatcher answered and relayed, "U-P says that they are showing all trains at full stop on that track." Weikal made a radio call to the County dispatcher, saying, "County, this is EOC Ride Control, Union Pacific is reporting all trains at full stop on that track at Bennett Road." "County copies that, EOC." Weikal then made a radio call to the ride net control, N5JLD: "Net control, this is EOC." "Go ahead, EOC." "Net control, Union Pacific is reporting all trains on that track at full stop." "Copy that, EOC." "SAG 3, net control." "SAG 3, go ahead." "SAG 3, EOC is reporting that Union Pacific is showing all trains at full stop on that track at Bennett Road." "Uh...yeah...I can see...that...." -- the eastbound train had stopped 30 yards short of the tractor-trailer. There were no injuries or equipment damage. Weikal reported the road crossing clear 1 1/2 hours later. Yes, an amateur radio handheld can stop a train.

Thanks went out to all amateur radio volunteers and fire/dispatch operators for their quick effort to help narrowly prevent a disastrous collision between a train and a tractor-trailer hauling a bulldozer with a gross weight of 186,000 pounds. -- Thad Weikal, KG5ATD, Amateur Radio Club of Parker County (Texas) Director

ARRL Simulated Emergency Tests Underway; Early Reports In

Strong SET Turnout in Illinois: A Guide for Future Exercises

With some 150 ham radio operators from across the state participating in the ARRL Illinois Section Simulated Emergency Test (SET) on October 2, 2021, coordinators Robert Littler, W9DSR, Illinois Section Emergency Coordinator, and John Zelz, W9ZE, the Assistant SEC who ran the Saturday morning exercise, termed it "a resounding success."

The SET, which ran from 8 AM until noon CDT began with a general "Wellness Net" to encourage participation from all areas and disciplines of the state's amateur radio community, with an emphasis on those operators who participate in ARES activities throughout the year.

Approximately 150 HF/VHF/UHF/Echolink stations checked in during the Wellness Net. The SET HF Net was in session from 9 AM to noon with more than 50 stations checking in. There were also 45 VHF/UHF stations with formal traffic listed. The individual ARES Districts reported a similar number of VHF/UHF stations with traffic.

"We were extremely pleased with the response in this modified exercise that followed the plan of another exercise we conducted in the spring as part of an ongoing effort to hone the system used to train amateur radio operators in the event of a catastrophic emergency in Illinois and their interaction with counterparts in nearby states," said Zelz. Plans are already in motion for a spring 2022 version of the SET to further expand and enhance the exercise's operating efficiency. -- Vicky Whitaker, KD9BAU, Illinois Section Public Information Coordinator

Northern Florida County's SET Brief, Thinking Out of the Box, Successful Exercise

An ARRL Northern Florida Section county group held its SET on October 2, based on the scenario of using non-traditional alternative power sources, with formal situation reports and survivor outbound messaging. Using the DHS Homeland Security Exercise Evaluation Protocol (HSEEP), the Alachua County ARES group created an exercise to test the ability of funneling neighborhood situational reports through the local EOC in the event of a disastrous cyber-attack. Coordinators added an additional twist -- the simulated emergency environment had all the volunteers with no electricity and having exhausted "normal" backup fuel and batteries, forcing them to use a nearby vehicular battery or a portable solar power system to provide power. (Pre-wired, already existing vehicular mobiles were not allowed). The objective was to have team members develop techniques and assets to allow them to leverage any available battery.

Communications Planning was objective #1 of the written HSEEP objectives, so local ARES Emergency Coordinator Jeff Capehart, W4UFL, conferenced to work through the thorny issues of what frequencies and techniques would work with literally no remaining repeaters, digipeaters, or Winlink RMS stations operable within 1,000 miles. Members began to grasp that the EOC would be a bottleneck if all traffic had to go through that well-equipped but tiny facility -- and the exercise called for participants to send a simulated outbound "survivor message" (Health and Welfare) to some friend or relative. After a lot of ideas were evaluated, Capehart came up with a workable ICS-205 frequency list that included voice and data avenues on both VHF and HF, due to the size and geography of the county, which made simplex VHF unlikely to span the distances without "human relays."

Despite all these daunting obstacles, on the day of the brief 2-hour exercise, 15 participants in various capacities examined just about every method of extracting electrical power. Two participants deployed solar panel systems. Several conquered RFI-hash from inverters by separating them with extension cords. At the EOC, participants completed two wiring upgrades to make it much easier to move the EOC radios off of the backup generator and onto polarity-protected connections to any of the ARES group's multiple lead-acid or LiFePO4 batteries, and operated not only the radios but all the computers on storage batteries. This section of the SET appeared to be a huge win for the group.

In the communications portion, participants had their choice of multiple methods to move neighborhood-structured SHARES SPOTREP-2 reports with randomly assigned local situations, including multiple simulated reports of "smoke seen" or "firefights heard." HF Data (both peer-to-peer local Winlink and distant-RMS Winlink) was the runaway winner in this dire scenario, with 18 total formal messages moved, followed by VHF voice with seven pieces of traffic moved, HF voice with six, and VHF (packet) data moved one message.

A news release to a local high school club resulted in three families (seven total persons) visiting the EOC, who stayed for over an hour observing the three busy ham volunteers handling simulated emergency traffic. Others visited one of the neighborhood volunteers to observe. Thus, the SET was judged to be a phenomenally successful outreach opportunity by the SET group. Participants enthusiastically reported their trials and successes at the half-hour hotwash Zoom session that immediately followed the exercise.

The Longest Day: Providing Communications for the LoToJa Bike Race

More than 100 amateur radio operators from five states, plus their helpers (more than 135 in all), provided communications and other support for the LoToJa bike race on Saturday, September 11. LoToJa runs through three states, starting in Logan, Utah and ending in Jackson Wyoming, thus the name "LoToJa."

LoToJa has grown into one of the nation's premier amateur cycling races, and continues to be a grueling test of one's physical and mental stamina. Many compete to win their respective category, while others just ride to cross the finish line. At 200+ miles, LoToJa is the longest one-day USAC-sanctioned bicycle race in the country. Cyclists must conquer three mountain passes as they pedal through the scenic terrain of Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming en route to a finish line below the rugged Tetons at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

In addition to communications, the amateur radio operators provide basic first aid and mechanical and wheel support to the more than 1,700 cyclists. They call themselves the LoToJa hams. Coordinated and organized by the Bridgerland Amateur Radio Club located in northern Utah, amateur radio operators join in from nearby clubs along the route. This is the 30th year that the amateur radio community has been helping with LoToJa.

"Our goal is the help the cyclists, their support crews, and their families have a safe and enjoyable event," said Kevin Reeve, N7RXE, the coordinator of the amateur operators and communication systems for LoToJa. "LoToJa is such a great event for amateur radio operators to participate in," said Tyler Griffiths, N7UWX. "It is the ARES radio operator's dream event -- we know where it starts, we know where it ends, but everything that happens in between is different from year to year."

The team deals with real-time situations, from accidents and other emergencies, to communicating about needed supplies, and calling ambulances and medical support. Fortunately, the LoToJa hams group includes some professional medical personnel, and is able to handle many issues, but it is common to have four ambulances called during the 206-mile event.

Ted McArthur, AC7II, leads the communications infrastructure team for the LoToJa hams group. The team deploys two portable repeaters on mountaintops, and six portable APRS digipeaters and IGates. In all, nine amateur radio repeaters and several simplex frequencies are used throughout the event. APRS plays an important role, according to McArthur. "With the number of mobile vehicles needed to meet a growing event increased, net control stations were spending a lot of radio time asking for position reports. We needed the air time for real traffic like helping cyclists, emergencies, and other critical traffic." Each year after the event, the team spends time evaluating the APRS coverage and paths to digipeaters and IGates. Tweaks are then made to improve next year's effort.

It takes a team of 12 to organize the efforts on the amateur radio side. From coordinating vehicle rollout at the starting line, to staffing the four command stations, checking out first aid and mechanical kits, and getting things ready for the event. Some of the radio operators have been helping with LoToJa for 20 - 30 years. Every year there is room for a few new radio operators, but what makes the amateur radio portion of LoToJa successful is those who come back year after year. They know the routine, they just need updates, course changes, and additional training determined over the last year. -- Pat Malan, N7PAT, South Jordan, Utah

Ohio Amateur Radio Involved in State Planning for 2024 Solar Eclipse

At first, it seemed to be a bit of a reach - launching planning for an event 2 years in the future. But as Ohio Homeland Security/Emergency Management planners explain, the predicted solar eclipse promises to bring hundreds of thousands of people into many Ohio counties - and Ohio agencies such as responders, hospital and medical providers, highway crews, and tourist organizations will need to be prepared for the onslaught. Mass care, communication, possible shelters, and many other aspects have to be carefully provisioned. Complicating this, the date for the eclipse is April 8, and Ohio weather being what it is at that time of year, spectators could be in conditions ranging from 2 feet of snow to 80-degree temperatures.

Included in the planning was "Ohio Amateur Radio," bringing the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) in on the ground floor, led by Ohio EMA Planner Colin Campbell. Several hundred agency representatives are divided into service areas, including communication and emergency medical care. Those two sub-groups include amateur radio, with ARES Ohio Section Emergency Coordinator Stan Broadway, N8BHL, to provide input on the capabilities and services available through ham radio operators.

Planning is underway and will continue right up until the actual event takes place. The eclipse will place nine Ohio counties exactly on the "line of totality," with complete darkness. Thirty-five more counties will watch it as a full eclipse. Many more of Ohio's 88 counties will see a partial eclipse.

There are over 1,000 ARES members in Ohio, and this event will probably involve many of them in this "all hands" effort to provide communication and messaging to served agencies. - Thanks, ARRL Ohio Section Emergency Coordinator Stan Broadway, N8BHL

FEMA - A National Leader in Disaster Communications

As a national leader in the field of Disaster Emergency Communications (DEC), FEMA coordinates the federal government's response, continuity efforts and restoration of essential communications before, during, and after an incident or planned event. Working closely with federal, state, tribal, and other mission partners, FEMA helps unify the efforts of all responders around one common communication goal: the delivery of information to emergency management decision makers. Having a single, shared communications vision promotes an interagency system of interoperable communications capabilities across all levels of government to ensure mission-critical information and situational awareness. All of this is coordinated through the 10 FEMA Regional Emergency Communications Coordinators (RECC) across the U.S.

Establishing and maintaining effective disaster emergency communications and information systems is critical to FEMA's role in coordinating the federal government's response, continuity efforts, and restoration of essential services. FEMA's DEC Division, part of the Response Directorate, ensures effective communications by:

  • Providing and supporting tactical operable and interoperable voice, video, and information systems for emergency response teams.
  • Developing effective command and control communications frameworks.
  • Supporting the coordination and delivery of secure communications solutions.
  • Identifying and documenting mission-critical disaster emergency communications and information systems capabilities, requirements, solutions, and mitigation strategies.
  • Promoting communications interoperability with federal, state, tribal, and local emergency response providers


ARES Resources

· Download the ARES Manual [PDF]

· ARES Field Resources Manual [PDF]

· ARES Standardized Training Plan Task Book [Fillable PDF]

· ARES Standardized Training Plan Task Book [Word]

· ARES Plan

· ARES Group Registration

· Emergency Communications Training

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES) consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment, with their local ARES leadership, for communications duty in the public service when disaster strikes. Every licensed amateur, regardless of membership in ARRL or any other local or national organization is eligible to apply for membership in ARES. Training may be required or desired to participate fully in ARES. Please inquire at the local level for specific information. Because ARES is an amateur radio program, only licensed radio amateurs are eligible for membership. The possession of emergency-powered equipment is desirable, but is not a requirement for membership.

How to Get Involved in ARES: Fill out the ARES Registration form and submit it to your local Emergency Coordinator.

ARRL Resources

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