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ARES Letter Issues

The ARES Letter
March 15, 2023
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE
ARES® Briefs, Links

After the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Northern Syria on February 21, 2023, BBC's Digital Planet spoke to Aziz Sasa, TA1E, who is the President of the Turkish Amateur Radio Association. Aziz explained the vital role of amateur radio as a key communication method in the region. He also talked about how radio amateurs were aiding relief efforts with the use of repeaters on VHF and UHF frequencies. You can hear the interview on BBC Sounds -- it starts at 2 minutes and 40 seconds into the broadcast. - Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB)

The Keystone Emergency Management Association (KEMA) in Pennsylvania is seeking proposals for the 6th Annual Pennsylvania Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security Conference presented by KEMA, October 15-17 in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The conference will provide educational workshops and presentations to showcase concepts, technology, processes, and evidence-based practices in emergency management around the theme "Meeting the Challenge of Tomorrow." Radio amateurs have presented at this conference in the past. "The key to a successful Amateur Radio related presentation submission is to tie the presentation to the conference theme, focus, and audience." - Blair ARES Alert, March 2023 issue [The Alert is the newsletter of the Blair County, Pennsylvania, Amateur Radio Emergency Service®].

John Gendron, NJ4Z, has been named the recipient of the 2022 Roanoke Division ARRL Service Award. This award is the highest and most prestigious recognition of an ARRL member operator who has shown consistent and extensive leadership within the Division's four states. First licensed as a Technician in 2016, Gendron quickly advanced to the General- and Amateur Extra-class licenses. At the same time, he helped revitalize the Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®) in his area.

Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) has released its 2022 Annual Report detailing grants made for amateur radio projects. In 2022 overall, ARDC approved nearly $6.7 million in grants, and distributed nearly $7.7 million. An example of a standout project is the one proposed by Bay Area Mesh (BAM). BAM's goal is "to install a resilient, high-speed, wireless network throughout San Francisco and the greater Bay Area." The network would be used by responders, volunteers, and served agencies during disasters, emergencies, and large community events. ARDC is a private foundation that exists to support amateur radio and digital communication science and technology.

Colorado ARES members are encouraged to enroll in Colorado Volunteer Mobilizer (CVM). CVM is provided to Colorado ARES by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). CVM is a volunteer management tool providing: Member Roster, Training Tracking, Contact Management, Activation Notification, State Issued Credentialling, and Routine Background Checks. There are approximately 200 Colorado ARES members currently enrolled on CVM. CO ARES District Emergency Coordinators and their District designees can sign up for CVM Administrator training.

A Brief History of Amateur Radio EmComm Organization

In the early days, amateur radio and hams were considered irritations and nuisances to the "real" communicators -- the commercial sector and the military. We were almost outlawed, and ultimately relegated to the "useless" frequencies of "200 meters and down." That was until it was demonstrated that we could actually be of use as a service. In 1913, college students/hams in Michigan and Ohio passed disaster messages when other means of communications were down in the aftermath of severe storms and flooding in that part of the country. A Department of Commerce bulletin followed, proposing a dedicated communications network of radio amateurs to serve during disasters. Five special licenses were reportedly issued. A magazine article noted that amateurs were now considered to be essential auxiliary assets of the national public welfare.

ARRL was formed in 1914, and disaster response communications as provided by radio amateurs became organized and useful. In 1920, amateur radio was used to help recover a stolen car, of all things! Soon, the use of amateur radio for natural disasters that we traditionally think of now emerged with hams active in responding to deadly flooding in New Mexico and an ice storm in Minnesota.

More organization followed, with a memorandum of understanding emerging with the American railroad system for amateur radio support when the railroad's wire lines were down: There was an ARRL Railroad Emergency Service Committee. There was even a Q-signal designated: QRR, a kind of land SOS. More reports of disaster response communications provided by amateurs appeared in QST, much as they do there and here in this newsletter today. A major New England flood had amateurs supplying the only efficient means of communications from the devastated areas to the outside world, prompting the chairman of the Federal Radio Commission to say the future of radio depended on the amateurs.

Hams worked with the Burgess Battery Company for emergency radio power. Many of us old-timers, including myself, used those batteries when we were kids for our electrical experiments and kits. They looked like tall, thick candle columns! We learned our electrical principles from them. More organization followed, and traffic handling was recommended as the best way to gain discipline and proficiency to prepare for the efficiency and effectiveness needed in response communications situations.

ARRL Field Day was started to prepare amateurs for portable operation, as was necessary in disaster situations when commercial power and means of communications were down. In 1935, the ARRL Emergency Corps was formed with the goal of having an Amateur Radio Emergency Station in every community -- a goal that remains just as urgent today as it did then! To wit, just look at today's emphasis on the neighborhood and community as "first responder" and on self-reliance in the post-disaster survival chain. More "served agencies" emerged as potential partners, including the Red Cross. In 1936, major flooding across a 14-state region served as the ARRL Emergency Corps' first major testing, serving well, and solidifying amateur radio's status as a critical disaster response communications asset and public service. Communications operating protocols and the appointment of Emergency Coordinators followed.

Technical advances supported this evolution. Spark-gap transmitters gave way to the vacuum tube, making portable operations more viable. Articles on portable transmitters and receivers appeared in QST. Exploration and experimentation in the VHF region also spurred more development of portable equipment. The development of the variable frequency oscillator, or VFO -- something that modern generations of hams take for granted -- was at the time a liberating breakthrough offering more versatility and flexibility, and of course more efficiency in meeting the demands of a disaster response communications situation.

World War II meant a shutdown of amateur radio, but many hams joined the War Emergency Radio Service, which did provide some communications during the war period for natural disasters. After the war, ARRL reconstituted its disaster response communications programs and networks, and the first Simulated Emergency Test was run in 1946. The Cold War followed, and the government formed the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) for civil defense (CD) purposes. It served as the forerunner of the modern emergency management model that we know so well today.

Throughout the 1960s and later up to today, the role, procedures, protocols, equipment, and techniques of amateur radio in public service, disaster, and emergency communications continue to evolve, ebb and flow. This evolution is fueled by advances in Amateur Radio technology and its application, lessons learned from each and every incident that involves amateur communications support. - Rick Palm, K1CE, based on an excellent article titled "QRR: The Beginnings of Amateur Radio Emergency Communications" by Gil McElroy, VE3PKD, that appeared in the September 2007 issue of QST

In-Building Radio Signal Considerations

First responders such as fire, EMS, and police depend on reliable two-way radio communication when lives and property are at risk. That's not always an easy task in many buildings. In-building radio signals are often absorbed or blocked by structures that are larger, underground or constructed of concrete or metal. Additionally, building features designed to create more sustainable facilities such as low-E glass windows can attenuate the signal from public safety radio systems. When this occurs, weak or non-existent signals result in radio communication "dead zones" within commercial structures that can jeopardize coordination among and the safety of first responders during an emergency. As a result, most fire codes now mandate the installation of Emergency Responder Communication Enhancement Systems (ERCES) for both new and existing commercial buildings. These advanced systems boost the signal inside the building, providing clear, two-way radio communication without dead spots.

"The challenge is that first responders operate on many different frequencies which vary significantly from city to city, so the ERCES equipment must be designed to amplify only the specific assigned channels," said Trevor Mathews, Wireless Division Manager at Cosco Fire Protection, a provider of business fire suppression and life safety systems for more than 60 years. [This article first appeared last month in the FEMA Disaster Emergency Communications News Clippings and Topics of Interest. Published twice monthly for the FEMA Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Group (RECCWG) stakeholders, this newsletter provides articles of interest from various sources across the emergency communications and homeland security communities.]

Tips for New ARES Operators

Most hams new to public service operating begin their efforts on the air through a local 2-meter FM repeater. Area hams tend to congregate there for sundry activities: traffic and ARES nets, swap nets, weather spotter nets, club meetings, training nets, and informal chats, discussions, and weather report exchanges. You will quickly learn their protocols, courtesies, and nuances of repeater and net operating, which, along with simplex (i.e., direct communication without repeaters) operation, form the bedrock of public service operating. Listen at first, and don't transmit until you feel that you have a basic idea of the above. It could take listening to several nets over the course of many evenings before you feel comfortable transmitting and checking in.

To do it, you'll need a radio, of course! Start with a simple-to-operate 2-meter/70-cm FM handheld with a short, flexible rubber-coated antenna, or better yet, a simple "whip" antenna that will yield more gain. The marketplace has a plethora of choices available from many manufacturers, and most are advertised in QST. Browse the ads, and check out QST's Product Review, which regularly features reviews of handhelds. Search for past reviews on ARRL's website -- -- and ask local hams for their recommendations; try other hams' handheld radios.

You will be taking your radio into the field for public events, emergencies and disasters, so portability is a critical, needed feature. You will have to operate "off the grid," that is, away from commercial mains, so you will need alternative power sources such as batteries, portable generators, and solar panels. The same goes for antennas: you will want to find a balance between getting antenna gain sufficient to initiate and maintain communications from potentially remote locations, and the ability to easily transport and erect them in the field.

Keep power output as low as possible: Just a watt or two should be enough power to talk across your neighborhood or community on simplex and through your local repeater. Higher power output translates to faster battery discharge and depletion. Most handhelds come with a basic rechargeable battery pack and "wall wart" battery charger, but have as options larger capacity battery packs, and higher-power desk "drop-in" chargers that will charge your batteries faster (although faster charging rates tend to reduce the life of the battery). Buy a second battery pack to use when you're charging your first battery. Buy the optional alkaline battery holder as a backup in the event your standard rechargeable battery pack(s) fail(s). The use of batteries for handhelds and other types of radios was addressed in the Public Service column in the March 2015 issue of QST. The use of portable generators is discussed in the Public Service column in the October 2015 issue of QST.

For enhancing your reception and transmitted signal, forego higher power in favor of a better antenna instead. Consider purchasing a telescoping 5/8 wave whip antenna that replaces the rubber-coated shorty antenna that your radio came bundled with, which will give you higher gain, and hence, wider coverage for your signals and better "copy" on weak or distant stations. (Don't toss out the flexible rubber antenna, however: it's useful for close-in communications). - Originally written by K1CE for The ARRL Operating Manual.

Lightning Protection Basics for the HF Station

By Walt Mahoney, KC1DON

With spring (hopefully) just around the corner, late winter is a great time to evaluate our station lightning protection arrangements prior to lightning season. This short article is not a comprehensive review of the subject, but does suggest some basic protective measures we can all take. The suggestions are based on my experiences as an AM broadcast engineer, and later in my career with industrial plant control systems. Two comprehensive resources are Grounding and Bonding for the Radio Amateur (2nd Ed., ARRL), and a three-part series, "Lightning Protection for the Amateur Radio Station," by Ron Block, KB2UYT (now NR2B), which was published in the June, July, and August 2002 issues of QST. The later articles are available for free online at

Lightning as a natural phenomenon is usually (~90% of the time) a downward negative electric discharge, with the earth as the anode. The length of the discharge is usually 1 second or less, and the potential can vary between 40 and 120 kV. Once the arc is established, the rise time to peak current is about 0.3 seconds, during which time the peak current flow can be from 5 to over 200 kA. If we consider the time integral of the lightning current over the entire flash duration, the energy released is something on the order of 10 billion watts. The key takeaway with this amount of energy is, we don't need to take a direct hit to cause harm to people or damage equipment. A lightning strike will induce hazardous voltages in nearby conductors through induction or via any reasonably conductive material.

I am assuming that nobody will be operating their station when lightning is anywhere in the vicinity, and all equipment is de-energized and grounded per recommendations in the ARRL Handbook. Even in this condition, the two routes that damaging amounts of energy can be coupled to a transceiver are via the power supply and the antenna connections, with the antenna connection being far more vulnerable. These two routes require different protection strategies.

On the power input side, obviously the best protection is to unplug the power supply from the branch circuit. I realize this isn't a practical solution for everyone, and we may not even be at our operating location when the storm arrives. The next best thing in this case is to use a quality surge protected power strip having an on/off switch. The quality and effectiveness of these surge protective devices (SPDs) vary greatly, and as always one "gets what they paid for." I recommend the Tripp Lite "Isobar" power strips.

Look for units that are circuit breaker protected and provide a minimum of 900 joule protection, and be aware that some imported power strips offer zero surge protection beyond a simple fuse. Our most common transceiver configuration now uses an outboard 14 V dc power supply. Obtain a broadband ferrite ring and wind as many turns as can comfortably fit of the dc transceiver cable through the ferrite. It's important to wind the positive and negative conductors together, and locate the ferrite as close as possible to the transceiver.

Protecting the antenna connection is a little more challenging. As a kid I would unscrew the feed line PL-259 and stick it in a pickle jar, which sort of worked. In modern times we have coax antenna switches, and it goes without saying your transceiver should always be switched to a dummy load of an appropriate power rating when not in use. The dummy load is highly recommended to avoid transmitting into an open circuit when one inevitably forgets to throw the switch. Some switch manufacturers such as Alpha-Delta and Daiwa also incorporate gas discharge tube (GDT) surge protection. Look for a switch that grounds all unused connections, and be sure to ground the switch body itself. 450-ohm ladder line can be protected by old-time knife switches, which are getting scarce. The second step is to add a GDT- type lighting arrestor which will shunt current to ground when the gas ionizes at a given voltage. As with SPDs, not all GDT arrestors are suitable for amateur use. Ideally, we want a device having a low let-through energy and minimal insertion losses. As part of my professional work with industrial radio modems, I found the Polyphaser IS-NEMP series offers the happy combination of low VSWR from 1.8 MHz through low-band VHF and a very fast-acting GDT. The housing and connectors are built to mil-spec standards. Again, there are less expensive arrestors of dubious provenance available through online sources. I caution some of these will demonstrate much greater VSWR than is advertised.

On Building Relationships: Editorial by Northern Florida Section Emergency Coordinator Arc Thames, W4CPD

As we move into 2023, we're looking forward to an exciting year filled with new challenges and opportunities. This year we will continue to work to enhance our readiness and improve our response capabilities, but it's important that we also focus on building strong relationships with our served agencies. As ARES volunteers, we play a crucial role in supporting our communities during times of crisis. To be most effective, it's essential that we have close partnerships with our served agencies, such as county Emergency Management. Why is this so important? There are several key benefits to developing a good working relationship with these agencies:

  • Improved Coordination: When we have established relationships with our served agencies, it's easier to coordinate our efforts during an emergency. This leads to a more efficient and effective response, which ultimately benefits those who are impacted by the disaster.
  • Enhanced Communication: Good working relationships help to ensure clear and consistent communication between all parties involved in an emergency response. This can greatly improve response times and minimize confusion.
  • Increased Trust: Trust is a critical component of any partnership, and it's especially important in emergency response. By working closely with our served agencies, we can build trust and establish a mutual understanding of each other's roles and responsibilities.
  • Access to Resources: Our served agencies often have access to valuable resources that can greatly enhance our ability to respond during an emergency. By partnering with them, we can tap into these resources and use them to our advantage. Whether it be equipment or training, our served agencies are a wealth of knowledge and support. Don't lose sight of the small things you can do to build a relationship with your agency. Even if it's baking the Emergency Management staff a cake or some cookies, every little step helps build a foundation of trust and understanding.

- Arc Thames, W4CPD, Northern Florida Section Emergency Coordinator

ARES® Resources

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

Join or Renew Today! Eligible US-based members can elect to receive QST or On the Air magazine in print when they join ARRL or when they renew their membership. All members can access digital editions of all four ARRL magazines: QST, On the Air, QEX, and NCJ.

Subscribe to NCJ -- the National Contest Journal. Published bimonthly, features articles by top contesters, letters, hints, statistics, scores, NA Sprint and QSO parties.

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