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ARES Letter Issues

The ARES Letter
April 19, 2023
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE


ARES® Briefs, Links

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has released a final version (March 2023) of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Functional Guidance. The guidance, which provides a framework for communications resources within incident management, officially includes support from amateur radio operators. The expanded Communications Unit (COMU) structure now includes the Auxiliary Communicator (AUXC) role, which covers personnel from services that provide communications support to emergency management, public safety, and other government agencies. This includes amateur radio.

NIMS guides government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to work together to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and other emergencies. "This is a major step in the recognition of the need and usefulness of amateur radio and other communications services in our national preparedness," said Josh Johnston, KE5MHV, ARRL Director of Emergency Management. "It also gives official guidance to pave the way for future training and education of volunteers in ARRL's ARES® program, Johnston added.
The NIMS ICT guide (PDF) is available from FEMA.

FEMA Region 3 (Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia) Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Group (RECCWG) members held their spring plenary over two days, April 4-5, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There were briefings from the Region 3 states, commonwealths, and the District of Columbia on their communications systems and initiatives. RECCWG partners provided topical presentations that informed RECCWG members of current programs and support initiatives. Topics included:

  • The FEMA National Radio System (FNARS) program
  • Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Volunteer Support [emphasis added].
  • FCC overview of emergency response support capabilities and in-depth discussion of the Network Outage Reporting System (NORS) and Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS)
  • Verizon, FirstNet, and T-Mobile disaster response capabilities
  • FEMA Disaster Emergency Communications Division (DECD) RECCWG and State Annex support

On Day 2, RECCWG members participated in a tabletop exercise (TTX) facilitated by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), that simulated the effects an earthquake would have on public safety communications in the region. The TTX focused on the "human side" of continuity-of-operations planning (COOP). Participants shared lessons learned and potential gaps in communications interoperability to take back to their home agencies. Eric Wagner, Region 3 RECCWG Co-Chair, emphasized that relationships established in the RECCWG inevitably pay off when these partners need each other the most. This two-day event exemplifies RECCWG efforts across the country to bring together communications professionals from the public and private sectors to solve today's toughest communications challenges. -- FEMA Disaster Emergency Communications News Clippings and Topics of Interest Vol. 12 Issue 7, April 1-15, 2023

2023 Eastern Healthcare Preparedness Coalition (EHPC) Hurricane Communication and Information Sharing Exercise - to be held May 4, 2023, this exercise covers North and South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. "Hopefully, this will prepare us all for any eventual real-life request to provide information about our immediate environment should it be required," said Steve Waterman, K4CJX, [DHS CISA SHARES Auxiliary (Winlink Admin); FEMA R4 RECCWG AuxComm Committee, Chair; Tennessee Emergency Management Agency COMU, Williamson County, Tennessee]. Waterman added: "Having a successful showing will certainly re-enforce the capability and use of what is offered to our civil authorities and their NGO partners by illustrating that they can depend on us for situational awareness from our respective geographical areas." More information is available here.

Tahoe Basin ARES Conducts Cyber Attack SET

South Lake Tahoe with its high volume of winter tourism in the region was a perfect test bed to practice emergency communications without using traditional methods such as phone, text, or email. Thus, the Tahoe Basin ARES (TB-ARES) held a cyber-attack simulated emergency test (SET) on March 18, 2023 to demonstrate the ability to communicate with the various involved emergency centers both in California and Nevada that would now be dependent upon radio communication only.

Simulated Communication Station

The scenario was described as mass outages of all telecommunications services throughout the South Lake Tahoe basin and its corresponding communities across the state line in northwestern Nevada. The situation was described as continuing to worsen with sweeping blackouts in various portions of the region. Panic was evident among the citizens as roads were becoming gridlocked to buy supplies, such as groceries, and fuel from localities not currently experiencing a loss of power. Additionally, lines at banks formed due to fears that credit/debit cards may be unusable, and citizens were withdrawing cash at an alarming rate. The situation was further complicated by civil unrest.

Simulated Net Control stations were set up at the EOCs in South Lake Tahoe (California) and in Minden on the Nevada side. Additional operators also simulated communications from various hospitals, shelters and mobiles on both sides of the state line. Ham radio operators were to act as if they were physically at each location during the SET.

For this simulated cyber-attack, the ICS-205 (Communications Plan) called for Winlink packet Peer to Peer, and Winlink Gateways accessed both direct and through a digipeater. Additionally, simplex FM voice frequencies were active to provide communications over the Sierra Nevada range. Again, only radio station communications powered by a generator, battery backup and handhelds were in play.

This allowed the participating TB-ARES members the ability to communicate with out-of-area agencies using only amateur radio emergency power resources. Procedures and traffic used:

  • Structured messages to practice correctly utilizing ICS forms for official messaging
  • Health and welfare messaging to the designated PIO in our area
  • Receive situational utility reports from both agencies and individuals in the affected areas.

The goal was to provide timely and accurate communication to the Tahoe Emergency Operations Center (EOC) so that appropriate action/reaction would be generated, as needed.

The TB-ARES Emergency Communications Officer, Michael Cullen, KM6UWG, was very pleased with the result of the SET, notwithstanding a few lessons learned regarding the ability (or lack thereof) to communicate over the mountain summit from the basin. Yet you could say all communications were sent and received through the efforts of those relaying messages through simplex -- a real team effort ending in another successful exercise of our radio equipment and Amateur Radio operators. -- Cathy Etheredge, AC7CE, Public Information Coordinator, ARRL Nevada Section

2023 National Hurricane Conference Virtual Amateur Radio Workshop

Amateur radio was again represented at the 2023 National Hurricane Conference which was held this year in New Orleans, Louisiana. This year, the workshop was conducted both live at the conference and over Zoom for a "hybrid workshop." The conference theme was to improve hurricane preparedness, as it has been in past years. After the workshop was completed, the Amateur Radio Workshop was uploaded to YouTube for those who couldn't attend the sessions live. For 2023, all the amateur radio sessions were conducted on April 3. Each presenter gave not only an overview of their respective group but also how their group handled the significant hurricanes over the past year.

Bob Robichaud, VE1MBR, from the Canadian Hurricane Centre presented on Hurricane Meteorological topics including the last two years in review and the forecast for 2023. Julio Ripoll, WD4R, presented on WX4NHC, the National Hurricane Center amateur radio station, operations and an overview on the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN). A representative from the National Hurricane Center also presented on the importance of Amateur Radio surface reporting.

Rob Macedo, KD1CY, presented on the VoIP Hurricane Net and best practices in SKYWARN Tropical Systems. Bill Feist, WB8BZH, presented a SATERN (Salvation Army Team Emergency Response Radio Network) overview. ARRL Director of Emergency Management Josh Johnston, KE5MHV, gave an ARRL update.

ARRL Ohio Section ARES NVIS Antenna Day

The ARRL Ohio Section ARES NVIS Antenna Day is a non-contest operating activity open to all radio amateurs. This year's event is scheduled for April 22. In the case of an emergency, amateur radio operators may need to communicate over short distances to stations within the state of Ohio and neighboring states. The value of short-distance HF communications was proven in the immediate wake of Hurricane Michael in 2018. Michael disrupted all communications along the Gulf Coast. Many radio amateurs resorted to 80-meter local contacts, including the North Florida Traffic Net, for emergency communications. Because repeaters were down, HF proved to be the workhorse for passing messages.

Temporary NVIS (Near Vertical Incidence Skywave) antennas are the technology to do this with, but which are the best designs? In addition, how does your antenna work? Experimenting with antennas is still one of the most fun aspects of the hobby. Tie the two purposes together, add a group of friends, plenty of coffee, a BBQ grill, and you have a formula for a really good time!

The Ohio State EOC Amateur Radio station in Columbus, "The Sarge" - W8SGT, will be in operation to compare signals and provide a consistent signal strength report. Remember the overall goal is still to figure out your best NVIS antenna, and contact as many other NVIS stations as possible to plot your coverage area. Take pictures! Submit your antenna evaluations: which designs you used, how they performed, etc., and submit a log report with overall number of contacts, your location and operators. -- Blair ARES Alert!, April 2023 issue, newsletter of the Blair County, Pennsylvania, ARES program [Emergency Coordinator Kevin Lear, W3XOX; Editor Drew McGhee, KA3EJV]

Notable Events on the Timeline of Amateur Radio Disaster Communications

Far from an exhaustive list, here are a few events involving amateur radio communications support over the past 100 years that may help define our role over time and its evolution.

1906 -- According to family lore, radio amateur Barney Osborne, later W6US, provided emergency traffic handling during the San Francisco Earthquake and fire.

1913 -- Hams provided emergency communications during Midwest storms and floods with spark-gap transmitters and crystal receiver sets, as vacuum tubes wouldn't emerge until after World War I and 1919.

1916 -- A national traffic relay system was organized to provide relay of messages cross-country, and 9XE in Illinois originated a message that was received in California in 55 minutes, and on the East Coast an hour after that.

1926 -- The cover of the May issue of QST featured a drawing of a railroad engineer holding an ARRL Radiogram with the caption reading, "Amateurs Give Emergency Service for Railroads When Wires Are Down"

1920s -- A motor provided emergency power to the plates of newly invented vacuum tubes in a station of an "RM" -- a "Radio Man" -- during a Mississippi flood.

1925 -- Amateur radio provided the only communications (5 watts CW) during the failed rescue attempt of caver Floyd Collins.

1933 -- Radio amateurs at W6BYF provided disaster communications for the Long Beach, California earthquake. Although his house was demolished, famous ham Don Wallace, W6AM, operated a portable station through his surviving extensive antenna farm with the help of the Navy in supporting the relief effort.

1935 -- Predecessors of ARES established. ARRL had a vision of them in 1917.

1936 -- The catastrophic floods of the northeast (from Maine through to the Ohio River valley) wrecked the ARRL HQ station in Hartford (along the Connecticut River), with amateur radio again providing support. Famous VHF pioneer and ARRL HQ staffer Ed Tilton, W1HDQ, and his wife provided communications.

1937 -- Dr. Joseph Vancheri, W8BWH, was a key relief communications asset, arranging for aid to refugees from the Johnstown floods.

Late 1930s -- Commercial emergency amateur radio gear appeared and was advertised: an example was the battery-powered 50-S transmitter from Harvey Radio Laboratories of Brookline, Massachusetts.

1948 -- Flooding of Vanport, Washington, after the rupture of a Columbia River dike prompted an Amateur Radio Emergency Corps response under EC W7DIS, with amateurs using handheld radios (walkie-talkies).

1957 -- RACES was involved in providing communications support during the Malibu-Topanga Canyon (California) fires. Deputy Chief Radio Officer W6QJW operated under RACES tactical call sign CPT19 and controlled a net on 3995 kHz. The Gonset Communicator was an iconic Cold War/Civil Defense portable transceiver.

1964 -- The Great Alaskan Earthquake hit Anchorage, drawing a massive amateur response in handling emergency and health-and-welfare traffic. It was the most powerful earthquake in North American history, and the second most powerful in recorded history of the world. There was sweeping destruction in the city and the region. George Hart, W1NJM, wrote about the amateur response in the July 1964 issue of QST: 314 Alaskan amateurs supported the disaster relief effort, with 1,200 more from around the rest of the country actively supporting them. "KL7DVY reports he operated 20 hours on 2 meters, relaying messages from the Alaska Native Hospital to c.d. headquarters in Anchorage." See the August 2014 issue of QST, Public Service column, "Alaska Shield 2014."

1979 -- Hurricanes Frederic and David wrought destruction on the Gulf Coast and East Coast, respectively. Amateur radio support of relief efforts was in evidence in both cases.

That brings us up to the modern era and the emergence of the contemporary emergency management model. A few of the major events beginning in the 1980s that come to mind are hurricanes Gilbert (1988) and Hugo (1989), and the spate of four hurricanes in 2004 that affected us here in Florida extensively. Hurricane Andrew (1992) also wreaked incredible devastation in Florida. Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012) were game-changers for emergency management thinking and policy for this country. Amateur radio was extensively involved in all cases. And, of course, amateur radio was involved in the colossal relief effort in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

[Much of the above was culled from an excellent presentation given at the ARRL Pacificon convention in San Ramon, California, 2010, by Bart Lee, K6VK, ARRL State Government Liaison, ARRL Volunteer Counsel, Historian and Archivist, California Historical Radio Society, and lecturer, Antique Wireless Society. A tip of the ARRL fedora to him. -- K1CE]

Field Day is Around the Corner: Emergency Communications Categories

ARRL Field Day is the grandaddy of all emergency communications exercises. One of the most popular activities on the ARES communicator's agenda, it will be held this year on June 24-25. Below are two classes of Field Day operation of special interest to the emergency communications operator or group:

(Class E) Home stations - Emergency power: Same as Class D, but using emergency power for transmitters and receivers. Class E may work all Field Day stations.

(Class F) Emergency Operations Centers (EOC): An amateur radio station at an established EOC activated by a club or non-club group. Class F operation must take place at an established EOC site. Stations may utilize equipment and antennas temporarily or permanently installed at the EOC for the event. Entries will be reported according to number of transmitters in simultaneous operation. Class F stations are eligible for a free VHF station. At Class 2F they are also eligible for a GOTA station. For Field Day purposes, an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is defined as a facility established by: a) a Federal, State, County, City or other Civil Government, agency or administrative entity; or, b) a Chapter of a national or international served agency (such as American Red Cross or Salvation Army) with which your local group has an established operating arrangement. A private company EOC does not qualify for Class F status unless approved by the ARRL Field Day Manager. Planning of a Class F operation must take place in conjunction and cooperation with the staff of the EOC being activated. A Class F station may claim the emergency power bonus if emergency power is available at the EOC site. The emergency power source must be tested during the Field Day period but you are not required to run the Class F operation under emergency power.

See the full rules here. Catch you on the air for Field Day 2023!

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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