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ARES Letter Issues

The ARES Letter
February 21, 2024
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE


ARES® Briefs, Links

The Amateur Radio Workshop for the 2024 National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, Florida, will be conducted on Tuesday, March 26, 1:30 - 5:00 PM, at the conference venue, the Rosen Centre Hotel. The primary goal of the National Hurricane Conference is to improve hurricane preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation in order to save lives and property in the United States and the tropical islands of the Caribbean and Pacific. In addition, the conference serves as a national forum for federal, state, and local officials to exchange ideas and recommend new policies to improve Emergency Management.

The perennial Amateur Radio Workshop has been included in the conference breakout sessions for over 25 years. It is always well attended, with a panel of hurricane communications veteran experts and leaders from the community, including the National Hurricane Center's Amateur Radio Station WX4NHC volunteers, led by Julio Ripoll, WD4R, the station's assistant coordinator, representatives from the Hurricane Watch Net, the VoIP Hurricane Net, and other luminaries. Rob Macedo, KD1CY, of the VoIP Hurricane Net and ARRL Field Organization, is one of the masters of ceremonies. ARRL Director of Emergency Management Josh Johnston, KE5MHV, will present on ARRL HQ's support for the field during hurricane disaster situations. Your ARES Letter editor Rick Palm, K1CE, will speak on his personal Hurricane Idalia experience, lessons learned, and solutions implemented since that devastating storm. Hope to meet and greet readers there!

The 2023 Great ShakeOut Multi-Agency Exercise After-Action Report is now available. Since 2020, Winlink Global Radio Email® has supported and participated with the US Geological Survey (USGS) in the world's largest earthquake exercise. Past participation had been primarily concentrated within California. The 2023 Great ShakeOut exercise Winlink participation included an expanded effort by FEMA and their stakeholders, designed to highlight the utility of the Winlink system for emergency management. With Winlink, participants can provide accurate, timely situational awareness -- or "ground truth" -- in the early stages of any casualty event. Thus, the USGS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Groups (FEMA RECCWG), and stakeholders collaborated with the Winlink team to provide both agency and volunteer radio operators an opportunity to participate and train on the procedures of information reporting and delivery with the option of not having to depend on conventional communications.

The APCO 2024 90th Annual Conference and Expo is August 4-7, in Orlando. An ARRL partner entity, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International, Inc., and ARRL have had a memorandum of understanding for decades, sharing the common bond of communications in the public interest. APCO International is made up of Emergency Medical, Law Enforcement, Fire, and other Public Safety Communications personnel whose primary responsibility is the management, design, maintenance, and operation of communications facilities in the public domain.

The ARRL Foundation is now accepting grant applications from amateur radio organizations for eligible amateur radio-related projects and initiatives.

Echolink now has a web interface. The service appears to be a welcome addition for users. As always, after setup, users are encouraged to connect to 9999 -- the Echotest server -- to adjust their transmit and receive audio before connecting to other users. - Lloyd Colston, KC5FM, FEMA Reservist, Retired Emergency Manager, All-hazards disaster planning, response, mitigation, and recovery; Incident Command System Trainer [Colston's service has included the Joint Information Center at the Utah Olympics, and Fire Management Assistance for the Grant fire response, among many others. - Ed.]

Takeaways from the 2024 Orlando HamCation® Forums

The 2024 Orlando HamCation®, held February 9-11 at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, served as the ARRL Florida State Convention this year. It's the world's second-largest ham radio event, and is sponsored and conducted by Florida's oldest amateur radio club, the Orlando Amateur Radio Club. I attended the event. Here are a few key takeaways.

First, I was amazed at the sheer volume of attendees: the fairgrounds were packed with vendors, the forums were well-attended (some with standing room only), and the flea market was being picked clean of a wide variety of new, old, and vintage items that evoked memories of ham radio in the 1950s and later. It was so much fun. But the main takeaway was the evidence that amateur radio remains a cosmically popular avocation and widely embraced venue for public service, especially emergency communications.


I attended the AuxComm Florida forum on Friday morning, conducted by Roger Lord, Statewide Interoperability Coordinator (SWIC), Florida Department of Emergency Management; Justin Waters, Functional Manager, Planning and Training, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, US Department of Homeland Security; and Dave Byrum, KA4EBX, DHS/OEC COML Instructor, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Emergency Communications. Byrum is a veteran AUXCOMM instructor out of St. Petersburg, Florida.

It is now official: the state of Florida has adopted AUXCOMM. Just prior to the convention, 20 students were taught by the panel of three instructors in the AUXCOMM training course at a local public safety facility. All 20 passed this rigorous, demanding program.

This was the third year in a row that the AUXCOMM forum was conducted at the convention, which has grown along with the vitality of AUXCOMM itself in the state. The panelists discussed two deployments during 2023: Hurricane Idalia, and a spate of tornadoes, when the radio room at the State EOC in Tallahassee was stood up by vetted/trained radio amateurs.

Over the course of the year, six AUXCOMM candidates had their AUXCOMM Position Task Books signed off on. (There are now four instructors in the state). The state EOC is the primary served entity. Primary communications systems include SARNET (a dedicated 70-centimeter FM repeater network that links all counties in the entire state); the SHAKES - the ShakeAlert System; and Winlink.

Waters reported on his agency's efforts to update the COML (Communications Unit Leader) and AUXCOMM courses. He also told the crowd that Florida has the strongest AUXCOMM program in the country. For deployment to other states, Florida AUXCOMM operators will be required to have passed the course and have their AUXCOMM task books signed off on by the Florida Statewide Interoperability Coordinator.

The question-and-answer session followed, with the panelists answering a wide range of questions. Roger Lord explained the FDEM's SERT TRAC program - the State Emergency Response Team Training Resources and Activity Center. Created primarily as a calendar and registration tool, many additional needs were identified and added, such as tracking attendance and completion of courses; issuance, uploading, and archiving of course completion certificates, career path tools; and other features. For example, radio amateurs wishing to be deployed must have registered their primary, required FEMA independent study (IS) courses, the now ubiquitous IS-100, 200, 700 and 800 courses, online at the SERT TRAC repository.

I asked about the status of the "AUXC" position - the Auxiliary Communicator. Lord essentially said that the state conveys the title to those who have completed the 20-hour AUXCOMM Course and the AUXC Position Task Book (PTB). The PTB is checked off by leadership at the local served agency such as a COML, or other ICS head, or by a State of Florida SWIC-approved exercise evaluator who must be the applicant's incident supervisor.

Florida's SWIC must approve in advance any exercises at which PTB tasks are being evaluated for signoff. Once completed, the packet and application go to Florida AUXCOMM Coordinator David Byrum, KA4EBX, for review. It then is reviewed and approved at FDEM by the SWIC.

Florida AUXC regional coordinators have the best awareness of events and exercise opportunities to complete official recognition, and are also a good resource for mentoring, other opportunities, and questions. The State of Florida recognizes the national Department of Homeland Security (DHS) PTB document -- other organizations' PTBs cannot be accepted for recognition.

The most current version of the AUXC PTB can be downloaded here. AUXC task books now take about a year to complete - there should be multiple events/incidents participation with multiple signoffs, and multiple checkoffs by different evaluators. Completed and signed off task books give the volunteer "credibility," said Lord. Incident Personnel Performance Rating (ICS 225) forms may also be required. He also said that the applicant should have an agency behind the applicant, with signoffs by agency officials.

Lord also mentioned that even professional emergency management communicators are now taking the AUXCOMM course.

In the ICS structure, the Communications Unit is now under the ICT Branch of the Logistics section. A change consolidates ICT services within one branch in the Logistics Section while designating the delivery of services as either interoperable communications, IT or cybersecurity services. This organization streamlines incident communications and IT requirements within the Logistics Section. There are potentially three units within the ICT Branch: the Communications Unit oversees the delivery of interoperable communications, including the management of radio and telephone equipment. The IT Service Unit delivers data services, including by managing the Unified Help Desk and securing data network systems. And, the Cybersecurity Unit identifies cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities and assesses threats to the ICT infrastructure and the incident management organization.

In other updates, the 2024 Florida Field Operations Guide (FOG) has just been published. The national-level AUXFOG and NIFOG books are other valuable resources, available online.

Byrum reported that another AUXCOMM course will be offered later this year, in the southern part of the state.

All Florida Sections Forum

Hosting ARRL Northern Florida Section Manager Scott Roberts, KK4ECR, Section Emergency Coordinator Arc Thames, W4CPD, and other ARRL leadership officials reported on activity across Florida for 2023. There was one official Statewide activation over the course of the year. Thames reported that the ARRL Emergency Communications Course (EC-001) is in the process of updating, with the new edition to dovetail with the ARRL ARES Position Task Book. He also reported on the "best relationship with the Florida Department of Emergency Management (FDEM) in years." A priority with Thames' ARES program was to test his volunteers' ability to communicate with the State EOC. ECs can now upload their county's activity reports.

Dave Rockwell, W4PXE, the West Central Florida Section Traffic Manager, said that one of his priorities is to assist Assistant Section Managers in identifying and recruiting active appointees. He spoke about AUXCOMM, and the need for appointees to submit reports for the ARRL Public Service Honor Roll each month. And on the topic of reports, Rockwell said his section leadership officials need a better percentage of activity reports filed from section and local appointees.

Roberts emphasized that all clubs must be engaged to recruit more ARES operators - more outreach is required. And at a more basic level, all hams should have a 30-40 second "elevator speech" prepared where in a short period of time, interest in ham radio can be generated among the general public to get more interest and licensees.

There were seven ECs in the room as well as three Assistant ECs (AECs). The need for "amazing" AECs is great. AECs can serve as training officers and logistics/planners.

Darrell Davis, KT4WX, of the West Central Florida Section, spoke about his Section's communications support for the Bike MS Suncoast Challenge bike ride scheduled for April 20.

In conclusion, it was great to observe the level of vitality in the ARRL Field Organization across the state - and other states, too.

New Space Coast ARES Van Exhibited

Brevard County ARES van

The Brevard County ARES Team's new mobile communications van.

A big draw in front of the main convention hall was the new mobile communications van owned and operated by a major county ARES program on the central east coast of the Florida peninsula. Amateur Radio Emergency Services of Brevard, Inc, aka the Brevard County ARES® Team (BCAT) is dedicated to serving Brevard County communities by working hand in hand with local and state entities and served agencies. BCAT provides FEMA- and ARRL-trained volunteers, and the communication equipment needed, in order to deliver professional-grade auxiliary communications utilizing amateur radio in times of emergency; and, to provide communications support for community events when requested.

Tips for Writing an Effective Emergency Drill

Chuck Johnston, W4CWJ, started in firefighting many years ago and has been the team leader for 14 years on one of four State of Florida Disaster Emergency Teams. He worked on many incidents as the Incident Commander in Florida and across the country. This article discusses his experience in choosing and executing drills and simulated emergency tests (SETs). As a training officer, he has developed insights that would be valuable guidelines for anyone designing or overseeing a drill.

Here are a few of his tips:

  • Evaluate students, their perception of the training, and fit tasks to their needs, always giving them a way to grow and be successful - but with a challenge. If the drill is not a challenge, it's not worth doing. If it is over the students' heads, it will only be frustrating. Carefully consider the needs of your team members.
  • Make your drill or exercise pertinent to current conditions; things change, communities change, and needs change. Emergency radio 30 years ago as compared to the needs and requirements of communities today has changed. Consider updating/upgrading to produce a better outcome for your area.
  • Historical knowledge is vital. What really happens in your area? Meteorological and hydrological data reveal what disasters are likely to occur. Build a weather scenario patterned on actual weather conditions in your area.

Johnston learned from others and from experience. He uses multiple techniques to reach ever-higher goals and enjoys producing realistic drills and exercises that train rookies for the real thing. Being a wise instructor, Johnston is cognizant that reality can distort everything and has experienced team members at the ready to gently lend a hand when things became confusing or overwhelming to one of his rookies. Making everyone feel needed and productive is vital to a successful exercise.

Johnston carried these principles into a two-part drill that became reality during Hurricane Ian. High and Dry I and II covered the first and second operational periods of a flooding disaster. Weeks of preparation were required for each three-hour drill. Besides creating a book showing all the contacts that would be needed, along with detailed information on the rivers and roads present in their locale, drill team members developed a complete communication system that would function well in rural areas.

After much experimentation, they chose one of the new digital modes - NXDN. They used tactical calls for critical locations and included repeater failures and other possible technological incidents as injects. They never ceased to improve: each drill gave them a new way to refine the procedures.

By the time Ian caused a levy break with extensive flooding, they had already mapped out escape routes, emergency shelters, personnel, and a great communication system to keep everyone, including police and fire rescue, up to date and on the same page. Johnston and his team saved lives that night and helped others to do the same. I am very proud of him and his hard work. He is a teacher and motivator. If readers have questions, he is willing to discuss your plans with you. Many thanks to Chuck Johnston, W4CWJ, for his hard work, effective training skills, and willingness to share ideas with the rest of us. - Christine Duez, K4KJN, Assistant Section Manager, ARRL West Central Florida Section


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.

Support ARES: Join ARRL

ARES is a program of ARRL The National Association for Amateur Radio®. No other organization works harder than ARRL to promote and protect amateur radio! ARRL members enjoy many benefits and services including digital magazines, e-newsletters, online learning (, and technical support. Membership also supports programs for radio clubs, on-air contests, Logbook of The World®, ARRL Field Day, and the all-volunteer ARRL Field Organization.

Join ARRL or renew today!

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