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Seattle Hosts Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Seminar

04/08/2009

More than 250 hams and emergency communications professionals enjoyed two days of focused programs and socializing at the 11th Annual Communications Academy in Seattle over the weekend of April 3-4. Held at South Seattle Community College in West Seattle, the conference drew attendees from across the country, mostly from the Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. "The organizing committee, led by Marina Zuetell, N7LSL, is to be commended for putting together this useful annual event that continues to get better each year," said ARRL Contributing Editor and conference attendee H. Ward Silver, N0AX. "The beginner's track was created by Brian Daly, WB7OML, who unfortunately was unable to attend the conference due to some emergency situations at work. He recruited a great team of individuals to take on teaching the five different segments."

According to Silver, the conference is designed to interest everyone from brand new hams to seasoned EmComm veterans -- even emergency management and planning professionals. The breakfast keynote speakers were King County (Washington) Emergency Management Director Robin Friedman and ARRL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager Dennis Dura. Silver said the program was organized roughly along three tracks: Introduction to Amateur Radio for new hams; technical topics of interest to EmComm operation, and reports or training programs with EmComm themes or subjects.

"The track for brand-new hams was particularly well received," Silver said." Hosted by Scott Currie, NS7C, the programs began Saturday morning with 'Getting Your First Radio' and concluded Sunday with 'I Get It Now! Basic EmComm Equipment Needs.' This is no substitute for hands-on Elmering and training, but it certainly helps the ham with a brand new Technician license in need of some guidance."

Silver noted there were two technical programs on digital voice modes, such as D-STAR and Project 25. "The presenters guided the audience through some of the intricacies of digital voice technology, comparing and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of each," he said. "Microsoft's Groove communications technology was explored as a tool for EmComm teams along with the use of D-RATS -- a software package that makes use of D-STAR's low-speed data mode. An 'Ask the Doctor' question-and-answer session proved lively with questions ranging from 'how to' about antennas through the regulations regarding identification on digital voice modes. Staff from a local wireless store gave a standing-room-only presentation on installing mobile radios of all sorts in vehicles."

Communications Academy also offered planning and training programs, including such seminars on how to recognize haz-mat situations through "windshield surveys," ways to provide neighborhood-level communications, methods to develop situational awareness and NOAA weather. "The most difficult thing about the Communications Academy," Silver said, "is deciding what programs to give up in order to see the ones you want!" One course offered was on the Emergency Alert System. According to Zuetell, the system is not an Amateur Radio system but is "a Federal program used by emergency management officials that utilizes the public broadcast system to send targeted local alerts out to the public. The thrust of the presentation was to begin training Amateur Radio operators to program the equipment on a regular basis to keep it current and correct."

One of the highlights of the Communications Academy is an opportunity to see the local EmComm organizations demonstrate their mobile communications facilities. This year, nearly a dozen vehicles from small cargo vans to full-sized trucks were lined up outside. "There was plenty of time and excellent weather for attendees to tour the vehicles, with radios spanning the low HF bands through microwave," Silver said. "While not every club or team is fortunate enough to have its own mobile radio center, you can't help but come away with ideas from improving any EmComm station."

The building competition, wherein individuals submit examples of their ability to create EmComm-related radio packages, is a recent addition to the programs at Communications Academy. Silver said that this year's theme was to build a portable radio system that could operate from portable dc power and on as many EmComm-related bands and modes as possible. "Each entry was judged by both a panel of judges and by the attendees, with the winning score a combination of both," he said. "Like the communication vans, even if you didn't have such a package yourself, it was impossible not to walk away thinking of incorporating some of the ideas at home or in your mobile station."

Given its own training mission number by the state, Silver said that one of the highlights of the Saturday morning "Donuts and Danish" introductory remarks each year is learning how many millions of dollars worth of volunteer time and thousands of driven miles are contributed to the public good by ham radio operators, working together to prepare and be ready: "As the news reports show, it's never very long before the next opportunity to serve, no matter where you live!"



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