Here’s the latest emergency communications news from HQ ARRL.
Views expressed in this Amateur/Ham Radio News summary are those of the reporters and correspondents.
Content supplied by HQ ARRL, Newington, CT, 06111.
Accessed on 20 January 2021, 1240 UTC, Post 1834.
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January 20, 2021
Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE
ARRL Statement of the Purpose of Amateur Radio
For over 100 years amateur radio and ARRL — the National Association for Amateur Radio® — have stood for the development of the science and art of communications, public service, and the enhancement of international goodwill. Amateur Radio’s long history and service to the public has solidified the well-earned reputation that “Amateur Radio saves lives.”
Amateur Radio Operators, due to their history of public service, their training, and the requirement that they be licensed by the FCC have earned their status as a component of critical communications infrastructure and as a reliable resource “when all else fails.”
Amateur Radio is about development of communications and responsible public service. Its misuse is inconsistent with its history of service and its statutory charter. ARRL does not support its misuse for purposes inconsistent with these values and purposes.
ARES® Briefs, Links
The Red Cross EmComm Training Group is planning its third nationwide Radio Drill for May 8, 2021. This is also World Red Cross Day and international hams are invited to participate. Practice for the event now with the very popular “Winklink Thursdays,” which have resumed, with over four hundred participants in the first event. To receive announcements and stay informed, please sign up on main@ARC-EmComm-Training.groups.io | Home. — Wayne Robertson, K4WK, American Red Cross, Mike Walters, W8ZY, Connecticut ARES; and organizers
Winter Field Day is in 10 days, January 30-31, 2021. View the rules. The Winter Field Day Association (WFDA) “is a dedicated group of amateur radio operators who believe that emergency communications in a winter environment is just as important as the preparations and practice that is done each summer but with some additional unique operational concerns. We believe as do those entities of ARRL organizations such as ARES…that maintaining your operational skills should not be limited to fair weather scenarios.” — WFDA
Tennessee ARES on Alert, Ready Following Nashville Bomb Blast
ARES communicators were on alert, ready to deploy in Williamson County, Tennessee, after the explosion on Christmas Day in front of an AT&T switching facility in downtown Nashville. The blast disrupted telecommunications. [See media reports below on the outages, including FirstNet®. — Ed.]
ARRL Vice Director and Williamson County Emergency Coordinator Ed Hudgens, WB4RHQ, who lives in Nashville, monitored the situation. “The explosion did a lot more damage than was originally thought,” Hudgens said. “We had monitoring nets up and running on the local analog and DMR repeaters. We mainly answered questions as best we could.” Hudgens said his ARES group was among those that stood ready to deploy to the Williamson County Public Safety Center (PSC) to assist with communications for various county offices.
The Middle Tennessee Emergency Amateur Repeater System (MTEARS) held nets on its DMR repeater system several times a day. The main repeater at the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) site was affected by the outage. Hudgens said it was fortunate that two DMR repeaters had gone online recently in Williamson County, and all communications went through them.
Williamson County ARES (WCARES) held a continuous net on its five-repeater linked system to assist hams as needed. The net also relayed news updates from AT&T and county government, and assisted callers on AT&T to implement wireless calling on their phones. In addition to the WCARES net, a net was activated in Davidson County in Middle Tennessee. ARRL Headquarters reached out to Tennessee Section Manager David Thomas, KM4NYI, to offer assistance. – excerpted from The ARRL Letter, January 7, 2021
AT&T provides initial insights about FirstNet performance, recovery efforts after Nashville explosion – forwarded by Mike Pappas, W9CN, RF Resource Coordinator, Edge of Space Sciences. Editor’s note: Edge of Space Sciences (EOSS) is a Denver, Colorado based non-profit organization that promotes science and education by exploring frontiers in amateur radio and high altitude balloons. See also Nashville Bombing Area Communications Network Exposed Achilles Heel
Christmas Eve Forecast Called ARES/RACES/SKYWARN into Action
ARES, RACES, and SKYWARN volunteers in upstate New York were called upon on the morning of December 24 to provide snowpack and rainfall amounts, and river and stream gauge levels to the National Weather Service (NWS).
“Our ARES groups received a request from two local county emergency managers in the Catskill District of New York — Chenango and Otsego counties,” said Otsego County Emergency Coordinator Cory Telarico, KD2HXE. “The reason for concern and activation was the December 16 – 17 snowstorm that dumped between 17 and 41 inches of snow on the area, compounded with forecasted rain for Christmas Eve into Christmas Day and the potential for serious localized flooding.”
Between the two county ARES groups, which included members of the Chenango Valley Amateur Radio Association of Norwich and the Oneonta Amateur Radio Club in Otsego County, the volunteers were able to run nets on December 24 at 10 AM with 10 check-ins and at 7 PM with nine check-ins, as well as a Christmas morning net at 7 AM with eight check-ins.
“I observed the Susquehanna River rise in the City of Oneonta between 4.5 and 5.5 feet in a matter of about 6 hours while on duty as a New York State Park Police Officer, Telarico said. “All of our reports were forwarded to the National Weather Service as well as the two county emergency managers.”
Telarico said the event demonstrated “the true dedication of our members in the field in taking time away from their families during the holiday for public service.” The groups received a complimentary email from Otsego County Emergency Services Coordinator Arthur Klingler, Jr. “Your team’s dedication is greatly appreciated,” he said. – excerpted from The ARRL Letter, January 7, 2021
Communications Unit, AUXCOMM, AUXC Training Resources
Joe Tokarz, KB9EZZ, LaSalle County, Illinois RACES Coordinator and ARES Emergency Coordinator, provided the following links for critical training and resources on the Incident Command System’s Communications Unit. See also the new AUXC (Auxiliary Communicator) Position Task Book (PTB); many radio amateurs across the country have taken the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications (DHS-OEC) Auxiliary Communications (AUXCOMM) 3-day in-person training course. The Communications Unit materials were developed to support the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) Communications Unit training program.See also additional, important COMU training documents.
[There is also a wealth of resources on the subject of emergency communications on the CISA site. — Ed.]
Training Tip: Upgrade Net Roll Call to Quick Emergency Exercise
This is putting some oomph into our Monday night roster 2-meter simplex net check in of the Pacific Palisades (California) Amateur Radio Emergency Group (PPAREG): Instead of a roll call, the members now respond with imagined numbers for quick look statistics following an emergency. The net employs the quick look assessment form we use with the approval of the Cupertino, California ARES group. A recent net ran through the four categories of injuries. See graphic. Copying the responses and reading them back keeps members alert and the net control operator busy. Good drill. Good practice. — Scott Reaser, K6TAR, Pacific Palisades Amateur Radio Emergency Group
Statement of ARRL Director of Emergency Management on ARES Connect
Concerned by the low adoption rate of ARES Connect reporting software 2 years after its introduction by ARRL, ARRL’s Director of Emergency Management (DEM) Paul Gilbert, KE5ZW, instituted a review of the application that included, among other analyses, a survey of Section Managers and Section Emergency Coordinators around the country. At the same time, recent discussions between ARRL and the ARES Connect software vendor have made it clear that ARRL’s evolving needs for an emcomm/public service reporting package are not aligned with the vendor’s future plans for the product from which ARES Connect is derived. Following a review of all available information, members of the ARRL Emergency Management Committee, ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Minster, NA2AA, and ARRL President Roderick, K5UR, concurred with DEM Gilbert’s decision to discontinue the use of ARES Connect and seek development of a software reporting package more tailored to the needs of ARES.
All ARRL Sections that have been using ARES Connect should plan to transition to the ARES Form 4 reporting form until a replacement system is identified. ARRL HQ will continue to support ARES Connect through June 30, 2021. Questions related to the decommissioning and transition can be directed to the Director of Emergency Management Paul Gilbert, KE5ZW.
FEMA 2020 Highlights
The year 2020 presented unprecedented challenges to FEMA. The agency led its first-ever operational response to a nationwide pandemic and responded to a record amount of disasters, including devastating wildfires in the West and the most active Atlantic hurricane season in history.
2020 FEMA Highlights by the Numbers
· 230 presidentially declared emergencies and major disasters, passing the previous high of 128 declarations in 2011.
· 78 Fire Management Assistance Grant declarations to assist governments in fighting wildfires.
· $568.9 million in grants to disaster survivors for immediate needs after disasters.
· $19.7 billion in grants to help rebuild communities after disasters.
· $927 million in mitigation grants to help communities reduce the impacts of future disasters.
· $830 million in flood insurance payments to policy holders.
· $1.8 billion in 2020 DHS preparedness grants to help communities prepare for disasters.
· $700 million in grants to hire and equip our nation’s firefighters.
· Over 11,000 alerts sent over FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System.
Support to Puerto Rico
· FEMA responded and provided support to Puerto Rico for the largest series of earthquakes to hit the island in 100 years. More than 1,200 FEMA employees supported the earthquake response.
· FEMA provided more than $71 million in grants to earthquake survivors and more than $242 million in grants to local governments for the island’s response and recovery from the earthquakes.
· In addition to earthquake recovery, FEMA awarded the agency’s largest infrastructure project grants in history to assist with Puerto Rico’s ongoing recovery from hurricanes Irma and Maria. — FEMA news release, January 11, 2021
Letters: The Problem with Complex, Menu-Driven Handhelds, Responses
I agree with Walt Mahoney, KC1DON (Letters: The Problem with Complex, Menu-Driven Handhelds, December 16 issue). He wrote “my recommendation would be acquiring simple, durable handhelds lacking novel features but enjoying reliable and robust construction.”
Complex performance comes at the price of reliability. And, as Art Botterell said: “Stress makes you stupid.” In emergency and disaster recovery situations communications are best robust, not complex. How to effect such a goal is another question.
Some years ago, after 9/11, I suggested that repeater control operators turn off the tone squelch, often a barrier to quick entry at such times. I still think that’s a good idea. Training and drilling can make all the difference in the world. That’s readiness. But the capacity to communicate in situations of stress should be simple. A complicated radio makes a good response less likely. — Bart Lee, K6VK, ARRL State Government Liaison, East Bay Section, California [Lee served with the Red Cross as Deputy Communications Lead at the 9/11 disaster site. — Ed.]
Walt Mahoney, KC1DON, makes an excellent point about the usability of many modern handheld transceivers. While I might disagree with his apparent distrust of surface mount technology, his major point about overly complex radios with multi-level menus is significant. Of course, one could also reasonably argue that the multi-layer menus of modern handhelds are actually a great improvement over trying to find those same complex functions through various combinations of poorly marked multi-function buttons as we faced with the immediate prior generation of handhelds.
The problem I see is that many of our tools have become too complex to be reliably usable in emergency situations — not because the radio itself isn’t reliable, but mostly due to the operator. And this problem is exacerbated exponentially when multiple operators become involved.
Also, basic operating skill of most operators entering the service has declined. Certainly there was a time when any licensed amateur had a high probability of successfully operating any radio simply on the basis of understanding what each of the controls was supposed to do. Now, even a highly experienced operator is likely to have trouble finding the controls on an unfamiliar radio. Don’t even think about trying to operate an unfamiliar handheld in dim light while wearing gloves! Even when the buttons are readably marked, you still have to guess whether the function requires a “tap” or “press” for some number of seconds, and whether you need to tap one button before pressing another. — Tom Currie, N4AOF, Louisville-Jefferson County (Kentucky) RACES, AUXCOMM
Letters: Equipment Selection Criteria for EOC Installs
In the December 2020 issue of the ARES Letter, an article described criteria for selecting ham equipment for the EOC. I recommend specifying equipment that is as simple to operate as possible. It also needs to operate on only the bands necessary: We only need a radio to operate 80 and 40 meters, but such a radio is not easy to come by.
Case in point: Alabama ARES specified a good, but complicated HF radio, and 200 were purchased to be installed at hospitals around the state. Operators new to the radio could not sit down and simply operate it. There were too many unneeded features. It would have been much better to buy a simple-to-operate radio such as the Icom IC-718, at a third of the cost.
We can’t rely on having a trained operator at the EOC. Someone is probably going to get thrown into the seat with no training on the radio, and be expected to communicate immediately. If I could engineer a radio for our EOCs, it would have only two bands, 80 and 40 meters, with memories for fixed-frequency for the relevant ARES nets, and only a volume control that had volume that could not be turned all the way down. Whisper mode would be the lowest volume allowed. The only switch would be power and PTT with a hand mic. – John Klingelhoeffer, WB4LNM, Alabama Section
ARES Communicator Wins 2020 Ellen White, W1YL, Award
Randy Payne, K4EZM, of Sebring, Florida, has been named the 2020 White Award recipient. The White Award, established in 2016 in honor of retired, long-time ARRL staffer Ellen White, W1YL, is given to the amateur radio operator who has made the greatest contribution to amateur radio in the ARRL West Central Florida Section.
While residing in Homestead in the mid 1960s, Payne participated in the local RACES/CD (Civil Defense) group, developing his passion for emergency communications. He enrolled in ARES in 2002 in Highlands County. In 2005, Payne was appointed Emergency Coordinator for Highlands County ARES. In 2015, Payne was appointed as an Assistant Section Emergency Coordinator by SEC Ben Henley, KI4IGX, and as an Assistant Section Manager by Darrell Davis, KT4WX, West Central Florida Section Manager.
Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network MESH Comes to Hawaii
In 2020, more than 80 Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network AREDN MESH nodes were deployed in Hawaii, with island amateurs connected to the amateur radio network. The AREDN MESH network is self-configuring — a node added to the network automatically broadcasts its identity to the other nodes for connection. Installation is efficient and the system is easy to use. The ability to deploy go-kits with AREDN MESH radios that are added dynamically makes it one more digital tool for passing traffic. Hawaiian amateurs are building networks around their islands, as a result, are less dependent on access to high places for traditional communication systems such as repeaters. Islands are ringed with many short hops that provide multiple paths from one node to another.
The basic system component is the AREDN MESH router, a MikroTik hAP. The term hAP refers to “home Access Point,” an internet home router that has been “flashed” to operate in the amateur radio private network – at a cost of about $50 for a router.
With a hAP connected via the internet, amateurs can begin learning about the Hawaii network. The next step is to add a microwave link for more independence of the internet. A pair of MikroTik SXT 5.8 GHz radios can be added to access a “sector node” in an area or interconnect two amateurs’ stations via microwave. One radio costs about $70.
The IEEE recently hosted a Zoom meeting that brought a lot of information to Hawaii amateurs. Orv Beach, W6BI, presented an overview of mainland networks and the hardware and software components that comprise the network. View Beach’s presentation on YouTube. Following his talk, Gessie Alpuro, WH6AV, gave an overview of AREDN MESH in Hawaii. As of now AllStar repeaters and 17 Hawaii gateways are already connected via Hawaii AREDN MESH.
One of Alpuro’s focuses has been on interconnecting AllStarLink and Winlink gateways on the Big Island. Hardware has been donated to Big Island Amateur Radio Club members to get the network started. He is working with Oahu as well as with his own island. Jim Pilgram, NH6HI, is driving the progress on Kauai for a truly all-Hawaii project. View Alpuro’s YouTube program.
Hawaii ARES now supports Winlink and AREDN MESH use in its exercises. Previously Clem Jung, KH7HO, made arrangements with the Hawaii Amateur Radio Emergency Digital Radio Network, Inc. (HEARDn.org, a not-for-profit corporation) to provide audio adapters and VARA software licenses at a reduced cost to interested amateurs. He now also has HEARDn support for AREDN MESH components. — ARRL Pacific Section News
Mesh Video and Tower Trailers at Prep Exercise for Minnesota Urban Ski and Bike Race
Early in 2020, we served the Loppet Winter Festival, a large urban ski and fat-tire bike race in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with a medical command center and at the aid stations. This event, set in a hilly park, gave us the idea to convert retired construction site light trailers for amateur radio use — we now have eleven in our fleet.
In December, Loppet managers were meeting with health officials on how to hold the outdoor event safely for 2021. I offered to managers that we could provide live mesh video; they wanted cameras at the finish line, on a lake a mile away, and at other locations. They wanted a live voice-over from their announcer.
It was suggested we use Open Broadcast Studio, which lets you pick video sources and stream them to YouTube. I handed over a motley selection of $39 IP fixed cameras, which were on Goodwill camera tripods with 10AH mail-order sealed batteries. The ones with ONVIF protocol and a built in web IP seemed best. Each trailer has a Pan Tilt Zoom IP camera on mesh already.
The idea was we would borrow a line level audio feed from the PA mixer; if that didn’t work, we bought a cheap wireless microphone kit as backup. To house our gear and personnel, we used portable ice fishing tents — $99 each and about five by five feet for a 48 inch plastic table and chair.
For the Loppet preparatory deployment, we divided our operators into two teams. The most critical job was the finish line. One tower trailer in the parking lot would provide mesh, and we had access to AC power and Wi-Fi. The trailer I picked also had an FM repeater. The second team was at the lake with no fixed facilities so they brought a tower trailer with cameras, power, mesh and internet. The idea was to have all the video signals on mesh. This pre-Loppet effort was a test for the larger four day event so we mapped out but did not test the mesh path back to the finish line and our video uplink tent.
It all went pretty well. The ice fishing tents were like five umbrellas but were complex to set up. We had only enough #12 gauge extension cords for one run to one outlet, so we were worried the electric heaters we brought (1500 W) would blow the circuit breaker. Old welcome mats were good for covering extension cords on the snow. OBS (Observation staff) was suddenly unhappy with the tested tripod cameras but liked the tower camera in the parking lot. Later on, OBS changed its mind and liked the tripod cameras and refused the tower camera. We learned the repeater covered the park but there was no mesh path. So that needs work.
The event managers seemed happy with our support, and even created a new volunteer department for us — video and communications. There were no medical aid stations in the plans at all. Afterwards, I met with the event’s Executive Director, and hoped that amateur radio operators could develop the same level of relationship with the large ski organizations that we enjoy with the big marathons, which is really quite magical. — Erik Westgard, NY9D, Minneapolis, Minnesota
K1CE For a Final: Winlink Thursday – A Lesson in Training and Practice
I participated in last November’s American Red Cross Nationwide Emergency Communications Drill, but, frankly, struggled with meeting the task of sending my ARC-213 message form to the Red Cross Southeast Divisional message clearinghouse. I troubleshooted the issues, taking recommendations of expert practitioners, and subsequently downloaded the more robust Winlink VARA HF virtual TNC. (I had been using the old, retired WINMOR HF mode). I installed it on my Winlink Express platform, experimented, practiced, and then enjoyed successful and faster message transfers.
Last Thursday, I participated in Winlink Thursday, a weekly messaging exercise. After the exercise, I posted on the RATPAC SEC-ARES reflector, “Thanks to what I learned from my experience in the November 14 Nationwide Exercise, today — Winlink Thursday — I was able to efficiently fill out and send the Red Cross ARC-213 message to the Red Cross divisional clearinghouse using my new VARA HF virtual TNC, on emergency power. I was pleased with my new skill set and had fun, too!”
The point is, training and practice do pay off! Thanks to Wayne Robertson, K4WK, of the American Red Cross, Mike Walters, W8ZY, of Connecticut ARES, and the other organizers of this past Thursday’s excellent Winlink Thursday. The third nationwide Red Cross Radio Drill is set for May 8, 2021 — get up to speed on Winlink and the ARC-213 now and plan to participate! – K1CE
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.