Category Archives: Emergency Communications

After Action Reports for Crossroads 17.75 & Quantico 100

Crossroads 17.75

On Saturday, March 25, 2017, sixteen ARES members deployed to Prince William Forest to support the Marine Corps Marathon program office. The Crossroads 17.75K run is an event we have supported in the past and the lessons learned from that event have lead to a well executed morning in the park. The weather was nice, starting in the low fifties and ending up in the low seventies by the time the race concluded.

We utilized simplex (147.525) as our frequency and the conditions behaved themselves enough to allow us to reach each other without any problems. Tom, W4PIO, put up an antenna at the Start/Stop to reach back into the forest and to hear us from his location. Most of the rest used a combination of mobile and HT units to communicate.

The day was lovely, the race successful, and everyone got a good work out.

 Quantico 100

On Saturday, April 29, 2017, nine ARES members deployed to Quantico to support the MCM put on the Quantico 100, a one hundred minute race to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the Quantico Marine Corps Base. Unlike the Crossroads, the afternoon was hot, humid, sticky, and threatened rain all during the event. The course was a two and a half mile loop that runners circled as many times as possible in the hundred minutes.

We utilized the K3FBI repeater with mixed results. Several people utilized a crossband repeater set up to bounce local signals to the K3FBI machine, others used higher power to talk to the repeater. This was a good warm up for our participation in the MCM Triathalon in August, which will utilize almost 30 members over the course of the event, also on MCB Quantico.

Thanks to those who helped out with both events.

Welcome to 2016!

Welcome to the New Year!

Summary

Every indication is that 2016 is going to be a busy year. Starting off with a bang, the weather. As we go into 2016, we are already dealing with record warm temperatures caused by our friend El Nino. According to most sources, this is not likely to let up in 2016 and has been called a Godzilla event. The predictions for warmer, wetter weather in the Northeast are already up, as well as predicitions for heavy rains and mudslides in California. In between, who knows what will happen. There is already heavy flooding in the midwest, especially along the Mississippi which we do not normally see until spring. So already, 2016 is going to be a year of some unpredictability. Which brings me to the first topic: Are you, and your family, prepared?

Preparations for 2016

Take a moment and ask yourself: If I were to lose my house, right now, would I be able to:

  • Survive for the next 48–96 hours?
  • Care for my family?
  • Prove I owned it?
    • Be able to fill in the insurance paperwork to get the money for the things I lost?
  • Do you have copies of all the important documents, such as:
    • Passports
    • Driver’s License
    • Marriage/Divorce paperwork
    • Bank paperwork
  • Other things that might be critical?

There are a number of things that could put you in the situation where you cannot get to your critcal paperwork. Do you have copies of it in a secure location (or several secure locations?). Make photocopies and send them to trusted releatives (or friends), get a safe deposit box, make copies and carry them on your phone, or put them in some off-line storage. These are just some of the suggestions.

Can you survive for 48–96 hours? Food? Water? Generator? Batteries? What do you need to survive. And do not forget your pets. Last winter there were several cities that had power outages for extended periods of time. Clearly staying in the house was not an option and many went to hotels. Do you know the nearest pet friendly hotel? An all-hazards aproach to preparation is best, but it means you have to sit down and take a look at what you have and what you would need. For additional information, please visit the FEMA READY website.

And of course, it is winter, so make sure you have some additional supplies, just in case:

  • Blanket
  • Ice scraper
  • Snow shovel
  • Kitty litter

We will cover this and more as part of the Workshop at the January meeting. Saturday, January 16, 2016 @ 0900 @ EOC

2016 Training

The Training link has been updated for 2016. More information will be added as events are confirmed and finalized. But if you are curious, here are some of the PWCARES specifc training plans for this year.

Date Location Event
16 Jan EOC Training: * Review 2015 * Look ahead to 2016 * Field Day 2016 * Action Plan review * Prepare for 2016 workshop
19 Mar EOC Training: TBD
2 Apr Prince Wiliam Forest Park MCM Crossroads 17.75K
21 May EOC Training: Digital/Traffic in the field
25/26 June TBD Field Day 2016
16 July EOC Training: Digital/Traffic in the field
17 Sept EOC Training: TBD
Oct Virginia Section wide Simulated Emergency Test (est)
30 Oct DC et al Marine Corps Marathon
19 Nov EOC/MCB Quantico Training: MCM Turkey Trot

Field Day 2016

The last time PWCARES participated in Field Day was 2008, and you can see the video here if you are interested to see what we did. It does not have to be a large operation, but it would be nice to put on a demonstration. If you would be interested in heading up the effort, please contact David, KG4GIY.

SET

Every October, the ARRL conducts a simulated emergency test (SET). Traditionally, the SET for Northern Virginia has been the Marine Corps Marathon, an event that requires over 150 operators. This year, our new Section Manager wants to do a section wide SET. And of course, the Marine Corps will still be hosting their marathon, and they will still need operators. The specifics of the exercise have not been released but once they are, they will be communicated to the cadre so you can balance your participation in the SET and the Marine Corps Marathon.

Other MCM Events

Two MCM events, the Crossroads 17.75K and the Turkey Trot are held in Prince William County every year. This year the Crossroads 17.75 will be held on Saturday, April 2, 2016 in the Prince William County Forest. We usually need about 20 operators for this event and a sign-up link will be sent once the Program Office provides it.

The Turkey Trot is normally the third Saturday of November, this year, Saturday, November 19, 2016 at Marine Corps Base Quantico. This is a good introdcutory event. We use about a dozen operators for this event. Details will be provided as we get closer to November.

And there we have it. It is already a busy year for us and more events will be added as the year progresses. For example, there has been a discussion about doing a county-wide exercise, but there are no details availble yet.

As always, if you have questions, issues, or things you would like to talk about, please contact David, KG4GIY.

PWCARES Digital Exercise AAR

The inital three stations before setup
The inital three stations before setup

On Saturday, May 17, 2014, Prince William ARES took to the field in the green common in front of the McCoart building at the County Government Centre for a small digital exercise. The key goal was to set up one or more FlDigi stations and pass communications between them. A second goal was to set up a broadband hamnet mesh network. And finally, it was a great opportunity for the members of PWCARES to exercise their go-kits, digital gear, and work out in the field without commercial power.

Welcome to Amateur Radio!
Welcome to Amateur Radio!

Three “station” set-ups were provided. At the height of the exercise, as many as nine stations were in operation around the perimeter of the common and two different types of mesh networks were in operation. Most operators had a standard set up of a laptop, radio, and some type of external sound card device, such as SignaLink. A couple of stations tried the “headset to mic” interface method. At the end, four stations were able to successfully pass traffic, both ad hoc messages and more formal ICS-213 messages. These stations were all using SigaLinks.

Clarence provided a traditional broadband-hamnet network, with an access point connecting the field to the Internet.

Clarence, K4CNM's go kit in a box.
Clarence, K4CNM’s go kit in a box.

Derek set up a mesh network that was a custom set up that was not BBHN or HSMM. The equipment he brought for the mesh was three WNDR3700v2 routers [1]. On these devices, I had loaded the OpenWRT firmware. One device ran DHCP and an XMPP server[2], while the other two acted simply as relays. The network was configured so the 5 GHz radio connected ad-hoc while the 2.4 GHz radio provided an AP, different name and channel from each node.

Station 3, operational
Station 3, operational

Significantly different from BBHN, the adhoc 5 GHz connections were connected with the B.A.T.M.A.N. protocol (BBHN uses OLSR). The bat0 interface thus provided was bridged with the 2.4 GHz APs. This has the effect of making the entire network link-local. Thus, wireless clients could pull addresses from the node running DHCP.

One of the generators providing power
One of the generators providing power

At the exercise, David KG4GIY and Keith KM4AA connected their laptops and used Pidgin to connect their XMPP accounts, while Mark Redlinger connected with his iPhone and the ChatSecure app. No downtime was noted, though use was not heavy. The ability to connect Android and iPhone devices through the second AP is a big advantage to having a dual-band radio. The clear weather and flat terrain meant all of the APs were visible from the entire area of the exercise.

Derek welcomes any questions on this topic.

No gas? How about the sun?
No gas? How about the sun?

We learned there were a great number of power options available to everyone. Deep cycle batteries, generators, even solar panels, which meant there was no need for commercial power during the exercise. We also discovered that a physical device between the computer and the radio worked better than other lash-ups for sending and receiving data via fldigi. Several observers were present and learned how to use the system and what value it brings. It was also a good learning experience and we need to have more opportunities. A suggestion was made to have little workshops to review settings and set ups and then have another exercise. The digital list will be used to coordinate. The mesh nodes demonstrated the ability to utilize traditional TCP/IP based technologies successfully. More research and work needs to go into establishing the best way to implement it.

Bill and Louis with the signal testing gear
Bill and Louis with the signal testing gear

Bill did a signal study during the exercise, the results of which will be provided as soon as he has completed his analysis.

Thanks to everyone for their participation!

NOTES:
1 – http://wiki.openwrt.org/toh/netgear/wndr3700
2 – XMPP is an instant message protocol, perhaps likened to a computerized form of the National Traffic System

Training – Saturday, March 15, 2014 – 0900 – EOC

Our regular training will occur this Saturday, March 15, 2014. We will start at 0900 EDT.

Our agenda:

We hope to see you there!

Slide Decks are provided by HaikuDeck

Outbrief – 15 Feb 2015 Digital Workshop

On Saturday, February 14, 2014, the Digital Working Group met along with some other interested parties to discuss the current state of the digital technologies, as well as  try and find a road map for implementation within the PWCARES framework.  After introductions, we went through some presentations.

The Presentations
Rick, KJ4ZIH
  • Evolution from a discussion about “is there a role” for digital in ARES to  clearly there is, especially the farther west in the US you go.
  • Rick has issues getting from his home in Haymarket getting to the repeaters (WWI/OHV) on voice
  • EOC is currently VHF/UHF oriented
  • Two parts of the story – the tools (FLx) and how the PA group is using them (NBEMS)
  • Rick went the route of the SignaLink, but there is software that can do the same thing with your built in sound cards (mostly inexpensive)
  • Similar to a fax machine over a telephone line – stuck pig sounds
  • Multiple ways to move the noise – usually mic and speaker, with the right cables to make the connection

NBEMS

  • Ran through the NBEMS presentation
  • Digital is accurate in the information being transmitted
  • FEC in a number of them protocols
  • Served agencies are moving along the digital message paths
  • NBEMS is an application of the FLx programs
  • Flamp – broadcast message to all
  • Open Source, multi-platform
  • Fldigi – encoder/decoder, with multiple codex
  • Sometimes you need to tweak the time calibration of your soundcard
  • MT-63 is robust, quick, FEC, used by MARS, resistant to noise
  • Good for increased distance performance
  • Olivia is preferred on HF.  Sounds like a flute in the air. Stands out
  • Flmsg is pre-formatted, good fill in the blank ability
  • Text based, self-limiting to 3KB files, with a 3 minute limit for transmission
Derek, KV4SH
HSMM-MESH/Broadband
  • High-speed Mobile Mesh
  • Now called “Broadband hamnet”
  • Autoconfiguation fault tolerant ham radio coverage (part 15/part 97)
  • Because it is mess, it it multipath
  • High bandwidth
  • Transmits IP
  • Not limited by size of file
  • upto 150mb/sec depending on quality
  • Need to flash your router with a new image, configure, put on the air
  • Infrastructure based set up
  • There is the ability to get the hook up on to the Internet…there are issues with doing this
  • LinkSys, Ubuiquiti brand (www.ubnt.com)
  • Under 1 watt of power out of the repeater
  • Until you boost power, you are covered by part 15. Once you boost, you fall into part 97
  • Under part 97, no encryption, no WPA, no SSL/HTTPS/Encrypted chat
  • Coverage up to 10 miles but realistically, much more reduced
  • Emcomm – videos, large images, web cams
  • A discussion of the nuts and bolts of Internet vs Mesh set ups – ssid/esid vs IP address

David, KG4GIY

  • David reviewed the packet and WinLink
  • Packet is still a viable technology, but with a high learning curve.
  • Some masking is done by Outpost, a Windows-based piece of software.
  • Store and forward as well as direct connect. Also has the ability to hopscotch from node-to-node to improve connectivity.
  • Heavy infrastructure requirement, most packet nodes are no longer active.
  • WinLink is a long running, Windows-based message service.
  • Many have had success with it.

The Direction

After the presentations, we made some decisions. To wit:

OS: Windows (for now)

Mode: Ad Hoc

Band: VHF/UHF (for now)

With that as the preconception, the FLx stack of programs makes the most sense to implement. So:

OpMode: MT-63 2KL (2000L)

Freq: 146.475 (ARES VHF 2)

The Concept of Operations

At this point, digital messages are being utilized in experimental mode. While it is desirable to have a digital node at each location, until we are completely comfortable with operation, it may not yet be possible.

Further, these are the identified (but not exclusive) types of messages that could be passed by digital methods.

  1. Bulletins. These are messages that are sent out from NCS regarding the state of the operation, active locations, operational period data, weather updates, etc. that are necessary for all stations but could utilized excessive bandwidth on voice.
  2. POD Supply lists. These are lists that may include equipment and supplies needed at a Point of Distribution, either basics or medicinals.
  3. Low priority messages. These are messages that would take up unnecessary bandwidth on voice but still need to be passed.

While these are not all the types of messages that can, or could be sent by digital, it is a good start.

While we are working through the process and procedures, there are some additional issues we need to keep in the back of our minds.

  • Printers? What is the need for being able to print out these digital messages? Do we need to arrange for access to printers? What sort?
  • Directed Net? Does digital operations require a directed net? How would that operate?
  • Time segments? Would it make more sense to have a time slice management plan instead of a directed net. For example, in any 15 minute segment, the first x period is reserved for priority or emergency traffic, the rest of the period is a free for all?
  • Can fldigi be set to auto select operational mode? If so how so?

Finally, there was a decision to try and set up smaller hands on working groups to configure and test configurations before we take it to the field. There also needs to be a separate effort to create a quick reference guide. This can be managed via the digital list or this site.  If someone would like to volunteer to host a working group, please identify yourself and we will get it on the calendar.

Resources:

Here is a link to the presentations and other information from the working group.

NBEMS

Broadband-hamnet

 

 

NBEMS? Why don’t we just call it what it is?

While getting ready for this weekend’s discussion, I stumbled over a new acronym, NBEMS. It really is not new, but for those that have not encountered it, here is what it means:

Narrow Band Emergency Messaging Software (NBEMS) is an Open Source software suite that allows amateur radio operators to reliably send and receive data using nearly any computer (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and any analog radio without requiring a dedicated digital infrastructure or specialized modem hardware. (ARRL)

“Oh, interesting,” thought I until I dug into it more. NBEMS is simply the passing of ICS documents via FLDigi. The ARRL (and others) have created an acronym for … a mode of passing traffic…

I would encourage you to visit the NBEMS page though for only one reason – there are two lovely presentations about how to set up FLDigi for this use! And if, like me, you have been frustrated by how hard it seems to be to get bi-directional traffic flowing as well as a starting point for a “standard,” then take a look at these two presentations.

The Goals for a Good Digital Solution

Here are my goals:

  1. Low cost of entry.  This means that whatever solution we choose, it should not cost the average operator a lot of money to participate. This means that the code needs to be open source or low cost, the hardware footprint needs to be light and it should work with the majority of radios out there.
  2. Easy configuration. The selected software should be easy to configure and it should be easy to bring up a node without needing to be a networking professional.  It would be nice if we can do the following a) have a running “full time” network and b) be able to link into that network quickly in an emergency, like the old packet system as an example.
  3. Easy to use. At the end of the day, it has to be easy to use by anyone for sending the common message forms (ICS-213 minimum) and possibly be able to pass the message from a terminal at the “site” to the “systems” being used by the EOC (the biggest example would be a 213 cut and pasted into WebEOC).

You will note that I don’t care a lot about HF or VHF or UHF.  That being said, I expect that local transmissions will likely be done by the lowest common license class – Technician, which makes HF pretty much a non-starter for emergency communications within the county.  Under my desire to have a functioning full time network, HF uplinks to digital nets (like VEN/D or WinLink) would be expected, but are not a requirement at this point. Let me also say that the general rule of thumb that HF would be done by those more permanent stations is still the working model.

There are advantages to store and forward.  It has been proven over the last forty years as being a stable method for passing messages. There are advantages to the fldigi model of send it once.  And there are disadvantages.

If I was building it (in a vacuum) I would use a bit of both.  I currently have a packet node up and running. I connect to it with a simple console connection.  I would love to be able to connect to it with a terminal session from my smart phone, but so far I haven’t found a cable that will let me. I used to be able to do it with my Palm though :).  I have played with fldigi/flmsg and Outpost with limited success (yes, I know they are for different purposes).  I have never had a lot of success with WinLink, or D-Rats.

At the end of the day, we need to arrive at the following:

  1. Frequencies we want to use.  These are, ideally, 2m/440. We may also want to consider supporting 6m/220/1.2 and D-Star.
  2. Protocol. What protocol will work best to ship the message and will all the software support it?
  3. Message types. What types of messages should we expect to be sending via this model?

I think, once we define these things, the rest should at least become more clear in direction.

Additional Background

At one point we tested 1.2 DD with D-Star (just for grins and giggles).  We actually tested the connection between a remote station and WebEOC and it worked nicely, if slowly.

Brian, myself, and others, were trained in using packet and have gear that still works with the technology. I think we could better link with other protocols to better node types (I am thinking something like HSMM and Raspberry Pis for example, that would facilitate a number of good things in a radio digital network beyond just “email”)

I would rather see a number of nodes around the county rather than trying to link two nodes from one end to the other, for redundancy if nothing else.

To that end:

There will be a voluntary meeting of the cadre on Saturday, February 15, 2014 at the EOC at 0900 for us to sit down and walk through the issues and technologies associated with using digital systems in the ARES network. This will be as much a discussion/open forum as it will be a class on the technologies.

The agenda is as follows. I need a few more presenters please (and I have probably lost a couple of emails with volunteers, so remind me if you had already put your hand up

  1. Presentation (Talk about the tech, bring in toys, bring up sample network?)
    1. WinLink
    2. Fldigi/msg (Rick, KJ4ZIH)
    3. Packet
    4. HSMM (Derek, KV4SH)
    5. SignaLink (Rick, KJ4ZIH)
    6. NBEMS (Rick, KJ4ZIH)
  2. Build a concept of operations: What do we want to do with it?
  3. Workshop
    1. Build a network, without protocol, identify locations for nodes, both desired and possible.
    2. Map concept of operations to network

Everyone is welcome. Feel free to bring gear!