Category Archives: HF

2016 SET After Action

Set After Action

Radios up and runningOn Saturday, October 1, 2016, PWCARES participated in the ARRL Simulated Emergency Test (SET). The objective of this year’s exercise:

* To provide a public demonstration to served agencies and through the news media of the value of Amateur Radio in times of need.
* To provide training and experience in communication under simulated emergency conditions.
* To provide a framework allowing all District Emergency Coordinators, Emergency Coordinators and Net Managers to evaluate how well they are performing.

Chuck, KA3EHL running the radio room
Chuck, KA3EHL running the radio room

The scenario: A line of powerful thunderstorms, spawned by a hurricane, is approaching the state from the southwest. Strong winds, flood producing rains, damaging hail & lightning have paralyzed most of the counties in your district. Wind speeds exceeded 85 MPH and have produced many downed-trees causing power lines to fail. Estimates are between 85% and 90% of homes are without power. Many roads are impassable due to flash-flooding, tree debris, and downed-power lines. Communications has suffered greatly as well. Downed utilities, power outages, and failed back-ups have crippled normal communications. Amateur Radio operators have not gone unscathed. Repeaters without back-up power are no longer operational.

Derek, KV4SH, waiting for traffic
Derek, KV4SH, waiting for traffic

This gave us an opportunity to practice traffic handling and interact with both HF and digital networks. It also gave us the opportunity to practice with the ICS forms, especially the ICS–213 message form and the ICS–214 unit log.

What worked:

  • No problem checking into the HF SSB net. Good comms with only 10 watts on battery power. Many check ins, but didn’t hear them passing any message traffic. Was also able to copy PSK31 on 7050 KHz.
  • Several EOCs from other counties (W4COV and AD4TJ) then used VDEM frequencies, digital modes and waterfall to perform antenna checks, software checks and other tasks.
  • PWCARES VHF1 (simplex) worked well for passing traffic into and out of the EOC but verbal messages are slow. Effective but slow.
  • Numerous messages were sent successfully by voice

Some issues:

  • Appears that the HF net was really only check-in. There was no formal message traffic passed. While the net-control was able to hear and speak to most all districts and conducted a professional level as net control. The main thrust of the exercise seemed to be to verify that all counties could be reached via HF
  • Some Counties used FLMSG for ICS traffic. Others used WordPad to create and pass exercise traffic. When FLMSG was used, W4COV (not VDEM) asked me to stop and use WordPad instead
  • After the initial 40m check in, VDEM Digital NCS (N1XP) left the net and remained offline for the entire exercise. Nothing heard on 80m. 40m was open throughout the exercise
  • VDEM should set a single procedure for passing ICS traffic—FLMSG or WordPad
  • VDEM should maintain a digital NCS throughout an exercise.
  • Need to improve FLDIGI support at the EOC
David, KG4GIY running the SimCell
David, KG4GIY running the SimCell

In all, the exercise was a success from the PWCARES perspective, although I would say it was less than successful from a section level. Because they did not pass traffic, there was no indication of how the traffic would flow or if the net would be able to handle it. Traffic sent to the section from PWCARES was not transferred.

Thanks to the cadre for their participation and to Andy, KJ4MTP, for the photos.

July Training After Action Report

On Saturday, July 16, 2016, PWCARES conducted our regular training outside at the Prince William County government facility. During this training we did two things:

  • Learned how to remotely control a station using TeamViewer[1], remote control software
  • Practice digital communications with FLDIGI

Remote Control

Chuck, KA3EHL, demonstrated how to remotely control a radio. The use case for this is in case we have to use HF, but we cannot run wires. For example, at the EOC, where the building has to remain secure. There are two parts to the system.

Chuck working the remote station
Chuck working the remote station


The first part is the remote system, a laptop running Windows and the TeamViewer software. The second part is the host station, connected to the HF radio, running TeamViewer software, and additional digtial software and radio control softwere. Chuck’s radio, an IC–7200,[2] comes with control software, but you could easily use FLRIG if your radio supports it. Chuck demonstrated sending a message with FLDigi, set to the Olivia[3] transmission protocol.

The HF host machine and HF rig
The HF host machine and HF rig


This is possible by setting up a BBHN[4] mesh network. TeamViewer needs a network connection, whether that connection is a Local Area Network (LAN), an Internet connection or a BBHN mesh connection. Chuck had flashed two Linksys routers with the BBHN software and connected each laptop to the router. Each router was powered by its own battery, but could be powered by commercial mains if available. He then sent a message which was received and responded to by Larry, K0LB, and was also seen at Tom, W4PIO’s station on the other end of the field.

Tom, W4PIO, working HF
Tom, W4PIO, working HF


Chuck’s full presentation is posted to the PWCARES website in Operating Procedures[5].

Digital Exercise

The second part of the exercise was the sending and receiving of messages using FLDigi. This exercise utilized the standard setup for FLDigi in a VHF environment[6]. We had a couple of team members operating from their home station as well as some in the field. There was a combination of radios and laptops and as we have discovered in the past, just bcause it worked yesterday, it may not work today. Each problem was worked through as it came up, and some problems will require a bit more research.

Members of PWCARES getting ready for the next exercise (Photo: A. Lenhart
Members of PWCARES getting ready for the next exercise (Photo: A. Lenhart)


Thanks to those who came out and those who partcipated from home.

  1. You can use TeamViewer for non-commercial purposes for no charge.  ↩
  2. Details about the IC–7200.  ↩
  3. Details about the Oliva protocol from Wikipedia.  ↩
  4. Details about broadband-hamnet  ↩
  5. A quick link to Chuck’s presentation.  ↩
  6. As detailed in Section 6.11 of the PWCARES Action Plan.  ↩

July 2016 Exercise

Prince William County ARES July 2016 Exercise

Version: 20160713–01 v1


Because of the high temperatures expected, we will move the beginning of the exercise back to 0830 EDT .

If you are not coming out, but are going to be around during our training hours, please feel free to jump on the air and participate as well, either by voice or digital means.

I will bring out a couple of pavilions for shade (and so you can see the monitors) and I will bring out a large video screen as well. Tables, chairs, and gear as I have room.

We will be conducting a multi-pronged exercise.

  • There will be a demonstration of remote control of an HF station by Chuck, KA3EHL
  • There will be a demonstration (and hopefully some traffic passing) of HF digital
  • We will again exercise VHF digital
  • We will practice sending and receiving voice traffic

Remote HF

Chuck, KA3EHL will demonstrate remote control of an HF station, using BBHN. This should be quite interesting!

HF Digital

As part of the demonstration of remote control, we will do some HF digital work. Coordination and details of the HF digital part of the exercise will be hashed out over the next couple of days with the parties who have volunteered.

VHF Digital

We will follow our normal plan of operations for VHF digital (see the Action Plan, section 6.11 for details). This is a good chance to come out and get your gear working, configure your gear, or find out more about digital.

Please make sure you have the FLDigi software loaded prior to coming out, as we will not have reliable Internet connectivity.

Voice work

Please bring a sample ICS–213 form as we will do some voice message traffic work as well!

You Always Learn Something

The weekend of June 25 – 26, 2016 was Field Day, an opportunity to get on the air, test out some gear and generally have a good time operating. While many Amateurs were busy with Field Day, a small group of PWCARES members were participating in Operation United Resolve, a national communications exercise. The scenario was:

A series of catastrophic events across the United States has occurred. California has been hit by a massive earthquake causing extensive damage as well releasing a tsunami which has hit Alaska causing damage there, the central states experienced a derecho wind storm that caused extensive damage to the power distribution system, and at the same time a F5 hurricane travelled up the eastern seacoast flooding coastal areas. Additionally with these natural occurrences, various areas of the country are experiencing sporadic power outages of varying durations and fluctuations of unknown origin.

Many Governors state that their emergency management resources are overstretched and are asking neighboring states for assistance. As part of the recovery effort, SDFs across the US are mobilizing to assist their state Air/Army National Guards as they are called to active duty. Establishing reliable communications is a part of that effort and is the first step in determining who can communicate and what their local operating status is.

While a bit unrealistic, any one of these events could lead to a national call up of resources and strain the system.

The bad news is that the exercise never really seemed to get off the ground, at least as far as we could tell from our listening post at PWCARES headquarters.

The good news is that, even from this small, non-exercise, things were learned.

  • HF is hard : Perhaps it is better to say, if you do not do it a lot, HF can be challenging. The first thing we learned is that gear left in storage can, and does go bad. Or at least it seems like it does. Brian, WC4J, brought his IC–756ProII out to use and for a few, tense moments, we thought we were not going to be able to see it because the backlight did not seem to work. It did eventually, but there is a long track record of the backlights failing on that model.
  • Keep your gear together : It was a good thing Brian brought his rig, because David, KG4GIY could not find the tuner for his IC–706MKIIG (it did eventually turn up late on Saturday but only after a small excavation of half the house). This is not just for HF and tuners, but all those necessary cables, jumpers, and sources of power.
  • The higher the better : Putting up antennas is an art. Especially when you do not have all the height you might want. As we discovered hanging David’s G5RV Jr, even though the oak trees were high, getting the cables over the right branches to pull the antenna up was as much of a challenge as where to tie off the legs. Still, it was high enough that we could talk to others, and hear as well.
  • Sunspots matter : When all is said and done, if the sun is in a low activity pattern, the bands are not going to behave. As we have learned, we are in a real trough of solar activity and things are likely to continue this way for a while.

Despite only hearing two calls on the frequency we were instructed to monitor, and neither one of them requiring us to call back, we had a good exercise and everyone learned something useful.

My thanks to Brian, WC4J; Mary, KK4GOW; Derek, KV4SH; and Jack for coming out and exercising, and Jeff, WB6UIE; who was remote but proved we were getting a signal out.