Category Archives: Digital

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


Overview

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!

Good-bye 2015

Where did the year go? No, really? What happened to 2015? It will go down as being warm. Thank you El Nino for providing us with one of the warmest Christmases on record. It was quiet, from a hurrican perspective in the Atlantic basin. Again, thank you El Nino. It was, weatherwise, a very calm year.

It was also a quiet year event wise. Prince William County ARES participated on one exercise, Operation Summer Deluge and a couple of Marine Corps runs providing safety and security on the course. We will be doing it again in 2016.

We have had a couple of quiet years. It has been nice. We have added new members, and focused on beefing up our digital activities. We will move on in 2016 to increasing our use of digital systems and work with Prince William County to integrate with their systems as best we can.

Our goals for 2016?

  • Practice, practice, practice. There is never enough time to practice.
  • Traffic handling. We need to practice traffic handling, both voice and digital. Again, we never practice this enough.
  • BBHN. I am looking forward to seeing what BBHN can do to improve our digital connectivity.
  • HF Digital. I would like us to work on our HF skills, and HF digital is an increasingly popular way to do that.
  • MCM support. We will again be supporting the Marine Corps Marathon program office at the Crossroads 17.75 and Turkey Trot directly as well as the Marine Corps Marathon indirectly.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Did I mention we will be doing lots of practice?

Want to get more invovled? Our next meeting is Saturday, January 16, 2016, at 0900 at the Prince William County EOC, 3 County Complex, Prince William, VA. Hope to see you there.

July Exercise Write Up

Stu, WA0DYJ (L) and Dave, W4DAV (R) getting set up to operate
Stu, WA0DYJ (L) and Dave, W4DAV (R) getting set up to operate

On Saturday, July 19, 2014, the Prince William County ARES cadre took to the field for a communications exercise. The exercise was centered around a recovery operation, the day after a hurricane came through the region. There were seven operational stations representing the Emergency Operation Center, the two primary hospitals in the county, two shelter locations, and two points of distribution for supplies. The exercise was designed with a mixture of message types, both voice, and digital. The messages were representative of the types of traffic that would be passed during a normal activation. There were fifteen operators acting as the various locations. It was a successful exercise with numerous lessons learned and several opportunities for improvement in the coming months.

What went right:

Clarence, K4CNM acting as Novant Hospital (Prince William)
Clarence, K4CNM acting as Novant Hospital (Prince William)
  • One of the best exercises we have done! It was one of the first blended (voice and digital) exercises we have done as a cadre and the first real exercise we have done in the last couple of years.
  • Everyone using digital stations did manage to pass at least one message and the messages were received by every participating station.
  • Voice messages were passed.

What do we need to work on:

Chuck, KA3EHL (back) and John, KK4TCE, (foreground) act as Net Control/EOC
Chuck, KA3EHL (back) and John, KK4TCE, (foreground) act as Net Control/EOC
  • We need to work on our voice message passing.  We are out of practice. Some additional work on “prosigns” and procedure needs to be done.  Eric, KK4NXU has offered to spearhead an ARES practice network. Details to come.
  • Digital messages are improving but there is a request for:
    • Another confiruation session (including some documentation). David and Chuck have volunteered to host a configuration session in August.
    • A useage session was also requested to go through how to do things, like send message traffic. A session for this will also be set up.
    • We need to start moving the stations apart and to that end, as part of the potential ARES net, we will work on voice and digital. This is also a work in progress.
  • A PC in the EOC will need to be configured with FLDigi and be part of the EOC network for access to WebEOC for cutting and pasting. David will take that up with Pat this week.

Thanks to Paul, N2PJ, for the great pictures!

July Training Exercise Set – 0800 @ EOC

I hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July and has been enjoying this wonderful weather.

As I mentioned, we will be having another exercise this month, and we will be doing it outside. Because of this, and the potential for hot, steamy weather in July, we are going to have an earlier start time. This is so we can exercise and get out of the heat sooner!

We will again set up on the grassy area between the parking lots for McCoart and Owens.  This is a surface only setup – no spikes, stakes, or burrowing animals please.

The plan is this:

  • Set up (7:00 – 8:00)
  • Briefing (8:00 – 8:15)
  • Exercise (8:30 – 10:00)
  • Hotwash and cleanup (10:00 – 11:00)

I will provide 2 pavilions, two tables and two operation position chairs in addition to one for myself.  If we want more sites/operating locations, someone will need to help with the gear.  The plan is to use both voice and digital to pass routine messages that we might be called upon to pass during a normal post-emergency event. Responses will be at the capability of the stations set up. Digital will be on 2m and voice will be on 440.  There is no power, so bring batteries and anything else you think you will need to operate.

The scenario is this:

On Thursday July 17 and Friday July 18, Hurricane Emma, a category three hurricane, roared up the eastern coast of the United States, making landfall south of Salisbury Maryland before heading inland, crossing the Chesapeake Bay and tracking up the tidal Potomac River, impacting Stafford, Prince William, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Fauquier county. The storm spawned several tornadoes, caused flooding and severe damage all across the region.

Damage includes downed trees and power lines. Cell towers, running on batteries have gone down. Radio communications are overloaded. Roads are blocked and flooded. People are expected to be in the dark for several days.

Today is Saturday, July 19, 2014. It is a lovely day and PWCARES is beginning their third day of operations. We are transitioning from life safety to recovery.  It is the first shift of the day and new teams are reporting for work…

The plan is to staff the following “sites:”

  • EOC
  • Novant (PW) and Sentara (Potomac) Hospitals
  • Battlefield and Freedom shelters
  • Two Points of Distribution (POD)
  • Additional sites could include:
    • Manassas & Manassas Park EOC
    • Manassas Park Shelter
    • Additional hospital locations

I will play the roll of OEM and other served agencies. If we get additional AECs to come out, they can be the ECIC!

Should the forecast predict hellfire and brimstone for that Saturday, we will move inside to the EOC at the normal time and cover another topic.

Questions?

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

The “Food Fight” over MT-63

A number of people have brought me information about MT-63, both pro and con.

Officially, PWCARES will use the mode that works best for us and we are currently evaluating the various modes that are available to us.  MT-63 is just a starting point, because you have to start somewhere.

MT-63 2KL was chosen because it is the NBEMS standard adopted by the ARRL. And it was a good place to start.

Here is only one of the arguments against:

  • nice for file transfer but not so good at keyboard typing (errors creep in).

And for:

  • The Army uses both MT-63 1KL and 2KL as their go to backup mode when MS-110A doesn’t work due to atmospheric conditions.

There are as many opinions and positions as there are amateurs.  If someone has a definitive or quantitative analysis, please feel free to post it in the comments or send it directly and I will add it. At this point, we will all keep an open mind.

 

Digital Exercise, 17 May 2014, FAQ

On Saturday, May 17, 2014, PWCARES will take to the field for a digital exercise during our normal training interval. The slide deck is here: http://www.haikudeck.com/p/ZIDuv4Rd9l

We will set up on the grassy area between the parking lots for McCoart and Owens.  This is a surface only setup – no spikes, stakes, or burrowing animals please.

The plan is this:

  • Set up (8:30 – 9:30)
  • Briefing (9:30 – 10:00)
  • Exercise (10:00 – 11:30)
  • Hotwash and cleanup (11:30 – 12:30)

I will provide 3 pavilions, three tables and three operation position chairs.  If we want more sites/operating locations, someone will need to help with the gear.  We set up, do some digital work with voice sync and see what we can do.  Digital will be on 2m and voice coordination will be on 440.  There is no power, so bring batteries and anything else you think you will need to operate.

We will operate under the assumptions laid out in the digital meeting outbrief.  This is an active deployment and all Amateur operators are encouraged to attend.

Q. Who is setting up a station?

A. We will divide up into three or so teams and each team will set up a station (or two) as a group.

Q. Where will be getting the gear?

A. This is a good chance for everyone to exercise their field kits. If you have a digital station, please bring it and the necessary gear to operate in the field. If you don’t, that’s OK too. Everyone will get a chance to operate. Please bring an HT (if you have one) with 440 as well to coordinate.

Q. What about power?

A. Again, this an opportunity to exercise your equipment, so bring your own power. That being said, David, KG4GIY will bring a couple of batteries and Spenc has indicated he will bring a generator and an extension cord or two.

Q. What sort of digital will we be testing?

A. Primarily we will be testing fldigi, with flmsg. Derek has indicated he would like to do some broadband-hamnet (ex HSSM) as well. If you are interested, bring that gear along as well. BBHN please coordinate over the digital list so you have what you need.

Q. Do stations have to have the required software/hardware?

A. It will be the responsibility of those bringing digital stations to have them preconfigured with the FLdigi software and appropriate hardware to operate on at least 2m.

Q. Who is going to man EOC?

A. No one. We will not use the EOC for this exercise.

Q. Is there a message packet for the stations?

A. The primary goal for this exercise is to at least get the stations to talk to each other (and while that may seem like a trivial goal, I think it will take the bulk of our time to get to that point). If we can send messages after that, so much the better. I have a group of messages that we can use.

Q. I really like the parking lot idea.

A. Before we go long, we need to make sure we can work. It is frustrating enough to get connectivity working, much less when you cannot ask a more knowledgeable person to come look and see what you did wrong.

Q. FLAMP works great on any of the digital modes/bands but with solid signals may not be required. FLAMP works great for file transfer and beacon/ multiple general broadcast of message forms.

A. Again, one step at a time. If we can get connectivity, then we will move on to the more complicated stuff.

Q. FLNET it may assist us in running the net.

A. It might. I will see how much work there is in setting it up.

Upcoming Events – Volunteers needed

MCM 17.75 April 12

Route for the 2014 MCM 17.75
Route for the 2014 MCM 17.75

The Marine Corps Marathon office is going to be running their 17.75 run on April 12. The operation begins at 0600 and should be complete no later than 1400.  The race begins at 0800. This years route is a circle (yay). We need at least 16 operators, and more would be helpful because we know that when race day arrives, we tend to have a bit of attrition.

Final communications plan and volunteer paperwork will be sent out closer to the event. A mobile with an antenna is usually sufficient. As with all Marine Corps events, it is rain or shine, hot or cold.  If you can participate, please email David Lane, KG4GIY directly, then go out to the MCM site and register.

24 Hour Run 2014 May 2 – 4

Example 2011 setup for the half-way point
Example 2011 setup for the half-way point

Woodbridge ARC will be supporting the 24 hour run in Prince William Forest Park. They will be using 147.240 + as the repeater in the park with 147.525 as the simplex backup.  There will be operations on HF, VHF, and digital as well.

A minimum of two stations are needed to be manned during the entire event.  The weather can vary from very nice to very un-nice. Past history has warm days and cool nights to pouring down rain and snow.

The operation begins at 0630 on Saturday morning and concludes at 1000 Sunday. The actual race is from 0700 Saturday through 0700 Sunday and occurs in the dark of the night as well.  Nothing more exciting than watching runners in headlights at 2AM!

Please contact Rob Williams, KJ4LWN directly to volunteer.

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