Category Archives: Amateur Radio Emergency Service

Operation Summer Deluge

Operation_Summer_Deluge_20150811_CotsOn Tuesday, August 11, PWCARES participated in Operation Summer Deluge, a full scale shelter exercise at Freedom High School in Prince William County.

The scenario:

On August 10, 2015, the remnants of a tropical storm struck Prince William County, Virginia. The storm caused an average of five to seven inches of torrential rainfall per hour overnight, causing ground saturation and flooding. Given the expected rainfall in the next 24 hours, there exists significant probability that an overtoping event at Lake Montclair Dam will occur, which could destroy at least a dozen home and displace households withing the inundation zone. The Director of Emergency Management has authorized the opening of a shelter with an anticipated need to shelter two hundred individuals.

An overtoping is EM speak for water will overflow the dam, and that is a bad thing.Operation_Summer_Deluge_20150811_antenna

There were numerous objectives, but for PWCARES, our objectives were straight forward:

  • Evaluate the shelter for radio opartions
  • Get traffic from the shelter to the EOC (and back)
  • Demonstrate BBHN for use in a shelter in the event of Internet interuptions

The exercise was for both a human shelter and a pet shelter, just in time training, and to practice shift change, starting at 0900 and ending at 1500.

PWCARES had the following operators:

  • ECIC: David, KG4GIY
  • First Shift: Chuck, KA3EHL and Mary, KK4GOW at the shelter. Keith, KM4AA and Ric, KJ4ZIH at the EOC
  • Second Shift: Zach, K4RSU and Spenc, KG4GFW at the shelter. John, KG4LAA and Jeff, WB6UIE at the EOC
  • BBHN: Clarence, K4CNM and Terry, WA5NTI

We used ICS-213 as our message template and ICS-214 as our unit log.

What went right:

  • We got a signal out of the shelter site using an antenna and a cross-band radio
  • We practiced sending traffic
  • We practiced a shift change, which is not something we have done
  • We got a view of the shelter operation process
  • We got to demonstrate BBHN
  • We gained valuable exposure for our skill and professionalism

What we need to work on:Operation_Summer_Deluge_20150811_registration

  • CSALTT: We need to make sure our messages contain Capability, Size, Amount, Location, FEMA Type, Time needed
  • We need to practice sending messages via voice
  • We need to work on our digital set ups. While we did not do one for this exercise, we probably could have
  • We need to work on our handwriting. Many of our forms have to be read by others. Some options suggested include a portable printer at each site to print off messages.

It was a good exercise, with lots of opportunities to practice. A success in all people’s eyes.

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?

Updated Action Plan

I have updated the Action Plan, now version 4.3. The biggest change in the new section 6.11, which reads:

6.11 Digital Operations PWCARES has adopted fldigi as the primary digital mode for passing digital traffic. This does not preclude the use of other technologies, such as packet, or BBHN but it is currently the go-to technology.

  •  6.11.1 VHF Configuration: Those operators with fldigi will estabilsh VHF communications on 146.475 (PWCARES VHF 2), using operations mode MT-63 2KL (2000L). Operators have the choice of using any supported operating system, but are expected to know how to configure and get their selected operating system on the air. A quick reference guide of operations will be developed focusing initially on the Windows operating system.
  • 6.11.2 Message Configuration: PWCARES has standardized on ICS-213, so flmsg should be configured to use the ICS-213 template by default. Ad hoc messages may also be sent as needed.

This is really just an acknoledgement of what we are doing and will be fleshed out as we add and improve our digital operations. I have also corrected the 6.10 section referencing the hospitals. I still have to do some updates on the QRC and I hope to get to that this weekend. I also hope to add in the PWCARES logo in the appropriate places.

If there are things you would like to see added to the Action Plan or the QRC, please feel free to send me an email through the normal channels and I will do my best to add them in a timely manner.

 

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.

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.