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.

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?

July Training/Exercise?

July is traditionally a hot month. How hot? Well, during the CW150, held the last week in July a few years ago, I seem to remember losing several pounds in water over the four days we were supporting them. Average temperatures were between 90 and 105 and I had reports of highs upwards of 120 in certain microclimates.

We had such a great turnout at our last digital exercise, I would like to try another exercise with both voice and digital on the  lawn at the EOC.  But, like I said, it can be hot.  I think it would be a good idea. But I am willing to listen to the majority on this and do something inside.

What do you think? What would benefit you most?

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.

 

Welcome to the summer

With Memorial Day behind us, it is time to turn our attention to the summer. And we have seen a number of seasons where every other day was a sever storm. We have seen summer seasons where we barely got enough rain to tamp down the dust.

Today is the “second day” of summer and our friends at the National Weather Service predicts:

A FEW THUNDERSTORMS COULD PRODUCE DAMAGING WIND GUSTS AND LARGE HAIL LATE THIS AFTERNOON AND EVENING.

So the weather is already heating up.  Which leads me to the next date on the calendar – the start of hurricane season, which is June 1.

Depending on who you listen too, this season is expected to be quiet, sort of. Estimates are for 8-13 named storms, with only a pair of major hurricanes predicted. Compare this too 2013 where we had 14 reported storms and only two hurricanes (Sandy was in 2012, in case your memory is a sketchy as mine is).

So take advantage of the Virginia Tax free week this week (May 25 – May 31) to stock up on your hurricane and other disaster supplies.  You might also want to take a moment to review your antennas and tower supports and check your batteries.

 

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.