Category Archives: PWCARES

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.

 

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

Upcoming Emergency Managment Classes

ICS-300: Intermediate ICS for Expanding Incidents – March 17-18

Purpose:

ICS-300 provides training and resources for personnel who require advanced application of the ICS. The course expands upon information covered in the ICS-100 and ICS-200 courses.

Audience

This course is intended for individuals who may assume a supervisory role in expanding incidents or Type3 incidents. Note: During a Type 3 incident, some or all of the command and general staff positions may be activated, as well as division or group supervisor and/or unit leader positions. These incidents may extend into multiple operational periods.

Prerequisites

ICS-100 and ICS-200, IS-/ICS-700, IS-/ICS-800

 

G108 Mass Care – May 12 – 13  &  G393 Mitigation for Emergency Managers May 19 – 21

We are offering a couple FEMA APS courses for our Spring Emergency Management academy. These classes are open to everyone around the region so if you are interested please sign up. Both of these classes help fulfill requirements for your APS certification.

The Woodbridge G-108 Community Mass Care & Emergency Assistance and G-393 Mitigation for Emergency Managers courses are open for enrollment. Please see these links for more details, including enrollment instructions and contact the Help Desk at 804-897-9995 with any questions. The dates for these classes are as follows:

G108 Mass Care – May 12 – 13

G393 Mitigation for Emergency Managers May 19 – 21

G 108 Community Mass Care Management

This 2-day course is intended to equip emergency management staff and voluntary agency personnel with the knowledge and skills necessary to perform as effective mass care coordinators in a broad range of disaster situations. The course covers how to size up mass care needs; how to plan for mass care; recruitment, training, and exercises for mass care personnel; and actions to take in short-term and long-term mass care operations.

Target Audience: State, tribal, and local government emergency management and voluntary agency personnel who are involved with mass care assistance.

G 393 Mitigation for Emergency Managers

This workshop is designed to train emergency managers and other interested individuals who have no specialized technical background, but can support mitigation efforts as advocates. The workshop provides activities and exercises that build the participants’; abilities to: perform the tasks and responsibilities of the emergency manager’s role; create long-term strategies for disaster-resistant communities; identify local mitigation opportunities; select mitigation solutions to hazard risk problems; find resources to carry out mitigation activities in a post-disaster environment.

Target Audience: All personnel at the state or local level involved with any phase of mitigation.

http://www.vaemergency.gov/content/vdem-g108-community-mass-care-management

http://www.vaemergency.gov/em-community/training/G-393

Need help or have questions about course enrollment? Call the LMS Help Desk @ 804-897-9995 or email lmshelp@vdem.virginia.gov. Monday-Friday, 8-4:30.

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

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!

Prince William County ARES

ARES Coin
Prince William County ARES

Welcome to the blog post of Prince William County ARES (Virginia). This site is for members to discuss various topics related to the  Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Amateur Radio, and other technologies that are related to Emergency Communications and Emergency Preparedness.

Various people will be encouraged to develop and provide content to this blog. We hope you find it useful and informative