Category Archives: Emergency Preparedness

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

Tax Free Holiday May 25 – 31, now with chainsaws!

Virginia's Tax Free Holiday!
Virginia’s Tax Free Holiday!

It is hurrican season preparation time again, and to help you out, Virginia is picking up the tax on those items that will help you get prepared. What sort of itmes you ask? Let me tell you!

  • Ice packs
  • Bottled water
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Rope
  • Buckets (to carry your rope and water in, right?)
  • Chainsaws (under $350 – sadly the safety gear is not exempt, but I would encourage you to get it anyway if you do not have it)
  • Generators (under $1000)
  • …and so much more

In all seriousness, this is a great opportunity to get ready for hurricane season, which starts June 1st.

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!