September is Preparedness Month

Welcome to September. Fall is here (or at least just around the corner). Hurricane season is well underway. And it is time to check our supplies for winter.

I had an interesting conversation with some of my friends about being prepared. One topic that we kept coming back to was the lack of preparedness we were all suffering from. The great ramp up, concerning visibility, that came from September 11, 2001, has virtually disappeared here on the Eastern Seaboard. Even those who as recently as 2012 (Sandy) have just fallen out of the habit of being prepared. And there are many reasons.

  • No storm or threat
  • No reminder (or too many reminders) from the government (which, let’s face it has not showered themselves in glory about being prepared)
  • No focused message
  • No time/money for supplies

Even my own state of supplies is out of date and in need of replacement in many cases.

Following September 11, many people spent a lot of money on emergency supplies, spent time on preparing plans, and spent time getting ready. The problem is that it is not a one-time thing. If you do not practice, or worse, do not have a need to practice, then your preparations get stale quickly. You end up shrugging your shoulders. I’m as ready as I can be. And then you forget. Or wonder what all the hype was about.

If you do not live in a storm zone, it is all too easy to get lulled into a sense of security. Until the next unimaginable thing happens. I get it. I talk about preparedness almost every day to people, and I am woefully unprepared myself.

What can you do? There are many things. You can join your local CERT team. There they will help keep the idea in the front of your mind to exercise you plan. If you are part of ARES, you should be reviewing your plan regularly. Make it part of your monthly check-up, along with your finances. Get a Red Cross CPR certification. They expire every year, and that will force you to reevaluate your situation. At the very least, take a look at your last plan, evaluate where it was when you finished it and updated it. Phone numbers, medicines, contacts, documents, then go through your go-kits and refresh all the things that need refreshing. Remember, clothes shrink in bags stored in cupboards.

There are many good ideas for preparing for an emergency on the ARES website. Take a moment and see how prepared you are.

Are you using the right forms?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That is the loose translation of a classic French saying about the nature of change. And like most changes, we are often not aware of them unless someone says something. Take government forms. They are constantly changing and evolving, but unless you need them, or use them regularly, or are part of the committee that is responsible for updating them, you hardly ever notice.

Today, I noticed.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for maintaining the National Incident Management Forms. Most of the forms post-September 11 came out of the fire service or the Hazmat response teams associated with the Coast Guard. They worked, but they were never optimal as far as most people were concerned. FEMA promised new forms. Most of us just carried on.

In 2015, they updated the NIMS ICS Forms. All members of PWCARES should download the new Forms book (also available on our ICS page) and use those forms instead of any prior forms.

Please take a moment to update your go-kits.

Compiling FLDIGI on the Raspberry Pi, Take 2

Back in 2014, I wrote an article about my attempts to compile FLDIGI on a Raspberry Pi. That attempt was done on a Series 2 Raspberry Pi, with 512 Mbytes of RAM and an older ARM chip. Like everything else, time marches on, and I thought it might be time to see if a newer Raspberry Pi might perform better. The Pi I am using now is a Type3 B with WiFi and 1 Gbyte of RAM and a much faster ARM chip. Let’s see what happens!

First, if you installed a NOOB or Lite version of the software, you will need to install some additional software. If you installed the full version, you may have to add some additional software, we will cover that as we go along.

First, let’s make sure we have the most recent software:

$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get upgrade

There is a source code build directions on the fldigi-wiki Which I will follow.

Create a directory to store your source code:

$ mkdir source

Download the FLDIGI source and untar it:

$ tar zxvf fldigi-.tar.gz

I followed the direction and it worked like a charm. Because I have PulseAudio installed already, I do not need to install that or add myself to the dialout group.

SB74

I have sent the following letter to our State Senator in response to the limitations on Amateur Radio operations in SB74.

Sen McPike/info Dels Carter/Roem:

In reviewing SB74 as written (or at least as available to those of us outside the halls of government), https://legiscan.com/VA/text/SB74/2018, it is still not acceptable to restrict Amateur Radio operations as outlined in section B6, while not limiting Citizen’s Band (CB) operations, as listed in section B5.

I do not understand the exact rationale behind the limitations for Amateur Radio or the lack of constraints for CB operations. I would suggest section B5 read:

The use of Citizens Band, or other federally licensed radio services. (Citizens Band radio operations do not require a federal license, while others do, either by examination or payment of fee.)

Barring that, allow me to illustrate the issues associated with section B6 in its current form:

Vehicles used or operated by federally licensed amateur radio operators (i) while participating in emergency communications or drills on behalf of federal, state, or local authorities or (ii) to provide communications services to localities in the Commonwealth for public service events, including marathons, footraces, or activities authorized by the Department of Transportation or the locality in which the event is being conducted;

There are several challenges with this section.

1) At the gross level, how is a law enforcement officer supposed to differentiate between an Amateur Radio operator and a CB operator? The obvious answer is they cannot, at a glance tell the difference, making the law either unenforceable or placing a considerable burden on the general public to educate the officer at the time of the stop. As a member of the Amateur Radio community and the Jeep community, I have both an Amateur radio, and a CB radio mounted in my vehicle, and I am not alone. It is not just truckers who use CB. (In fact, most truck fleets are using satellite [VSAT] for tracking and communications along with cellular technology.)

But, for a moment pretend that a distinction can be made:

2) while participating in emergency communications or drills on behalf of federal, state, or local authorities.

The key problem here is in deciding what form of authorization is going to be required to prove we are participating. A disaster declaration? A calendar entry? Many of our drills and exercises are done without the direct knowledge of our supported agencies. What sort of proof would be needed to show we were participating in a drill on behalf of our agency? Would it fall the to the Amateur Radio community to provide proof that we were in fact involved in an exercise, and would it then be up to the judge to accept or reject that evidence? Because it is not well defined, that is an onerous burden to place on hobbyists, especially those of us like myself in leadership positions.

3) to provide communications services to localities in the Commonwealth for public service events, including marathons, footraces, or activities authorized by the Department of Transportation or the locality in which the event is being conducted;

Again, what constitutes such events? When is it deemed acceptable to be supporting them? I will use the Marine Corps Program Office events in Prince William County as an example. In the spring the MCM puts on the Crossroads 17.75. The race functionally runs from 0700 – 1100 on a Saturday morning. However, because of road closures and the need to circumnavigate the Prince William forest to get into position, we often are required to start operations as much as two hours before the event. Frequently we will continue to support the event several hours after the runners have gone home as we aid in tear down and clean up. This is only one example; there are many more. In my years as Emergency Coordinator, I can cite numerous cases where we are out preparing to support an activity weeks in advance of that activity, so we are ready to assist. This includes site surveys, propagation studies, antenna position tests, etc. Would this be acceptable under this clause? What proof would be needed? What about after the fact testing? Who makes the decisions?

4) Process and Reporting. The above two sections, if enacted, would entail a new level of process and paperwork within the Amateur communities that does not exist today and would have to be modified with each judgment for or against our operators. Amateur Radio operators are hobbyists at the core of their being. They are not career first-responders (although some may be). They give of their time to support the community, but it is not all they do. To have to ensure that the right pieces of paper are filed or verify that they can use their radios while in motion would place an unnecessary burden on them.

5) General communications. Most Amateur Radio operators do not have radios in their vehicles to be ready for a disaster. Only a small portion of the Amateur Radio community is involved in disaster preparation and response. Most operators have a radio in their vehicle merely to talk to other operators. While this may seem odd in this day of ubiquitous cell phones, there are numerous advantages, least of which is a roundtable discussion format that you cannot do with a cell phone (or at least without some type of conference feature). I have used my radio during times of cellular overload (which happens more than you might think) to get a report of traffic ahead of me (more efficient and safer than opening up an application and punching around to find your location). We discuss upcoming events, propagation, and other general topics — much like those who use CB — all within the bounds of our license restrictions for use of the public airwaves.

In looking at this law, I have outlined the case against a specific set of restrictions for the use of Amateur Radio and highlighted many of the reasons why these restrictions, if implemented, would be detrimental to the use of Amateur Radio while also placing a burden on law enforcement to determine what radio was in use that instigated the traffic stop. I would encourage the adoption of the language I suggest for section B5 and drop the section B6 for the benefit of all.

Welcome to 2018

Here we go again, it is a new year, and that means new things to talk about.

Let’s start with what the ARRL has in store. I forwarded an email from the League in late December that essentially said changes are coming to the ARES program in 2018. Details to follow. You now know as much as I do about what those changes are. But, I can make some guesses. First, I would guess that all ARES members are going to be required to take some Incident Command classes. Likely ICS 100 and 200. But since you are a member of PWCARES, and Prince William County already requires us to take not only 100 & 200, but also 700 (NIMS) and 800 (NRF), we are ahead of the game. Prince William County will also require some additional classes this year, and as they tell me what they are (and how we can get them), I will pass them on and include them in our required training regime.

Speaking of training, this year, Prince William County will be having at least one, and possibly three training events. They will focus on Shelter activities, a national event based on a hurricane coming up the Chesapeake Bay, and a full county activation exercise. Again, once things are nailed down, I will pass on the details.

Also, our friends at the Marine Corps Marathon program office are excited with how we performed at the regular events we have supported in the past (Crossroads and Turkey Trot) plus how we stepped up at the Quantico 100 and especially the Triathlon. So excited in fact, that this year, they want us to support the Triathlon & 12K again (August 25), as well as the Run Amuck (June 23), along with the Crossroads (March 24) and Turkey Trot (November 17). The dates will be added to the calendar. There is no Quantico 100 scheduled for this year as it was a one-time thing. They have also asked for our help in the Historic Half marathon that happens in Fredericksburg. As it is outside the PWCARES area, I have politely declined, but the ARES team down there may need some help. Also, the Big Event, the Marathon, is on October 28 and all the help they can get is appreciated.

Finally, what do you want to focus on this year? Some topics have been flying around the Slack channel, and they include APRS, Wire Antennas in EmComm, and HF operations for EmComm. Also, coming up in June, Field Day 2018! An opportunity for us to show our stuff. It has been a decade since our last field day. Maybe we can start a tradition!

Our first meeting of the year is Saturday, January 20, 2018, at 0900 at the EOC. We will discuss the Action Plan (as we always do), review the new EOC layout, and hopefully get a chance to see the new WebEOC. I encouraged everyone to come out, meet your fellow ARES members, and contribute to this year’s event calendar.

See you then!

September is National Preparedness Month

Looking out the window on this Labour Day, it is hard to believe that we are on the downhill run to the end of the year. Or that Houston is busy drying out after record setting rains (and photoshopped sharks swimming on the highway). And yet, as lovely as the weather is today, out in the Atlantic Ocean, a hurricane, named Irma, is churning away at Catagory 3. Depending on what set of computer models you are prone to follow, or whose newscast you favour, one thing is certain, there is a major risk of a hurricane striking the East Coast, and that hurricane could be category 3 or higher.

We may be in the bullseye, we may get a glancing blow, we may get lucky and it misses us all together. However, now is the time to prepare. Let us pretend that Irma is going to strike the East Coast in such a way that it will come up the Chesapeake Bay and into downtown Washington. Are we ready for this? Are **you** ready for this? Let us review.

Personal Preparedness

  • Have you had any life changes that will affect the status of your personal documents? You know, the ones that you have on a CD, a USB, or something else off-site? Have you updated those document stores?
  • Have you and your family reviewed your plan? Where you will meet? How you will communicate?
  • When did you last refresh your food and water stores? When was the last time you checked the _best before_ date on those cans of SPAM you bought following September 11, 2001?
  • What is the condition of your home? Roof in good shape? Sump pump operational? Siding? Is your insurance up to date?
  •  Go-kit? When did you last refresh your medicine? Check the elastic in your underwear? Do those pants still fit? (Yes, clothes do shrink in your go-bag. It is a fact!)
  •  Got pets? Are you ready to bug out with them? Food, medicine, toys, leash or carrier?
  • What happens if you have to spend several days out of your house? At a shelter, or a hotel?

ARES preparedness

  • Do you have a generator? Is it in good condition? Do you have gas for it and backup gas
  • Are your batteries charged?
  • Did you repack your radios after Field Day or just put them in a corner? Do you have all the cables and connectors with them
  • Have you loaded Slack on your mobile device and logged in lately
  • Do you have maps to key locations printed out? Have you taken a road trip to each location and looked at alternate routes to get to them if the primary roads are blocked?

We all know that the DC area cannot do an evacuation. So if we are evacuated, do you know where you will go? What route will you take? What alternate routes are there? These are only some of the questions we can ponder as we continue to monitor the course of Irma. And even if she does not impact us, we will have some impact unless it completely passes the continent by, and the current models do not show that happening.

Let’s take a moment to review our own preparedness and the preparedness of the Cadre. We will keep you posted as the path of Irma becomes more predictable.

Additional resources: Emergency Preparedness for Landlords and Homeowners.

Survival Lists for Emergency Preparedness

 

 

After Action Reports for Crossroads 17.75 & Quantico 100

Crossroads 17.75

On Saturday, March 25, 2017, sixteen ARES members deployed to Prince William Forest to support the Marine Corps Marathon program office. The Crossroads 17.75K run is an event we have supported in the past and the lessons learned from that event have lead to a well executed morning in the park. The weather was nice, starting in the low fifties and ending up in the low seventies by the time the race concluded.

We utilized simplex (147.525) as our frequency and the conditions behaved themselves enough to allow us to reach each other without any problems. Tom, W4PIO, put up an antenna at the Start/Stop to reach back into the forest and to hear us from his location. Most of the rest used a combination of mobile and HT units to communicate.

The day was lovely, the race successful, and everyone got a good work out.

 Quantico 100

On Saturday, April 29, 2017, nine ARES members deployed to Quantico to support the MCM put on the Quantico 100, a one hundred minute race to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the Quantico Marine Corps Base. Unlike the Crossroads, the afternoon was hot, humid, sticky, and threatened rain all during the event. The course was a two and a half mile loop that runners circled as many times as possible in the hundred minutes.

We utilized the K3FBI repeater with mixed results. Several people utilized a crossband repeater set up to bounce local signals to the K3FBI machine, others used higher power to talk to the repeater. This was a good warm up for our participation in the MCM Triathalon in August, which will utilize almost 30 members over the course of the event, also on MCB Quantico.

Thanks to those who helped out with both events.

The Heritage Hunt Update

By Tim Tatum, K6SLK, liaison to Heritage Hunt

This is the latest update from Heritage Hunt:

1. We have formed a club with a constitution, bylaws, officers, dues and whatever. We meet the the third Tuesday of every month except December (7:00 pm, Garden Room, Marsh Mansion — three story white building 1 1/2 miles inside the gate). We just received our club call — WA4HH.

2. We continue to run a 2 meter simplex net every Saturday morning at 9:00 am, 146.475. We are using the new club call for running the net. I am usually the net control guy. Steve, KI4SA, is my substitute and also the club president.

3. We have added quite a few new hams to our roster. Not all are formal members of the new club but we are working on them. A copy of the roster is attached. It may surprise you to know that we have 32 hams on the roster, four of them live near but not in Heritage Hunt.

4. We will be participating in Field Day(our second time). It will be in the same location. You and anyone else that is part of your group are invited. We will be running 3 HF stations and possibly a 2 meter SSB station. We had great fun last year.

5. Last November we participated with the Emergency Preparedness Committee in running an exercise. We used digital over 2 meter simplex for the first time. Some of our operators were using digital for the first time. Although there were a few small bumps in the road, we were pleased with the result. The committee was happy enough that they just purchased four SignaLink interfaces to go with our FT-8800 radios. My thinking has always been that any of your ARES hams in an emergency could use any of our radios and feel right at home. We will be running another exercise in the fall but no date has been set.

6. Although it is a small challenge to get our hams to venture outside the gate, please feel free to call on us if you are short on hams to support an event. Keep in mind that you are always welcome to come our way for an ARES training event. Give us some advance notice so we can reserve a room.

That is about all the news that is fit to print. Thank you for all you do for this community and for the county.