Category Archives: Discussion

The EC turns 20

I was appointed the Emergency Coordinator of the Prince William County ARES® in April of 2001.

In April of 2001, we still had the Twin Towers in New York. Bush II was President by Supreme Court decision (who can forget the dangling chad?), and ARES® as an organization was still doing fun runs and other charity walks because cell phone coverage was spotty at best. I took over from Erv (and I cannot even remember his last name or call sign – anyone, anyone?). Steve Frick, N4OGR (SK), was the assistant, and we were working through the Great Unpleasantness which we would eventually come out the other side, mostly unscathed.

And then, September 11 happened.

Suddenly Amateur Radio and ARES® were a thing. I spent the day in the driveway of my house, with two HTs in my hand and my daughter rolling a jiggle ball back and forth on the lawn. I did not do much because I did not even know where the EOC was, much less what we needed to do there. I would later spend the week coordinating Amateurs heading to help at the Pentagon, myself included. Shortly after that, the head of the communications unit, Captain Fred Miller, called me into a meeting. He had only one question – would I enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with Prince William County. Of course, I said yes. We spend a couple of weeks going back and forth on the essential items, but the MOU was signed. The cadre evolved to become PWCARES. We stood up a website, an email list (reflector) and started recruiting. I appointed my Assistants appropriately. Two from Woodbridge, two from OVH, and two at large. And then work began.

We have participated in County exercises, City deployments, Hospital exercises, emergencies (floods and hurricanes), supported the Marine Corps Marathon Office events, 24-hour runs, bike races, and numerous walks.

In 2011, at the request of Manassas City, we mobilized seventy-seven amateurs from the National Capital Area over five days to support the city at five sites from sun up to sundown, supporting the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run (Manassas). We fed them, looked after their dogs (Emma loved it), and made sure that the messages got through despite incredible summer heat and rotten sandwiches (that the Red Cross provided – we served brisket that day). Volunteer Prince William wanted to crash the party. See our challenge coin page for more details.

We have figured out how to get a signal out of a school, set up multiple Field Day events, and established ourselves as the training ground for Amateurs in Northern Virginia. We have practice message sending on voice, digital, HF, VHF, eieio. We have adopted Incident Command System forms, processes, and procedures. Many of us have more FEMA certifications than active FEMA employees.

And we continue to grow.

I would be remiss if I did not thank my wife, Dianne, KI4FVV, and Hurricane Emma for their support. I would also like to say thank you to my Assistants, who have supported me or told me to sit down. A special thank you to Keith, KM4AA, who explicitly told me to go to bed (after 36 hours of operation during Hurricane/TS Isabel), and Trisha, KI4PCM. She noticed that hypothermia had set in during the inaugural 24-hour run.

My thanks to the PWCARES cadre that has followed my lead over the last twenty years challenged my assumptions and shown how an ARES® cadre can operate. While I do not expect to do this job for another twenty years, I look forward to at least the next five. Unless someone wants to step up and take over for me. Anyone? Anyone?

A Brief History of PWCARES

Who do we support

  • Prince William County (MOU 2003, MOU 2016)
  • Service Authority (MOU 2018)
  • City of Manassas
  • City of Manassas Park
  • Volunteer Organizations Active In Disasters (VOAD), Prince William Volunteer Action Centre
  • Community Emergency Response Team (Manassas/Manassas Park)
  • Marine Corps Marathon Program Office
  • Red Cross (National Capital Region)
  • Salvation Army

Our Qualifications

  • FCC Licensed Amateur Radio Operators (all levels)
  • National Incident Management Courses:
    • 100 (Introduction to the Incident Command System)
    • 200 (Basic Incident Management Command System)
    • 700 (Introduction to National Incident Management System)
    • 800 (Introduction to the National Response Framework)
    • 300 (Intermediate ICS – select individuals)
    • 400 (Advanced ICS – Select individuals)

What have we done?

  • April 2001: David, KG4GIY appointed permanent Emergency Coordinator
  • September 2001: Terror Attacks on the Pentagon, Twin Towers.

Welcome to the Post-September 11 world of Emergency Preparedness and the new Amateur Radio Emergency Service

  • 1 July 2003: Prince William County ARES signs an MOU with Prince William County

To define the relationship between the Prince William County Office of Emergency Services (OES), Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES).

To establish a framework of cooperation and a close working relationship with volunteer licensed amateur radio operators organized under the authority of the ARRL ARES program and the Prince William County of Emergency Services (OES).

  • September 2003: PWCARES deploys in support of Hurricane Isabel
  • October 2003: Regional SET with Maryland
  • 2004: First action plan and quick reference guides published
  • 2004: National Capital ARES Council being informal meetings
  • May 2004: First formal support of Dulles Disaster Drill
  • 2005: First regular meetings of the PWCARES cadre at the EOC
  • March 2006: Patriot Challenge Regional Exercise
  • April 2006: First support of the 24 Hour Ultra-Marathon
  • April2007: Vertex Regional Exercise
  • May2007: Dulles Drill
  • June 2008: PWCARES 3F Field Day
  • March 2009: Where’s Waldo Cadre’s first in-house drill simulating tracking the Strategic National Stockpile deployment.
  • May 2010: Dulles Drill
  • June 2011: CW150 support with Manassas City
  • 2012: Update to the EOP. PWCARES role expands to more than ESF2 support
  • March 2013: Cadre Exercise Abominable Snowmageddon
  • 2015: Support of Marine Corps Marathon Program Office starts
  • June 2016: PWCARES participates in VaNG United Resolve Exercise
  • June 2018: PWCARES 3F Second Field Day
  • June 2019: Three exercises in 7 days. A new record
  • June 2019: Third Field Day (is this a new trend?)
  • March 2020: Lock down for COVID-19 begins

Creating an account with Element.io

  1. Visit app.element.io or install the Element package from Google or Apple. (Note, that some Android devices are not as feature rich in their support of Element’s widgets).
Web App Screen
Web App Screen

Andriod app screen
Andriod app screen
  1. On Android, click Get Started. On web app, click Create Account
  2. Select the matrix.org option.
Web App
Web App
Android
Android
  1. Fill in the username and password you desire. Note that the chosen username may already be taken. Passwords must be strong (The password SHOULD include a lower-case letter, an upper-case letter, a number and a symbol and be at a minimum 8 characters in length.) Use correct-horse-battery-staple to generate a useful password. Then click Next (Android) or Register (Web). Note: My Android client did not ask for my email address until after the captcha dance. It is strongly suggested you provide an email address.
  2. Prove you are not a robot by following the Captcha dance.
Captcha for Web
Captcha for Web

  1. Accept the terms and conditions
Terms for Web
Terms for Web
Terms for Android
Terms for Android

  1. Then check your email for the link to verify your account
Web verification
Web verification
  1. You are now ready to log in.
Web success
Web success
  1. There are a number of public rooms and communities. Please send your username to David, KG4GIY so he can add you to the PWCARES community and our current rooms.
  2. Because Element has an encrypted client capability, when you are asked to verify your account and given rescue keys, store them somewhere safe. You may need them later.

This is an experiment. Thanks for your help.

January 2021 Training

COVID-19 Rolls On

First, a moment of silence for the passing of Steve Frick/N4OGR who passed because of COVID at the beginning of this year.

By now, we all know there is a couple of vaccines available for COVID-19. The efficacy should be good enough, but full dosing will not be complete until middle to late summer for those that want it and can get it. Virginia has moved up to group 1B dosing as of Monday, January 11, 2021. There are still questions about reinfection, the effect of the vaccine on the variants (two that we know of so far (B.1.1.7 and B.1.351) (CDC). Regardless, COVID protocols will remain in effect for the foreseeable future and possibly into 2022. This means masks at all events, six-foot separations, and no exceptions.

Review of 2020

COVID heavily impacted the events in 2020 as organizers scrambled to figure out how to hold them safely, if they were held at all. Even training events were curtailed or canceled outright.

Marine Corps Marathon Program Office

As in prior years, the bulk of our events in 2020 were with the Marine Corps Marathon Program Office. Unlike last year, we only participated in two events – the August round-up of runs and the December Frozen Chosin. My thanks to those who came out and supported those events.

Willing Warrior

We had two events with our friends at Willing Warrior. While not technically ARES events, a large number of us did support them. Andy, KM4JTP organized a lovely day in the rain to help them celebrate their fifth year at the compound with a Corvette Show and celebration (OK, it really only rained from 2 PM on, but it did rain hard enough to soak everyone through to the skin), and the Warrior Bike Ride in September, which featured over 250 riders on three courses. Thanks to all those who supported those events.

Upcoming in 2021

Events in 2021 are in flux and will depend on several things. Many standing events have already been canceled or made virtual.

Marine Corps Marathon Program Office

As of January, the Marathon Program Office offers its slate of events as virtual events this year. The 17.75 Crossroads run will be held and will not be in the Park, but will be on base. They will announce other runs as they get closer and the details firm up.

Willing Warriors

Willing Warriors is planning their bike ride for Saturday, September 11 this year. We will release details once we get them.

Field Day

2021 ARRL Field Day is June 26-27. Greg, KM4CCG has lead our efforts in the last couple of years. We will update the cadre on plans as we get closer to Field Day.

Action Plan Review

Have you looked at the action plan lately? Please review Section 5 and 6, at least.

New Section – Behavior

I will be creating a new section about behavior while on station. I am proud that you have all treated each other professionally and acted professionally. However, to prevent future issues and make sure everyone is on the same page, I will add it.

Badges

The current badge will last through the end of 2021. At this point, the badge printer is not compatible with Windows 10, and I lost all the pictures when the database crashed anyway. We will need to update the pictures once we can be in the same zip code. And once I get a new badge printer.

Training

Training requirements for 2021 have not changed. Please check the training page for details. If you have started an ARES task book and need the pages signed, we will do that once we can be in the same zip code.

AuxComm

There is a tentative AuxComm course set for April. I will have the ability to volunteer one or two people from the cadre. If you are interested in taking the course, please let me know.

WinLink Changes

WinLink appears to be moving the VARA software and abandoning the built-in software. It requires a purchase to use the full features.

If you would like to participate in WinLink Wednesday, please feel free. Also, there is a PWCARES HF subside available. Check the Slack/Element channel #packetwl2k for details on Tuesdays for updates.

PWC ARES WINLINK WEDNESDAY SUBNET
ONLY VARA THIS WEEK P2P
3588 USB DIAL FREQUENCY
++++NOTE NEW CALL W4PWC++++
EACH WED 0001 TO 2359EST

The Big One

For some reason, we had a Statewide Simulated Emergency Test, on January 16, 2021. I am not sure how well it was attended. No details were available beyond the scenario below.

Operation “The Big One” is a scenario of a 7.7 earthquake in the active seismic area of the Mountain Lake area of Giles County Virginia. Major damage would be experienced in Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Pearsburg and Radford Virginia. There is possible damage to the aging Claytor Lake Dam near Pulaski Virginia. This lake is 115 deep, 27.7 miles long and covers 4472 acres. This stands on the New River.

This places all communities along New River down stream from the Claytor Lake at risk of catastrophic flooding. This also includes the Radford Arsenal which employees thousands of people. Virginia Tech and Radford University would experience major damage.

Internet service, phone service and power has been lost over about a 30 mile radius from the epic center of the quake. Communications support will be needed from throughout the Commonwealth.1

ARES Connect

If you have not signed up with ARES Connect, please do so. Rumor had it that it may be going away, but until it does, the site is still viable. I will continue to do double or triple entry.

There is a Virginia Section Website as well. It is operational as of January 15, 2021.

Slack Replacement

Slack was purchased by Salesforce early this year. As such, there appears to be an increasing probability that we will be charged for use of the service. We are looking at alternatives. At the moment we are kicking the tires on a product called Element.

If you want to help us kick the tires, please create an account at app.element.io or download the iOS or Android client. Once you have created an account, please email the EC your user name so I can invite you to join the group. It is not as intuitive as Slack, but it seems OK so far. Please be patient as we take it for a spin.

Recording and Slides

  1. Virginia has not experienced an earthquake greater than a magnitude 5 in its history. http://www.magma.geos.vt.edu/vtso/va_quakes.html

End Fed Wire Antennas

Over in the PWCARES Slack channel, Brian, WC4J and Dan, WA4GSD have been having a spirited discussion about end-fed half wave and other sorts of wire antennas.

It was suggested (hey, even I don’t need to be clubbed up side the head) that some of this discussion should be memorialized (since none of us have taken our ginkgo this morning) for future reference.

First up then, this handy dandy PDF of wire lengths.

Then there are a couple of YouTube videos:

And finally this little bit of information:

EFHW have better efficiency, lower SWR and is more forgiving on bands covered. EFLW tunes most bands but is 15% less efficient. You can look up more at this link on random wire.

Where might you use this? Why, in the field, like Brian did at National Night Out this week.

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

 

 

2016 SET After Action

Set After Action

Radios up and runningOn Saturday, October 1, 2016, PWCARES participated in the ARRL Simulated Emergency Test (SET). The objective of this year’s exercise:

Objectives:
* To provide a public demonstration to served agencies and through the news media of the value of Amateur Radio in times of need.
* To provide training and experience in communication under simulated emergency conditions.
* To provide a framework allowing all District Emergency Coordinators, Emergency Coordinators and Net Managers to evaluate how well they are performing.

Chuck, KA3EHL running the radio room
Chuck, KA3EHL running the radio room

The scenario: A line of powerful thunderstorms, spawned by a hurricane, is approaching the state from the southwest. Strong winds, flood producing rains, damaging hail & lightning have paralyzed most of the counties in your district. Wind speeds exceeded 85 MPH and have produced many downed-trees causing power lines to fail. Estimates are between 85% and 90% of homes are without power. Many roads are impassable due to flash-flooding, tree debris, and downed-power lines. Communications has suffered greatly as well. Downed utilities, power outages, and failed back-ups have crippled normal communications. Amateur Radio operators have not gone unscathed. Repeaters without back-up power are no longer operational.

Derek, KV4SH, waiting for traffic
Derek, KV4SH, waiting for traffic

This gave us an opportunity to practice traffic handling and interact with both HF and digital networks. It also gave us the opportunity to practice with the ICS forms, especially the ICS–213 message form and the ICS–214 unit log.

What worked:

  • No problem checking into the HF SSB net. Good comms with only 10 watts on battery power. Many check ins, but didn’t hear them passing any message traffic. Was also able to copy PSK31 on 7050 KHz.
  • Several EOCs from other counties (W4COV and AD4TJ) then used VDEM frequencies, digital modes and waterfall to perform antenna checks, software checks and other tasks.
  • PWCARES VHF1 (simplex) worked well for passing traffic into and out of the EOC but verbal messages are slow. Effective but slow.
  • Numerous messages were sent successfully by voice

Some issues:

  • Appears that the HF net was really only check-in. There was no formal message traffic passed. While the net-control was able to hear and speak to most all districts and conducted a professional level as net control. The main thrust of the exercise seemed to be to verify that all counties could be reached via HF
  • Some Counties used FLMSG for ICS traffic. Others used WordPad to create and pass exercise traffic. When FLMSG was used, W4COV (not VDEM) asked me to stop and use WordPad instead
  • After the initial 40m check in, VDEM Digital NCS (N1XP) left the net and remained offline for the entire exercise. Nothing heard on 80m. 40m was open throughout the exercise
  • VDEM should set a single procedure for passing ICS traffic—FLMSG or WordPad
  • VDEM should maintain a digital NCS throughout an exercise.
  • Need to improve FLDIGI support at the EOC

David, KG4GIY running the SimCell
David, KG4GIY running the SimCell

In all, the exercise was a success from the PWCARES perspective, although I would say it was less than successful from a section level. Because they did not pass traffic, there was no indication of how the traffic would flow or if the net would be able to handle it. Traffic sent to the section from PWCARES was not transferred.

Thanks to the cadre for their participation and to Andy, KJ4MTP, for the photos.

July Training After Action Report

On Saturday, July 16, 2016, PWCARES conducted our regular training outside at the Prince William County government facility. During this training we did two things:

  • Learned how to remotely control a station using TeamViewer[1], remote control software
  • Practice digital communications with FLDIGI

Remote Control

Chuck, KA3EHL, demonstrated how to remotely control a radio. The use case for this is in case we have to use HF, but we cannot run wires. For example, at the EOC, where the building has to remain secure. There are two parts to the system.

Chuck working the remote station
Chuck working the remote station

 

The first part is the remote system, a laptop running Windows and the TeamViewer software. The second part is the host station, connected to the HF radio, running TeamViewer software, and additional digtial software and radio control softwere. Chuck’s radio, an IC–7200,[2] comes with control software, but you could easily use FLRIG if your radio supports it. Chuck demonstrated sending a message with FLDigi, set to the Olivia[3] transmission protocol.

The HF host machine and HF rig
The HF host machine and HF rig

 

This is possible by setting up a BBHN[4] mesh network. TeamViewer needs a network connection, whether that connection is a Local Area Network (LAN), an Internet connection or a BBHN mesh connection. Chuck had flashed two Linksys routers with the BBHN software and connected each laptop to the router. Each router was powered by its own battery, but could be powered by commercial mains if available. He then sent a message which was received and responded to by Larry, K0LB, and was also seen at Tom, W4PIO’s station on the other end of the field.

Tom, W4PIO, working HF
Tom, W4PIO, working HF

 

Chuck’s full presentation is posted to the PWCARES website in Operating Procedures[5].

Digital Exercise

The second part of the exercise was the sending and receiving of messages using FLDigi. This exercise utilized the standard setup for FLDigi in a VHF environment[6]. We had a couple of team members operating from their home station as well as some in the field. There was a combination of radios and laptops and as we have discovered in the past, just bcause it worked yesterday, it may not work today. Each problem was worked through as it came up, and some problems will require a bit more research.

Members of PWCARES getting ready for the next exercise (Photo: A. Lenhart
Members of PWCARES getting ready for the next exercise (Photo: A. Lenhart)

 

Thanks to those who came out and those who partcipated from home.


  1. You can use TeamViewer for non-commercial purposes for no charge.  ↩
  2. Details about the IC–7200.  ↩
  3. Details about the Oliva protocol from Wikipedia.  ↩
  4. Details about broadband-hamnet  ↩
  5. A quick link to Chuck’s presentation.  ↩
  6. As detailed in Section 6.11 of the PWCARES Action Plan.  ↩

July 2016 Exercise

Prince William County ARES July 2016 Exercise

Version: 20160713–01 v1


Overview

Because of the high temperatures expected, we will move the beginning of the exercise back to 0830 EDT .

If you are not coming out, but are going to be around during our training hours, please feel free to jump on the air and participate as well, either by voice or digital means.

I will bring out a couple of pavilions for shade (and so you can see the monitors) and I will bring out a large video screen as well. Tables, chairs, and gear as I have room.

We will be conducting a multi-pronged exercise.

  • There will be a demonstration of remote control of an HF station by Chuck, KA3EHL
  • There will be a demonstration (and hopefully some traffic passing) of HF digital
  • We will again exercise VHF digital
  • We will practice sending and receiving voice traffic

Remote HF

Chuck, KA3EHL will demonstrate remote control of an HF station, using BBHN. This should be quite interesting!

HF Digital

As part of the demonstration of remote control, we will do some HF digital work. Coordination and details of the HF digital part of the exercise will be hashed out over the next couple of days with the parties who have volunteered.

VHF Digital

We will follow our normal plan of operations for VHF digital (see the Action Plan, section 6.11 for details). This is a good chance to come out and get your gear working, configure your gear, or find out more about digital.

Please make sure you have the FLDigi software loaded prior to coming out, as we will not have reliable Internet connectivity.

Voice work

Please bring a sample ICS–213 form as we will do some voice message traffic work as well!