Tag Archive: Emcomm

Feb 20 2011

What good is a packet BBS

I was watching the tweets go by on Twitter the other day and somebody ask the question “ What good is a packet BBS anyway”. That makes me a little sad. When I was freshly licensed Packet was the king of digital modes on VHF and above. It was also one of the top three on HF. To understand Packet and where it fits in today we need to look back.

In the late 1980′s and early 1990′s the world wide Packet radio BBS network provided message transfers and file transfers around the globe much like the Internet does today. Using PBBS’s on VHF you could post a message locally and if you knew the address of the person on the other end (ex. kb5jbv@N5LDD.NTX.TX.NOAM) that message could be sent across the county or around the world. This was accomplished by using a text editor on the local PBBS to write the message. Then the message was forwarded over the air to an HF Gateway station. Then sent over the air to the nearest gateway to the destination. Then forwarded by VHF or UHF to the PBBS it was addressed to for pickup up by the person it was intended for.

Now you are probably saying this sounds familiar. Well the old land line BBS’s used a similar setup for forwarding messages and files. Today the Internet serves this purpose for most folks.

Since the hay day of the Packet radio the Internet has come along. New digital modes have been developed that work much better on HF. There are many reasons that Packet is no longer king but the Packet BBS is still a tool that we can and should utilize if we can.

PBBS’s have the advantage of being a place to store information and move written messages without the need of commercial service. You don’t need the Internet or a phone line. PBBS’s can be setup to forward messages from one location to another automatically. They also use the full AX.25 protocol which is an error correcting mode unlike APRS that only uses half of the AX.25 protocol. This make Packet BBS’s well suited at the very least for local Emcomm use. Winlink is great if you an plug it into the Internet. Cell phones are great if the tower has power or the system isn’t overloaded.

I think we need to consider the humble Packet radio BBS. We need to reconsider Packet in general. Being around for a long time doesn’t make it less valuable. I think it makes a case for how good it is.

Of course thats just me.

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Feb 13 2011

What the Heck is NTS?

This is the second in a series of Articles I am writing to try and demystify emergency and disaster communications. This time we will talk a little about the National Traffic System.

What is the National Traffic System?

The Public Service Communications Manual tells us:

The National Traffic System is a means for systematizing amateur traffic handling facilities by making a structure available for an integrated traffic facility designed to achieve the utmost in two principal objectives: rapid movement of traffic from origin to destination, and training amateur operators to handle written traffic and participate in directed nets. These two objectives, which sometimes conflict with each other, are the underlying foundations of the National Traffic System.“

OK, what does all of that mean? Well the NTS has a structured net schedule which operates in a cyclic fashion so that written message traffic can move through the system in the quickest possible fashion. The NTS has also developed a set of tools that standardize messages as they come into the system and to speed them through the system. Fledgling net controls can also hone their skills by calling one of the semi formal NTS nets so they will be ready when it really counts. Now most of that stuff can be kind of dry and may be the focus of a future article but for now lets go with the basics.

Who should handle traffic?

All amateur radio operators should learn the basics of how to handle NTS message traffic using the standard ARRL Message form. It doesn’t matter if you move traffic on phone, CW or by digital means. NTS messages follow the same format on all three. The format that is most commonly used is the standard ARRL radiogram but that may not always be the case. This format has been used for NTS messages for longer than most traffic handlers can remember. If you look around on the world wide web you will find that there are many message forms out there but they all follow the basic radiogram format. The Red Cross health and welfare form is just a radiogram with the Red Cross header on it. The ICS-213 is different but can be adapted to serve.

Why should I learn to handle record message traffic?

Sometime, somewhere you may find yourself in a position where you don’t have telephone or cell phone access and you will have the need to move information from point A to point B. It may just be a message to tell loved ones that their family is ok and will contact them soon or it could be a list of supplies that are needed at a hard to get to shelter. If the need for operators is for those that have traffic handling skills and you have not practiced you may find yourself sitting at the staging area playing cards for sticks of gum instead of participating in the recovery operations.

When would NTS be activated?

Well being part of ARES the National Traffic System activates any time ARES is active and can activate independently of ARES if the need to move written Message traffic should arise. During the recovery efforts in California after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 NTS moved health and welfare traffic out of the area for weeks. The same can be said for hurricane Katrina. In both cases NTS operators moved traffic for other organizations also like the Texas Baptist Men, Salvation Army, and the American Red Cross just to name a few.

Well where do I find these NTS Nets?

The best way to find NTS nets is to ask some of the folks you talk to on the air. Normally you can find at least one traffic handler in the bunch. We are lucky here in the DFW area, we have two local traffic nets everyday. If you don’t know anybody that can point you to an NTS net then go over to the ARRL website and check out their free net directory. Most NTS nets can be found on 40 Meters during the day and 75 Meters at night. There are even one or two on twenty meters.

OK, how do I become a traffic handler?

Well you the truth of the matter is you already are. Being a member of NTS is like being a member of ARES. Because you are a licensed amateur radio operator you are a member of NTS. The question is are you willing to participate?

Its pretty simple

  • familiarized yourself with the tools (Radiogram, ARL numbered radiogram, etc.)
  • find and participate in a few nets (Local, State, Regional)
  • develop your skill by self training and on air training
  • maybe pass a message or two
  • have a good time

Amateur radio is not “Just a Hobby” sometimes we have to do a little work to accomplish our goals.

That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun while we do it.

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Feb 06 2011

What the heck is ARES?

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of articles to try and cover the basics of the three heads of public service communications. ARES, NTS, and RACES all have their strengths and weakness. Hopefully these articles will help you to understand how these three heads function as one to cover our emergency and disaster communications needs.

What is ARES

Well the Public Service Communications Manual (PSCM) defines ARES This way.

“The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment for communications duty in the public service when disaster strikes.”

This means that ARES volunteers have registered with their local Emergency Coordinator (EC) so the local EC knows what the ARES volunteers capabilities are. not only the equipment the volunteer might bring to a communications event but the training and personal operating skills that the ARES operator brings to the table.

Who can be an ARES member

Once again the PSCM tells us that:

Every licensed amateur, regardless of membership in ARRL or any other local or national organization, is eligible for membership in the ARES. The only qualification, other than possession of an Amateur Radio license, is a sincere desire to serve. Because ARES is an amateur service, only amateurs are eligible for membership.”

So any one with a valid amateur radio license is welcome in ARES and every radio amateur operator should register as an ARES station. Showing up and volunteering as an ARES station while the disaster is in progress is problematic at best. Without that simple act of preregistration with the EC. You might show up with all your gear ready to operate and find yourself running messages from place to place or running a fax machine and never even take your radio out of your bag.

When would ARES come into play

That is the best question.

On April 19th 1995 a group of folks set off an explosive device in front of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City destroying most of the structure and leaving 168 dead and over 800 injured. Within 15 minutes SATERN was on the air with an ARES net. That net laster 363 hours (15 days and 3 hours) using only amateur radio operators.

On February 1st 2003 The Shuttle Columbia exploded over California and came to rest in east Texas. If it had exploded just a minute or two earlier it might have came to rest in Dallas. Army Curtis AE5P EC for Nacogdoches had an ARES net up and operating in south east Texas within 5 minutes of the explosion. That net lasted for weeks and used ARES operators from all over the country.

This is just a couple of examples, but you get the idea.

Why do I need to be an ARES member?

Or more to the point “I live in Dallas county why would I want to join ARES?”

You’re right in Dallas county RACES is considered the primary volunteer emergency communication service. That is because the served agencies in Dallas county like to know in advance what resources are available to them in an emergency. RACES accomplishes this in ways that are desirable to our local served agencies. RACES is beyond the scope of this article but we will get back to it in a future article.

For now think of it this way. RACES is Emergency communications. ARES is disaster and recovery communications. The event that requires emergency communications is not always over when it stops raining. You don’t just look at your spotting buddy and say “ storms over, Lets go get a hamburger. Too bad about those houses.” After the event there may be a need for communications for shelter operations, damage assessment, and so forth. This may require more operators than RACES can supply. That is when we need the resources of ARES.

How do I become an ARES Member

Thats the easy part. Get your hands on a copy of FSD-98 the ARES registration form.

Fill it out and mail it to your local EC. That would be Craig KV5E. Or you could hand it to him at a club meeting. You can get a copy of FSD-98 from Craig or go to the ARRL website and download a copy. They have it in PDF and Word format. If you have trouble putting your hands on a copy get in touch with me at kb5jbv@gmail.com

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Jan 13 2011

Response to a Question on Emcomm Training in my part of the world

A while back i was listening to some of the local Emcomm leadership moaning about the fact that people weren’t joining RACES and ARES in this area and the ones that were involved weren’t very effective. So in my normal fashion I chimed in with my two cents worth. After all i am a RACES ARO and an ARES AEC plus I like to give my opinion on things. It went kind of like this.

Concerning some recent conversations I have had with other Emcomm folks in the area I have been doing some think and this is how I see it. We have a need for promotion of awareness and training in emergency / disaster communications in the Mesquite, Balch Springs and the rest of south east Dallas county area.

I think our primary goals should be.

  1. Raise awareness of our local hams and recruit those that have an interest in emergency / disaster communications
  2. Raise awareness of our served agencies concerning our capabilities and ability to provide support in time of need
  3. Develop and present training starting at the basic level and continuing through the advanced level targeted at our specific needs, goals, and abilities
  4. Develop drills and operating opportunities which will allow our team to practice the skills learned from training

Raise awareness of our local hams

This is pretty easy. We just need to talk up Emcomm when ever possible to as many people as possible. Find out who is in RACES / ARES by asking them then identify why they are not with the Emcomm group and address those issues. Those of us who have been in sales will not find this difficult. For those who have not been in sales it is not difficult to develop this skill. After addressing any issues an individual may have it shouldn’t be difficult to get them to submit an ARES registration form at the very least.

Raise awareness of our served agencies

This might be a little more challenging since only a few of us have direct contact with our served agencies people on a regular basis. Those who do have contact might spend some time bringing our capabilities up in conversation and make sure they are aware of new things that come on line. It is my understanding that we are written to the cities emergency plan. It probably wouldn’t hurt to find out what is expected from us in that plan.

Develop and present training, Develop drills and operating opportunities

This will take a little work. We will need to identify in what areas Training is needed most. We will need to develop training for all aspects of emergency and disaster communications but we need to work on our weak spots first. Once we have put together training presenting it should be fairly easy. We can use the club newsletter in the form of articles. The newsgroups in the form of articles. The on air nets for training and drills. The club meeting for presentations. Things like HAM radio in the park, Field day, Transmitter hunts and so on as hands on drilling and training.

A few more things

Currently our Emcomm group is a group of individuals that come together during nets. The concept of “TEAM” is not in play. How we will fix this problem I am not sure. It might also be easier to concentrate training if we move toward a team oriented structure. Relay team, DF team, etc. We would still have to be able to get the team members to Elmer those outside the team. Cross training is something we need to keep in the plan.  These are just a few thoughts, what do you guys think?

A lot of these points seem really simple but you would be surprised how often they are missed by Emcomm leadership. I guess it is like a finger pointing at the moon. If you pay to much attention to the finger you miss all that heavenly glory.

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