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[Articles Home]  [Add Article]  

Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station

from Joseph Lawrence, K9RFZ on October 26, 2007
View comments about this article!

Grab & Go Emergency Communication Station
By Joseph Lawrence, K9RFZ

I believe when the FCC defined the basis and purpose of the amateur radio service it listed “Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications” as the first purpose to emphasize this role for amateur radio operators as a top priority.

I joined the Fort Wayne Radio Club after volunteering as a safety communicator during a public service event. I hoped to find other amateur radio operators who take the emergency communications responsibility seriously. At the same time, I recognized that my HT might be fine for small public service events on foot, but it would be nearly useless if a regional emergency occurred. I began the project of building a portable and robust emergency communication station that could serve as a mobile or base station depending on the assignment.

Before any equipment was purchased, I considered several desirable design features I wanted in the portable station.

· Lightweight enough to carry in one hand
· Durable enough to resist weather and heavy handling
· Interoperable with other emergency communication stations
· Enough ERP to cover all of Allen County on simplex
· Dual band coverage on local repeaters
· Provision for external speaker and headphones
· Flexible mounting arrangement for equipment to allow later modification
· Ability to monitor station SWR and external battery capacity
· Easily accessible over-current protection
· Digital mode capability (optional)

I reviewed several web pages of different ARES/RACES groups across the country to see what equipment they recommended and were using. A few sites showed designs for portable communication stations and so I culled the best ideas from several sites and molded them into my final design.

I settled on the Icom 208H dual band transceiver for the heart of the station. Several ARES groups listed this transceiver among their equipment. In particular, one North Carolina County owns two units and has plans to buy two more in 2007. I figured if they didn't like the IC-208H, they wouldn't be buying two more.

Icom 208H Transceiver

This transceiver covers 2m and 70cm with a no frills display and simple programming sequences with 500 memory channels. The control head detaches and the interface cable is included. It packs 3 power settings of 5W, 15W, and 55W on 2m (50W on 70cm wow!). Since I planned to mount the transceiver in a box, provision for cooling the unit was a concern. The IC-208H has a cooling fan mounted on the rear connector panel so no auxiliary fan is needed. Also, the IC-208H is packet capable at 1200/9600 BPS.

For the station box, I chose the largest hunter’s dry box, the SPUD 7 made by MTM Case-Gard. This box was used in two different ARES “Go Boxes” described online. I bought the special order orange style to stand out in an emergency situation. This box is 18.25” x 13” x 15.25” (L,W,H) with an O-ring seal around the lid. A flip top storage compartment built into the lid can hold small tools, pens and pencils, or the rig microphone. It has a sturdy carrying handle that stows recessed in the lid. The lid hinges are durable plastic and can be released to completely remove the lid from the box

MTM Case-Gard SPUD 7 Dry Box

To meet my design requirement for flexible mounting options, I chose to build a form-fitting frame using 80/20 extruded aluminum sections. I’ve used this material in other projects and found the T-channels convenient for structurally interlocking the frame and also allowing adjustable mounting of components. A #10 square nut slides easily without rotating in the T-channel of the 1” x 1” 80/20 stock. Proper length #10 screws can capture the square nut and pull it tight against the channel top. ‘L’ and ‘T’ brackets connect the frame members on the underside.

Square Nut in T-Channel 80/20 Frame

I used four bolts through the box sides to fasten the frame in the box. Wing nuts on two of these bolts allow for field removal so the frame can be pivoted up for underside access. I purchased the 80/20 extruded aluminum and all aluminum parts for this project from the Metals Supermarket . This store is a metal builder’s paradise since they have many small end drops and no cutting charge.

The Icom 208H has a rear jack for an external speaker. With the transceiver speaker buried in the box, the forward facing external speaker is a necessity. I used a Radio Shack 8 ohm external speaker, but I also wanted a jack for headphones. A heavy duty toggle switch allows me to select the audio output. The toggle switch, ¼” headphone jack and SO-239 bulkhead connector are mounted on an aluminum plate fastened to the 80/20 frame using the square nut and slotted T-channel method.

I selected an MFJ model 862 3-band SWR power meter because of its small size and rear mounted SO-239 connectors. Mounting the meter to the 80/20 frame presented a challenge because I couldn’t use the square nut and T-channel method through the meter case. I used some angle aluminum to fashion a bracket. I drilled 5/8” holes with the proper spacing in one leg of the bracket so the two SO-239 connectors on the meter back slipped through the holes.

SWR Power Meter Bracket

The other bracket leg can be mounted to the 80/20 frame using the square nut and T-channel method. The meter is held in place against the bracket when the coax PL-259 connectors are mated to the SO-239 connectors.

Power for the station is supplied by a 12V 75Ah deep-cycle UPS battery connected through a short red/black zip cord pigtail. To maintain interoperability, I used a 30A Anderson Powerpole connector observing the proper polarity orientation. The 30A Powerpoles have replaced Molex connectors as the standard power connector for ARES groups across the nation. Instead of using an inline fuse tucked away inside the box, I purchased a 12Vdc 20A manual reset circuit breaker sold for marine applications.

The circuit breaker chassis mounts to the aluminum plate next to the power pigtail and interrupts the positive polarity cable. I installed a pair of banana jack plugs across the power lines to use as a test point for battery voltage. A small multi-meter stored in the box lid compartment will monitor the input voltage.

Powerpoles, 20A Breaker, Banana Plugs

The box lid interior is criss-crossed with plastic ribs. I saw this as an opportunity to mount bungee cords to hold useful operating aids such as operator’s license, message forms, technical guides, and maybe a city/county map. I found a plastic note keeper that can double as a clipboard at Office Depot. It fits the lid ideally and doesn’t interfere with the IC-208H front panel when the lid is closed.

Clipboard Storage

I have field tested my portable EmComm station during two public service events. A portable dualband J-pole atop a 20 foot push-up mast with tripod base has served in both instances to get the signal out well. In my van, I use the station with the box in the upright position, but it can be laid on its side for tabletop operation with the lid removed or hinged back. If the FWRC ever has an ARES/RACES drill or a real emergency and my assignment calls for more than an HT, now I’m better prepared with this portable grab and go emergency communications station.

Completed Portable EmComm Station

Member Comments:
This article has expired. No more comments may be added.
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W6OWH on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Good job and great pictures of your set up. I like the box. I use a Colman 16 quart ice chest for my grab and go IC-703 HF radio with a 7 ah battery and dipole HF antennas. Nylon rope for support is in there too. It works for me. Thanks for taking the time to do a quality write up.
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by NX5W on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
This is one of the "cleanest" set ups I have seen. You took enough pride in your work to make your work look really professional.
73', Darryl
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by K1CJS on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Nice Job! A couple of things, however. The 75 AH battery could be considered overkill for just a 2 meter/70 cm rig--unless you were looking to use the setup continuously for quite a few days--upwards of a week. A couple of 7 AH batteries could be mounted inside the radio case and would make the setup really portable. A cable with Anderson power poles and battery clips could be used to recharge that internal battery right off a vehicle battery or with the appropriate connectors, any other power source. Also, the SWR/power meter is nice to have, but really not necessary--at least not for a VHF/UHF setup.

Since this is a setup for emergency use and you have picked a larger battery for power for the setup, you possibly should have also mounted a light in the cabinet, a LED type, possibly on a gooseneck or on a swingout arm would give you extra light for the work area (top of desk) which may be needed in some situations without drawing the battery down much at all.

Taking everything into account, however, you've researched and done your homework--and have come up with a good setup for your needs as you describe them.
_______________

On a side note--the one thing that can be possibly said, not about this particular setup but about all of them, is that every situation is different, needs are different and the wants of the builders of these kits are different. Is it any wonder why some will think this particular setup either excessive or deficient in some ways?
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W0CEH on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
This is an interesting variant on a portable box made by Jim Sandoz (N2MPT). His version, using the same SPUD7, may be seen at http://losdos.dyndns.org:8080/public/ham/RACES-box.html.

I have patterned my own version after his, using an IC-706MKIIG as my radio so as to have the ability to communicate beyond the local geography if needs be in an emergency. Because Jim and I incorporate both battery and AC power supply inside our boxes, our versions are a bit heavy (I estimate mine weighs about 40 pounds), but it is an all-in-one package versus having to cart around an external power source.

I do like Joseph's ability to have a clip board inside the lid - I can't do that because my radio face is too close to the opening of the box. On the other hand, the SPUD7 comes with a tray that, with some careful cutting, fits around the radio, allowing me to carry some extra items such as a repeater book, pens, and a few tools.

Joseph - great job. Whether you patterned your box after Jim's or not, this is just another example of the creative juices at work within the ham community.
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KB2DHG on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Fantastic job on the construction of this portable station.
It gave me an insentive to build my own for my club.
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KC0UKR on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Great job and write-up!

I especially like the idea of the metal channel,in fact I went to the website and found there is a branch store mere blocks from my house. I use Uni-Strut for all types of fabrication and it is noce to see an option like that for this scale job.

I have some of these spud boxes too but have decided they are not tough enough for my tastes.I noticed in the real cold weather they become somewhat brittle and if slammed down or dropped during this time I think they would break.
On the other hand they are inexpensive and readily available.

There is a lot to be said for Lightweight when you do have to "Grab and Go".
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by K9RFZ on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for the many kind comments. As pointed out in the article, I made copious use of other peoples' ideas to arrive at my finished design. Jim Sandoz' (N2MPT) design was a significant influence during my decision making. As they say, "imitation is the highest form of flattery".

Oftentimes I read articles in which the author has access to special machine tooling or design software. That's great if you have that opportunity and talent. The CAD drawings on Jim's page and the machining effort for his power and cable interface panel are an example. I wanted to build something and develop a design that other people could copy with no more than handtools or maybe a drill press. Even though I have access to a vertical mill, I limited myself to a drill press which many amateurs probably have available within their clubs. I wanted to provide a pattern that could be duplicated without high tooling costs or extraordinary machining capabilities.

I arrived at the Metals Supermarket with a shop list of all the parts I wanted and their finished dimensions. The manager cut all the parts to dimension herself with a tolerance of about 1/16". Remember there is no cutting charge at the Metals Supermarket. She did the hard work for me. All I needed to do was round some edges with a hand file and drill holes in the right places. Some ready-made brackets from the hardware store hold the frame together.

I hope this project inspires others to improve upon it and keep the KISS principle alive.

Joseph, K9RFZ
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by NE3R on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Pretty good. I would have went with an Icom IC-706MKIIG or Yaesu FT-857D to get HF. The good news is that it looks like you could change mobile rigs in the future without too much trouble.
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by K4RAF on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
"Self contained"?

I clearly see 2 boxes & I know 1 weighs around 50 pounds... So much for "Grab & Go"...

All this for VHF/UHF?
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KE5OFO on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for this well thoguht out project. I am currently in the process of trying to build a station box simalr to this and have been trying to find out all the information that I can.

My goal is a portable box that can be set up in less than 10 min and contains a full station. I like to set out on my patio when on the air and plan on not only haveing it ready for emcom use but as my main station as well. I will probably intragrate 3 radios. One will be some sort of HF rig, one will be a dual band rig and one will be a commercial Motorola Maxtrac set up for digital work and APRS. The Motorola rig probaby will not be permanatly mounted and may go into a seprate box as it will also be set up as an IRLP node at the home QTH. I would just grab it if the situation reqired. It would be nice if I can get a small flash based Linux one board computer going for this as well but thats on down the line.

Kerry
KE5OFO
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by NT4XT on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Wayyy cool. The 7Ah battery idea could be very useful. 3x 7Ah batteries, smaller, lighter, works just the same, queue them up through a charger...
But that honking big battery would prove useful if incorporating a lap top for logging and/or digital, or when the 2m/70cm unit gets changed out for a 706mk2G, 7000, 703, or 857D. But then the toolbox might have to get taller, and quick deployment HF antennas as well, which can be relatively easy with a coupler and some wire.
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KC0YVW on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Joe, this is pretty nifty, you certainly have my curiousity piqued. I may try something similar based on your project. Good ideas and a very snazzy setup.

73
Tom
KCØYVW
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by K9RFZ on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
K9RFZ responds:

To K4RAF;
I appreciate the help the forum moderator provided in formatting and posting this article, however he is to credit for describing the station as 'self-contained'. Your powers of observation about seeing two boxes are astounding. I specifically chose to separate the power source from the station box for the added flexibility. As some have suggested, I CAN attach a smaller 7Ah battery or use my Samlex 1223 switching PS if AC is available at the incident scene. When I use the station in my Forrester, I have a direct connection to my starting battery and a NMO mounted Austin 500C dualband whip for quick connection. I chose NOT to bury a power source inside the box so I could easily configure the station as the situation dictates. This keeps the station box lightweight and yes still very much 'Grab and Go'.

To NT4XT;
Thanks for your comments and we apparently think alike. I own an IC-706MKIIG and I can tell you that the box IS big enough to accommodate it. It only requires an extra 3/4" between the aluminum front panels and the box depth isn't a problem if you use a right-angle pl-259 adapter between the rig and jumper to the front panel bulkhead connector. I would replace the SWR power meter with a manual tuner with SWR meter built-in. In fact the MFJ-945E that I own will fit nicely.

To all posts that commented about the 75Ah overkill;
I applied the rule of thumb formula suggested by W0IPL for sizing a battery for emergency communication support.

"At least 1 Ah battery capacity for each Watt of output power to cover a 12 hour operating shift"

I assumed worst case of needing all 55W on 2M possibly operating simplex and if I needed to serve as NCS, then I wanted some capacity to spare. In a pinch, I'd rather have more capacity rather than too little to get the job done.

Joseph, K9RFZ
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KB3JUV on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Very cool project. Check my portable go-kit out:

http://www.kb3juv.com/winlink2000project

73,

Justin, KB3JUV/AAT3OT
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KI4WAF on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Joseph,

I think your choice of a large battery is right on!

I run my 2M rig off of a 7AH gel cell and it doesn't last very long, even on low power. Simplex will likely require high power. More battery = more options.
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by ONAIR on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Nice set up, but you haven't included provisions for any extended/long term emergency. How do you stay in operation over the long haul if the power grid goes down, and you can't get fuel for your vehicle or a portable generator? A hand or foot powered generator (or solar or wind) should be included as part of an emergency package. Also, an all mode combined HF, VHF and UHF portable unit would be a better choice. Power grid disruptions could knock out repeaters, phone and internet access, so you may find yourself in a situation where HF might be the better (or only) radio communications option.
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by K1CJS on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Justin,

When you say that battery doesn't last very long, what exactly do you mean. Specify a time period and let us know if that is with constant transmit. One of the original purposes of those batteries were in fire alarm control panels. Those panels were designed to work for at least 24 hours on standby (battery) power and still have enough energy to sound evacuation signals in the event of fire. In the case of your battery, either you're run it down with constant transmitting, you've got an old used battery or you aren't fully charging it.

I have a four battery power pack, new batteries, 7 AH x 4 = 28 AH, and it lasts more than a day running a 45/10 watt 2 meter rig at full power--not a net control set, but a simple shelter/incident radio, averaging three or four transmissions per hour--but left on constantly.

As far as the project here, Joseph is using his set for a more transmission intensive unit (net control, something he didn't mention in his article) so I can see where he wanted a larger battery.
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W7NWH on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Nice job, another fine "Shack in a box"!
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by N6AJR on October 26, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
About the only thing I would add is a small ( dashboard sized 12 inches X 5 inches) solar panel, which can mount to the top of the lid and keep the battery topped up for ever in standby , just park the box where it gets a couple hours of sun everyday, and it keeps the voltage up when using the radio...

http://www.4lots.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=155
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W4LGH on October 27, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
I have had a grab and go box for sometime now. Mine is built on a Craftsman Tool box, has 12Vdc cigar lighter accessory sockets on it, built in 12vdc/16amp gel-cell, for complete portability.

The bottom of the toll box contains many accessories, several types of antennas (wires) and a mini-MFJ 16010 antenna tuner for a random wire. The tool tray
has all the necessary tools to do minor repairs and/or adjustments, and includes a 12vdc soldering iron!! (always needed to install/re-install plugs)

It was originally built around my Yaesu FT-817 all mode/band radio, but now supports my FT-857 100w all mode/band radio. Why stop or settle for 2Meters, if we every have a REAL emergency/disater, you'll need long distance communications!!

I use mine for field operations, lazy times when the weather is good, and of course if there was an emergency. Picture of my "Go Box" can be seen on my website... http://www.w4lgh.com . Always ready for a problem, but also a blast to operate out in the field.

73 de W4LGH - Alan
http://www.w4lgh.com
EX-ARES EC / EX-ARES / EX-ARRL
A Totally Free thinking, Independent Amateur Radio Operator!
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W4VR on October 27, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Very good article on emergency comms...sounds like you had your ducks lined up before you sent it to eham. You may also have an application for your emergency box on watercraft. In the far North Maine woods where I live at this time of the year, VHF/UHF would not do me much good so we would have to rely on HF comms when all else fails...cell service is generally not available here either. Other than HF a satellite phone is about the only thing that works in this part of Maine when you lose power. I have a 9 kW (peak) generator with a transfer switch ready to activate in case I ever need it, along with 20 gallons of fuel which would last me 48 hours. The generator will allow me to run 1 kW RF output and also run a few lights, well pump, furnace and refrigerator. Typical power outages in this region don't last more than 15 hours.
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by AE7VT on October 27, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Joe, you've done a great job with your project. It is well within most any ham's budget to make and it can be re-arranged, expanded or changed to suit most anyone's equipment. I was not familiar with the SPUD boxes but, they do look like they would have many uses for portable gear.

I use a large deep-cycle battery as well since I never know how long I need to be on the air. I debated using an IC-706MkIIg as well and decided that I would need HF comms very rarely so, mine is set up for just 2m. However, mine is built into a larger surplus, steel ammo can. In many cases, I can just set the mag-mount antenna on the box and operate but, usually it has to be mounted outside so I have the means of attaching it to just about any surface.

The surplus ammo can makes it extremely rugged and watertight. While it's a little heaverier that way, it can take a beating. Sometime I may pull it apart and do an article on it as well.

Thanks for a great presentation!

Paul - K7IN
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W6TH on October 27, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
.

A Totally Free thinking, Independent Amateur Radio Operator!


I like that Alan.

Live Free or Die, death isn't the worst of evil.


W6TH

.:
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W8KQE on October 27, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Excellent article! I've had an HF 'grab and go' station for a while now, which consists of an IC-718 w/hand mic and CW paddle, a couple of PAR 'EndFedz' wire antennas (they hear and get out very well), 35 foot length of RG-8/X, mini Swiss Army knife, and thin polypropylene rope (and a fishing weight to throw rope over a tree branch). Fits nicely in a medium sized padded hard camera case. Power source is a 'Prestone' car battery charger/power supply which has proved ample on 'backyard' or camping x-peditions, and lasts for days i'f im only running 20 or 30 watts, and doing mostly listening. Thinking of getting a portable solar panel as well, to help keep the unit charged if necessity ever warrants this. Does anyone know where I can find a good selection of smaller, portable solar panels?
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by NA0AA on October 27, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
I keep toying with the all in one grab and go box and I'm always stymied by several factors - among them, if you include everything you might as well buy a small trailer to carry it in....

My favorite is my VHF/UHF portable station - I got a free WWII radio tuner in the portable cabinet - you have seen these the upper section has a drop-down front, the bottom a battery compartment and a spares compartment. Heavy, steel box.

I managed to shoehorn into this unit [2] 12 amp/hour 12 volt gel-cells, a 3 amp regulated power supply [charges the batteries and allows mains operation when needed] and a Yaseu FT-8800 dual band dual watch radio. I put a nice CHEAP diamond antenna onto the HUF bulkhead fitting on the top of the case or connect any other appropriate antenna and I'm self contained for nearly 24 hours.

The trouble is that the beggar weighs about 40 lb. At least few people try to walk away with it. It's main job is supporting public service events where it looks very official.

For HF, I have a small radio, autotuner, battery pack and connecting cables in a small padded carry bag, plus a Buddipole. It's lighter and smaller than the VHF and can feed off the VHF battery if needed. If I have AC available, the 3 amp power supply keeps me on the air as long as required.

If I know I need more power, then I have another 34 amp-hour battery I can grab if needed. I carry what I'm likely to need.
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by N6HPX on October 27, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
great idea and figure good idea, I would store a could of radio's instead of just the ic208. Possibly a HF rig like the yaesu qrp.But still a great idea
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by VK4DGG on October 28, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
I can't get any smaller than an electronics case, battery box like the one you have pictured and an aluminum tool case. The electronics case carries a complete FT897 station. Internal batteries, charger, the matching power supply, (in case the mains are on or a gen set is near)the battery charger and a PLC 100 antenna from BushcomCo, 10 thru 80 no tuner needed. The battery case contains a 50 amp hour gelcel. The aluminum tool case has 2 flexible 20 watt solar panels and charge controller. That is as close as I can come to a "grab and go" and still feel I am actually ready for rapid deployment. I actually built up this set when I lived in North Carolina. If anyone wants pics I can email the to you

73's
Mark
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by AB0RE on October 28, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Nice write up!

I'd suggest looking into a battery booster inline between the battery and the radio. You could then run the battery down below 11V with no ill effects (like a reduction in power output in the radio).

Here's a couple good units:
http://stores.tgelectronics.org/default.htm
http://www.mfjenterprises.com/products.php?prodid=MFJ-4416

Thanks for your contribution.

73,
Dan / ab0re
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by N6HPX on October 28, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
I recall one similar to this but the radio's were sticking out, and was pretty neat
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W4FFM on October 29, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Joe;

What a great article... the pictures really help out a lot as well. One comment... I started out with the Icom IC-208H, but switched to the Yaesu FT-8800R only because it had the additional capability of cross-band repeating, which I felt was possibly of some potential benefit in a disaster situation.... the more flexible the better (everything we do in emergencies consists of some compromises).

I love the frame of extruded aluminum channel that you use. I do have a question about heat build-up (a big problem here in South Carolina): Have you had any problem with that? Have you considered a fan in the side or top of the box to help move air out of the box (or have you found that it's not necessary)?

I like the idea of a battery booster and the solar-cell that other hams have mentioned, and as long as we're throwing out ideas (that, hopefully, add to your article, but in no way detract from it), I've often considered an amp to boost the output in situations where an extra hundred watts could make a big difference.

Again, thanks for a great article.

73, Carl

EC Richland Co., SC
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by K9RFZ on October 29, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
I have considered adding a battery booster to the setup. On full power, I can watch the input voltage drop below 12V and I have to wonder if I'm not losing rig output. I'll be looking for the MFJ model suggested at the upcoming Fort Wayne hamfest.

Heat buildup in the box hasn't been a problem. I operated as the NCS for the Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Fort Wayne. It was unusually hot at 88F that day and the two hours of operating didn't cause any problems for the rig. The placement of the openings in the box front provides air flow similar to a chimney. Air is drawn in below and you can actually feel a draft leaving the top when the fan is running. On the IC-208H, the fan activates as soon as you key the mic and remains running for about a minute after releasing the mic.

Joseph, K9RFZ
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by N0EW on October 29, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Good article and great pictures! You did a great job both in selecting useful images and of sufficient detail to really highlight your copy. They really brought home some of your comments. Thank you for sharing this with us. I really like the tip about sizing the aluminum channel to accept square bolts. Now that you have pointed it out that seems obvious -- but it hadn't occurred to me! ;)

A possible follow-up article could be about your power supply options. I agree flexibility is important. You quickly mention several power options, and mods made to your vehicle in one of your replies to the group. That too may find an interested audience. I for one would like to see what you have found useful in that department.

This article has certainly found an interested audience. I have followed most the links offered by others, so thanks to the others as well.

Hope you never need it in an emergency ;)
But we all know better, 73,
Erik n0ew
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KE5ICG on October 30, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Joe,

Great article! I can't wait to build my own. JMHO, but this project is one of the best I have seen on eHam. The ICOM you are using was not really on my radar screen, but I will definitely check it out the next time I am in Memphis. The pics, and the technical detail are things I will rely on a lot when I build my own. I'd say you really nailed it here.

And as for those who might not like certain things about your EmComm Station or would re-design things, all I can say is -- get busy and let's see your creations.

73 to all -- Ray ke5icg
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by DA2KI on October 31, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Joseph,

Your "field station in a box" is a great design and reflects the fact that you obviously thought out the options carefully before putting it all together.

I can see the flexibility of having an external power supply to lighten the weight of the radio box itself. It makes sense to adjust to the actual situation at hand and bring in a marine battery if it is needed. If not, then it can stay out in the vehicle where it remains available should the local AC power fail. With the extra room of the SPUD-7 box I would be tempted to add a small switching-type DC power supply to the setup, since most of the time commercial AC power is available, so this would be your primary operating configuration. You could use a pig-tail cable from the internal power supply to plug into your existing power input socket on the front panel. If the local AC power fails - simply unplug the power supply pig-tail cable and plug in the external marine battery as before. I also agree with the recommendation to obtain a battery booster such as the MFJ-4416 to extend your available operating time. Plus, I too prefer to have overkill on the backup battery. I never heard anyone complain that the county officials decided to shut down the shelter before they had a chance to run their radio battery dead. No one wants to run out of battery power before they are released from the communications support task.

I agree with your choice to include some test equipment with the field station package. The ability to double check the antenna SWR and battery voltage at the shelter/field location is vital. As hams we should be able to troubleshoot basic problems in the field, instead of being only at the "black box" level (If it works-great! If it stops working-I dunno. Maybe we can call Radio Shack for help?)

You might consider adding a small dummy load, such as the MFJ-261, to the items in the tool tray portion of your box. As a troubleshooting tool a dummy load can be very helpful to isolate the problem to either the radio or the antenna system. It can also be used on the output of the radio whenever an external antenna is not attached. This is to protect the radio from accidental transmissions without an antenna. Sometimes when it is dark and everyone is in a hurry to get operational, the guy inside is keying up the radio trying to hit the repeater before you have finished putting up the outside antenna. It helps to goof-proof the field station against possible unintentional damage. Your panel mounted SO-230 chassis connector also gives you the option of attaching a dual-band rubber duckie antenna with a RF elbow connector if you are in town and near the repeater. Switch the radio power output down to 5-watts and use the rubber duckie antenna if it is a workable option. If you don't need to put up an outside antenna at the shelter/field location this option eliminates the coaxial cable run that non-hams always manage to find and trip over (no matter how much you flag it or mark it).

The headphone jack is a great feature. Many operating locations (shelter, EOC, field location) can be busy places with lots of folks talking in the background. The headphones allow you to concentrate on the radio traffic without having to turn up the volume. It also provides privacy for the radio traffic. Sometimes it is not your position to release information, you just pass the information on to the responsible public official. If the meal delivery is going to be late, it is better for the shelter manager to make the announcement - rather than a bunch of angry people hearing it directly over your radio. It also helps to discourage people from hanging out by your radio, blocking access for the public officials that need your services. Reporters tend to like to hang out at the radio shack to get a news scoop. Don't let the news leak come from you! Refer all reporters to the Public Information Officer (PIO) whose job it is to give press releases. It is not our call as to what information is released to the public.

Many field stations I have seen were designed without the benefit of actual operational experience. I have seen hams put together very impressive emergency communications stations in large Chevy Step-vans or trailers. Lots of money, time, and labor are spent creating multiple operating positions inside the trailer or Step-van. Unfortunately, the DC-to-daylight operating positions are located side by side, so the chatter & noise from one position intrudes onto the other. During the great 1997 Red River Valley flood in North Dakota, we learned the hard way that the HF and VHF/UHF stations need physical separation and headphones if they are going to co-exist in the same room. If possible, just 4-5 feet can make a big difference.

Plus, too often there is excessive focus on having HF capability in a field station. Experience has shown that the key element is VHF / 2-meters. Most traffic is "local" in nature and is best handled on 2-meters (or 440 MHz if you have repeaters). Information that needs to leave the local area is best passed to an HF "hub station" via a local 2-meter network.

Our club had a field station in a box with HF/VHF/UHF available via an ICOM IC-706 and separate dual-band 2-meter/70-cm radio. We found that trying to operate all three functions would quickly overwhelm the single operator. We had 440 MHz simplex operation for short-range on-scene communications back to the communications trailer. We used 2-meters to relay information back to the County EOC. While we had HF capability, the complexity of setting up another antenna and trying to monitor another radio band in addition to VHF/UHF was not worth it. Protocol dictated that any information that needed to leave the local area (such as to the state EOC), needed to be routed back to the county EOC for approval by the County DES official. From there, the hams at the county EOC station could use their HF radio to pass on the traffic (or pass it to a local "hub" station equipped with a Yagi beam on a tower at someone's home if the disaster did not impact them). We had HF capability if it became absolutely necessary, but found it best to keep it simple at the various field stations and just run the local 2-meter ARES net. The County EOC station became the collection point for all information from field observers. As the net control station, the County EOC station ran the show anyway.

The use of HF/VHF/UHF radios also creates a "single point of failure". The use of separate HF and VHF/UHF field stations helps to prevent this. As previously mentioned, it is also impractical to attempt simultaneous operation on HF/VHF/UHF with one radio or one radio operator. Some commercial antennas being sold for field operation, such as the "RADS 9-11/A" are designed for these HF/VHF/UHF rigs. Unfortunately, to change HF bands you have to lower the antenna down to the ground, change the band resonators, and then hoist the antenna back up. Since the VHF/UHF antenna is part of the entire antenna package, ALL radio communications is down while the antenna is being reconfigured for a different HF band. Separate HF and VHF/UHF field stations, with separate antennas, ensure that at least the local 2-meter link back to the EOC remains operational while HF band changes are being made. For this reason I like your field station design. If HF operation is actually needed from the field location, then set up the separate HF field station. But if not needed, leave the extra equipment out in the truck. Bring in only what equipment is needed for the situation. Shelters can be busy, crowded locations where space is at a premium. Reduce your station "foot print" to what is actually needed. Don't be a space hog - impress folks with how you can do so much with just a simple "radio in a box" field station.

To avoid drilling any holes in the SPUD-7 box, you might consider a technique used by Jeff Schneller, N2HPO. He is very active with SATERN and designed a HF/VHF/UHF station inside a SPUD-7 box without making any holes in the box itself. The trick was using Plexiglas spacers to mount all the radio equipment together. The design is similar to those crossed pieces of cardboard used to protect glass Christmas ornaments in a box. Everything attaches to the Plexiglas. The ends of the Plexiglas panels ensure the equipment is spaced equally on all sides from the inside of the SPUD box. The completed equipment assembly is then slid into the SPUD-7 box. All external cable connections are made directly, with the box lid open (same as with your design). Unplug the cables and shut the lid, and the equipment is protected from the elements. The bonus is that during hot weather, the radio package can be slid out of the SPUD-7 and set up on a table by itself for improved air flow. (This also makes it easier to troubleshoot equipment problems as well. Just slide the radio package out and look at the backside connections.) Jeff first started out drilling holes in the SPUD boxes to mount various radio items, but his latest design evolved into the Plexiglas spacer panels to solve the problem of keeping the weather resistant properties of the SPUD box intact when the lid is closed. It takes longer to design and build a radio package such as this, since all the gear is attached to itself and the Plexiglas panels, but the results are very impressive.

Again, good job on your field station! It is a simple, practical design that will work under field conditions. I hope my comments were helpful.
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by N6HPX on October 31, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
I like the setup of this and the way it was designed but quite certain many here will probably modify it just a bite. Like adding a different radio or changing something to fit there needs. For me I would probably need 2 boxes. The first to fit all the radio's I plan to use and the 2nd to be used for any extra antennas or spare parts I might need. Inclduing a soldiering iron of some sort.
I mainly use HF in my area at home and my 2nd rig is mostly on UHF where only a few repeaters are located. So for me I would use a good HF rig for this maybe a qrp or something similar. Possibly Icom or Yaesu and if room have the usual extra stuff go into the first box.
Still a good concept.
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W7STS on November 2, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
What an extraordinarily clean job!!

I had an occasion to use a friend's (WB4ZKA) box which is really similar to yours and I was dark in the room where I was running the net. He had a jumbo red LED to light the meters, but nothing to light where I was writing.

Don't know if you considered that or not, but the easy solution is one of those goose-neck LEDs attached to the panel.

Again, fabulous job with the installation!!!!!

73's
Rick Aldom
AZ Section SEC
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KB1THH on November 4, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Great job Joe! Very well thought out and presented.
I like the nice flexable design of your project as it gives a great start for others to expand on and costomize for their own needs and uses. As seen in comments on your article, you have got peoples creative juices flowing with good ideas/thoughts and suggestions based on their needs and use. This helps everyone.


Thanks Joe

Joe

 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by WB4DHC on November 4, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Sarge,
Do you have any links to Jeff's plexiglass installation? I didn't find it via Google.
Danke,
RObert
WB4DHC
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KG4RRN on November 5, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
This is more like it, I see this becoming the standard ARES Go Kit Box someday.
Now I need one to put my SWAN in ....eheheehehheh
can't fit it .......ehehehehehe....won't fit in box
oh well, back to the drawing board....
Bob
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by DA2KI on November 6, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
The first web-site that talked about the "radio box" project was:

http://www.ares-sv-d4.org/district4/linksd4.cfm

The authors, Steve KB1DIG & Kim KB1GTR, showed pictures of their "radio box" project. But I also found mention of Jeff Schneller, N2HPO, and his "go box" designs for supporting the Salvation Army SATERN program. The web site:

http://www.hudson.arrl.org

showed his earlier designs where, like most people, he had drilled holes through the sides of the MTN Case-Gard brand "Sportsman's Dry Box" to mount the radios and accessories. I then contacted him directly and asked if he had any other advice or more recent "lessons learned". Jeff sent me pictures of his latest project, where he used the much larger SPUD-7 box by MTM to hold an Icom IC-706 HF mobile, LDG auto-tuner, external speaker, switching-type power supply, Anderson PowerPole outlet strip, and cooling fan WITHOUT drilling any holes in the box.

Two pieces of Plexiglas, cut to the height of the SPUD-7 box, act as spacers to hole the radio package centered inside the box. Everything is bolted together, as well as to the Plexiglass. The complete package is then slid into the box, where it fits nicely without the need to drill holes in the box.

The previously mentioned web site did have a picture of an earlier design using a clear plastic storage box. In this case 6 mobile radios, arranged in a vertical stack, are sandwiched between two Plexiglas panels that match the height of the storage box opening when it is laying on it's side. External speakers were then attached on the outboard sides of the Plexiglas panels.

Obviously in this case the VHF/UHF mobile radios were all nearly identical in width, making it fairly easy to attach the Plexiglas side panels and create one solidly bolted together radio "stack" that could be slid in and out of the storage box.

From that project, Jeff moved on and created the HF "Go Box" using the SPUD-7 box. The vertical stack starts with an Alinco DM-330MV switching power supply on top. On the very bottom is the IC-706 radio. The power supply and HF radio are nearly the same width, so they set the width between the two Plexiglas panels. Between them is the very rectangular LDG auto-tuner. The auto-tuner is bolted to the left side Plexiglas panel, but due to it's length, pokes through a opening cut in the center of the right hand Plexiglas panel. The right side of the auto-tuner is against the right side of the box. The left side of the auto-tuner is flush against the left Plexiglas panel, even with the left sides of the power supply and the IC-706. There is room on the far side of the left-hand Plexiglas panel to mount a square shaped external speaker (from an EF Johnson business band radio, but similar in design to the Motorola HSN4018B external speaker). The left side of the external speaker is against the left side of the SPUD-7 box.

I have tried to insert a picture here, but cannot. The earlier SATERN "Go Box" designs were displayed at the 2003 Ham Radio University. More recent pictures from the 2007 Ham Radio University are available at:

http://www.hamradiouniversity.org/photos.htm

If you look at the 6th picture down from the top, you will see several SATERN "Go Boxes" on display on a shelving unit. A man with a cammo pattern hat is looking up at the HF "Go Box" I have been describing.

Another distant view is available at:

http://www.hudson.arrl.org/pages/hamradiouniversityreview.htm

Scroll down to the 8th picture (bottom right picture) and you will again see the various SATERN "Go Boxes" on display, with the HF version on the top shelf. The earlier design with the 6 VHF/UHF mobile radio stack in the clear storage box is also sitting on the top shelf next to the newer SPUD-7 HF project.

While these pictures are better than nothing, they lack the detail of the pictures sent to me by Jeff, N2HPO. But it does give you a basic idea of what I am trying to describe. Just remember the main features: no holes in the box at all, and the entire radio stack can be slid out of the box in one piece - everything is bolted together. The Anderson PowerPole outlet strip and 12-volt muffin fan are attached to the Plexiglas spacer panels, behind the radio equipment (not visible when the stack is slid into the box.

In my opinion, this is the best "Go Box" design I have seen yet. Again, the functions of HF and VHF/UHF are separated into separate "Go Boxes". While the IC-706 can cover the VHF/UHF frequencies in a pinch, it's main mission in this situation is to provide long haul HF support when needed. The separate VHF/UHF FM radio "Go Box" covers the local 2-meter / 70-cm local communications needs. What sets this design apart from all the others is the lack of any holes drilled in the orange plastic SPUD-7 box. The weather resistent nature of the box is not sacrificed during the conversion to a radio "Go Box". This feature is something everyone should strive to include in their own design, no matter how they settle on their personal preference for the specific radio equipment to be contained within.
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by K5LDL on November 7, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Excellent article! Great details, well written and well shot! Now to get my box going! I've been toying with the idea for some time. I have the power supply, the radios and a tuner... Now all I need is a box and few other items!

Having seen your setup, I think I might try to do the same, using yours as a guide. This may make a great project for the winter months ahead. May also make the presentation at a future club meeting a pretty good one too.

Thanks for a great article! It looks as though it's inspiring other hams to do the same! I hope all the guys who are "critiquing" your effort show us exactly how'd they do things by building their own and showing us their finished projects and articles!

Best of 73!

Luis KD5KJD
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by K9RFZ on November 8, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
After seeing so many replies commenting about the loss of weather resistance due to drilling holes in the SPUD case sides, I had to run an experiment. I disassembled the electrical gear from the SPUD box, removed the side bolts, placed a neoprene gasket washer around each bolt on the box exterior, and then replaced the bolts. I inverted the box so the handle was on bottom, tied it to the drain plug in the bathtub and filled the tub with water until the bolts in the box were submerged. Two hours later, I returned and retrieved the box from the tub. Guess what? The box interior was completely dry. Unless you routinely work EmComm while snorkeling, then I wouldn't worry about the weather resistance of this design.

I'm glad this article has generated so much interest in EmComm portable stations. I don't claim this design is the end all solution and I look forward to seeing the idea carried forward in improved designs. However, when you do choose to share your new designs, please put the same effort into the write-up as you did in the construction. This will improve the quality of the Eham articles and promote amateur radio more effectively.

Joseph, K9RFZ
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by AA9YA on November 9, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
Whackers!!!!
 
RE: Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by DA2KI on November 9, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
It's good that you had second thoughts about the weather resistance of your orignal design. Now that you have disassembled it and added gaskets around the screws you have proven that the case can be made weather resistant regardless of the number of holes drilled in it. This simple step has solved the problem.
 
Grab and Go Emergency Communication Station  
by 9K2KQ on November 13, 2007 Mail this to a friend!
hi ALL :)
www.alwaker-q8.net
 
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