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[Articles Home]  [Add Article]  

Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station

from Joseph Lawrence, K9RFZ on January 10, 2011
View comments about this article!

"Editor's Note: Due to the popularity of some of eHam's older articles, many of which you may not have read, the eHam.net team has decided to rerun some of the best articles that we have received since eHam's inception. These articles will be reprinted to add to the quality of eHam's content and in a show of appreciation to the authors of these articles." This article was originally published on: 10/26/2007





Grab And 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 N1JAO on January 10, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I liked this the first time it was published. Good photos too-thanks!

Robert
N1JAO
 
RE: Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by K4FH on January 10, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Looks great. Does ARES groups no longer do drills on HF? We have a go-kit meeting at our local club and most kits only had VHF/UHF capability. Not much HF.
 
RE: Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KC9GMX on January 10, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
ARES is organized at a county level. An ARES operator on one side of the county only needs to communicate tactical messages to the EC or AEC on the other side of the county.
HF wouldnt do much good to get a tactical message 10 miles, but 2m/70cm is perfect for that.
HF is used for the people in charge to get a message across the state to a state relief organization.
The majority of ARES operators in a real disaster will only need to be communicating to local officials, not not directly to state officials.
This is how chain of Command works, and you will learn this if/when you get NIMS certified.

It appears that the portable station built in this article is for a rapid response of an ARES operator to a local shelter, staging area, hospital, police department, fire depart, county highway dept., EMA office, etc.
 
Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W3TWG on January 10, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
What a fantastic write up!

Now, I wonder how much solar panel it would take to keep that battery filled if the radio was only used on low power 90% of the day.....?

Again, great write up!!!
 
Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W9AWX on January 10, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I have the D-star version of this radio which I think uses the same amount of power as this setup does. I am working on building a grab and go kit for emergency communications. What kind of time does a battery like this last? Would i be better with this or 2 6v batteries connected together?

Thanks

Gregg
 
RE: Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by N8NSN on January 10, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Well done.

Nice and organized.

I especially liked the clip board bungee'd under the lid.

A similar set up like this was cool to see: an FT857d in an old water tight Navy Flight case. He used 2 18 AH Gel Cells, a regulator, and a set of several small solar panels. All of it fit nicely in the Box as the rig (857d) was mounted inside the lid and all other accessories fit nicely in the lower portion, in dividers. The builder used High Density Foam inserts he cut himself from sections of 6 inch thick stock he acquired at Jo' Ann Fabrics.

For antennas they were all home brew wire antennas, a sling shot hanger, and all that. Those all fit in the box too. The outside dimensions of the box were about 18X18X15 or so. Batteries, Solar Panels, the rig, and the antennas... All in one set... Neat. Wish I remembered his call sign. An article on it would be very nice. HF/VHF/UHF all in one box. Only thing not in the box was supports. That's where a set up needed improvised, but the sling shot was there.
 
Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KD4LLA on January 10, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
A simple search of the Forums will answer most questions about how long a 12v battery will last or what size solar panel will it take to keep a battery charged. Does anyone every look up anything on their own nowadays?

Mike
 
RE: Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W7WIK on January 11, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I built something similar several years ago.

Mine consists of a wooden box that I built with hinged front and rear doors (hinges at the bottom). Using the mobile mount that came with the radio I mounted an FT-857 inside. On the hinged front door I mounted control head for the rig, and on the hinged rear door I mounted a RigRunner DC distribution box. Inside the box with the rig I mounted an external speaker, SWR meter, LDG YT-100 tuner, a switch for the SWR meter light, and tune button for the antenna tuner. Also on the front door I have a galvanized steel plate where an iambic paddle with a magnetic base resides.
I will also be mounting a a soundcard interface to use it for soundcard digital modes like PSK-31 and VHF packet.

For HF pactor (using Airmail email software) I connect the station to an external TNC and a computer.

With this box all I have to do is put it on a table, open the front and rear, connect an antenna (or antennas), connect it to a power source, and operate.

The power source I use is a group 27 deep cycle lead acid battery and a couple solar panels to keep it charged.

 
Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W5ZIT on January 12, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Here is some info on a GO Box I used during a flood in Ruidoso, NM.

<http://sbarcnm.org/forum/index.php?topic=101.0>

73 - Jim W5ZIT
 
RE: Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by W7WIK on January 12, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Here's a picture of mine.

http://i956.photobucket.com/albums/ae42/axelwik/P1000377.jpg
 
RE: Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KG4RUL on January 12, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I took a slightly different tack:

http://www.kg4rul.info/GoBox.pdf

I chose to modify a box made for transporting a stereo system or (collective gasp heard here) a CB radio. I also chose not to make waterproofing a needed attribute. I choose to not stand out in the rain/heat/snow/sleet while operating.
 
Re: Grab & Go Emerg Comm Rig  
by VK5CQ on January 13, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Stereo? OK... why not... :-)

Maybe I can save you some space (if not weight) in your Go Kit package:

Yaesu dual-bands (eg, FTM-10R & its newer, APRS-equipped counterpart) actually have a 3.5mm (mini-phone) stereo Input jack.

Plug-in audio from your stereo, eg, turn-table, Zoom H1 handheld recorder, MP3 player, etc. and these Yaesu radios can amplify it (to levels about what you'd expect from a vehicular PA system).

The FTM-10R also lets you use its Mic to make announcements over the "PA system" (using speakers capable of sinking 8 or more Watts of audio power).

Let us know if you've tried (or try) this addition.

PS The FTM-10R is pretty sturdy, but also darn heavy, for its size. Maybe it's best used in your mobile-comms vehicle or van.
 
Re: Grab & Go Emerg Comm Rig  
by K3JPC on January 17, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for the original article and the other plans in the comments. This has motivated me to build one. I have an SKB case I can modify. I have the Yaesu FT-8800R with control head mounting bracket and the external speaker. I probably won't be as fancy as some of you folks have been, I plan on removing the control head, and mounting the radio with the back facing out of the case. Then I can attach the antenna and if I want to switch from the speaker to a headset, I'll just swap plugs. I also have a 115 AH battery in a case like in the OP.

I am curious why I need the SWR meter. I am using only this radio and a properly set up copper J-pole on a PVC mast I put together. Is an SWR meter a necessity or is it optional? I do not have one now. I'd rather make a RigRunner my next purchase. Plus the SWR meter complexifies the go-kit.

If you can't tell, I'm a noob. ;)
 
Re: Grab & Go Emerg Comm Rig  
by WQ1O on January 17, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Nice work from many. I love building station kits. It kind of blends the emergency communications game with the ham builder. I've built several ones for different missions. I always learn something by seeing great builders at work. No matter how far you get, there is always someone who has solved an issue you had with their designs. Thanks for sharing, guys!

A couple of mine below:


http://img262.imageshack.us/i/img0959bh7.jpg/

http://img20.imageshack.us/i/img1894nc.jpg/
 
Re: Grab & Go Emerg Comm Rig  
by K3JPC on January 17, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Ooops. I forgot. I was also going to mount the regular radio brackets to the case itself using fender washers with rubber grommets made from sheet rubber packing from the plumbing aisle at HD. I will have a foamed in box area in the bottom for multi meter, rollup j-pole, manuals, microphone, etcetera. I did not want to fiddle with an internal frame and face plate system.

Maybe not a pretty, but lets me get inside the thing easily. Thoughts?
 
Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by K9RFZ on January 18, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
To the poster who asked, "Why the SWR meter?"

Good question. With all the connect/disconnects that occur during field operations, I like to have an immediate diagnostic that power is going where I expect it to go. Also, I use this box to teach Technician license classes. As a demonstration and get on the air tool for students, the cross needle SWR meter lets me discuss topics surrounding power (forward/reverse), antenna matching, SWR, and power losses. It's a teaching aid. Others may want to replace the SWR meter with a digital interface for portable packet. That's the fun of building in ham radio. Make yours fit your needs and have fun.

Joseph, K9RFZ
Indiana Section, ARES EC
 
Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by K9RFZ on January 18, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
To the poster who asked, "Why the SWR meter?"

Good question. With all the connect/disconnects that occur during field operations, I like to have an immediate diagnostic that power is going where I expect it to go. Also, I use this box to teach Technician license classes. As a demonstration and get on the air tool for students, the cross needle SWR meter lets me discuss topics surrounding power (forward/reverse), antenna matching, SWR, and power losses. It's a teaching aid. Others may want to replace the SWR meter with a digital interface for portable packet. That's the fun of building in ham radio. Make yours fit your needs and have fun.

Joseph, K9RFZ
Indiana Section, ARES EC
 
Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by WA1UFO on January 18, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I like it!
 
RE: Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by K9ZF on January 23, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article Joseph!

I also enjoyed the links to pics by all of the folks commenting!

I've been planning something along this line myself. Mine will center around my FT897D, and will be used for various portable operations as well as RACES / ARES...

Thanks for the article,

73
Dan
--
Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Clark County Indiana. EM78el
K9ZF /R no budget Rover ***QRP-l #1269 Check out the Rover Resource Page at:
<http://www.qsl.net/n9rla> List Administrator for: InHam+grid-loc+ham-books
Ask me how to join the Indiana Ham Mailing list!

 
Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KC8OYE on January 25, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
i think it beats my design ;)

as mine weighs about 75 lbs lol

I used a Motorola MaxTrac (25w on 136-174mhz)
7A linear power supply
and 2 11AH 12v sealed lead acid batteries.

 
RE: Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by KF6GZX on January 27, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I agree, ARES/RACES is a net control scenario where short-haul communications are used. VHF/UHF works well for flat or rolling terrain, but you will appreciate having HF capabilities when you are in a deep box canyon (or similar). I have set up a similar "go box" with a Kenwood D-700 and an Icom IC-706 (w/RigBlaster). Both radios are setup for voice and data... The data setup can save a lot of time (if implemented properly).
 
Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by N2YDC on February 1, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
The setup is awesome, I'm going to work on putting one together. The only thing I'll do different is use a Weza foot pedal recharging power source. www.freeplayenergy.com/product/weza





 
RE: Grab And Go Emergency Communication Station  
by VE7TL on February 15, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
VHF may be OK in flat country but here in Southern British Columbia we are surrounded by mountains and we need NVIS HF when Simplex and even repeaters are blocked by hills and mountains. ARES here usually communicates with a combination of VHF, UHF and HF.

Paul, VE7TL
 
Re: Grab & Go Emerg Comm Rig  
by KC2UST on February 19, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
WQ1O You'r links are fulse and full of viruses and trojens, mailware and all kinds of spyware . remove you'r self from this site. You should be reported to the FCC. This site should bann you from it and report you. you are no more than a thief behind a computer keybord.
 
Re: Grab & Go Emerg Comm Rig  
by W7WIK on February 19, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I didn't have any problems with WQ1Os links. They were nice pictures of his portable setup. No viruses on the website that I detected.

 
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