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Author Topic: Is E-Comm a fallacy?  (Read 14469 times)
KG6SII
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Posts: 31




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« on: February 16, 2017, 08:39:58 PM »

I'm a General-class Ham and former EMT with Search & rescue experience.  For 20 years I've been hearing hams talk about emergency communications, about ARES & RACES being "prepared" for natural disasters, and about a few isolated cases of effective heroics in emergencies.  But I've never seen practical application of emergency communications.

What I have witnessed is a lot of "nets" with people checking in.  I've realized that my HF dipole's range and directionality is at the mercy of the sun and bands.  I've experienced many power outages and earthquakes, but only have been briefly inconvenienced.  I've heard about people with phone outages using Facebook to call for help.

So is E-Comm just a pipe dream?  Is it even possible to be helpful in a practical sense?  How can single HAMs at their homes help with emergency communications abroad?  Are rigidly-structured net control relays the only way to help?  What happened to the legend I have in my mind of copying emergency messages onto paper from 40meters, then calling the message in to someone's family, to let them know they are OK?  Does that exist?  How can we individual Hams be helpful without a rigid and boring structure?
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W4KYR
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Posts: 1582




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« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2017, 12:40:15 AM »

I have seen many accounts of packet radio helping out big time in E-Comm situations. From earthquakes in California to flooded out areas that need to pass along detailed lists and important hazmat situations.

Voice operations cannot compare to packet radio's store and forward and the ability to accurately pass along detailed lists. Packet Radio has capabilities that is still worth using yet. Even in 2017 Packet Radio is still relevant.
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KG7LEA
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Posts: 34




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« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2017, 06:50:36 AM »

So is E-Comm just a pipe dream?  Is it even possible to be helpful in a practical sense?  How can single HAMs at their homes help with emergency communications abroad?  Are rigidly-structured net control relays the only way to help?  What happened to the legend I have in my mind of copying emergency messages onto paper from 40meters, then calling the message in to someone's family, to let them know they are OK?  Does that exist?  How can we individual Hams be helpful without a rigid and boring structure?

I too have a prior career in public safety and came to ham radio out of community preparedness. I am active in my local ARES/RACES group and turn out for trainings and public service events. Emcomm is not a myth. The image of the brave ham hunched over his key or microphone, headphones in place, as the only link to the outside world is cinematic, but anachronistic. Hams still have a role in Emcomm/Public Service.

I fold the two categories together because there is little fundamental difference between setting up a station in a wilderness area (no phones, no cell service, no power, no Internet, no toilets) for an endurance run and staffing a feeding station or shelter in an emergency. Hams that serve as SAG (support and gear) vehicles for marathons and bike rides could just as well be doing windshield surveys after a big storm or transporting critical workers (the guy who cleans the operating room).

In the recent mass evacuation in northern California hams connected shelters and evacuated hams provided situational awareness for traffic (stop and go).

In a major event in my city so many people showed up that all the cellular carriers crashed. No one could call 9-1-1. A ham radioed in a request to the EOC for medical assistance. This was walked over to the fire department desk and they deployed a response. Hams provided real time status of the event as traffic was restored.

In a major snow storm last week, hams provided, at the city's request, real time measurements of snow accumulation (our city does not do snow well). We used daily nets to collect information and keep people involved. This was unusual in that the hams (few of whom were ARES/RACES members) radioed in from home.

Hams might not use ham radios. I was asked by my served agency to monitor the lead unit of a major parade with a commercial radio. I know how to think and I know how to communicate. Our group is volunteers who know radios rather than radios attached to volunteers.

As pointed out above HF might not be as useful as VHF/UHF. Most traffic is local and tactical and there is little that the state EOC can do for my neighborhood. I participate in Emcomm HF nets and I would hate to have my life or the life of my neighborhood depend on HF.

Just from the standpoint of the public service work amateur radio provides an important level of safety, helping bike riders, transporting injured runners, reporting tired swimmers, and making the events enjoyable. These deployments are important training opportunities for individuals. The whole team building experience is critical. The fifteen or twenty licensees I worked with in the mountains are probably the same people I will depend on for The Big One.

The "I'm OK" messages might still have a role, but I think we will be busy with other tasks.
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W4KYR
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« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2017, 08:42:21 AM »

I think you will find the following interesting, this is well documented report on the important role packet played in the 1989 San Fransisco Earthquake.

Part 1

http://www.wolfswords.com/packet/packet_ca1089_1.html

Part 2

http://www.wolfswords.com/packet/packet_ca1089_2.html

Part 3

http://www.wolfswords.com/packet/packet_ca1089_3.html

Part 4

http://www.wolfswords.com/packet/packet_ca1089_4.html


Let me add this, when you see how connected up we were in 1989 and compare that to today. It is sad really, we are really way under prepared today and we rely way too much on the internet. And taking it for granted that the internet will always be there.  An internet and cell phone outage due to a storm, earthquake or flood will come back and bite us. And it has very recently with Hurricane Sandy in NY and NJ.

Sure, we have high speed digital amateur radio with ARDEN and HSMM-BROADBAND but they are limited to line of site and really only active in certain parts of the country. Packet Radio while old as dirt but reliable to pass pure text through VHF and HF links. Today's role of Packet Radio is primarily for ecomm uses.

No E-comm is not a fallacy, if anything it is just the opposite... Please read the accounts below if you wish....


Here is just a sample if you don't want to go to the links.


"One important lesson learned here in the SF area is that packet turned
out to be the most efficient means of delivering H&W traffic and while
I have not heard the numbers from other gateway stations, I am now over
6000 pieces of traffic since the quake and I am sure the total will be
in excess of 10,000 messages handled via packet. This is quite impressive
since this is a tremendous increase in normal packet traffic and the
software, systems, network and operators were able to respond wonderfully
to this flood of traffic.

I have heard horror stories from the guys who were handling H&W on the
HF SSB Bands about jamming and poor organization. I am happy to tell you
that other than the normal RTTY Jammers on 21097 (They don't like us there)
we were able to move tremendous volumes of messages on HF Packet.

LESSON LEARNED :

 1. You need to have a backup Plan. I list this one first because
    we had a plan of sorts but had to make a lot of it up as we went.

 2. Packet is wonderfully adapted to handling very high volumes of
    Health and Welfare traffic during emergencies, but probably shouldn't
    be used for tactical information handling. Voice circuits are better
    and the packet channels get jammed up with H&W anyway...

 3. Because of networking possibilities, packet networks can respond
    better than any other form of Ham Communications to changes in
    the emergency situations. We completely rerouted traffic throughout
    the entire system in less than 3 hours...

 4. We need a quiker way to handle network management bulletins. Maybe
    we need an emergency bulletin designator that EVERYONE supports,
    but is not used except under extreme emergency.

 5. Every ham who uses a packet bulletin board should become familiar
    with packet NTS procedures. Under circumstances like this you
    have to get anyone with a TNC involved to handle the traffic. The
    vast majority of traffic handled locally at N6VV was NOT handled
    by our normal NTS liason people. We were recruiting people off the
    2 meter repeaters to help. Fortunately we had a file called
    HOWTO.NTS in the file section that these people were able to download
    and read. Instant NTS handlers !! Many of the regular NTS people
    were working 24 hours a day in Red Cross facilities or emergency
    centers and never did check in to a BBS. Even with the thousands
    of hams in this area, we did not seem to have enough to go around.
    The emergency sites were recruiting hams from as far away as
    Sacramento to man sites in Santa Cruz."




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Using Windows 98 For Packet...
K1CJS
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Posts: 6252




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« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2017, 12:09:41 PM »

Even though the EmComm saga is not a really a myth, it isn't an actuality either.  Ham radio is just not involved to that extent with real life emergencies.  I too was "EmComm involved" with a local EMA in city government for many years, and although ham radio was used for many mundane activities, we never called out the ham radio club for an emergency activation.  Not once.  

Yes, we (the ham radio auxiliary) were drilled and utilized for meets, walks, shows and so on, but never for an actual emergency.
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KC2MMI
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Posts: 812




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« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2017, 06:31:42 PM »

Don't confuse emergency communications with "health and welfare" traffic.

H&W these days is best served by the internet. Yes, this has been done before and even the ARC is set up for it. Web sites are set up with lists of victims/survivors and arrangements can be made for contacts, whether it is "Dad we're all safe" or whatever. Hams don't need to make phone calls, someone just needs to get internet connectivity in the disaster area--even if that's one ham running MSWORD (or supervising a queue of victims doing that) and feeding the pages to a digital uplink, using FLDIGI or WL2K or whatever. That puts the fingerwork out.

For emcoms, the job is different. I've had a county EOC waiting for field reports from hams--ARES members or not--to call in local situational reports. You need eyes, ears, and the ability to get and stay on the air. With that California dam evacuation, ARES members were asked to staff the area and even when the threat was stood down, ARES was asked to keep one team on site "just in case" everything got pear shaped in a hurry and someone needed to make sure communications could get through.

The role may be changing but the role has always changed. In 1776 "emcoms" meant "Tell Revere to get on his horse and start riding!" Got a horse? No, times have changed. They'll continue to change. Hams and ham radio? I'd say certainly not essential, but with proper supervision and commitment, still very useful.
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K5LXP
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« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2017, 07:41:54 PM »

I have opined numerous times on this forum, "where's the beef"?  If ham radio was such a valuable and instrumental resource, why aren't there more documented cases of anything ever actually happening?   A few check ins on a net or linking repeaters in an area with a storm is hardly a result, but that's what gets written up month after month in the ARES newsletter.

Read QST, and for any given ARES event the extent you read about is some woefully small number of hams deploying to an EOC or shelter, and the accompanying photo is the signature stern-faced ham holding a clipboard, clutching a mic and wearing the League-issued safety yellow emcomm vest.  But, little about what got *done*.  15 hams deploying to a handful of shelters during a disaster which may have affected hundreds of thousands of people, what is that?  This only serves to illustrate that normal communications channels *didn't* go down because if they had, a dozen guys even with the most advanced equipment and modes available in amateur radio would be overwhelmed instantly.

Just in the last few days the League announced it's annual ARES report.  Read it:

http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Public%20Service/ARES/ARES%202016%20Report.pdf

The majority of the report is the "value" of the service based on volunteer hours.  Very little about what of any substance got *done*.   Did amateur radio ever actually supplant or replace critical communications "when all else failed"?  Where are the action reports of manpower and equipment deployed, agencies served, messages passed?  Why would the League leave stuff like that out of an ARES report?   My guess is because there's nothing there to report.  They abstract the activity into time and assign a specious value to it, because they have nothing else.   

With the current state of deployable cellular and computer network equipment, the need for a narrowband point to point service is virtually extinct.  Not that ham radio can't be useful for niche purposes in selective situations, but the idea old fat guys are going to show up with a "go box" and accomplish anything meaningful in a "disaster" is delusional, and a fantasy.   Also a myth perpetuated by the League to justify their own existence and amateur radio as a service.  Hams are just a group of useful idiots that show up at a shelter and count things, or serve as go-fers so that public safety personnel can focus on other tasks.   As hams, who has so little to do in life than to delude ones' self that what they're doing is a worthwhile effort?  If the goal is to volunteer and "give something back", there are numerous legitimate aid agencies that can use volunteers which actually get something tangible accomplished. 

I'd be interested to see a public safety official or emergency manager that wasn't a ham who actually believes ham radio has any value in any emergency plan as communicators.  What I see in the League field organization is the role of EC's and DEC's to reach out to served agencies and "sell" them on the idea of including hams in their emergency plans.  How do you sell a group of volunteers using limited equipment and capability into any role other than "support", if at all?  What does it say about a served agency that would incorporate ham radio volunteers into a safety plan when in the event of a real emergency they would likely be among the affected population and couldn't serve?  Pulling shelter duty or being a go-fer is about all you can assign because hams can't be counted on being there when all else fails.

Direct to the OP's question, there was a time when the dynamic and ad-hoc nature of amateur radio was a useful tool contrasted to the rigid inflexible public safety and commercial communications systems of the day.  That was a generation ago.  Public safety networks now are much more capable and robust than they've ever been, and are now the status quo.   There are portable/deployable networks now that relegate every radio and mode in the amateur service as irrelevant.  Yes, there will be someone that will post a link here about a ham that relayed a "critical" message during a disaster.   But it will be a woefully low number of minor events contrasted to the vast numbers of affected populations in multiple disasters of late.  It can also be said "signal mirrors save lives" but you don't see groups of people selling the idea of incorporating signal mirrors into public emergency plans.  In my view, ham radio and signal mirrors offer about the same degree of portability and utility in an emcomm role.

Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM
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WB6BYU
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Posts: 17053




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« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2017, 08:27:49 PM »

Quote from: K5LXP

...I'd be interested to see a public safety official or emergency manager that wasn't a ham who actually believes ham radio has any value in any emergency plan as communicators...



That actually happened here in Oregon some years back when several coastal counties
were totally cut off by flooding in a huge storm.  Well, not totally cut off:  when
the Governor was meeting with the heads of his departments at the Office of Emergency
Management and asking who had communications with offices in the affected counties,
it was the State RACES officer in the back of the room who kept saying, "Excuse me, but
I have a link to ______ County" when nobody else did.  The path might have been a linked
repeater, or packet, or HF voice, but there was a reason why the state OEM maintained
a ham station.

As a result, the Governor (not a ham) and the county Emergency Managers requested a
program to put a ham station in every County EOC.  Last I heard, there were only 2 counties
that didn't have them:  one because there weren't any hams in the county to run it, and
another due to some local interpersonal issues.


Now, the Oregon also strengthened it's own communication networks, and there are mobile
communications (including ham gear) available for immediate deployment around the State.
So perhaps the chances are less likely of such a breakdown, but the State isn't ready to do
away with hams yet.


But you are correct that the number of cases where hams are needed is pretty small.  And
I'm happy about that, because it means we aren't being plagued by disasters like major
hurricanes (Katrina and Sandy come to mind), earthquakes (ham license plates are free
in Alaska because of the contribution of mobile stations following the big quake in 1967),
volcanic eruptions (several local hams lost their lives monitoring Mt. St. Helens when it
blew because they were manning ATV links providing real-time video), flooding, etc.

And that is one of the things that makes EmComm difficult:  most participating hams will
never actually be needed, but nobody can predict where it will be critical at some point.
It is a lot of work to maintain a trained and organized group of competent hams who are
prepared to show up and get the job done.  There are groups like that, just as there
are (probably many more) groups that verge on ineffectiveness and/or incompetence.


It's a mixed bag, and the effectiveness of the organization varies a lot from county to county
and from state to state.  But, yes, there have been occasions in recent memory where
hams provided vital communications during disasters when that was the only alternative,
and when all the other high-tech approaches failed.
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KG6SII
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Posts: 31




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« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2017, 10:37:57 PM »

Thanks for all your thoughtful replies.  I guess I was just thinking out loud both about my desire to do something useful, and my frustrations.  I'm not a rag chewer like some hams.  I'm an introvert who likes the technical challenges and personal connections that amateur radio can bring.

Part of my frustration is that I don't understand the various methods of Em-Comm.  So I appreciate your replies with information.  My Operating Manual has a couple paragraphs for each mode / method, but like the internet, it focuses on the technical and skips mention of when & why it's useful in a practical way. I'm going to buy the ARRL Public Service Handbook and see if that helps.

As far as picking the most effective or useful methods, a couple of your replies rang true to me.  One is VHF & repeaters.  Another is Packet or HF igates.  Another would be events.  And then there's self-help Em-Comm.

VHF:  I think we automatically identify with our local geographical area, so helping people - even other hams - on VHF voice sounds useful.  It could be for traffic or incident information, auto-patch (do any still offer this?), elmering, and power / cellular outages.

Packet &  i-gates:  being able to send an e-mail via HF is amazing.  Work within the internet but use HF to work around an outage.  Brilliant.

Events:  the most valuable use of ham that I've seen to date is for events in areas without cell reception like relay races or public safety for high-risks sports.  I was a relay for desert buggy and dirt bike races, and without volunteers on VHF radios, lives would have been lost.  We got air ambulances to people that needed them.

Self-Help:  my son and I ride dirt bikes in areas without cell reception, so I can always call mayday on VHF via ham repeaters or public safety frequencies if needed.  That would be very valuable if needed, and likely get much faster help than activating my PLB.

I still have a question or two.  In thinking about how to be most helpful with Em-Comm, it sounds like there are several methods, modes and technologies that can work.  But one huge question, for traffic handling, is:  How can people contact hams?  Sure if embedded in a county office / EOC you literally have a seat at the table; a table that includes other departments with 2-way radio networks.  But how can John Q Public use our services for message handling in a major disaster?  How do they know we're there?  Do we expect them to walk to our shacks?  Do we set-up a lemonade stand on the corner that says "Cell phones down?  Send a message through us - your local hams!"  That seems to be a huge hurdle for wellness checks or emergency messages from the general public.  And what good is a capability if wasted?  As I write this, we are having torrential rain and winds that are knocking out power in California.  How do we even know if cell towers are down?
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K5LXP
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« Reply #9 on: February 18, 2017, 10:32:07 AM »


Quote
I'm an introvert who likes the technical challenges and personal connections that amateur radio can bring.

I'm right there with you.  I've been licensed a few decades now and still haven't run out of fun and interesting things to do.

Quote
I don't understand the various methods of Em-Comm.

What might help clarify things a bit is to define "emergency communications" more specifically.  There's "EMCOMM", which is the formal/organized activity where trained hams work with served agencies.  These would be typically arranged and structured deployments to fill specific communications needs.  Then there's "emergencies", where you're out and about and just need to contact someone for help.  If "EMCOMM" is the goal, the only way you'd get to participate in that is to get involved with a local group and get established and credentialed in their activities.  Anymore with DHS requirements that apply, only volunteers that have the proper training get to play. 

When it comes to using ham radio for "emergencies", one has to understand there's a difference between potential and practical capability.  I have talked to Japan driving down the road in my car, but that doesn't mean I can go out to my car and talk to Japan any time I want.  So to use a ham radio for "emergencies" it's not as simple as having one, turning it on and expecting it to work like dialing 911 on a phone.  Judging by your questions, you've kind of got a sense of that - so where do you go and who do you contact?  The answer is there's no single answer.  It comes down to being familiar with the equipment, the area and what if any networks or stations are available.  If this is somewhat critical, then you may have to have more than one option of bands and modes at your disposal to increase your chances.  You might have to take additional equipment to create your own links and even set up your own schedule of standby operators that will listen for you.  All depends on where you're going and how critical the need.

Quote
My Operating Manual...focuses on the technical and skips mention of when & why it's useful in a practical way.

Seems that especially in the EMCOMM world there's little in the way of standardization.  It comes down to what the users in a particular group are proficient in doing.  So you have some groups that are "high tech" using P25 or Winlink or whatever, and some groups that have a hard time just getting a simplex channel programmed in their 2M HT.  In a perfect world EMCOMM ops could do it all, then apply the best band/mode to the situation at hand but that's not going to happen.  Those methods requiring infrastructure can get expensive and complicated too.  So at the end of the day you get what you get.  From a personal standpoint you do just what you're doing here - asking around to see what capabilities are possible, then seeing if they apply to your situation and what problem you're trying to solve.

Quote
VHF:  I think we automatically identify with our local geographical area, so helping people - even other hams - on VHF voice sounds useful.

It can be.  I enjoy operating VHF/UHF FM very much, both simplex and repeaters.  It's a great way to connect to the local community.  Being the lowest common denominator in terms of complexity it can be pretty resilient and useful "when all else fails", or you're just out in the sticks. 

Quote
It could be for traffic or incident information, auto-patch, elmering, and power / cellular outages.

All the above, though it takes an active user base to create a critical mass of activity.  There are lots of repeaters around anymore that sit for hours or days with no one around, so their usefulness is limited.  You don't find too many repeaters with working phone patches anymore, though technically there's no reason you couldn't restore that function if there's a need.  I think practically speaking anymore if cell phones aren't working, likely none of the rest of the network is either so a phone patch only gets you so far.  But that doesn't mean a phone patch in today's world couldn't be a dedicated radio or IP link to a remote system.  What I did with the phone patch on my repeater was connect it through a patch to my HF rig in the shack.

Quote
Packet &  i-gates:  being able to send an e-mail via HF is amazing.  Work within the internet but use HF to work around an outage.  Brilliant.

EXCEPT, it's not the internet.  The fastest digital mode in ham radio doesn't come close to what you got with an old  dialup modem.  This is the fallacy of using HF for Winlink, "sailmail", et al.  It gets hopelessly bogged down with even a nominal amount of traffic and if the League gets their way, would just stomp all over legacy narrowband users.  Not that it doesn't work or isn't useful for some things, just not as an access point to the internet.  In a "disaster" context the more practical path would be VHF/UHF packet at higher speeds, or 802.11(n) links from the affected area to a point where the network is still functioning.

Quote
Events:  the most valuable use of ham that I've seen to date is for events in areas without cell reception like relay races or public safety for high-risks sports.

I've participated in numerous public service events over the years and agree that hams offer value in both establishing communications, and if skilled, know how to communicate fairly effectively.  Where the idea breaks down though is it may take a dozen hams to run communications for a marathon.  When you read reports of ARES emergency activations you see a dozen hams that participated for events that involved huge regions or even states with hundreds of thousands or even millions of people.   Yet they report they were successful and "they were ready".  For what, I'm not sure.  Even if they were 100% efficient at what they could do, it wouldn't make any difference.  The general public would be better off with signal mirrors than 1 ham per 25,000 people.

Quote
Self-Help:  my son and I ride dirt bikes in areas without cell reception, so I can always call mayday on VHF via ham repeaters or public safety frequencies if needed.

Per above though, it's not 911.  The only way this works is to know ahead of time what's there in terms of repeaters or stations that you can access while you're out there.  I hike/camp in the mountains here and it's pretty much a given the cell phone won't work.  We have the benefit of an excellent statewide linked repeater system and it's a rare occasion you're somewhere you can't hit one of those repeaters.  Every place is different, so if you need to rely on ham radio as a safety link, it's up to you to establish what you'll need to make contact.  If it's especially remote that might mean an HF radio and possibly contacting someone in another state or even country, and getting your message relayed.  As far as getting on public safety channels it had better be a pretty dire situation, as few events qualify as a "bona fide emergency" as defined in the rules.  Plus, you still have to know what repeaters and stations are around you and have equipment capable of accessing their network.  Generally speaking, they're not fond of the public using their systems but I know if I was in dire need, I'd probably do it and deal with the fallout later.  As far as that goes, a lowest common denominator capability even lower than ham radio simplex is the FRS band.  I keep a couple FRS radios in the go-box because odds are greater I'll find someone on those frequencies before I'd find anyone on ham frequencies.

Quote
In thinking about how to be most helpful with Em-Comm, it sounds like there are several methods, modes and technologies that can work.

Depends on how formal you want to get.  If it's "real" EMCOMM, you join the local ARES group, do the training, play in the nets and go out on service events and activations.  You would use whatever capabilities the mission and group decides.  I can't think of a more replete and consummate way to suck all the fun out of ham radio but for some the means justifies the end as far as "giving back".  Another level of participation is basic preparedness, which is where I'm at.  Having capabilities to operate during power outages, operate mobile/portable and being practiced in different modes means I can cobble together anything I may need if a situation arises.   

Quote
But one huge question, for traffic handling, is:  How can people contact hams?
...
 But how can John Q Public use our services for message handling in a major disaster?

Great question.  The answer is they can't.  This is one of the things hams tend to be delusional about.  Even if you're sitting there in the smoldering ruins of the apocalypse, or just a parking lot after a tornado went through and you have a perfectly functioning ham radio you're talking to the outside world with, what do you do with it?  The population around you does not know you exist, and even if they did you're only reachable by those that have transportation, or are close enough to hike over to you.  Coming at it from the other direction, if you take traffic for the affected area how will you deliver it?  How do you find a specific individual in a disaster area?  The answer is you can't, so forget it.  In the case of maybe sending health and welfare traffic outbound from a shelter this has some potential, and of course point to point formal traffic between served agencies.  But as a dynamic replacement for text messaging to and from the public, it ain't happening. 

What happens today and will be more common going forward is deployable networks.  It's far easier and effective to just let people do their own communicating with their own cell phones.  Haul in/drop in some portable cell sites and thousands of people can take care of themselves.  Today, a portable cell site unit is about the size of a shoebox.  Way more effective than a guy with a 2M rig and an ARRL Radiogram pad.  And by extension, the served agencies can use those same networks (and their own separate ones) so the ham isn't even needed at the EOC.  Despite hams' desire to stay relevant this is the direction we're headed.  Yes, cell sites go down but not very many and not for very long.  I recall reading a news story after one of the hurricanes on the east coast the issue wasn't network reliability, it was the user's ability to charge their phones during the extended power outage. 

Quote
As I write this, we are having torrential rain and winds that are knocking out power in California.  How do we even know if cell towers are down?

Cell sites typically have their own generation capability, so unless something damages the site or the link to the network they'll stay going.  For critical sites you can haul in additional fuel if needed during longer outages.  You reach a point of diminishing return though where if things are that bad there's only so much you can do even if you have intact communications.  Calling 911 when the dam breaks after a week of evacuation warnings isn't going to help someone much. 

Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM
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« Reply #10 on: February 18, 2017, 01:42:27 PM »

The plus side of Hams involved in emergencies is that we use our radios all the time, know how to operate them, possibly know how a net works, etc. The Red Cross used to have some telephones with built-in radios but in an emergency the batteries were not charged, the charger was nowhere to be found, the instructions were missing and nobody knew how they worked so they called in hams with their own equipment. The downside of hams involved in emergencies is that fulltime workers in the Red Cross sometimes really don't like volunteers, the various "authorities" that we have to deal with don't understand our capabilities, etc. I'm thinking that Hams should simply build all the necessary infrastructure for emergencies and just offer it when needed. Just take the attitude of "we're here, we pass messages, if you don't like it we won't be here in the future". That might actually work better than all these feel good things with coordination with all the agencies and all.

Lots of hams, myself included, would probably volunteer for comms duties but don't really want to go to all the bogus meetings. I hear talks about emcom from the ARRL and afterwards I have little to no clue as to what all the acronyms meant or what to do next...

I was talking about hams providing some base stations such that people with cellphones could pass their own health and welfare messages via texting with their cellphones a few years ago. Recently somebody announced that they were selling same for $179! We could have those and just set them up in shelters. We don't need any coordination or approval from anybody to do that so long as a control op is present. We could just operate like that until all the "officials" got used to us.
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Novice 1958, 20WPM Extra now... (and get off my lawn)
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« Reply #11 on: February 19, 2017, 12:57:13 PM »

I live in Alberta, Canada, and have been activated or on standby several times as follows:
1- slave lake fire (isolated community, forest fire consumed part of the town, only comms was amateur radio)
2- High river flood- same
3- Fort McMurray fire- we were on standby as the fire consumed much of the city (sat phones worked, we weren't needed
4- our town lost comms due to cut fibre optic cable 3 times in the past 15 years, we were called by city to provide comms between hospital/police/fire/ambulance/city and the populace. Not as serious as above events, but we assisted in keeping services running.

Uncounted community assistance- runs, atv rallies, etc all allowed us to get reasonably good at what we do, and establish credibility with the city.

I don't much care how you communicate- voice/data, hand delivered messages if need be- does it really matter?

I suspect that amateur radio relevance in emergency management is not what it used to be- satellite phones and internet along with underground transmission lines provide an extremely robust communications- however we can still help. Self led teams of people with organic communications and supply are always useful in events. Trick is to be reasonably competent, and not out to "save the world". Help out by doing small, thankless tasks (watching an intersection, flooding areas, etc) allowing a police officer to be released to do more relevant work is a god send for emergency managers.

Cheers- Garry
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« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2017, 06:50:15 PM »

I'll weigh in here with an opinion and some will not like it.  By way of background I have been continuously licensed for 59 years.  I have been a professional in public safety (Police Chief, Fire/EMS Chief, 9-1-1 Director) for over 50 years.  I have served as an EC, DEC, SEC and Section Manager.  I was the first Chairman of the ARRL's Emergency Communications Advisory Committee and I have written 3 books on the subject of amateur radio emergency communications.  As a police chief I founded ARES/RACES groups in the cities where I served.

IMO much of what some consider AR Emergency Communications (EMCOMM) is not that at all.  It is public service communications perhaps in time of emergency and often involves H & W traffic.  While there are some examples of amateurs providing direct communications support on behalf of public safety agencies those examples are few and far between.  Amateurs may supplement the communications of public safety but they seldom if ever substitute for it (i.e. public safety comms are down and amateurs step in and provide the means by which public safety can communicate with each other).

The "Emcomm" role of AR really depends on the sophistication of the "served agencies".  With billions of dollars of DHS grants available for public safety communications equipment from 2003-2011 many agencies which might once have needed hams for communications no longer do.  They have new, robust, redundant systems and are now self reliant.  It is the schools, hospitals, Red Cross, public utilities etc that most need AR Emcomm because they did not get the huge $$$ DHS was giving away for nearly 10 years after 9/11/2001.

Those interested in serving by aligning themselves with schools, hospitals etc that will have an EMCOMM need are providing a service.  Those who simply want a badge, vest, ID, uniform by working with/for law enforcement, fire and EMS are in most (but not all) places wasting their time.  Finally while I am a life member of the ARRL and from the intro you can see I have in the past been very active with the League's EMCOMM efforts I no longer am.  I think the ARRL seized on Emcomm as a way to recruit members.  I think the League misrepresented what real world EMCOMM is all about and I think they raised some very false expectations on the part of prospective EMCOMM operators.  I think they harmed the image of amateur radio in the eyes of some public safety professionals by recruiting and assigning to public safety some ill prepared amateur radio operators who were perceived  more as "wanna be" cops and firefighters than competent communications operators.  Yes there are some examples of amateur radio operators actually doing some real Emcomm work....but much of what purports to be Emcomm is better classified as "make work".
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« Reply #13 on: February 20, 2017, 03:36:29 AM »

Recent tornado in McMinn County TN.

Amateur radio started out at 12:30AM as SKYWARN, forwarding reports to the NWS. Shortly thereafter a tornado warning comes out. Almost the entire sheriff's department on shift that night had deputies that were licensed hams on patrol. We coordinated with them to let them know what was happening where, on amateur radio.

At 1:30AM comes the report a tornado has ripped apart several buildings in Athens TN, one a grocery story, one a tire store, and now a major thoroughfare is closed. At the same time, the sheriff's department looses normal communication. We also find out that for a 3-5 mile stretch along Hwy 307, there are multiple homes destroyed, some which are double wides in a mobile home community.

(Side note, we had NO loss of life, thank God, and did have one baby born. 20 something injured, a few severely.)

At 3AM, RACES is called to man the EOC, with a few additional operators placed in key areas, as the main repeater for ham radio is off the air, and another one is operating in reduced range. In the next few hours, there is no communication between the local utility board, and a shelter is opened. Hams man the shelter, as there is no land line or cell service (tornado took out cell service. It was feared hams may have to fall back to simplex and relays.

In the next few days, several volunteers with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief on site have to rely on ham radio (yes they were licensed) to do coordination between several work sites. Cell service is so poor that even text isn't working.

So, form your own opinion....

From the McMinn Co RACES Coordinator and a TBC Disaster Relief Chaplain.

FYI, it's been almost 3 months, and cell service still isn't fully restored to the area.
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N0IU
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« Reply #14 on: February 20, 2017, 06:13:12 AM »

I think the League misrepresented what real world EMCOMM is all about and I think they raised some very false expectations on the part of prospective EMCOMM operators.  I think they harmed the image of amateur radio in the eyes of some public safety professionals by recruiting and assigning to public safety some ill prepared amateur radio operators who were perceived  more as "wanna be" cops and firefighters than competent communications operators.  Yes there are some examples of amateur radio operators actually doing some real Emcomm work....but much of what purports to be Emcomm is better classified as "make work".

The ARRL absolutely created this state of affairs in the first place. For years, the ARRL has been promulgating their “When All Else Fails… Amateur Radio” campaign. One can purchase T-shirts, coffee mugs, pins, bumper stickers, window decals, banners and magnetic signs (two of which are recommended, one for each side of your vehicle) emblazoned with this phrase.

Take a look at the ARRL’s 4-page “When All Else Fails” (aka WAEF) brochure. (http://www.arrl.org/shop/files/pdfs/EMCOMM%20Broch%20ALL%20PAGES.pdf) The very first thing someone sees when they open it is, “Amateur Radio, often called “ham radio”, has consistently been the most reliable means of communications in emergencies when other systems failed or were overloaded.” Throughout the brochure, other phrases such as, “…ham radio has been called into action again and again to provide communications when it really matters.” and “Hams can operate just fine without other infrastructure.” And while this is true, it is immediately followed up with, “In an emergency, when your family’s lives may be at risk, which communications system would YOU want to have?” And all of this is just on Page 2!

This WAEF paradigm seems to be centered on the notion that any emergency communications plan that does not include Amateur Radio is incomplete and doomed for disaster. Of course any EOC manager will tell you that an effective emergency management system is multi-faceted and does not rely on a single type or mode of communication, but that is not the message the brochure is sending. According to the brochure, “…hams enjoy the security of knowing they can get a message through in almost any situation without depending on a fragile infrastructure that can fail or be overloaded.” All the brochure does is emphasize the “vulnerable choke points” of commercial communications systems and makes it appear as if Amateur Radio is virtually flawless, practically bullet proof and nearly impervious to the ravages of Mother Nature. On the other hand, it makes it sound as if our voice and data systems are cobbled out of tin cans and kite string and held together with baling wire and chewing gum that will be rendered totally useless under the slightest breeze. It even states that the need for electric power is a weak point of commercial telecommunications systems. Is the implication that Amateur Radio equipment is not crippled by the need for electricity in order to operate?

Now you take this brochure and put it in the hands of a well-intentioned ordinary citizen who takes all of this very literally and what happens? Their faith and trust in our commercial telecommunications infrastructure totally shattered, they rush right out and get their Technician license confident it its ability to get through when all else fails. There is no denying that our numbers have been bolstered by the addition of these well-meaning citizens into our ranks, but the problem is that some of them take this WAEF notion too far without looking at the big picture that is Amateur Radio.

Not only does the brochure present a gross oversimplification of the capabilities of Amateur Radio (“By selecting the right frequencies, hams can talk across town or around the world.”), it also over-exaggerates the frailties of our existing voice and data infrastructure. Telecommunications providers are constantly upgrading and hardening their systems so they will become even more reliable and be better enabled to withstand whatever situation comes its way.

No one is questioning the value of Amateur Radio in an emergency or disaster preparedness plan, but it is just one part of an overall plan and is not the “be all and end all” of emergency communications. I understand that this publication is just supposed to be a “teaser” to get people interested in Amateur Radio, but I think it is time for the brochure and perhaps the whole WAEF program needs to be re-evaluated so that it gives a more realistic picture of Amateur Radio’s role in disaster preparedness.
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