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Author Topic: The ongoing push of Ham Radio to EMCOMM  (Read 83310 times)
W3DBB
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« Reply #105 on: March 13, 2013, 07:25:17 AM »

This really isn't the point of the question I ask 7 pages ago though.  That question was, and is this.  I fail to understand the push to get people a ham license, which is hobby radio, to go mimic commercial part 90 radio.  How many people that got licensed due to involvement in SAR, CERT, ARES, SkyWarn or any other specific Emergency group that are active, or even interested in radio as a hobby?

So now this push to get folks licensed for no other reason than to use hobby radio for what amounts to commercial purposes, I have a problem with it.

So why does this push persist?  I hear all this hubbub about the FCC taking away ham allocated freqs and either selling them off or reallocating them to part 90.  I personally don't see it happening, but if a large portion of the licensed hams are simply using the ham allocated bandwidth for stuff that is really part 90 use anyway, then why wouldn't they?
The persistent push is to create demand for equipment manufactured or sold by businesses that buy advertising from ARRL. Instead of passively offering advertising space for sale and leaving it at that, ARRL helps the ad purchaser sell new equipment through QST editorial copy that drums up interest and participation in emergency communications. It ensures a steady supply of new equipment buyers ready to pony up.

I don't necessarily agree with this. ARRL is doing what they feel they must in order to stay in the black. It's hard to see this as anything but a short-term strategy. The long-term cost could be the deleterious effect this has on the Amateur Radio Service, which the ARRL is there ostensibly to promote and protect. Sort of like we have to tear this village down in order to save it  Huh .
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AA4PB
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« Reply #106 on: March 13, 2013, 08:23:02 AM »

I think the "push" is largely about gaining support for amateur radio from non-ham organizations. Whether it is auctioning off frequencies, or BPL, or antenna restrictions, there aren't enough hams to influence gov't agencies without some outside support.

I seriously doubt that EMCOMM is ever going to generate enough additional equipment sales to have any significant impact on QST advertising revenues. I really don't think its about money for the ARRL.

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W1JKA
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« Reply #107 on: March 13, 2013, 09:08:54 AM »

 I don't know about the ARRL money issue but by the tone of these post it sure isn't promoting any good will among the amateur radio fraternity.
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K1CJS
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« Reply #108 on: March 14, 2013, 09:31:36 AM »

...This is a rather hypothetical discussion though, since amateurs will keep volunteering for emergencies, and it's not like there's any great controversy about this being a good thing. I am pretty sure there's actually more people who are against medical doctors and psychiatrists responding to disasters than there's people against trained amateur volunteers doing their best to help out....

THAT is the key point, though.  "Helping out."  Amateurs have traditionally helped out by passing non-critical traffic such as welfare messages and so on.  The issue under discussion in this thread--as I understand it--is the use of amateur radio to pass more critical information.  Information, that by all rights, really has no business being passed on the amateur radio bands.  THAT is the line that has become blurred by these so-called 'visionaries' that want the training and the structured rigidness that is starting to permeate the traditional role of amateur radio in disaster communications.

Those people want amateur radio to do more, and those are the people who are making this push.  Those are also the people who keep predicting gloom and doom to our spectrum, as in the loss of parts of it, unless we DO do more, and unfortunately, the ARRL does have a large part in it..
« Last Edit: March 14, 2013, 09:49:10 AM by K1CJS » Logged
K1CJS
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« Reply #109 on: March 14, 2013, 09:36:28 AM »

...I seriously doubt that EMCOMM is ever going to generate enough additional equipment sales to have any significant impact on QST advertising revenues. I really don't think its about money for the ARRL.

Maybe not about money, but it sure as h*ll IS about the influence that the ARRL has in relations with their FCC and other agencies.  It seems that they're not content with their 'traditional role,' and more ARRL members are seeing it then are not.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2013, 09:45:43 AM by K1CJS » Logged
K1CJS
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« Reply #110 on: March 14, 2013, 09:37:40 AM »

I don't know about the ARRL money issue but by the tone of these post it sure isn't promoting any good will among the amateur radio fraternity.

I'm only one, but they've already lost my support along with the support of some of my friends.  My elmer, who died about ten years ago, was visionary also--he saw where they were going and withdrew his support way back before he died.

It seems that outside of life members--some of whom have already voiced their dismay over what they see is the out of control group they are life members of--the ARRL picks up new members from the new hams, but loses older members who recognize what they're really doing at a rate of perhaps two to one.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2013, 09:43:43 AM by K1CJS » Logged
LA9XSA
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« Reply #111 on: March 16, 2013, 05:24:30 AM »

I don't know about the ARRL money issue but by the tone of these post it sure isn't promoting any good will among the amateur radio fraternity.
I think it would be a mistake to take a few vocal posters on the internet as representative of all amateur radio operators. I'm sure there are people who are against the ARRL pushing DIY or digital modes too, if for nothing else than for "why aren't they pushing QRO/CW/AM/20 watt man packs/space communications/[insert your own pet niche of amateur radio here] instead".
THAT is the key point, though.  "Helping out."  Amateurs have traditionally helped out by passing non-critical traffic such as welfare messages and so on.  The issue under discussion in this thread--as I understand it--is the use of amateur radio to pass more critical information.
Message precedence isn't really a new idea. Hopefully the communications emergency would just entail routine and welfare messages handled by amateur radio, but in case all other medium to long distance communications are lost, volunteers have to be ready to handle priority and emergency traffic that is time-critical, accurately relayed, and important to health and safety. This sometimes does happen for real, and sometimes as a result of systems that "can't fail" failing in unforeseen ways.
Information, that by all rights, really has no business being passed on the amateur radio bands.
By rights, by both legislation and case law, it does take presedence over all other traffic, and is one of the fundamental reasons why amateur radio exists. It's much better that trained, licensed and regularly exercised operators are involved than if agencies just bought a ham radio and kept it mothballed "just in case" without knowing how to use it effectively.
Those people want amateur radio to do more, and those are the people who are making this push.  
I think there's two things driving amateur radio to do more:
- Emergency response becoming more professional, experience based and standardized; this is based on lessons learned from past failure and success.
- Served agencies' demands evolving with technology.

Served agencies have requirements for what volunteers need to know, and for what they need to communicate. Hopefully those requirements are explicit and shared with the volunteers, rather than implicit and only discovered during an emergency. Explicit requirements can be matched by volunteer training, capabilities, and exercise.

If one doesn't want to live with those demands, one could volunteer for a group that has other demands. For example, if you're volunteering to handle traffic for a county EOC you might have to take ICS courses, get a security clearance, and show up for drills a couple times each year. If you're volunteering to handle health and welfare traffic for a local church, they might just care that you're not a registered sex offender, have a license and a radio, and join the volunteer insurance policy.

I think many places the served agencies want more than they're getting from amateur volunteers today. For example, some agencies have a need for sending lists, spread sheets, and other digital information that don't fit well in a standard radiogram or voice message, but the local volunteers might not afford or be interested in digital communications. That presents the served agency and the local emcomm groups with a problem: Push people out for not having the required capabilities, tell the served agency that this is the limit of what the group can provide, or perhaps splitting it up into two groups that provide different services.

In any case it's important that expectations match capabilities, so the served agency (be it a church, other NGO, commercial hospital, or government entity) isn't failed by its volunteers. Or, on the other hand, that a capability exists that the served agency isn't aware of, like if the amateurs actually have communications with the whole country but the EOC thinks the county has become isolated.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2013, 05:33:10 AM by LA9XSA » Logged
K1CJS
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« Reply #112 on: March 17, 2013, 05:57:45 AM »

Quote from: K1CJS
Information, that by all rights, really has no business being passed on the amateur radio bands.
By rights, by both legislation and case law, it does take presedence over all other traffic, and is one of the fundamental reasons why amateur radio exists. It's much better that trained, licensed and regularly exercised operators are involved than if agencies just bought a ham radio and kept it mothballed "just in case" without knowing how to use it effectively.

This is the crux of the whole matter.  Here in the US, the push was and is on after 9-11 to have communications systems that are failure proof.  If one line of official communications goes down, to have another line of official communication take over, not to have the communication shifted to the amateur bands.  That is where the 'system interoperability' concept comes into play. 

You're right that in the past some agencies and departments have bought amateur radios and kept them "in reserve" so to speak for emergencies, but the directives that came down stressed that official communications were not to be put over the amateur bands unless there was no other means of communications open at all.  Communications systems have been upgraded today to the point that there is almost always one means of official communication that is useable no matter what the situation.

If it were not for the constant push by certain groups to include amateur radio and the belief of those groups that amateur radio is an indispensable part of any disaster planning, amateur radio would still exist as it did in the past, as a standby means of communications in emergencies, and not as those groups would have everyone believe--that amateur radio is the one and only fallback that there can be in any emergency.
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KA4NMA
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« Reply #113 on: March 17, 2013, 12:21:20 PM »

Hurricane Sandy showed how public service and cell phones can  be disrupted.  I read an article about how residents would line up at pay phones because of no cell service.

I was doing Emcomm  (h&w traffic, etc) and Skywarn long before I knew about the formal programs.  I just wanted to help out my community and others.

Randy ka4nma
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LA9XSA
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« Reply #114 on: March 19, 2013, 04:52:45 AM »

Communications systems have been upgraded today to the point that there is almost always one means of official communication that is useable no matter what the situation.
Almost is the operative word here, and it's highly dependent on where in the US you are and what kind of disaster it is. I think it's a good thing that public service communications have gotten an upgrade, and more focus on mutual aid and interoperability. Even so it would be just as wrong to assume that volunteers never would need to handle priority and emergency messages, as it would be wrong to think that 20 meter HF always will work.

"Failsafe" systems are also inherently complex, and this complexity sometimes means new ways to fail. For example, there could a programming bug or slight error in configuration in a digital system that could cause a communications emergency, without any external event causing it.

It would also be wrong to assume that amateur bands will always work - there has been emergencies during periods of high aurora activity for example, where linked VHF/UHF repeaters have worked but HF was wiped out. If the repeaters were gone too, one would have to resort to motorcycle messengers. Any particular amateur radio mode/band is also something that can fail - it's the diversity of modes and bands available that is its main strength.

If there's priority traffic that needs to be kept confidential, it would be legal to transmit encrypted emergency government traffic over amateur radio and routed by amateur radio operators. It would definitely not be legal to exercise with encrypted messages, but if you're well trained in sending exact digital messages with checksums, you could substitute the cleartext message with an ASCII-armored encrypted file and it would provide end-to-end security for the served agency, if they had taken care of key exchange ahead of time.

As an inbetween solution that would not provide true security, but would obfuscate messages from the general public, even unencrypted DSTAR and Pactor III transmissions can't be decoded by most people out there, since it requires special hardware.

Even if one were to use motorcycle messengers or some other limited resource for classified information, the non-classified information could be transmitted by amateur radio and take some of the burden off.
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K1CJS
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« Reply #115 on: March 20, 2013, 12:08:40 PM »

...If there's priority traffic that needs to be kept confidential, it would be legal to transmit encrypted emergency government traffic over amateur radio and routed by amateur radio operators....

Not in the US it isn't.  Regulations specifically prohibit ANY encrypted communications.

Quote
It would definitely not be legal to exercise with encrypted messages, but if you're well trained in sending exact digital messages with checksums, you could substitute the cleartext message with an ASCII-armored encrypted file and it would provide end-to-end security for the served agency, if they had taken care of key exchange ahead of time.

As an inbetween solution that would not provide true security, but would obfuscate messages from the general public, even unencrypted DSTAR and Pactor III transmissions can't be decoded by most people out there, since it requires special hardware.

Nope.  Just another form of encryption.  If the key or the hard/software isn't generally available (yes, even for a fee) for use on amateur frequencies, it isn't legal to use such encryption here.  For that purpose, D-Star and Pactor III aren't considered 'encrypted' here--and certainly not for the purpose of passing confidential information.

Quote
Even if one were to use motorcycle messengers or some other limited resource for classified information, the non-classified information could be transmitted by amateur radio and take some of the burden off.

True, but in the US, with patient confidentiality and other laws put into the books since 9-11, that non-classified traffic would be about half--or less--of the total traffic.  The difference between the classified and non-classified is that the non-classified messages are considered health and welfare messages, just as requests for more cots, blankets, food, etc. are.  Those are NOT confidential messages. 

And what you just said--non-classified info passed by amateur radio--is what I've been saying can be done all along.  Ham radio operators have been passing those for years with NTC guidelines and message forms.  Nothing more is needed for them, but the rabid EmComm pushers say that there is, and that's where the problem comes in.

In any event, this discussion has gone full circle, and it's not much use to continue it.  We each have our opinions.  We also each have the laws in our respective countries that we have to follow.  It's unfortunate that the US laws vary from the Norwegian on certain points, it makes discussion a bit awkward.  Anyway, 73!
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K1CJS
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« Reply #116 on: March 20, 2013, 12:20:30 PM »

BTW, Gunnar, I did see your point about the failure of the fail proof systems and the need to use amateur radio to pass confidential information.  That is definitely frowned on here, but the possibility that it may happen is recognized too.  Usually though, such information IS able to be passed without the use of amateur radio here.  Just for that reason there are multiple redundant 'official' channels and bands in use here.  Things would really have to be bad to mandate the use of amateur frequencies for that 'official' traffic--bad enough that even amateur radio probably couldn't get through either.
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LA9XSA
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« Reply #117 on: March 20, 2013, 05:30:40 PM »

Not in the US it isn't.  Regulations specifically prohibit ANY encrypted communications.
Note that even though there's a general prohibition on encryption - with the exception of satellite commands - there's a special rule in Part 97, as well as in the general FCC rules, which say that in a true emergency one is allowed to disregard the other rules if necessary. The clause in Part 97 is
Quote
§97.403 Safety of life and protection of property.
No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.
Even if that clause wasn't there, the principle of necesitty would apply, I think. So yes, encryption in case of a true emergency would be legal, if the matter is pressing enough, but you can't exercise with encryption.
For that purpose, D-Star and Pactor III aren't considered 'encrypted' here--and certainly not for the purpose of passing confidential information.
As as I said it would not provide true security, only obfuscate the message for the casual listener. That might be moderately useful in an emergency if the nature of the communications is time critical - i.e. the type of information that will become a matter of public record anyway, but that you don't want to announce publicly today. Let's say it's information about areas vulnerable to looting being reported to law enforcement; if the would-be looters hears it today they can get there before the National Guard or police can get to the area and sack the place - if the would-be looters hear it tomorrow it's to late because security has been established by then.

True, but in the US, with patient confidentiality and other laws put into the books since 9-11, that non-classified traffic would be about half--or less--of the total traffic.
Well, there are levels - classes - of classification. Some might be too secret to transmit over non-narrow beam radio link, while others are just low level confidential and standard encryption is good enough. Since so much official information is a matter of public record anyway, I wonder how the distribution would be. I'd imagine it would depend on the nature of the emergency and the served agency in question; a hosptial sending patient lists would presumably have more secret data to transmit than an fire chief managing a wildfire.

The difference between the classified and non-classified is that the non-classified messages are considered health and welfare messages, just as requests for more cots, blankets, food, etc. are.  Those are NOT confidential messages. 
Are we mixing up message presedences with classified messages here? There can be EMERGENCY or official Priority messages which don't need to be kept secret, or there could be Routine messages that need to be kept secret.

If only amateur radio happens to be available between point A and B, and confidential data has to be passed, they'll have to decide to
- Encrypt the data with an algorithm they trust.
- Transmit it in the clear, effectively de-classifing it.
- Not transmit the data, risking death, injury and property damage.

Ham radio operators have been passing those for years with NTC guidelines and message forms.  Nothing more is needed for them, but the rabid EmComm pushers say that there is, and that's where the problem comes in.
As I said, some of the served agencies want to transmit data that doesn't fit on a standard radiogram. They might even want fast-scan TV/video. And a minimum level of training and readiness.
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K1CJS
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« Reply #118 on: March 20, 2013, 07:16:42 PM »

Note that even though there's a general prohibition on encryption - with the exception of satellite commands - there's a special rule in Part 97, as well as in the general FCC rules, which say that in a true emergency one is allowed to disregard the other rules if necessary. The clause in Part 97 is

Quote
§97.403 Safety of life and protection of property.
No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.

Even if that clause wasn't there, the principle of necesitty would apply, I think. So yes, encryption in case of a true emergency would be legal, if the matter is pressing enough, but you can't exercise with encryption.

This has gone far enough--and this is my last post to you on this thread.  The quoted 'safety of life and property does NOT include encryption.  That has been stressed by the FCC many times.  NO encryption is permitted on amateur service frequencies in the US under ANY circumstances.
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LA9XSA
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« Reply #119 on: March 21, 2013, 05:39:44 PM »

Citation needed, please. If you won't provide that, maybe somebody else will?

47 CFR 97.403 is a quite broad provision. A similar provision exists in 47 CFR 2.405 for non-amateur and non-broadcast stations, but note that while 2.405 requries station licensees to formally notify the FCC that they're operating outside of their licensing terms due to an emergency/disaster, and they still can't change their power level or frequencies, amateur stations don't have those requirements. I suppose this is a reflection of how licensees covered by 2.405 tend to be operating on tightly packed channels next to other licensees, while most amateurs have VFO tuning.

Since there's also a specific rule allowing amateur stations to engage in cross-service contacts in emergencies, I suppose what the FCC wants is that the amateur station tunes a PMR frequency rather than the PMR station tries to tune into the amateur band.

Not only would encryption be allowed under 97.403, but the amateur station would be allowed to operate outside the band limits and power limits that normally would apply, the operator can be doing it on paid time, and using equipment that violates emission standards, etc. The degree to which one can ignore the other rules, would of course depend on how necessary it was to do so. I'd think that only the content of confidential emergency messages would be justified to be encrypted - the callsigns and addressing would need to be in the clear both for routing purposes and since they would not be considered confidential.
« Last Edit: March 21, 2013, 05:43:45 PM by LA9XSA » Logged
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