When All Else Fails or SHTF?

when-all-else-fails-logoA while back, Dan KB6NU noted the increasing number of preppers getting involved in ham radioPreppers are people who are actively preparing for emergencies, natural disasters and disruption of social order. In our Technician license course, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of people identifying themselves as preppers.

Of course, amateur (ham) radio has a long history of emergency service and disaster preparedness. FCC Rules Part 97 says this is one of the purposes of the Amateur Radio Service: 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.

Historically, most radio amateurs approach the hobby from a technical or radio operating point of view, then find ways to apply it to emergency preparedness. The prepper tends to work the equation the other way…starting with the desire to have emergency communication capability and then working to get an amateur radio license.

Many prepper sites just give a quick overview of ham radio, positioning it with GMRS, FRS and CB radio. See Prepper Communications. Articles like this one give a more complete introduction to ham radio: The Skinny On Ham: Getting Licensed.  This one, too: Every Prepper Should Be A Ham.

You may run into some creative acronyms on these prepper sites:

SHTF = “Stuff” Hits The Fan
EOTW = End Of The World
TEOTWAWKI = The End Of The World As We Know It
YOYO – You’re On Your Own

There are web sites devoted to prepping with radio communications:

Prepared Ham
RadioSurvivalist.com
RadioMaster Reports

Many of these sites have useful information that may stretch your thinking on “being prepared.” Of course, some of these prepper sites (not the ones listed above) are a bit over the top and may have resulted from people going off their meds. Draw your own conclusions.

I’ve noticed a pattern of people creating prepper frequency lists, such as the one shown below. (Note that some of the ham frequencies listed do not conform to generally accepted band plans.) I can see the usefulness of having some assigned frequencies but its not clear to me how they’ll actually get used. I think the challenge for new prepper hams is to think through who they are going to communicate with and for what purpose. It’s also important to get familiar with the equipment and gain experience on the air, so when the EOTW happens you aren’t sitting there reading the radio manual.

shtf_frequency_list_2013e_500

Whether you think of emergency communications as “When All Else Fails” or when SHTF, amateur radio is a resilient communication tool.

73, Bob K0NR

Added 7 Dec 2013: I came across this video that does a good job of introducing ham radio to the prepper crowd:  So you want a ham radio for emergency communications!

A Great Bag for the FT-817

One of my favorite rigs is the Yaesu FT-817, the QRP transceiver that covers HF through 70 cm. I use it for mountaintop VHF, including Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations.

At Pacificon, I came across this bag by AMP-3 which is custom designed for the FT-817. David KF7ETX did a great job designing this bag, which he explains in this video.

There are cheaper solutions out there but this is the best one I’ve seen.

73, Bob K0NR

FCC Considers Encryption on Amateur Bands

fcc-1Just when things were terminally boring on the amateur radio regulatory front, the ARRL reports that “The FCC is inviting public comments on a proposal from a Massachusetts ham to amend the Part 97 Amateur Service rules to permit the encryption of certain amateur communications during emergency operations or related training exercises.” The FCC is seeking comments on the Petition for Rulemaking RM-11699, submitted by Don Rolph (AB1PH). My email and twitter feed started filling up with passionate pleas to either support this petition or to kill it.

This idea has been around for a while but I don’t recall the FCC considering action on it. The issue is that “messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning” are prohibited by Part 97 rules for the Amateur Radio Service. (Actually, that is not completely true since an exception exists for control of stations in space and radio-controlled models.) This rule has a very important role in enabling the “self policing nature” of the amateur radio service. That is, everyone can listen to the content of all radio communications, allowing improper use of the spectrum to be exposed. (Note to self: file a petition to require encryption when using 14.313 MHz.)

This rule can be a barrier when ham radio Emcomm organizations are providing communications for served agencies (e.g., the Red Cross, fire departments, medical response, law enforcement, etc.) These served agencies do not want sensitive information passed over the radio “in the clear.” Sensitive information includes items such as medical/patient information, location of emergency responders and supplies, damage assessments, door or gate access codes, etc.

A few weeks ago, I volunteered my time to help with communications for the Black Forest wildfire here in Colorado.  So count me as someone that sees emergency communications as a key part of amateur radio. (Gosh, I think Part 97 even mentions this. See Part 97.1a) I also see that the prohibition against encryption is a does get in the way during some incidents.

But I am also worried about opening the door to significant use of encryption on the ham bands. The problem with encrypted messages is that…wait for it…you can’t decode the messages. So how do we maintain that self-policing thing? The fear seems to be that if we open the door at all to encryption, it will enable virtually anyone (amateur license or not) to transmit encrypted messages for unknown and inappropriate purposes.

The challenge is to figure out what limits could be put on encrypted operation to retain the self-policing nature of ham radio while enabling more effective emergency communications. Here are some ideas:

  • Limit the use of encryption to actual emergencies and training exercises. (This is already in RM-11699.)
  • Require that radio transmissions are properly identified “in the clear”, with no encryption. That way if encryption is used on a regular basis, steps can be taken to investigate further. (This may already be assumed by RM-11699 but I did not see an explicit statement.)
  • Require additional information to be sent in the clear with the station ID when sending encrypted messages. For example, the name of the served agency, the nature of the emergency or drill, or anything else that would help a random listener to judge whether it is an appropriate use of encryption.
  • Require archiving of encrypted messages (in unencrypted form) for some period time, available for FCC inspection.
  • [Added 28 June]: Avoid international regulation issues by limiting encrypted messages to US stations only.
  • <insert your idea here>

Still pondering this issue…what do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

Update 1 July 2013: See the article by Bruce Perens K6BP
Update 8 July 2013: See comments by N5FDL
The ARRL says “no”.

Update 18 Sept 2013: The FCC dismisses the petition.

A Simple Wilderness Protocol: 146.52 MHz

when-all-else-fails-logo“The Wilderness Protocol” (ref. June 1996 QST, page 85), recommends that stations (fixed, portable or mobile) monitor the primary (and secondary if possible) frequency(s) every three hours starting at 7 AM local time, for five minutes (7:00-7:05 AM, 10:00-10:05 AM, etc.)  Additionally, stations that have sufficient power resources should monitor for five minutes starting at the top of every hour, or even continuously.” The primary frequency is the National Simplex Calling Frequency…146.52 MHz. The secondary frequencies are 446.0, 223.5, 52.525 and 1294.5 MHz.

Here in Colorado, the summer months mean that many people head for the mountains. Mobile phone coverage has improved in many parts of the high country but is still not reliable in all areas. Amateur radio VHF/UHF repeater coverage is extensive but also does not cover the entire state.

The Wilderness Protocol is a good idea but is overly complex for practical use. Here’s my proposal to make it much simpler for practical backcountry use:

Principle #1: Don’t ever rely on a radio or mobile phone to get you out of trouble in the backcountry. Your primary strategy must be self-sufficiency. Avoid trouble. Be prepared for the unexpected.

Principle #2: Know what repeaters are available in your area. We have many wide coverage repeaters available but you need to know the frequency, offset and CTCSS tone (if any). The Colorado Connection is a linked repeater system that covers  many remote parts of the state.

Principle #3: In remote areas, monitor 146.52 MHz as much as possible. This applies to backcountry travelers, mobile stations and fixed stations.

I’ve been making it a habit to monitor 146.52 MHz in the backcountry. I often come across hikers, campers, fisherman, 4WD enthusiasts, SOTA stations, mobile operators and others monitoring that frequency.  It is fun to chat with other radio amateurs having fun in the mountains.

Just my opinion.
73, Bob K0NR

Note: This is a repost of an older article with minor edits.

GNT Shirts Now Available

GNT

The Committee to Preserve Golf November Tango is pleased to announce the availability of the new GNT Polo Shirt. The origins of the GNT frequency traces back to the incident when three ham radio operators found themselves stranded on the shore of Lake Michigan, calling out in desperation for Gin and Tonic. You may recall the unfortunate circumstances that caused confusion about the correct Golf November Tango calling frequency.

Fortunately, this has all been cleared up and The Committee has authorized the sale of the Golf November Tango shirt, with the official GNT frequency embroidered on it. (It seems that the group is really bad at documenting things, so they figured that if they all had a shirt with the frequency written on it, it could only help. See the logo shown to the left.)

These awesome polo shirts are available online in both mens and womens sizes at the Ham Radio Techwear store. The committee apologizes that these shirts are a little late for Christmas presents, but there is always next year.

Remember, when all else fails, make a call on the GNT Frequency.

73, Bob K0NR

Can I Use My Ham Radio on Public Safety Frequencies?

We have quite a few licensed radio amateurs that are members of public safety agencies, including  fire departments, law enforcement agencies and search and rescue. Since they are authorized users of those public safety channels, they often ask this question:

Can I use my VHF/UHF ham radio on the fire, police or SAR channel?

It is widely known that many amateur radios can be modified to transmit outside the ham bands. The answer to this question used to be that amateur radio equipment cannot be used legally on public safety channels because it is not approved for use under Part 90 of the FCC Rules. (Part 90 covers the Private Land Mobile Radio Services.) The only option was to buy a commercial radio with Part 90 approval and a frequency range that covered the desired amateur band. Some commercial radios tune easily to the adjacent ham band but some do not. The commercial gear is usually two to three times as expensive as the amateur gear, and just as important, does not have the features and controls that ham operators expect. Usually, the commercial radios do not have a VFO and are completely channelized, typically changeable only with the required programming software.

The situation has changed dramatically in the past two years. Several wireless manufacturers in China (Wouxun, Baofeng, etc.) have introduced low cost handheld transceivers into the US amateur market that are approved for Part 90 use. These radios offer keypad frequency entry and all of the usual features of a ham radio. It seems that these radios are a viable option for dual use: public safety and amateur radio.

Here is a short list of the most common radios on the market:

Model Features Price
Wouxun KG-UV2D, KG-UV3D Several different models with slight variation in features, check carefully before ordering
136-174/420-470 MHz
5 kHz is smallest frequency step
$120
Wouxun KG-UV6D Several different models with slight variation in features, check carefully before ordering
136-174 / 420-520 MHz
2.5 kHz frequency step
$175
Baofeng UV-5R, UV-5RC The UV-5RC is an updated case style
136-174 / 400-480MHz
2.5 kHz frequency step
$65

 Some Things to Consider When Buying These Radios

  • The manufacturers offer several different radios under the same model number. Also, they are improving the radios every few months with firmware changes and feature updates. This causes confusion in the marketplace, so buy carefully.
  • Make sure the vendor selling the radio indicates that the radio is approved for Part 90 use. I have seen some radios show up in the US without an FCC Part 90 label.
  • Make sure the radio is specified to tune to the channels that you need.
  • The 2.5-kHz tuning step is required for some public safety channels. Your particular set of frequencies may or may not need it.  For example, a 5-kHz frequency step can be used to select frequencies such as 155.1600 MHz and 154.2650 MHz.  However, a 2.5 kHz step size is needed to select frequencies such as 155.7525 MHz. There are a number of Public Safety Interoperability Channels that require the 2.5-kHz step (e.g., VCALL10 155.7525 MHz, VCALL11 151.1375 MHz, VFIRE24 154.2725). The safest thing to do for public safety use is to get a radio that tunes the 2.5-kHz steps.
  • Although these radios have two frequencies in the display, they only have one receiver, which scans back and forth between the two selected frequencies. This can be confusing when the radio locks onto a signal on one of the frequencies and ignores the other.

Recommendation

I own 3 different models of Wouxun radios and two Baofeng UV-5R radios. I think they are all great radios for what they do. For serious public safety use, I would recommend getting the Wouxun KG-UV6D with the 2.5-kHz frequency step. The controls of the Wouxun are superior, including a knob for channel/VFO selection and RPT key for changing repeater shift. The Wouxun software works much better than Baofeng’s (which is really a mess). Also, if you show up at an incident with the Baofeng, your fellow first responders will think it is a toy.  If you are absolutely sure you don’t need the 2.5-KHz frequency step, then you might consider one of the other Wouxun models.

I have purchased several radios from importcommunications.com and have been very satisfied with the service. You may want to shop around for the best price.

73, Bob K0NR

FCC Says “What Restrictive Covenant Problem?”

From the ARRL web site:

On August 20 — in response to a Spring 2012 Congressional directive — the Federal Communications Commission released its findings on the Uses and Capabilities of Amateur Radio Service Communications in Emergencies and Disaster Relief: Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 6414 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.

There was hope that the thousands of comments from amateur radio operators concerning the restrictions that homeowners associations place on the use of antennas would get the FCC’s attention. Maybe the FCC would see that the overall effectiveness of the amateur radio service for emergency use is being limited by these arbitrary, overly restrictive rules? (See a summary of my comments here.)

But, the FCC responded with this simple statement:

Moreover, while commenters suggest that private land use restrictions have become more common, our review of the record does not indicate that amateur operators are unable to find homes that are not subject to such restrictions. Therefore, at this time, we do not see a compelling reason for the Commission to revisit its previous determinations that preemption should not be expanded to CC&Rs.

I am not surprised by this response but still disappointed.

73, Bob K0NR

Waldo Canyon Wildfire in Colorado

You probably already heard about the terrible wildfire on the west side of Colorado Springs. The fire burned 18,247 acres, destroyed 346 homes and killed 2 people.

Here’s a map of how the fire progressed over time.

18,247 acres is a little more than 28 square miles of area burned. Think about a fire that consumes 28 square miles in your back yard. Pretty sobering.

Here’s a time lapse video that shows the fire from a distance.

The Denver Post has some of the best photos of the fire as it burned structures on the northwest side of Colorado Springs.

There were two major ham radio activities (that I am aware of) in response to the fire:

The RACES team (Special Communications Unit) attached to the El Paso County Sheriff’s office staffed the Emergency Operations Center in Colorado Springs. I did help out for one 12-hour shift, a relatively minor role.

Pikes Peak ARES  supported the Red Cross, who operated the emergency shelters for ~32,000 people that had to evacuate their homes. The Pueblo newspaper ran an article about this.

The real heroes are the firefighters that battled the blaze, especially on that terrible Tuesday night when so many houses were lost. Those guys and gals are awesome!

– 73, Bob K0NR

How Not to Do a SOTA Activation

This weekend my wife and I were out exploring the San Juan Mountains near Ouray, Colorado. We found ourselves on a Jeep road to Engineer Pass. When we got to the pass, we stopped to have lunch and I examined the high peaks nearby. I saw some people on the summit of one of the peaks, which I determined was Engineer Mountain by looking at a topo map.

Hmmm, I said to myself, Engineer Mountain is a valid peak (W0/SJ-011, 12968 feet elevation) for a Summits On the Air (SOTA) activation. The only portable radio I had with me was a Yaesu VX-8GR with the stock rubber duck antenna. Not a great SOTA station. But if I could whistle up 4 contacts on 2M FM simplex, I would have a legitimate activation. We had already decided to climb to the summit, so any radio activity was just icing on the cake.

So off we went up the mountain. I got to the top and started calling on 146.52 MHz FM. Now it hits me that we are in the middle of a national forest, away from population centers and, to top it off, no one is expecting a SOTA activation here today. This might be a bit of a challenge to make 4 contacts. Then Thomas, KRØNK, answered my CQ. OK, there’s one contact. A little bit later Dave, AKØMR, comes on frequency and gives me a second contact. Both of these guys were in Grand Junction, CO, which is about 100 miles from Engineer Mountain. Not bad for a peanut-whistle HT using a standard rubber duck antenna.

I needed two more contacts. I tuned around for a repeater in the area and came across the 147.27 MHz machine which turned out to be a stones throw away from my location. It requires a CTCSS tone, so I fumbled around until I figured that out. No, I did not have a repeater directory with me…that was safely stored in the Jeep at the bottom of the mountain. I gave a quick call with my location and Ben WB5ITS came back to me. We QSY’d over to 146.52 to make my third contact.  Anticipating a rough go of it, I asked my wife Joyce K0JJW to descend off the peak while I remained at the top, so she could be my fourth contact. (SOTA rules do not allow contacts between parties on the same peak.)

Somewhere along the way, I reach for a piece of paper to log the contacts, only to find that I did not have a writing utensil with me. Duh. I would have to remember the times and callsigns of the contacts and write them down later.

I completed the fourth contact and headed down. Later that evening I checked the ListsofJohn database and found that there are actually two peaks in the area called Engineer Mountain. Go figure. The SOTA database only recognizes one of them…of course, you guessed it, not the one I was on. It turns out that the Engineer Mountain I was on is subordinated by an adjacent peak: Darley Mountain (W0/RG-034, 13260 feet). However, since I operated from 13,218 feet on my Engineer Mountain, it is within the 75 foot vertical activation zone for Darley Mountain. So, this does count for a SOTA activation of Darley Mountain.

This is where I could claim that incredible skill, flexibility and a little luck ruled the day. I think a more appropriate analysis is to concede that a complete lack of planning and preparedness produced a marginal result.

What can we learn from this?

  • Do your homework concerning the SOTA peak that you intend to activate before you start the climb. Make sure you know where it is and that you are really on it.
  • Always keep a notepad and pen/ pencil in your backpack
  • Even for casual hikes, take along a decent antenna for the HT. A half-wave vertical is way better than a stock rubber duck.
  • Plan in advance so you can post your intended SOTA activation on sotawatch.org
  • Have a repeater directory (or equivalent) available to identify repeaters in the area.
  • And don’t forgot the normal hiking Ten Essentials

Beyond doing a SOTA activation, some of these items could be important if an emergency should occur. It runs out there was no mobile phone coverage in the area. I used to be pretty vigilant about taking an HT with spare batteries and extended antenna along on hikes but have gotten sloppy lately. See Rescue on Uncompahgre Peak, which describes an incident years ago when my radio turned out to be very useful during an emergency.

In the end, I did complete my first SOTA activation, so I can be happy about that. And it gave me the opportunity to relearn a few things about planning and being prepared.

73, Bob KØNR

P.S. The WØ SOTA guys recently created a great W0 SOTA page.

2 Oct 2013 Update:

Upon further review of the SOTA rules, this was not a valid activation of Darley Mountain. SOTA General Rule 3.7.1 includes this:

The Operating Position must be within the permitted Vertical Distance of the Summit, as defined in Rule 3.5. The terrain between the operating position and the actual Summit must not fall below the permitted Vertical Distance.

There is a significant saddle between Engineer Mountain and Darley Mountain that falls below the 75 foot vertical distance used in Colorado. I have deleted the activation from the SOTA database.

Which provides us with another lesson learned: Read and understand the SOTA rules.

My Comments on FCC Proceeding 12-91

At the direction of Congress, the FCC opened up Proceeding 12-91: COMMISSION SEEKS COMMENT ON EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS BY AMATEUR RADIO AND IMPEDIMENTS TO AMATEUR RADIO COMMUNICATIONS.

I decided to file my comments with the Commission, which can be read in full here. I’ll also provide the short version here:

1. The contributions of amateur radio operators during disasters and emergencies is substantial and well documented.

2. The key attributes that make the Amateur Radio Service so valuable in an emergency or disaster situation include the large number of trained operators available, the tendency for many amateur radio operators to prepare their stations for emergency operating conditions, the high degree of flexibility due to the wide range of spectrum and emission types available, and the ability of amateur radio operators to adapt to adverse operating conditions,

3. Restrictions from homeowners associations banning all external antennas is a serious and pervasive impediment to amateur radio emergency communications.

4. Limitations on emission type in Part 97 should be relaxed or eliminated.

5. There is the potential to improve the use of the Amateur Radio Service within the overall planning and organization of the federal government.

There are many different issues that could be highlighted but I decided to focus on these…with an emphasis on restrictive covenants.

What do you think? File your comments with the FCC here.

73, Bob K0NR

2012 ARRL Field Day Information Packet Available

ARRL Field Day is the single most popular on-the-air event held annually in the US and Canada.  Each year over 35,000 amateurs gather with their clubs, friends or simply by themselves to operate.

The information packet for Field Day is now available on the ARRL web site.

– Bob K0NR

Announcing: Colorado FM Sprint

The Colorado FM Sprint

Sponsored by:  The Colorado VHF Group (KØYB) and the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Radio Association (WØTLM)
Direct any questions to k0yb@qsl.net

Rules and FAQ are posted on the KØYB web site.

Saturday – September 10, 2011

This contest is held concurrently with the ARRL September VHF QSO Party, with compatible rules and operating procedures. The purpose of this contest is to:

  • Promote the use of FM VHF/UHF simplex
  • Provide an opportunity for radio amateurs to test the limits of their stations using FM VHF/UHF and to experiment with ways to improve their stations
  • Practice deploying portable and mobile operation as a means of identifying effective locations for temporary relay stations
  • Provide a simple and enjoyable radio contest experience (“Have fun!”)

Time:

 Saturday, Sept 10, 2011; 1200 to 1700 Mountain Time (1800 to 2300 UTC)

Objective:

To work as many stations as possible using FM simplex on the 146 MHz, 222 MHz and 440 MHz bands in as many different VHF grids as possible.

Frequencies:

Operate on FM simplex frequencies consistent with the Colorado Council of Amateur Radio Clubs (CCARC) band plans

(Consistent with the ARRL Rules, 146.52 MHz is not allowed to be used in the contest.)

Suggested Frequencies:

2 Meters: 146.58, 146.55

222 MHz: 223.5 MHz

440 MHz: 446.0, 446.100 MHz

Do not operate on repeater frequencies or 146.52 MHz, the National Simplex Calling Frequency.

Remember to be a considerate operator and share the frequency with other operators.

Contest Exchange

To complete a contest QSO, you and the other station must copy each other’s callsign and 4-digit Grid Locator. You may optionally exchange Name and geographic location (city, landmark, etc).

Entry Categories:

The following entry categories are available for this contest, consistent with the entry categories for the ARRL September VHF QSO Party. All categories (excluding Single Operator Portable) operate within these power limits: (146 MHz–200 W PEP, 222 MHz 100 W PEP, 440 MHz 100 W PEP).

Single Operator – same as Single Operator Low Power in the ARRL rules

Single Operator Portable – power limit of 10 W PEP, operating from a fixed location using a portable power source, portable equipment and antennas

Rover – operates from 2 or more grid squares with 1 or 2 operators, same definition as Limited Rover in the ARRL rules. Rovers must sign “Rover” after their callsign.

Multioperator – operates with more than with operator from a fixed location

Scoring                     

QSO Points: Count one point for each 146 MHz QSO and two points for each 222 MHz and 440 MHz QSO.

Multiplier: The total number of different grid squares worked per band. Each grid counts as one multiplier on each band it is worked.

Final score: Multiply the total number of QSO points from all bands operated by the total number of multipliers for final score. 

Rovers only: The final score consists of the total number of QSO points from all bands times the sum of unique multipliers (grid squares) worked per band (regardless of which grid square they were made in) plus one additional multiplier for every grid square from which they successfully completed a contact.                         

Miscellaneous:

1.  Use only one call sign per entry per station, except family members who share a station.

2.  A rover station may use only one call sign.

3.  Soliciting contacts during the contest on repeaters, e-mail, telephone, etc. is not allowed.

4.  Final interpretation of these rules is the sole responsibility of the contest committee.

Awards:

Certificates will be issued to top scoring entrants in each category. Other certificates may be issued depending on the level of competition present in the contest. Results will be listed on the KØYB web site at http://www.qsl.net/k0yb

Log Entry:

1.  Log entries must be received by September 30, 2011.

2.  A log entry contains the following for each contact completed:  Date; Time (Universal Coordinated Time); Station Worked; Grid Locator

3.  A summary contains:  Your name, call, and address; entry category; grid locator; score calculation; and this statement:  “I have observed all rules of the contest and have operated my station in accordance with FCC rules.”

4.  Entrants are strongly encouraged to submit an electronic log in Cabrillo format, using commonly available logging programs (configured for ARRL September VHF QSO Party). Send electronic logs to k0yb@qsl.net, with Cabrillo file attached and subject line containing your call sign and the words “FM Sprint”.

5.  Paper logs may be sent to:  K0YB – Contest Logs, 21060 Capella Drive, Monument, CO 80132

Grid Locator Information:

Grids are 2° longitude x 1° latitude squares designated with 2-letters and 2-numbers, such as DM78. To determine which grid you are operating from, refer to this web page: http://www.k0nr.com/rwitte/vhf_grids.html or use a GPS receiver that displays the location in Maidenhead (vhf grid) format.

Here are some general guidelines that may help in case you work someone who does not know their grid square:

  • Greater Denver is in grid DM79
  • Boulder is split between grids DM79 and DN70, so check the location carefully.
  • Colorado Springs and Pueblo are in grid DM78
  • Fort Collins, Loveland and Longmont are in grid DN70.

 

Time to Change the Rules for Field Day

I just finished writing about how Field Day can be “seasoned to taste”…adapted to your particular interests. Overall, I think the ARRL has done a good job of crafting Field Day rules that provide some incentives for certain types of operation and activities. Get On the Air (GOTA) station, the free VHF station, and Class F (EOC location) are examples of positive rule changes that have been made over the years.

Still, I think there is room for improvement:

  • Eliminate the point advantage for CW and Digital contacts Why does Field Day have a scoring scheme that favors a particular mode? That is, CW and Digital contacts count 2 points versus 1 point for Phone. If these modes have some kind of efficiency advantage, then let that be the reward.  If not, then why the scoring incentive? The point benefit makes no sense to me, so I would eliminate that 2X advantage.
  • More Points for VHF/UHF Field Day is supposed to be about operating under simulated emergency communications. However, most real life EmComm activity makes heavy use of FM VHF and UHF to get the job done.  I would increase the number of points awarded for contacts on 144 MHz and higher to 2 points per contact, to compensate for the natural shorter range of these frequencies.
  • Remove Restriction on 146.52 MHz Also to encourage VHF operating, I would eliminate the prohibition against using 146.52 MHz. No other calling frequency is restricted in this way.
  • Make the Contest 24 Hours Field Day is set up to run 27 hours as long as you don’t set up at the start of the contest. It seems that must clubs set up early and just operate the first 24 hours. I would just simplify the event and make it 24 hours.
  • Bonus Points for VHF Packet or APRS Modern traffic handling uses digital methods, so I would encourage this by offering 100 bonus points for either establishing a functioning APRS station or packet radio system.
  • Require Electronic Log Submission Come on, this is the 21st Century….paper logs should be eliminated and all logs should be submitted electronically.

Well, my VHF+ tendencies are showing. These are my suggestions—what do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

Radio Hams are Not First Responders

It happened again. A disaster hits — this time a series of storms in the southeast— and the amateur radio community rises to the occasion to supply emergency communications. See
Tornadoes and Thunderstorms Keep Radio Amateurs Busy in Midwest, Southeast.

I’ve noticed that there is a tendency for some members of the amateur radio community to characterize this activity as a being a “first responder”. (Most recently: Amateur Radio Newsline, 6 May 2011)  This may make for a more exciting story about how amateur radio operators assist during a disaster, but I think it is just sloppy terminology. Here’s one definition of a first responder from dictionary.com:

first responder
–noun
a person who is certified to provide medical care in emergencies before more highly trained medical personnel arrive on the scene.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration (NHTSA) has a 342-page standard that describes the training required to be a First Responder.  Similarly, the wikipedia entry for Certified First Responder describes the skills necessary to be considered a First Responder. Most hams won’t even come close to meeting this level of training, unless they happen to have it for reasons other than ham radio.

Why does this matter? By telling radio hams they are “first responders”, it puts entirely the wrong emphasis on the Emergency Communications (EmComm) role. The EmComm role is, well, uh, providing emergency communications… in support of First Responders (Fire, Police, EMS)  and agencies that support First Responders (Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc.). Where hams can really make a difference is making sure effective communications are established when disaster occurs. The “I am a first responder” mindset can lead to some behavior that makes some radio amateurs look silly. The folks over at hamsexy.com have made a hobby out of ridiculing the so-called whackers that try to make ham radio into a lights-n-siren kind of operation. An even more serious issue is having radio hams engaging in dangerous activity without proper training.

Now, should radio hams get training on skills such as CPR and First Aid? Absolutely. Actually, everyone should have that training…you might find yourself in the situation of saving someone’s life. But don’t confuse that with being a trained First Responder.

That’s my opinion, what do you think?

– 73, Bob K0NR

P.S. I fully appreciate the role that ham radio volunteers play in providing emergency communications during disasters. It is real, important work.

IWCE 2011

This week I attended the International Wireless Communications Expo, a wireless radio conference centered on land mobile radio (LMR). While not an amateur radio event, it was three fun days totally immersed in radio technology. Being a professional show, not a hobby event, the emphasis was on modern and emerging technology in the industry. No boat anchor radios here.

Amateur radio often adopts and adapts technology from the LMR industry, especially for mobile operating on frequencies above 50 MHz. I guess we could call VHF FM amateur land mobile.

A few highlights from the show:

  • A large portion of LMR is Public Safety Radio: fire, police, ambulance, so emergency communications was inherent in many of the conference sessions.
  • There was quite a bit of analog FM equipment on display but LMR is clearly shifting to digital, with formats like APCO Project 25 leading the way. The FCC requirement to go narrowband by January 1, 2013.
  • Several vendors are familiar names in the amateur radio industry:  Kenwood, Vertex (Yaesu), ICOM and Alinco. Of course, Motorola had a major presence at the show.  I noticed that ICOM had a stack of amateur D-STAR equipment on display.
  • Historically, LMR radios covered only one band (VHF low, VHF high, UHF, 800 MHz), which matched the tendency for each organization to deploy channels in only one band. With an emphasis on interoperability, more organizations are finding the need to operate on multiple bands and the manufacturers are responding with multiband radios (see Motorola APX™ 7000, for example).
  • A number of radio manufacturers from China were present, generally with lower cost radios (Hytera, Kirisun).
  • The FCC recently announced that the frequency range known as Block D (two sections: 758–763 MHz and 788–793 MHz), dedicated to public safety broadband use, will use the LTE air interface standard. LTE is the dominate 4G mobile phone standard, just starting to be deployed. The conference had many sessions on the challenges of getting funding and actually making this work.
  • Since Block D will use LTE, it opens up the potential for public safety networks that also use commercial networks (e.g., Verizon) for extended coverage. These hybrid systems provide for tight control over the primary network while leveraging the infrastructure investments from commercial providers.
  • Quite a few sessions on the integration of IP-based networks into radio systems. The general trend is that the local “air interface” may be a specific radio technology (P25, LTE, …) but the network is always IP-based.

I was struck by the forward march of technology in the LMR industry. In the ham radio world, we often see strong opposition to adopting anything new. And we’re supposed to be the experimenters!

– 73, Bob K0NR

Completing the 2010 Trip Around the Sun

As the year 2010 comes to an end, I feel compelled to write something really insightful and meaningful as we log another trip around the sun. Perhaps some brilliant insights for the coming year? Or predictions of future technology breakthroughs?

Instead, I am writing this.

This is a mishmash of my thoughts about amateur radio at the start of 2011:

  • Tech License Class: One of the most fun and rewarding ham radio things I did this year was help teach a couple of Technician License Classes. There is nothing like engaging with newbies to the hobby to give you a new perspective on how cool amateur radio really is! I have a great set of teammates that made this class fun and successful: Stu W0STU, Paul AA0K and Joyce K0JJW.
  • Next Challenge: The challenge we see right now is helping these newly licensed Techs get engaged with amateur radio, so they don’t drop out. My belief is that the Technician License is a beginners permit that only enables a person to get started in the hobby. We are cooking up some fun activities to keep them going.
  • Public Service: We have a good thing going with the local fire district and the RACES group in our county in terms of real engagement on emergency communications. This is fun, rewarding and a good thing for our local community.
  • Dayton Hamvention: I am going to skip Dayton (again) this year. Instead, I’ll attend the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE), a trade show centered on land mobile and mobile wireless communications. For me, it has an interesting mix of emergency communications, land mobile, data/voice convergence and test & measurement topics. Oh, did I mention that it is in Las Vegas?  I suspect that it will be a better venue than Hara Arena :-)
  • ICOM IC-9100: I have been patiently waiting for this rig to move from vaporware status to reality. Maybe it will happen this year?
  • Keep On Writing: I find that writing is good therapy, so I will keep that on the list for 2011. Mostly it will be this blog and the FM column for CQ VHF magazine.
  • Operating: It seems I don’t actually get on the air as often as I’d like, certainly not for the casual ragchewing QSO. Operating events seem to be a good way for me to get some air time: VHF Contests, Colorado 14er event, Colorado QSO Party, maybe an HF contest or two.
  • D-STAR: I haven’t been spending much time with D-STAR lately and I want to increase the focus on it. D-STAR falls into that dorking around with new technology category where experimenting with it and learning about it is the main activity.  The technology continues to grow in adoption…arguably slow in real terms as the analog modes have such a huge installed base.
  • APRS: Oddly enough, I have been messing around with APRS again, mostly thinking of it as a tracking tool for hiking and other outdoor activities. Maybe we need to look at bridging APRS with D-STAR location data?

Amateur radio is clearly my #1 hobby interest, and by a wide margin. But it is primarily a hobby (yes, with a public service hook to it…at least for me). It is important to keep it in perspective and not let it turn into another job. I already have one of those.

What are you going to be doing in 2011?

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #17

The summer is flying by and it has been difficult to keep up with the blog. Here are a few things that just spewed out of the internet.

This week there is a nasty wildfire burning west of Boulder which has already consumed 92 structures. (Take a look at some of the photos here.) We have gotten used to the occasional wildfire in the west, some big, some small. This one seems to have spread rapidly and damaged many homes in a short time. And its not over yet. And yes, the local amateur radio community is actively helping out.

K3NG writes about a situation concerning a public service event. He makes some really good points about the amateur radio role in such events. Sometimes I see radio amateurs working events and not really providing much value. This gives us some on-the-air practice but that may not be enough to justify participating.

The Southgate ARC has an item about keeping the AM mode alive. To me, AM definitely means ancient modulation, clearly approaching the Duty-To-Die phase. Please end the life support on this mode and let it slip away. It really will be better for everyone.  (OK, I suppose these guys are just having fun…hard to knock that. But they could do it with half the bandwidth. )

Back to the future with a reworked Commodore 64. I could see getting one of these PCs.

Here’s a good article from unplggd on emergency preparedness from a tech point of view (but not necessarily amateur radio). It’s worth a read.

Those Compact Florescent Light (CFL) bulbs are gaining in popularity. I believe they are an ecological time bomb because of their mercury content. See this article for more information. Oh, and if they aren’t designed well, they tend to radiate radio frequency interference.

73, Bob K0NR

FCC Adopts Changes to 97.113

The FCC has adopted rule changes to Part 97.113, allowing employees to communicate on behalf of an employer during emergency preparedness drills.

I’ve posted several times about this topic, see EmComm Trouble, Time to Change the Rules,  FCC Moving Ahead on the topic.

The new version of the rules are listed here:

§ 97.113 Prohibited transmissions.  
 
(a) * * *
(3) Communications in which the station licensee or control operator has a pecuniary interest, including communications on behalf of an employer, with the following exceptions:
 
(i) A station licensee or control station operator may participate on behalf of an employer in an emergency preparedness or disaster readiness test or drill, limited to the duration and scope of such test or drill, and operational testing immediately prior to such test or drill. Tests or drills that are not government-sponsored are limited to a total time of one hour per week; except that no more than twice in any calendar year, they may be conducted for a period not to exceed 72 hours.
 
(ii) An amateur operator may notify other amateur operators of the availability for sale or trade of apparatus normally used in an amateur station, provided that such activity is not conducted on a regular basis.
 
(iii) A control operator may accept compensation as an incident of a teaching position during periods of time when an amateur station is used by that teacher as a part of classroom instruction at an educational institution.
 
(iv) The control operator of a club station may accept compensation for the periods of time when the station is transmitting telegraphy practice or information bulletins, provided that the station transmits such telegraphy practice and bulletins for at least 40 hours per week; schedules operations on at least six amateur service MF and HF bands using reasonable measures to maximize coverage; where the schedule of normal operating times and frequencies is published at least 30 days in advance of the actual transmissions; and where the control operator does not accept any direct or indirect compensation for any other service as a control operator.

 

The FCC does allow for drills that are not government sponsored, but did include some time limits on these exercises. At first glance, these rules look reasonable to me. What do you think?

        73, Bob K0NR

ARRL Field Day in Monument

This weekend is the ARRL Field Day, the major ham radio operating event in North America. Here in Monument, the Pikes Peak Radio Amateur Association and the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Radio Association will operate from TLMF Station 1. Details are on the PPRAA web site.

The “Get On the Air” station is perfect for new hams that want to try out HF. Everyone is welcome to stop by, operate, chat or just observe.

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #15

It’s time to do one of those miscellaneous collections of drivel that spews forth from the interwebnet pipes. Some of this might even be important!

Some upcoming events: ARRL June VHF QSO Party and the Colorado FM Sprint, on the weekend of June 12th. The FM Sprint runs concurrently with the ARRL contest but only on Sunday afternoon. This is a good chance to get on the air with very basic equipment and have some fun.

The ARRL Field Day is coming up on June 26th and 27th. This is arguably the biggest on-the-air amateur radio event in North America.

I was playing around with setting up an SMS text messaging system for callsign lookup. The idea is that you send a text message (containing an amateur call sign) with your mobile phone and get the FCC or QRZ info back. In the meantime, I found that this problem has been solved by Callsign By Text. Very nice, check it out.

Female radio amateurs should check out Chick Factor International. It looks like a fun group.

I picked up a DV Access Point (DVAP) for D-STAR. This is a neat little device that provides flea-powered D-STAR access on 2 Meters by plugging it into a PC with internet connection. The South Yorkshire Repeater Group has a good description of the product. So far, this thing works really well.

By the way, the South Yorkshire group has a really good web site…interesting and timely information. Although they are in the UK, I find it relevant to US ham radio activity, too.

The Technician Class License question pool will be updated as of July 1, 2010. Our next Tech Class in Monument will be in October, so we’ll be updating the classroom material before teaching that class. It is clear that more technical content is being added to the question pool, which I think is a good thing. See KB6NU’s posting on the topic.

From The Complete Waste of Time Department, the FCC once again dismissed a petition from K9STH to change the amateur radio station identification requirements. Look, the FCC doesn’t see a problem here (and neither do I) so save yourself the trouble.

The FCC is seeking comments on the proposed new rules concerning emergency communications.  I took the time to file a short comment, basically saying that the FCC is on the right track but they should remove the reference to “government-sponsored drills”. Any legitimate emergency communications drill should be included, regardless of who sponsors it. The ARRL made similar but more detailed comments.

– 73, Bob K0NR