[aprssig] Emergency Communications, More Than Just Hardware!

Ray McKnight shortsheep at worldnet.att.net
Tue Dec 28 16:59:52 CST 2004

I've changed the title of my posting because I don't feel the current thread

will ever accomplish anything.


In order for any of our efforts to succeed, several things must be in place:


1) We must have clearly defined goals and objectives.

We are talking about revitalizing connected mode packet,

with backbones, nodes and such.  Fine, we had that for

many years in most parts of the US and we let it die.

Obviously, the majority of Hams didn't feel it was a 

useful tool.  So what are we proposing, just dusting off

a few old radios and computers, fire it back up and pat

ourselves on the back?  WHAT DO WE INTEND TO ACCOMPLISH?

We need to have a goal - what are going to DO with it

once we get it back online?


2) In order to answer #1, there must be clear plans in place

to integrate our communications networks in times of emergency

or disaster.  We must analyze the communications needs, either

for establishing communications in the event that an area is

isolated, or for augmenting existing communications, e.g.

providing communications when the existing systems are



3) MOST IMPORTANTLY - providing equipment alone will certainly fail!

One person, showing up with a radio, while noble, is pretty

much useless.  In times of disaster, there needs to be volunteers

willing to provide time to operate the equipment.  This may require

hundreds or even thousands of trained Hams, in numerous locations.

In my experience, there are usually more volunteers than there are

equipment.  Most show up with only a handheld or mobile radio, some

without anything.  Not all volunteers need to be communicators, but

all communicators need radios, equipment, etc.  Being able to identify

what is needed and in what proportion is vital.  In the first stages of

our response, identifying which parts of our existing infrastructure is

operational will be necessary, then developing a plan to augment and 

"patch holes" will be most important.  Only then can we effectively

communicate and be of value.


As a "P.S." the #3, we need to accept that most modern radios are becoming

exceedingly complex to operate.  Merely handing a volunteer a radio doesn't

guarantee that they can use it.  How many times have I seen someone show up

at an event and couldn't change their PL tone or some other needed function

because they didn't have the instruction manual!  AND THAT WAS THEIR

EQUIPMENT, so with loaner equipment this becomes even more problematic.


4) The system we design must be simple, redundant, and require

as little training as possible for the end user.  In this regard,

it is highly desireable to have common components which can be 

interchanged as necessary, and common user interfaces to reduce 

operator training and setup time.  Volunteers can then be used

at almost any location without additional training or experience.


5) In large scale disasters, it must be recognized that many forms

of communications may be required to accomplish the goal.  Local

workers using VHF voice repeaters to communicate with field supervisors,

supervisors using connected mode packet to relay message traffic to

regional centers and APRS to track local assets, regional centers 

utilizing HF to communicate with State and Federal offices.  The 

benefits and limitations of each tier needs to be clearly understood 

for it to be utilized effectively.


6) For any of this to be effective, there must be coordination between

us (the Hams), and local, regional, and at least State agencies.  We

must understand how we are to be utilized, propose and implement a

system to do that, then test it and train with it regularly.


7) There must be local, regional and state-wide and/or national plans

in place to document what resources are available, where they are 

located, who to contact to request them, and how it will all be 

coordinated once activated.


8) There must be a comprehensive training program, and regular

training and practice activation of the system at every level.

At each site there should be someone responsible for coordinating

utilization of volunteers and providing training as needed on

their local systems.  It must be recognized that in a large scale

disaster, many volunteers will pour in from across the country or

even from outside the country to offer assistance.  If you cannot

give each one a clearly defined job and the resources to accomplish

that job, they will be bored and go home, and others will hesitate

to volunteer in the future.


9) We should have a good public relations program to educate other

agencies on our capabilities, and regional/state/national offices

that can offer support and guidance, provide training and PR materials,

coordinate larger PR events if needed.  "ARRL" type organizations

can be valuable, if they are willing to dedicate staff, time and resources

to the effort.  In my opinion, the US's ARRL is sadly lacking in this area.


Several have commented that they have some form of node or digi that can

be put online, or is operational already.  Without coordination, often these

individual efforts only serve to make things worse.  The KANode, in my

was a leading cause of the demise of connected mode packet, as it often was

incompatible with many other types of networks.  Individuals who took it

themselves to install a KANode often introduced various problems, even

the other nodes to crash or operate very inefficiently.  That's why our

must be coordinated and planned.  Otherwise, we're just wasting our time.


As far as WinLink, well, its a GREAT system, true.  But for anyone to be

successfull you need at least a Pactor-II modem, and Pactor-III is certainly

Yes, Pactor really blows any "packet" system away, being able to maintain

at 18dB BELOW the noise floor.  FANTASTIC, but how many individual hams or

agencies can come up with the nearly $1,200 needed for the proprietary
modem?  Plus

we also have the "all our eggs in one basket" debate, since the modem is

manufactured by one company, thus is not off-the-shelf interchangeable with

other product.  "Sound card Pactor" is rare, and only using Pactor-I which

all that fast, but still more reliable than packet.  But I feel that relying

"Telpac" to integrate local users into the WinLink system is definately NOT

way to go, as we shouldn't be RELYING on any cellular or Internet

ESPECILALLY AT THE LOCAL LEVEL.  WinLink requires PACTOR, not packet, so

systems cannot get into WinLink directly except through intermediate

KISS - make it as simple as possible, and reduce the number of components in

system to increase reliability and reduce complexity.


One final comment on "channel saturation" or the apparent lack of available
frequencies.  IN AN EMERGENCY or DISASTER, to HELL with all casual users of

the frequency!  Voice repeaters, packet frequencies, nodes, networks ALL CAN


If we need to bump someone's BBS offline to use the channel for earthquake

so be it, and if anyone has any problem with that let them call the head of

FCC to complain (and certainly be put in their place if not have their

suspended for being a moron).


Merely putting some nodes and backbones up, or back online is the easy part.

What will we do with it, and how to make it an effective communications tool

is a totally different question.


Ray - WB3ABN

Kingston, WA

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