[aprssig] Emergency Communications, More Than Just Hardware!
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
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
DEDICATED TO ONLY EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS, or at least it should take
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
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