Communications in Luzerne County, PA
By Capt. Jeremy
most critical question that needs to be addressed when considering the role of amateur
radio in emergency response in Luzerne county is who the served agencies are,
and what communications services they may require during a civil
emergency. Once these questions are
answered, a program to provide the equipment, operators, and services can be
cases, the served agencies are not quite sure what amateur radio is, or what
services they can provide. In such
cases, the EC must be able to suggest services, explain how they can be
delivered, and reinforce these offerings with either a demonstration or at
least a presentation.
rapidly changing communications offerings by commercial providers have greatly
raised the bar of expectations. In years
past the demonstration of an auto-patch through a local repeater was a source
of wonder. Since cellular telephones are
carried by nearly everyone, the ability to make a telephone call from an H-t
will likely leave them unimpressed. In fact, since smart telephones and 4G
networks are all the rage these days, the average served agency will want
something approaching this capability from the amateur radio community. The days of providing voice nets on FM
simplex or CW NTS nets are long over.
These services, especially provided by ill-trained amateurs, will be
counter- productive. The goal should be
inter connection of the served agency’s remote locations with relatively fast
data as well as voice connection. Adding
television or image transfer is also desirable.
was not built in a day and neither can the Ecomm capabilities for the
county. The first goal must be a core
group of willing and able amateurs to help provide communications to the served
agencies in the county using the existing, or easily built infrastructure. Emergency coordinators need to operate across
jurisdictional boundaries to include local, state, and even federal
agencies. Getting all of these people to
operate in concert, the DHS and FEMA have developed the Incident Command System
(ICS). This is the standard modus
operandi of all Ecomm services, and if the amateur community wishes to take
part in an emergency response, then they must be trained in ICS. All active amateurs in ARES must have minimum
training in ICS (ICS-100), while the leadership must have more in-depth
training (ICS-100, 200, 700).
Fortunately most of this training is provided online or can be taught
relatively quickly in small classes. In
addition to the ICS training classes, the ARES membership, and especially the
leadership should consider enrolling in the ARRL Ecomm classes; level 1 for
most members and up to level 3 for the leadership. This training will make for informed
operators who can intelligently assist emergency service providers in the
high-stress situations that we will be operating in.
the general training is completed, then practical training can begin. Practical training can be as simple as drills
where a specific skill set is practiced, to more comprehensive exercises are
undertaken to test the whole system.
Simple drills include voice nets to test equipment pre-staged at sights,
as well as assembling simple FM voice and/or packet stations. Another good test is to operate a packet
station to be able to pass simple packet traffic if that is an option offered
the served agency. Drills should be
scheduled at least monthly and exercises annually, preferably as part of the
served agency’s training exercise, if it occurs.
careful review of the current ARES capabilities must be undertaken so that the
group can make an honest presentation of the group’s current capabilities. I would suggest that FM simplex and/or
repeater capabilities be tested so that all major facilities (EOC, Hospitals,
FD HQ, PD HQ, shelters) are able to be contacted. If there is any pre-staged equipment, this
must be cataloged and tested as well. If
there is no pre-staged equipment, then people assigned to the location must be
able to provide a station that can operate effectively on emergency power from
that location. If repeaters are to be
used, is emergency power available, and if so, for how long? If there is a loss of repeaters, can they be
replaced by temporary repeaters, or will simplex be required?
first improvement that should be implemented is a simple 1200 baud packet
system that can pass digital text traffic from shelters and hospitals to the
EOC. This should be fairly simple and
inexpensive. All that would be required
is cheap 2 meter radios and inexpensive TNC’s and simple desktop
computers. Training of operators on how
to send and receive packet messages is imperative. Modern emergency systems want email, and it
is something that must be provided for even at the simple level of 1200 baud
can demonstrate that we are a valuable asset for communications in an emergency
situation, we can start to press for grants and funding to increase the
capabilities of the group to better serve the county. To this end, I would suggest that the D-Star System
and Winlink 2000 capabilities be implemented.
2000 is a VHF/HF/Telnet email system what works on a variety of platforms to
get email to commercial email addresses.
The end user connects to a node station which then opens a telnet link
to the email server and passes the traffic fairly automatically. Only the initial connection is made
manually. The software can utilize
direct telnet if internet connections are available, packet for point to point
connections (1200 or 9600 baud are the most common speeds). On HF the two options are a soundcard mode
called WinMor which is the most economical and offers relatively fast speed. The other mode for WL2K is Pactor. Pactor 3 is the fastest HF with speeds up to
3600 bps connections, but the cost of these controllers is relatively high at
$1200 or more.
this area, a pair of physically separated nodes a running RMS Packet station
attached to a permanent internet connection would be a great first step. This would allow for a redundant and
relatively robust connection to the internet that can be accessed by end users using
standard TNC’s or soundcard packet stations and running the free client
software to access the WL2K system.
to the local packet system, the EOC can be outfitted with an HF station that
can be used to access WL2K via HF on either WinMor or Pactor. (As an aside, while I am in town, I can offer
this station in a fixed, mobile, or portable operation using Pactor 3 and my
personal WL2K account). A simple
muli-band antenna can be used at the EOC as there are many WL2K HF stations in
the US within range during most propagation conditions.
ultimate goal of this operation should be a fully-functional 2-node D-Star
system. This would require grant money
of upwards of $20,000 to implement, as well as the willingness of local hams to
acquire D-star capable radios. Ideally a
pair of Digital Data (DD) nodes linked with a 10 GHz RF link with full-time
internet access would be utilized to provide a pair of 128 kps connections at
the EOC and major locations such as shelters and hospitals. Augment this with digital Voice (DV) and its
slower digital capability to offer cell-phone quality, and intelligently linked
voice capabilities. The DV system can be
either 2 meter and/or 440 MHz systems (or a mixture of both). This would offer the biggest “wow” factor to
the served agency. Of course setting up this system would also require capital
investment, monthly maintenance of the internet connection, repeater sites, and
frequency coordination. To this end, I
will start researching and asking other Ecomm groups who have implemented
D-star systems and look for hints and kinks.
just an introduction to the vision that I have and is of course subject to
change as we learn what the county needs and wants as well as the ability and wiliness
of the local groups to assist in this public service. I welcome you input and thoughts on these