Saturday, December 30, 2017

Two Thousand Seventeen

To All ECs adn DECs
Please Forward

As we plummet headlong into 2018, I thought it might be worthwhile to recollect what an amazing 2017 we had, and I am looking forward to an even more exciting 2018.

All our ARES members, and especially our ECs, did yeoman duty this year. We began the year with the news that our Section reported more volunteer hours than any section in the country. I don't know how it will turn out for 2017, but certainly there was a lot of reporting.

A few years back, FEMA asked us for a database on what capabilities we
had at public facilities, and our ECs updated that database this year. In addition, ECs reported how many folks they thought they could
muster in various circumstances and with specific skills. These
reporting tasks may seem mundane, but they are important to understand
so we can plan effectively.

I would like to ask each EC to take on another task immediately. Thank each of your members for their generous service. Those folks often come out for rather boring, but necessary duties. But each and every one is important, and each deserves recognition.

In March and April and again in June we had a number of severe weather events, including flooding in the U.P. and flooding in Central Michigan. In July and August we had additional, but localized, severe weather events.

Folks came out to support numerous walks, runs and other public service events, perhaps most notably the Labor Day Bridge Walk, where members from Luce to Antrim impressed the professionals with the kind of accountability APRS offers.

Besides actual activations, we participated in a large number of drills and exercises. As a Section, we participated in the "Statewide 2017" exercise as well as our annual SET. The SEOC crew additionally activated for three radiological exercises and the 100th anniversary special event station.

We had our first, in-state AUXCOMM class this year, and another planned for the end of January. We also had the first, amateur radio focused MI-CIMS training, and expect to have more in the coming year.

We had an amazing Division convention at MIS, which I hope we can repeat in coming years. Rick Roderick was an amazing speaker, and it was great to see so many folks that we don't get to see so often.

Your SEC followed a number of SEOC activations that ended up not requiring communications assistance, as well as three tabletop exercises.

The Auxcomm Working Group is finishing up the volunteer radio portion of the Michigan Emergency Communications Plan, and will shortly be turning to the Michigan Emergency Management Plan. In addition, we hope to update the rather stale "Michigan ARPSC Guidelines" in the coming year. Further, we will be providing input to the State Communications Interoperability Plan, so we are well entrenched in that state's communications planning. With all this planning in the works, the state is offering the assistance of their planners.

The FEMA Region V Auxcomm Committee has established a region wide frequency plan, and will be documenting activation procedures shortly. If you need assistance from outside the state, look to 60 meters channel 4, if busy, try 5, 1 2, 3 in that order. If conditions warrant, go to 40 meters, 7.180 and up. If Internet is available, look to REF024A on D-STAR (we hope to have a dedicated reflector before too long) or R5AUXCOMM on DMR. Of course, in most cases you will go to the SEOC first and they will make the out of state contact, but you should at least be aware of the frequencies.

So what will the new year bring? We have heard that changes will be coming to ARES, and we will hear more about that at Interop in February. From what we can tell so far, it looks as if those changes will be positive.

As mentioned, we have a number of plans to work on. We will essentially re-run our SET on April 28. We will be working with the state's Training and Exercise Section to include us more meaningfully into the state exercises.

We will be asking the ECs to provide us details of their primary repeater. We have had a questionnaire ready for some time, but we were hitting the ECs with one request after another, so felt it best to hold off. Meanwhile, KE8CRV will be providing us with MI-CIMS boards for that purpose, which should be a lot easier to use.

At the SEOC, we still need to get the Pactor station on the air. The packet station is up, but I hear not working properly, so that is something to investigate. We still need to identify and acquire a new tuner so we can get a power amp on the air. We also plan to have an intercom system so that the place won't be quite so noisy when there are multiple stations on the air, get additional Internet connections into the station, and perhaps move some of the positions a little so the VHF/UHF seats aren't so crowded.

We have some really good presentations planned for Interop. Looking forward to hearing from Mike Horn, Chuck Cribley, Dale Williams, Mike Corey, Ron Peterka and others. it promises to be a very ham-heavy conference.

We had some good success providing a training video on voice communications, and plan to prepare more videos in the future. We have been offered assistance from both the League as well as the state's Training and Exercise Section. We may well incorporate those videos into Mi-Train so that folks can track the videos along with other courses they have taken.

So a lot happened in 2017, and we expect a lot more to happen in 2018.  Again, thanks to all of you for your service and dedication. I may get to schmooze with the bureaucrats, but the folks in the field do all the heavy lifting. Thank you all so much.

73 and Happy New Year
de WB8RCR

Thursday, September 15, 2016

2016 ARRL Simulated Emergency Test

Over the past few SETs, we have exercised NBEMS, Packet, HF Phone and CW, in one case, even D-STAR.  But it has been quite a while since we tested our bread and butter; VHF/UHF radiotelephone. Indeed, the ability to effectively use phone relays is really key to our ability to respond.

For SET 2016, we will rely on VHF and UHF relays.  We might still use repeaters, providing those repeaters have backup power, but no Internet or telephone linking.  RF linking is OK.

SET 2016 will use a very large Coronal Mass Ejection as the scenario.  A fairly large CME was blamed for a 1989 outage across much of Quebec.  Much larger CMEs occur about once every 100 years, and we are overdue.  A CME similar to one recorded in 1859 would be devastating with today's dependence on technology.

Since a CME produces an HF blackout, Districts that relay on HF for in-District communications will need to come up with another plan.

The SEOC cannot reach Districts 7 and 8 by VHF, so District 3 will have to relay that traffic to District 7; 7 will then relay to 8.

The DECs will act as exercise controllers, providing injects according to a schedule with they already have.  When a DEC has to play, then he will need to select an alternate to act as controller since the exercise controller may not also be an exercise player.

Even though we are simulating a total loss of traditional infrastructure, stations are still encouraged to maintain their station status in the MI-CIMS Station Status Board.

 An incident has been set up for this exercise:
TRN-2016-10-08-ARRL Simulated Emergency Test

The SEOC will send and receive traffic from the Districts on a preassigned schedule. The frequencies are outlined in the 205 on MI-CIMS.  DECs already have this information.

As usual, we have left plenty of time for individual counties to prepare activities allowing them to test those capabilities important to their local jurisdiction.

The 2016 Participant Guide is available here.  Links will be sent to all the ECs around the first of October.  Note that the Controller Guide and Master Scenario Event List are password protected.  Only the Participant Guide is freely available until after the exercise.



Monday, March 28, 2016

Update on SEOC station

(Some of this was posted on Facebook, but not everyone is on FB, and there are some details at the end that weren't in the FB post).
 
Pretty interesting (and tiring) day at the SEOC Saturday. A group of us were there to install the HF antennas. It was a LOT slower than expected. It took us some time to locate the color codes for the feedlines coming in from outside. We had previously dragged cables inside the Auxcomm room, but the furniture turned out to be not what was expected, so about half those cables still need to be dragged somewhere else.

But the outside cables were an experience. There are 40 cables coming into the building, 13 of which are ours. For some reason the contractors decided to use only two colors of tape on the 23 feedlines from the big tower. So, were there 14 pieces of white tape on that cable or only 13?




Just a few of the incoming cables


We had not previously located the surge protectors for the control cables for the tuners, so we had to tear up even more floor. Of course, that made every step inside something of a challenge.

Things were even worse outside. There was a couple inches of mud over frozen mud, so half the time when you picked up your foot your boot would stay put. The other half of the time you would slide on the frozen ground lubricated by quicksand, so a few times one or another of us would be unable to avoid getting horizontal. Not much fun in that mud, but at least it was soft.

Inside not a lot better. There is a LOT of equipment, most of it not where it belongs. A lot of things I didn't recognize, and things I expected to find I didn't. But we got plenty of exercise carrying heavy stuff around. Do you have any idea what a 50 amp Astron weighs? Or an 87A? There is so much stuff in the room a lot of things we couldn’t find until after we needed them. We kind of cobbled up end insulators, and Bob found a center insulator, but it turns out there was a box of insulators, baluns, pulleys, other antenna stuff hidden under boxes of power cables.

In the end we only got a single antenna up, and we're not all that happy with that one. But we have something for Wednesday, anyway.

A big thanks to WD8BCS, KE8ACA, KC8LTL, and especially K8RDN for some really hard work under very suboptimal conditions. Still plenty of work to do, but I think it is going to have to wait until it gets drier, or colder.
So, remaining work to be done:
  • Move the MARS and CAP feedlines across the room
  • Move the VHF/UHF feedlines down one slot
  • Get holes drilled in the blue workspaces
  • Finish moving the equipment to the proper slots
  • Locate CAP and Trbo radios
  • N connector on CAP feedline under floor
  • Might need connectors both ends of Trbo feedline
  • Get Fred or Jeff to program Trbo radio
  • Arrange some sort of mount for VHF heads
  • Set up packet station
  • What is the deal with the tuners?
  • Get correct wire antennas in place once the ground is firm
  • Set up Pactor station. May want to chat with WB2FTX on the best way to set up the software.
  • get power to the digital position
  • Build or acquire cabinets or shelves for storage
Lots of work to do, a few areas of concern:
  • Not real sure what power supplies are what, and if we have enough.  Seems like there is a bunch but it gets skinny when you start assigning them
  • The tuners appear to be only for long wires.  Not clear that they will work for the G5RV antennas.  We do have some 4:1 baluns that might work OK for CW (the radio has a built in tuner), but for Pactor that will limit us for the time being (will have to use a manual tuner so we won't be frequency agile unattended).
  • We need to upgrade the tuner on the loop so we can use the Alpha.
  • We probably need some lessons on the Alpha
  • We definitely need some lessons on the MotoTrbo
 In addition to this, the MARS and CAP stations are pretty much untouched.  There is a CAP VHF antenna and feedline, and feedlines and towers for MARS, but not much else has been done.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

2015 Overview

Sorry this is so long in coming.  But probably worthwhile to review 2015.

First, and most importantly, Michigan ARES members reported over 100,000 volunteer hours in 2015, with a volunteer value of almost $2MM.  Emergency Coordinators reported 202 planned incidents (walks, runs, etc.) and 119 unplanned.  Included in the unplanned were 41 SKYWARN activations, 28 Search and Rescue outings, 6 power outage and 5 fire responses.

Hours contributed in direct emergency response have fallen slowly over the past few years, but that has more than been made up for in drills, exercises and other preparedness work.

In terms of statewide exercises and preparedness, in 2015 we participated in the statewide tornado drill in April, the Northern Exposure exercise in June, an improvised nuclear device seminar also in June, a radiological awareness workshop in August, an exercise involving the alternate SEOC in September, the D.C. Cook nuclear plant series of exercises in September and October, and the annual Training and Exercise Planning Workshop (T&EPW) in November.

Last year our annual Simulated Emergency Test was built around a zombie apocalypse.  Participants made heavy use of NBEMS and some use of D-Star.  Counties sent their ICS-205 forms to the state reflecting the disruption to communications caused by a zombie outbreak, and were reminded of the importance of keeping their 217A up to date, and of the utility of the 201 and 202 when things go south.




In 2015 the SEC took the FEMA Auxcomm class, and co-authored an updated Amateur Radio Emergency Service manual.  The state's Interoperable Communications Board named the SEC and Marc Breckenridge, the EMC for Washtenaw County, as co-chairs of an Auxcomm working group.


One of the more fun bits as we headed toward the new year was wrapping up construction of a new state EOC.  The ARES/RACES station will feature a full size 160 meter loop for phone, G5RVs for CW and Pactor, and a 150 foot tower housing our VHF and UHF antennas.


All in all, a pretty good year last year.

Friday, August 29, 2014

SET 2014

Some years back we made the decision to use SET as an exercise, rather than a contest.  At that time Michigan was routinely on top of SET scores across the nation.  While the contest flavor did encourage interest, it did little to help us improve.

We moved to making SET an exercise, and while many jurisdictions submitted their Form A (or Form B for nets) to the League, the makeup of the SET did nothing to encourage high scores, instead focusing entirely on our need to improve skills and identify weaknesses.

In the wiki to collect input for the 2014 SET, there were some comments about scoring to encourage local jurisdictions to engage in some activities locally that could be useful in the event of an incident.  The idea of having our own scoring system is interesting.

This year for SET we are going to try a combined score sheet that includes the ARRL scoring categories, as well as a few categories where previous exercises have indicated a need to improve.

Michigan Form A

The above image shows a first draft.  Because some categories are somewhat population dependent, the Michigan score will be partially scaled based on the population of the jurisdiction.  Most categories, tho, are not affected.  For example, whether or not you activated based on a written plan (something that was a clear issue in the Spring tabletop), has no relationship to population.

It is not clear at this time whether the ECs will be given blank spreadsheets to report or whether we will provide a web page for input.  In either case, reporting to the League is still encouraged.

The October 4 scenario will be similar to what we actually experienced this Spring; severe cold and widespread flooding.  We will be focusing on digital and simplex, and again will encourage the use of MI-CIMS.  DECs will be getting more details shortly.

And once again, the Section component should be a small portion of your local activities.  Each EC should evaluate the needs of the jurisdiction and prepare local activities the reflect those needs, but still attempt to tie into the State scenario.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pi Toppings

Boy, labels can really help.

As soon as I had a few Raspberry Pis, I began to realize that knowing what the MAC address was for a Pi was handy, so I put a label on each Ethernet connector with the MAC address.

In working on the Midland Hamgate with multiple TNCs, I was having some initial issues that seemed to be related to the particular Raspberry Pi.  At that point it became obvious that I needed quick access not only to the MAC address, but to the name my dnsmasq server would assign to that Pi.  So, more labels:


MAC and nodename labels

At first I had two TNCs, one for my home JNOS and one for my portable JNOS.  But the Midland Hamgate will require multiples, which means assigning an I2C address to each TNC.  Since I can't see what I2C address is programmed, and it is pretty clumsy to even read it once JNOS is running, labels for the I2C addresses seemed necessary:

I2C address labels
OK, that was pretty good, but once I started doing RF testing it became evident that it is useful to know what frequency the TNC is assigned to.  Even more important, once it is in service it will be very handy for debugging, so:
Channel Labels

So now my TNCs are all covered with stickers, but they seem to like it.  As best I can tell, they are all working:

Heard List


Monday, July 28, 2014

Activating your Program


During the Spring Tabletop, it became clear that while many programs have plans for activating, many do not, and those that do have some significant shortcomings.  Although they were not targeted for the tabletop, I suspect that the nets are even less prepared to activate in the event of need than the individual counties.

In most counties, the EC sits on the county EOC, and as such, gets a page whenever the EOC is activated.  But most incidents don't rise to the level of requiring an EOC activation.  Many are handled by a single agency such as Red Cross, County Health or Salvation Army.  If those agencies need our assistance, in many places they don't know who to call.

The Red Cross in particular is somewhat problematic.  In recent years they have reduced the number of chapters dramatically, so chances are the chapter serving your county isn't in your county.  In fact, you might not even know who the players are.

Each EC should be reviewing those agencies that might service their jurisdiction and be reaching out to those agencies to help them understand what you can offer, what you cannot, and who to call if a need arises.

The other issue that shows up has to do with bench depth.  Your served agencies should not have just one phone number.  There should be multiple paths, phone, email, page, twitter, whatever, and multiple levels.  I would suggest at least three deep.  In some northern counties where many of the members head south for the winter, three might not be enough.

And it isn't sufficient to simply have the list of names.  They have to know what to do when they get the call.  Each EC should personally review what needs to be done with each assistant, and the plan should be written and available to all the members.  At least the EC, the AECs and the EOC station should have a paper copy of the plan.  Most of the time an online copy is adequate, but there should be a hard copy in the hands of critical players.  Each county has a slot on the ARES web site where they can place these plans, and if there is sensitive information in the plan it can be password protected.

It is important to keep it up to date, too.  Yes, chances are you will need to re-print the paper copies every few months.  But that is a small price to pay for being prepared.

This Internet/paper thing does get interesting.  Recently, Joi Ito posted a TED talk on "becoming a now-ist" (http://tinyurl.com/lwdcu24).  The interesting thing abut his talk was that many of his ideas revolved around the Internet.  The Internet opens up entirely new ways of innovating.  My work with Fedora has given me some insight into just how powerful these tools can be for those that are willing to learn them.

But we have these competing needs.  While we need to be very quick to respond to new and challenging situations, we also need to be able to operate in conditions where we do not have access to the Internet.  Unfortunately, that has caused many members to totally distrust the Internet and be unwilling to use it, even in places where it is appropriate.

These days everyone is very busy, and getting folks together to work on new things is difficult.  Internet tools, especially those that allow for asynchronous input, can be very helpful.  We all use email, which is one such tool.  For many things, the wiki can be a much more powerful tool.

Back in 2012 I created a wiki on github to collect thoughts on ARES and NTS, and there is currently a page collecting input on the 2014 SET.  There has been a lot of good input on SET, but unfortunately only from a few folks.  A wiki is a web page that people can edit.  You can, for example, throw up an outline of some proposed policy and get your members to provide their input.  You now can benefit from the input from all your members to develop the policy more fully before you commit it to paper.

I particularly like the wiki on gitorious.org and github.com for two primary reasons; first, since they are backed by git you can see the history of changes and undo any change, and second, they are crude.

Why do I like crude?
  • Crude means easy to learn
  • Crude means you won't waste time making it pretty, and that means
  • You will focus more on content than cosmetics

I have a slight preference for gitorious because it is open source, which means that if gitorious goes away, we can load the wiki somewhere else.  Internet sites have an annoying habit of disappearing at inconvenient times.  In fact, gitorious even provides a link where you can download your entire wiki to your PC.

I would encourage each EC and Net Manager to
  1. Set up an account on gitorious
  2. Create a project
  3. Create a wiki for the project
  4. Add a page for something that needs to be worked on
  5. Encourage your members to contribute

In fact, your activation plan might well be a good place to start.  (see this wiki  for an example of a starter wiki).