Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Monitoring Emergency Frequencies

The recent spates of bad weather have served to remind us of the importance of monitoring our emergency frequencies any time we suspect there may be an issue.  If someone really needs us, they are in deep trouble.  They need a place to go to get help and our frequencies are that place.

It would be nice if it were as simple as a single frequency.  But propagation isn't always a kind mistress, so we need to be prepared to operate on different bands depending on the mood of the sun, and different modes as different modes are affected differently by propagation.  Plus, someone with only simple equipment or little power available may need to operate CW, and only a relative handful of us can do that.  But if someone can afford a large power budget and has capable equipment, then modes that are easier for the untrained are possible.

Here in Michigan, we primarily use 3 bands; 80 is our default, 40 is for times of high flux, and 160 for low flux.  In practice, 40 is daytime, 80 is nighttime, but at the sunspot peak in the summer "daytime" might extend 24 hours, and at night in the winter during the sunspot minimum the flux may be low enough to demand 160.

Our frequencies are as follows:

            CW      NBEMS     SSB
   160     1.812    1.803    1.932
    80     3.563    3.583    3.932
    40     7.068    7.043    7.232

Note that we check CW at the top of the hour, NBEMS at quarter past, and SSB at the bottom of the hour. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: You should have these frequencies available on paper at your EOC station.  You may remember them, but you might not be the operator at your EOC when they are needed.

In addition to HF, monitoring should include your local repeater, 146.58 and 146.52.

We should use the 160 meter frequencies whenever the F2 critical frequency is below 4 MHz, and the 40 meter frequencies if the critical frequency is above 8 MHz.  If you have Internet available, you can check the Near-Real-Time F2-Layer Critical Frequency Map. If you really need to call out on these frequencies chances are you don't have the Internet.  So you should always be aware of where we are in the sunspot cycle.  Basically, 80 is the default, go up in frequency in the daytime, down at night, up near the solar maximum, down near the minimum.

You can also tell by listening.  If you can hear close in stations then you aren't too high in frequency.  If the noise is so high you can't hear anything, then you are probably too low in frequency.

For monitoring purposes, we use Olivia 8/500 for NBEMS.  MT-63 1K long works well too, as long as there aren't thunderstorms in the area, but for calling and monitoring, Olivia 8/500 is the ticket.  

For CW, call at a relatively low speed.   The Michigan CW nets operate at 20WPM or higher, but the station in trouble might not have that skill.  Call at 15WPM or less.

When monitoring, it is useful to announce your presence.  This shouldn't be some long dissertation, QRV de WB8RCR is adequate.  Even if you can't hear the station in trouble, them hearing you gives them some confidence that someone is listening and they should keep trying.

And also keep your station status up to date in MI-CIMS if at all possible whenever an incident is available.  The SEC watches this closely and has a number of communications paths to MSP.  If someone is in trouble it can be a huge help to know a station is on the air in a particular area.  If you don't have access to MI-CIMS, ask your county emergency management coordinator if access can be arranged.

So when there is any reason to suspect a problem, please monitor.  Even if you simply leave the radio on in the background on the appropriate frequency, it could be a real benefit to someone in trouble.

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