Monthly Archives: November 2011

Five Principles of Amateur Radio in the United States

Did you know there were five principles of Amateur Radio written into the law that is Part 97?  Those principles are:

    (a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service
to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service,
particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
    (b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to
contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
    (c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through
rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and
technical phases of the art.
    (d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio
service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.
    (e) Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to
enhance international goodwill.

It would seem that we aren’t just using our airwaves for emergency communications like some people would have us believe.  We can actually go out and enjoy our bands without feeling guilty!

The ARRL's NTS Survey

 Since the ARRL released their NTS survey in a somewhat closed manner I thought I’d shine a little sunshine on it.
The survey, in my opinion, is lacking based on the multiple-choice responses.  Why hem people into vague answers if you really want to know what’s going on?  The survey also seems to slant towards an integration of NTS with ARES.  Personally I hope this doesn’t happen as the two have similar but different goals.  If anything ARES should be a branch of NTS where they can integrate themselves with customers that require communication support and NTS integrates their messages into our already flowing stream of messages we already handle on a daily basis.
But enough commentary, on with the survey.  I have not changed any part of the survey (sorry for the html table markup but that’s how it is on the website).

National Traffic System Status Survey

General Information:

1

What is the total number of active NTS members in your Section:

2

Do you have enough trained, active members to support communications during a significant disaster?

3

What is the total number of counties in your Section?

4

Are all counties in your Section covered by an active NTS net?

If not, how many counties are not covered?
5

How often do you communicate with served agency staff to make or discuss operational plans?

Regularly
Occasionally
Seldom
Never
6

How often do you communicate with Section ARES staff to make or discuss operational plans?

Regularly
Occasionally
Seldom
Never

Training Requirements for Members:

7

Does your Section require certain minimum training for active NTS membership?

8

Which of the following courses are typically required? (select all that apply)

ARRL Introduction to Emergency Communication (formerly EC001)
IS-100
IS-200
IS-700
IS-800
Not applicable
Other, please specify
9

How many disaster exercises are held each year?

10

Please answer the following questions about training requirements for Members:

1
Yes
2
No
Do you require a certain level of on-air participation to maintain active membership?
Do all nets in your Section meet regularly?
Is the level and content of traffic adequate to maintain proficiency?

ARES, NTS, and MARS Cooperation:

11

Does your NTS net structure interface with separate ARES nets at some level?

12

Are NTS and ARES nets fully combined at the Section level?

13

Do you interface with any MARS nets at any level?

14

What percentage of your NTS Members are also active members of the following:

1
Less than 10%
2
10% – 60%
3
More than 60%
Active ARES Members
Active MARS Members

Typical Operation:

15

How are most communications handled?

Voice
Digital
Other, please specify
16

How are most messages moved within your area?

Voice
NTS Digital
CW
Other, please specify
17

How are most messages moved outside
your area?

Voice
NTS Digital
CW
Other, please specify
18

Can you reliably deliver messages to any point in your area?

19

What percentage of actual disaster messages are handled digitally?

Less than 10%
10% – 60%
More than 60%
20

What percentage of the time do you feel current served agency needs are being met by NTS?

Less than 10%
10% – 60%
More than 60%

Disaster Operations:

21

How many times during the last 10 years have local NTS nets actively participated in a disaster response?

22

During a response, how would you characterize the amount of traffic?

Light
Moderate
Heavy
None
23

What percentage of traffic is related to the following…

1
Less than 10%
2
10% – 60%
3
More than 60%
Welfare?
Served agency relief operations?
24
How often are post-event comments solicited from served agencies?
Regularly
Occasionally
Seldom
Never

ICS Implementation:

25

Please answer the following questions about ICS Implementation:

1
Yes
2
No
3
Unknown
Is ICS widely implemented in your area?
Are most NTS members trained in and familiar with ICS?
Do NTS nets in your area ever handle the ICS213 form?
26

What changes do you feel are needed for NTS nationally? (select all that apply)

Redesign of field organization structure
Flexible local options in field organization structure
Stronger national leadership for both ARES and NTS
Replace NTS with something new
More national training support
Accredited training program
Standardized national multi-level NTS training program
Unified ARES/NTS basic emcomm training program
Standardized minimum training requirements for active members
Greater involvement in disaster communications, even before “all else fails”
Less involvement in disaster communications until “all else fails”
A more formal, less casual, NTS program
A simpler net structure
Less frequent net schedules during non-emergency operations
More flexibility at the local level
A clear common set of national administrative rules and guidelines for ARES and NTS leadership
Greater cooperation with MARS and local RACES
Less emphasis on early involvement during emergencies (wait until all else fails)
Modernization of methods and systems
Better technical solutions to meet modern served-agency disaster communication needs
Vetted national NTS member database for all members
Some sort of regular competition to help make day to day practice more interesting – beyond simple traffic counts
More emphasis on message accuracy through the primary use of digital modes
NTS should get out of the welfare message business
NTS should find ways to increase its welfare message business
I do not believe any significant changes are required
I believe only minor procedural and technical changes are needed
27

Of the following, which do you feel is most necessary? (select just one)

Discontinue use of NTS as an ARES long-distance carrier
Restructure NTS to better support ARES long-distance needs
Fully merge or integrate ARES and NTS
28

Please share any additional comments you may have regarding the NTS program at this time…

Rumor Control Note: This is not an idea or suggestion list. Although we are asking a wide range of questions here, it does not mean that any particular idea is under active consideration. Our goal is to permit a broad range of opinions and ideas to be gathered. The results will be used in discussions by the Emergency Communications Advisory Committee during development of guidance to the ARRL Board of Directors.

Leave your Internet out of my Amateur Radio

I don’t understand the use of the Internet in conjunction with Amateur Radio.  Echolink, Winlink 2000, and IRLP all setup a false sense of security for users.  Creating a dependency on something you cannot control means that resource won’t be there when you need it.  Most recently the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) has been advocating the use of Winlink 2000 for emergency use without much forethought, in my opinion.  This really isn’t much surprise since they’ve started doing away with bulletins that could easily be made available over digital amateur radio networks in favor of shiny, flashy, and pretty text that are best viewed using a broadband Internet connection.

  1. If I have Internet access why do I need amateur radio?  It’s actually a really good question.  The ARRL likes to think that ARES members march into a disaster-affected area or into emergency operations centers and setup shop to save the day when traditional communication systems fail.  But if these ARES members only know how to use Internet-based communication systems then they very well might fail as well.  There is a lot of talk of using Winlink 2000 for ARES because email is easiest for our “customers” to handle at the distant end.  Okay, I’m good with that except if the customer doesn’t have Internet access then you are sending messages that won’t be delivered in a timely manner (maybe not until days or weeks after the disaster).  But if their Internet access is working then why do I need amateur radio operators?  Simply put, I don’t.  During Hurricane Irene, the EOC I was stationed at never lost communications with the world or the local shelter.  Had they, we were prepared to handle traffic to the state EOC digitally through the Virginia Digital Emergency Network (VDEN) which does not rely on any Internet connectivity.
  2. If I train to use the Internet I won’t train to use anything else.  It’s a sad fact but when people rely on a technology they deem to be superior because it’s fast or easy you then they end up failing to maintain skills that would allow them a means of communicating around a failure.  The same goes for the equipment being used.  Think that local Echolink repeater link is going to be available during an emergency?  What if it’s not?  If you practice and use that path to communicate with, say, the National Hurricane Center will you be able to do so over HF when your Echolink no longer functions?  Do you even remember the frequency they monitor (14.325MHz)?  Does your equipment even work?
  3. Why would I want to use the Internet to communicate to other Amateurs?  Good question.  I received a license from the FCC stating I have access to all kinds of frequencies in which to exploit using all kinds of modes of communication.  Why would I want to connect an Internet link to the system?  Heck, if I did that I might as well turn the radios off and use the fiber connection I have plugged into my house for all my global communications.  Funny, though, that back in 2003 the SouthEastern Repeater Association (SERA) met and agreed that two hams communicating over the Internet with no RF was still “ham radio”.  In an emergency this would fall squarely into #1 on this list.  The ARRL’s National Traffic System (NTS) currently handles messages going between hams, between hams and non-hams, and even between non-hams and non-hams using amateur radio without Internet links.  They do this using voice, CW, RTTY, and a 24/7/365 digital network, the NTSD, that links up the entire country.  If deployed properly, the NTSD could bring doorstep-to-doorstep communications between hams anywhere in the country (US and Canada) without much delay.
  4. Degradation of skills.  I know of some very smart hams that build and maintain digital networks.  These are smart individuals and they maintain their equipment much as they do their minds by testing different scenarios, working through routing problems, and figuring out how to provide connectivity to different geographic areas when none exists.  Then I know of people who are just smart enough to connect a radio, TNC, and computer together, get the Winlink 2000 software going, and think that the VHF or UHF link they have just created to the Internet is how they are going to communicate with the state EOC a hundred or so miles away.  If the Internet fails at either location or somewhere in between they won’t know how to quickly work around the problem because they don’t have the skills or the equipment to do so.

With so many modes and bands in which to operate why do so many hams seem to revolve around the Internet?  Why has our ambassador, the ARRL, spent more time getting information into a pretty format rather than supporting the means of moving information around via ham radio?  I dare say there isn’t anything that can be done on the Internet that can’t be done on Amateur Radio with respect to communications.

SKCC WES

I received my SKCC WES Participation Certificate today; very cool.  I’ve been a member of the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) for almost a year and had never participated in their Weekend Sprint (WES) which takes place every month for twenty-four hours.  I scored 115th out of the 199 entries.  Not bad for arm chair operating off and on.  I think I mustered sixteen contacts including Australia, Alaska, and France among the other stateside contacts.  It is a fun event and I hope to participate in the next one which come up on 11 December 2011.

HamQTH.com

Recently the owners of QRZ.com Callsign Database started restricting access to addresses and other data unless you were a registered user. If you used a logging program, such as CQRLOG, you would have to pay a yearly fee to access this mostly public information. I’d much rather give a donation to a group that is trying to do the right thing rather than have my information held hostage for ransom. Because of this I’d like to introduce HamQTH.

HamQTH is a free ham radio callsign database that provides similar information but is completely free.  The owner of the data (you) gets to determine what is visible and what isn’t.

I encourage everyone to visit HamQTH and try it out.  I already use it for my logging program and have received great results so far.  And best of all it’s all free!

2011 DXCC Update

Just submitted my 2011 DXCC Update to the ARRL.  I submitted fifty QSOs via LoTW and twelve QSOs via paper QSLs.

New DXCC entities include:

  1. 5B – Cyprus
  2. CE9 – Antarctica
  3. CP – Bolivia
  4. CT8 – Azores Islands
  5. CY0 – Sable Island
  6. EU – Belarus
  7. GU – Guernsey
  8. PJ4 – Bonaire
  9. TF – Iceland
  10. TK – Corsica
  11. T7 – San Marino
  12. VK – Australia
  13. V4 – Saint Kitts and Nevis
  14. YL – Latvia

DXCC entities still awaiting confirmation:

  1. HB0 – Liechtenstein
  2. OD – Lebanon
  3. S2 – Bangladesh
  4. T32 – East Kiribati
  5. UA (AS) – Russia (Asiatic)
  6. XT – Burkina Faso
  7. YB – Indonesia
  8. YS – El Salvador

Temporary TCC Lima/Victor

A while back I had told Marcia KW1U that I’d like to try a TCC slot one day to see what it’s all about.  Yesterday was that day.  The Lima schedule goes from the second cycle of the Eastern Area Net (EAN) to the Central Area Net (CAN) and the Victor schedule comes back from CAN with any traffic heading east.  When I checked into EAN as the Central Receive (with two through) I was told that I had a station with two messages for Central.  This is going to be easy I thought.  I can surely take four messages over to another net.  What I wasn’t ready for, though, was the nearly twenty messages I received from CAN to bring back!  I had a lot of fun, though, and while I couldn’t hear 1RN or 2RN nets when I listened for them I was able to deliver all my traffic, mostly going to Massachusetts and Ontario, over the NTSD.

I had a lot of fun and can hardly wait to do it again.  If you are an amateur radio operator in the United States or Canada I’d recommend getting involved in NTS especially at the local/section level.