Last night I was having a conversation with Marty KB3MXM,
ARRL Maryland-DC (MDC)
Section Manager, regarding notification of
ARES® members in times of need, quickly. This isn't the first
time I've written about the
and not much has changed. Taking another look at the subject has given
me the opportunity to look at some additional resources.
Various options are available today (each with their own pros and cons):
- Phone trees
- PRO: Simple, easy to establish
- CON: Assumes telephony lines are up and not congested. Also,
calling the 500+ members in the MDC ARES team could take a while.
- Pretty much every ARES organization has such a device as a means
of communicating with their members. It's cheap, simple, and easy
to deploy although it could be time consuming to actually use.
- Short Message Service (SMS)
- PRO: Fast delivery of short messages to cellular phones.
- CON: Assumes cellular circuits are available, solution can be
costly, and may require Internet access to implement a
- Calvert County AUXCOMM currently
uses ez texting to send SMS
messages to all members. At the time the account was established
we were able to get a free account with ~100 SMS messages per
month. This type of account is no longer advertised.
- See also, Multimedia Messaging Service
- Email Listservs
- PRO: Simple to setup, can send messages to phones via SMS email
addresses, regular email addresses, and Winlink addresses. Email
is fairly ubiquitous.
- CON: Assumes Internet connectivity to the server, from the server
to the client email servers, and then to the clients themselves.
- Similarly to the phone tree, I suspect most ARES groups have one
of these already setup and ready to go.
- Transmitting messages across the radio
- PRO: All radio with a potential for higher availability.
- CON: Requires users to be monitoring a particular frequency all
- The best case I've seen for this is in Connecticut
ARES. Their DMR
network has an alert
that is silent but for alerts. Because the system is all UHF the
radios are small enough to be carried most places which increases
the possibility that a user will have it monitoring the talkgroup
for such a call-up.
is also an option which could be successful.
There are likely additional means of communicating an alert message to
ARES members and I'm sure they've been deployed with success somewhere
(and if you know of any please leave a comment!).
The problem with most of these solutions is they require commercial
infrastructure that may already be hampered by the emergency that the
ARES members are needed for. Obviously a hybrid approach is always
going to be better. With that in mind, lets discuss using a listserv
to transmit alert and informational messages to members.
listserv is just a system
that retransmits email messages received to the list's subscribers. The
listserv may also store a copy of the message for subscribers or the
public to review at a later date. One popular implementation of a
listserv server is GNU Mailman. One could
use existing solutions like Yahoo! Groups or Google Groups but these
solutions scrape their data for advertisement purposes and can lead to
spam and other activities
that only degrade for the overall experience. There is also no
guaranteed availability with these solutions so it's likely not a good
fit for emergency communications. By now one can tell I'm advocating
for managing your own infrastructure. There's nothing like controlling
your own information and making sure it stays secure.
Specific to the MDC section, multiple layers of listservs might be
appropriate to allow an easy transmission to all or parts of the group.
Individuals are added to their county(ies), district lists only address
the county lists below them, and the MDC list only addresses the
- Maryland-DC - MDC-ARES-All@
- Eastern District MDC-ARES-East@
- Caroline - MDC-ARES-CARO@
- Ocean City
- Queen Anne's
- Central District
- Anne Arundel
- Baltimore City
- Baltimore County
- Prince Georges
- Saint Marys
- Western District
Administration and sending permissions would also be limited to specific
addresses at a particular level. An EC would be able to send a message
to their specific county, and perhaps their district, but not to the
entire section. List membership would be managed at the local level by
the EC or their designated alternate (AECs?). One change, one place,
would be all that is needed to maintain the entire chain.
The latest version of Mailman supports a forum-type of interface in
addition to email delivery so one could input a message via a website if
email wasn't available.
Duplication of these layers may be desired to support non-alert messages
(routine, informational) that would likely be larger than what could be
handled by SMS. Additional lists could be used for specific
section-level nets (e.g. MEPN, MDD) or local nets (BTN) to alert members
to an other-than-regular call-up. Likewise, it might be beneficial to
also setup a layer including management (SEC, DECs, ECs, and AECs) when
notification of all members isn't warranted (planning).
What about SMS?
SMS can actually be handled by a listserv fairly easily. Every SMS
account actually has an email address attached to it (as listed in the
National Interoperability Field Operations
Guide, Version 1.5):
- Alaska Communications
- Bell Canada
- Boost Mobile
- C Spire Wireless
- Cricket Wireless
- General Communications Inc. (GCI)
- Metro PCS
- SouthernLinc Wireless
- Telus Communications
- U.S. Cellular
- Virgin Mobile
ARES members would need to provide their cellular phone number and
carrier so they could be added to the list.
But what about using the radio?
Members that utilize the Winlink system can
also add their Winlink e-mail addresses to the listserv as well. This
will allow the member to be notified by RF (when a pull is done from the
Winlink server) as well as email and SMS push message.
Call frequencies and primary repeater
Members that, as a matter of routine, monitor their local ARES repeater
or a specific frequency that is used for emergencies can also be alerted
in such a manner. It's important to not count out the simple approach
of being able to simply do a call-up on the local repeater as a means of
notifying members of an emergency.
It is assumed that a total Internet failure has not occurred. A system
like this is dependent upon Internet connectivity not only between the
user's email client and user's email SMTP server but also to the
subscribers' SMTP servers and subscribers' clients. It assumed that
notifications sent would occur before the communications emergency
actually started or that at least some of the members would receive the
message and word could be passed using an additional method (e.g phone
tree, repeater call-up) to notify those not yet participating.
There is also an assumption that users have a cellular phone, email
address, or Winlink account and that these communications mechanisms are
While there are several ways of notifying ARES members of a
communications emergency this shows one way of doing so utilizing a
mechanism that is, from the user's point of view, very simple. We
shouldn't let "this isn't a perfect solution" hold us back from "better
than we have now" and "yet another tool". Utilizing a series of
listservs could potentially deliver an alert message to all users within
a few seconds and this is definitely better than what we have today.