This weekend I attended the 2008 Communications Academy that was
held at the South Seattle Community College. It was two days
of talks on a variety of topics related to emergency communications
(emcomm). I was originally going to write up a much longer post about
my time but instead I’ll hit the highlights and if anyone wants to
know more I’ll add some details.
There wasn’t much new information for me on Saturday. The sessions I
attended only covered areas of the topics I already knew. I was
hoping that with 90 minutes there would be some deeper discussion, but
such was not the case. I did enjoy the lunchtime talk by Dr. Charles
Simonyi about his time on the International Space Station
as a space tourist.
The last session on Saturday covered Radio Mobile, a free
software package for predicting radio propagation. Radio Mobile
can download digital elevation model (DEM) data from a variety
of sources. This allows the software to add in the effects of terrain
to produce very accurate predictions. I’ve been having some problems
contacting a few repeaters in the area and I with Radio Mobile I can
experiment with different antenna configurations without actually
Sunday held a lot more interest for me starting with the keynote talk
about coming attractions in emergency communications. For instance
there are approximately 9,000 amateur radio operators who regularly
report emcomm activities. Of those about 1,900 are in the Western
Washington Section which is 17% of the total across 71
sections. Go us!
In the break after the keynote I was approached by a member of
Bellevue EARS and asked if I would be willing to begin a
weekly radio net* for the group. I was a bit surprised but as we
talked it was clear that they thought something of my abilities and so
I said I would consider it. I’m not an official member yet as the
city is still processing my background check, so I wasn’t comfortable
bringing up the idea to the Emergency Coordinator (EC) directly. I
suggested that they should bring up the idea to the EC and that I was
willing to serve.
After lunch I had a chance to talk with N7SIC, the EARS EC, and he was
supportive of the idea. He has wanted to have a weekly net for the
group but has been overloaded with his EC responsibilities. My next
step is to verify that I can reach the repeater with my radio setup
and if not to find a place to setup a portable station. There is the
possibility of running the net out of the Bellevue Emergency
Operations Center if I can pass the double deep inspection to get an
We also talked about me running a training on NTS traffic handling and
the proper way to pass messages back and forth. If this happens I
hope some of you will help by coming up with some messages to send to
friends or family. I’ll post more about this when the time comes and
ask for messages.
Another interesting section was about customizing Joomla! for
ARES groups. This talk included a demo of what the Seattle
ACS group had created and the lessons they had learned from
attempting to customize Joomla! instead of creating a plug-in. The
best bit was the news that the group is creating a plug-in of their
customizations and will make it available so none of us have to
reinvent the wheel.
The last session of the conference was about the new wireless alert
system that is a result of the Warning, Alert and Reponse Network
(WARN) Act the president signed into law as part of
H.R. 4954 the SAFE Port Act. A part I like about the WARN
Act is that it included specific timelines for implementation and
while the individual mobile service providers do not have to implement
the system they are required to notify consumers at the time of sale
of that fact. Here are a few notes from the talk:
- The current recommendations specify a 90 character English text
message. This is the minimum amount of text that can be sent and
reach all current mobile devices.
- Alerts are a one-way notification only and not an information
service. There is no guarantee of reception.
- If you look at the US as a whole Spanish is spoken in only 1%
of households. If you break this down by counties there are 37
languages and 16 character sets spoken in 1% or more of households.
- There are various levels of alert messages. Consumers can opt-out
of all levels except Presidential alerts.
- At the beginning alerts are specific to a county. They will be sent
several times an hour so that people travelling into an effected
area will receive the alert. The mobile device is responsible for
supressing duplicate alerts.
- The audible alert and vibration pattern used for WARN Act alerts can
not be set by the consumer or used for any other mobile device
function. The consumer can choose audible or vibration
- Alerts can not interrupt a voice call in progress although the
consumer may be notified by a beep or screen update.
- There is no fee to subscribers for the alert service, unlike 911
I for one think that these can be useful alerts. The problem is folks
who will take down the mobile network as they all try to call 911 or
family when they receive an alert. Of course this isn’t a new
problem. Just try to make a mobile call at the scene of an accident now.
* A net is a scheduled time for people to meet on a given frequency.
Some nets are informal and hams just have a friendly chat. I will be
running a directed net which is has formal procedure and policies.
This will be a chance to practice the skills that are used during an
actual emergency, so that during an actual event everyone will know
what to do.
P.S. That ended up pretty long even after I skipped some topics. Oh well... Hi Mom! I think she's the only one who would have kept reading this far.