At the Seattle ACS meeting last night we talked a bit about the potential for flooding in the Green River valley. I have several friends who live in the area that would be affected by this. Please, take some time and prepare yourselves. You are all too important to me.

I am here if you need any help or information about how to prepare.

Stories about amateur radio helping out with wilderness rescues make me think about becoming a part of a search & rescue team. Something like KCSARA. The Seattle ACS group probably needs some more help too.

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 installing them.

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 access badge.

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 notification.
  • 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 services.

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.

I found a nice writeup of some amateur radio operators down in Oregon helping out during the flooding. Having participated in simulated emergency reponses I know that the article doesn't give us the full sense of how much work was required to keep communications going. I was exhausted at the end of the SET which was scheduled for an afternoon and didn't have to deal with the stress and chaos of a real emergency. So I say thanks to those who helped out!

Jeff Davis, KE9V, also blogged about this story. I wanted to mention his post because he brought up the point that the public service agencies have spent millions in upgrading their communications systems. Yet we still read about "amateur" operators who can deploy and communicate during an emergency when the "professionals" have lost their ability to communicate.

As you might know I've struggled a bit with how to be an active amateur radio operator while living in an apartment. I think I might have found a project that will make it easier. I want to build an ARES Boom Box. One box with radio, batteries, power supplies and charger. Plug it into the wall and you can operate while it charges the batteries. Pull the plug and carry it to an operation location and you're back on the air after a quick antenna setup. I have the radio which is the most expensive single part. Once I put together the final list of components I'll know how big of a box I need to put it all together.

I have had the same Columbia Sportswear coat for a long time. I don't remember what model it is but I picked it up at a fair in Kansas City years before I moved to the Northwest. The only problem with the coat is I need more pocket space and I lost the hood years ago so my head gets wet when it rains. So I've been checking out new coats from Columbia and other places. A fellow ham recommended the Tactical 4.0 System from SCOTTEVEST. It had all the features I wanted and a total of 52 pockets. 52! I hope it fits and is what I wanted. This is the first time I've ordered from SeV so I have a bit of concern. I'll know on Wednesday because it should be delivered then.

When I joined the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) again they offered a discount on their books. So I took advantage of the offer and ordered quite a few of them. According to the tracking information they should be delivered soon. Mmmm... Books... I don't know where they will all fit though.

Finally I sent off an email to the Redmond ARES Emergency Coordinator (EC) apologizing for dropping the ball on some tasks I had taken. I don't know how he'll react but at least I feel somewhat better for having done something.

Tonight was the weekly net for the Redmond ARES group. As I've mentioned before I was dreading this more than a bit. I had a knot in my stomach and was really tempted to just turn off my radio and skip another week. I didn't though. When the call came for visitors to check in I keyed the mike and clearly spoke my callsign. When I let go of the button I could hear someone just finishing their callsign. I had transmitted at the same time as someone else and thanks to the "magic" of FM radio they won and their signal made it through. It happens, so I keyed up and tried again. As I let go I heard the tail end of another transmission. I tried a third time and didn't hear anything when I released the transmit button and wasn't recognized by net control. A few more attempts and it was clear that my transmissions were not being received. I don't know what's wrong, but at least I tried. I have a week to figure out the problems and get things working before the next net. In the meantime I'm going to send an email to the emergency coordinator (EC) for the ARES group. I'll apologize for dropping the ball and ask if they'll have me back. That's going to be a fun message to write.

After attempting the net [livejournal.com profile] hollyqueen and I watched the last three episodes of Dr. Who. We've now caught up with everything but the last holiday special.

Last year I was involved with the Redmond ARES group. I went to meetings, joined the weekly radio nets and participated in a couple of training exercises. Then pretty suddenly I stopped. I stopped because I volunteered for more than I could handle at the time and instead of admit it I just quit participating. As time passed the feeling of failure grew and it became harder to motivate myself to participate. Even writing this post is an exercise of will because it’s easier to hit the delete key and ignore the whole mess. Easy, but I think it’s the wrong answer.

First, I should stand up and face the music. So I screwed up. It’s not the end of the world. I’ll make mistakes in the future. The key is admitting to them and taking corrective action. Learning from them as it were.

Second, I really enjoyed playing around with the radios. I liked being ready to help out in a disaster. Providing support for bike rides, parades and other public events was also a lot of fun. There are a few challenges to operating radios when you live in an apartment but part of the fun is figuring out a way around those challenges. How do I get three days worth of supplies and equipment into a small portable pack?

Tonight is the monthly Redmond ARES meeting, but I have already promised to help [livejournal.com profile] cheesentoast move. That means I have until Sunday evening to rig up one of my radios to join the weekly net.

The ARRL has created a new website to help people who are interested in emergency communications get started with amateur radio. Check it out if you’re interested.

Last night was my first taiji lesson with [livejournal.com profile] artspawnchen. I stretched muscles that I didn't know existed. I should get [livejournal.com profile] hollyqueen to take pictures of me in each of the positions so that I can compare my current range of movement with what I'll be able to do in the future. I've taken taiji classes before and I've looked long and hard to find a teacher who taught the practical application along with the forms. [livejournal.com profile] tylik is a one of those teachers and I am looking forward to learning a lot from her.

I spent my lunch today filling out paperwork for joining the Redmond ARES group and finding other ARES/RACES groups in the area. I found ARES/RACES of King County and Washington State ARES/RACES.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about my hobbies and what I want to accomplish with my life. This has allowed me to find the few hobbies and a purpose for my life. My purpose is to help other people and the practical application of that is volunteering my time and skills for public service and emergency communications. The conflict is that the taiji classes are on Monday nights and the ARES montly meetings are on Monday nights.

I am already missing one class a month for a meeting but that would be two each month if keep to my purpose. Missing every other class is unfair to the teacher, other students, and myself. I think I'll need to check out some of the other teachers that [livejournal.com profile] tylik recommended. Someone has to teach a class on other nights.

Friday was spent drinking and dining at The Jones with [livejournal.com profile] datavore, [livejournal.com profile] beaq, [livejournal.com profile] k_crow, [livejournal.com profile] walbourn, [livejournal.com profile] gfish and the always lovely [livejournal.com profile] hollyqueen. Good food, great drinks and some damn fine conversation. Too bad I'll be in Portland finalizing the move for the next two times.

[livejournal.com profile] hollyqueen and I started Saturday by signing the lease on our new apartment! Woo hoo! After we measured the rooms we headed out to buy some paint to decorate. We weren't able to find any colors we both liked so we changed plans and instead spent all day visiting furniture stores to look a bedroom sets. I guess viewing all the furniture helped because at the end of the day I was positive that I wanted the first set we picked.

In between furniture stores was some lunch with [livejournal.com profile] dustin_00. We went to Frankie's which is a little Italian place in Redmond that tried to kill [livejournal.com profile] hollyqueen by using walnut oil in their pesto. They warned us about the oil in the pesto but didn't say that there was pesto in the Italian Wedding soup. This time no one was poisoned.

This weekend was Field Day which is a contest sponsored by the ARRL. The purpose of the contest is to practice emergency operations by moving radios out into the field. So we also stopped by the Ferrel McWhirter park in Redmond. I wanted to visit with the Redmond ARES group to find out when they held meetings and make some introductions. I'm going to get involved as soon as I get my radios moved and setup. (Maybe as soon as next weekend.)

I was very tired from a lack of sleep the night before so we went back home and I took a nap. I was so deep asleep that [livejournal.com profile] hollyqueen had to wake me up three times. I never did really wake up the rest of the night and don't really remember what we did. I know we had dinner and that I watched about half of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) on DVD.

Sunday morning we got up and went to the morning service at Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church. The subject of the sermon was The Green Man at Midsummer, a topic I know something about. There was a section at the end where folks could ask questions or comment on the message. I did something very unusual for me and actually got up to speak about the Holly King and Oak King. What has come over me? ;)

After church we went and paid a serious chunk of change for a bedroom set. My god! I have a bed frame with a headboard, a dresser and two night stands that all match. What the hell happened to me? One day I'm scrounching for Volkswagon furniture then suddenly I'm almost 40 and buying a matched bedroom set. I don't wanna be a grown up! I wanna play and have fun!

The rest of Sunday was spent driving around to learn more about the area and avoiding the heat. Oh, I can't forget snuggling on the couch watching an episode of <a href='http://www.cbs.com/primetime/numb3rs/">Numb3rs</a> with <user site="livejournal.com" user="hollyqueen">.</p> <p>All in all, not a bad weekend.</p>

Last week the FCC held hearings about Hurricane Katrina's impact on communications networks. ARRL Alabama Section Manager Greg Sarratt, W4OZK, spoke about the response from Amateur Radio Operators. You can read the entire article on the ARRL website, but here is a quote for you.

Amateur Radio operators themselves were part of the solution, providing experienced communications operators to replace and supplement local public service communications personnel in the devastated area. These systems of equipment and operators were very effective, not only for amateur purposes but in support of emergency management, Red Cross, Southern Baptist, Salvation Army and many other organizations.

Almost every day I receive email about how another community has passed laws or regulations that limit a ham from installing an antenna to pursue their hobby. This is a bad idea because when a disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, strikes those antennas might be the only thing that allows a community to communicate with the outside world. If you hear of any antenna restrictions in your area I urge you to write your representatives and reject these limitations. Next time it might be you who's sitting in the dark and thankful that a neighbor can send word for help when the phones and internet are down.

Stunned!

Dec. 13th, 2005 10:44 am

One of the cool things about being part of the Washington County ARES/RACES group is that I'm just a young punk to most of them. I'm the target of friendly jokes about youth, inexperience and being out past my bedtime. I give back my share with questions about living with the dinosaurs and life during the last ice age.

Since most of the ARES members are old I've gotten used to the messages about folks going to the hospital for hip replacements, pneumonia or other age related ills. It still saddens me to get a message with the subject of a callsign and the letters "SK." SK is a Morse code abbreviation for silent key, that means another one of my friends has passed on.

Today I was stunned and greatly saddened by the message "KD5PZO SK." Pat Kusch was always smiling and a fun to be near. She and her husband, Kevin KD5ONS, taught the emergency communications classes that I took and she always pushed me to perform beyond what was just required to pass. I will miss her.

Not that I ever listened to that rule. In fact I was on my radio talking with K7EAJ to make sure that I had everything working when he asked me if I wanted to help out with an event. So I agreed and tonight I went to the WCCCA center to attend the training/planning meeting. Next Sunday I'll be on Bald Mountain manning one of the rest stops for the LIVESTRONG Ride.

I've volunteered to help out on other bike rides before but this one is huge. They stopped the registrations at 3,500 riders. I'll be stationed at the first rest stop on the 100 mile loop and the event organizers expect 1,800 riders to take this loop. It's going to be quite busy Sunday morning. ;)

I'm excited that [livejournal.com profile] hollyqueen is be volunteering to help out for the same event. We won't be in the same location but I like the fact that we're both doing our part to help. Let's just hope that she doesn't need to be at her station at 5:30am. I don't look forward to a cranky mouse at 5am on a Sunday morning. The riders don't leave the starting point until 7:30am so I shouldn't need to be at my location any earlier than that.

Because of the huge number of riders and the additional tasks I have to do during the event I don't know how many pictures I'll be able to get but I'm going to take the camera and try to get at least a few.

Well I only spent an hour at the shelter before all volunteers were called in for a meeting where they announced that Portland would not be receiving any evacuees. In one second the mood of the room went from high-energy confusion and motivation to one of dispair. While KD7EFP and I had only been there a short time most of the people had been working long hours to prepare the shelter. And that shelter was prepared, let me tell you. There was plenty of cots for sleeping, food, shower facilities, mental health rooms, a well staffed first aid room. I'm glad to know that my neighbors are willing to lend a hand when it's needed and I feel bad for them.

One of the best things about the shelter was the volunteer staff. There were people from all over. I saw a wide variety of ages and colors. All ready to work together and help out. This is the way things should be all the time.

I've had a few people ask me about how they can get involved with helping out after the disaster. There are quite a few ways you can become part of the solution. The fastest and easiest way is to volunteer with the Red Cross. By volunteering with your local chapter you'll get notifications when they need help and you'll get the training you need to make a difference. The Red Cross chapter that covers Portland has an average of 1 house fire every 32 hours so they always need help.

Another option is to join your local CERT group. Once you complete the set of classes you'll be part of a team of people who are trained respond to local disasters.

Finally, and my favorite, method is to get your amateur radio license. A simple multiple-choice test is all you need to complete for a technician class license and you can use that to help out in a variety of areas. I'm glad to see the amateur radio response for Katrina is getting a lot more press. Besides responding to disasters I've used my license to assist in many charity events.

Re-Deployed

Sep. 9th, 2005 09:10 am

I just received another call from WA7HI. The evacuees are arriving and they need help staffing the booth today. So I'm off to help out with a shift from 2pm to 6pm.

WA7HI called me before I left this morning to let me know that the call for help had been postponed today. I don't know any details but we talked for a few minutes about when I was available to help. So I'm hoping to get some time in sometime in the next few days. Since losing my job I don't really have any money to donate and this was my way of doing my part to help those in need.

If nothing else I was able to practice digging through a lot of boxes to get everything together. I'll be spending some time the next few days to get it all packed up and properly stowed. My goal is to be able to respond to a call for help in less than an hour.

Deployment!

Sep. 6th, 2005 03:20 pm

I just received the phone call from WA7HI activating me for ARES service. Portland is receiving refugees from Katrina tomorrow at 3pm and I'll be there from 2pm until 6pm tomorrow to help with communications. I'm glad that I'm finally going to use some of my training to help people. Now I must go gather everything and get it assembled for tomorrow.

73 de KD7LAH

Placing FEMA under the Department of Homeland Security was a mistake.

Flashlights are excellent things to have when the lights go out. How will you cope if the lights go out for more than a few days? Your batteries will wear out and then you'll be stuck in the dark. A good solution is to include some candles and water-proof matches. A few long-burning candles can provide light and a bit of heat. Trust me, having been soaked to the bone from a cold fall rain while camping in Missouri a candle helps to warm you up. (Not that I recommend burning candles inside of a tent.)

To save a bit of money I wouldn't buy water-proof matches. Instead I would make them myself. A box of strike-anywhere matches, some paraffin wax and a old sauce pan is all you need. Melt the wax in a double-boiler or over a very low heat on the stove. Dip the heads of the matches in the wax deep enough to cover the head and some of the stick. Don't dip the entire match in the wax or you'll have problem with melted burning wax when you try to use the matches later. After the wax has cooled just store the matches in a water-proof container until you need them. You can find water-proof match containers at any sporting goods store or camping supplier.

If the disaster lasts long enough you can run out of candles too. We're lucky these days because there are quite a few flashlights available that don't need batteries. The two types of battery-less flashlights are the self-powered kind and the dynamo kind. Self-powered flashlights charge their internal battery when you shake the flashlight and cause the magnet to pass back and forth through the coil. A dynamo flashlight has a crank or handle that you operate to spin the magnet through the coil. I prefer the dynamo style flashlights because you can one device that has the flashlight and a radio to cut down on the number of items to pack. Also, the shaking gets old very quickly.

If anyone reading this has any questions about emergency preparedness, disaster kits or amateur radio topics please ask. I'm not sure how many of these tips are helpful and what questions I could be answering that people need to know.

Here I am with another tip. The disaster preparedness guidelines say that you should have one gallon of water per person per day. This should provide enough for drinking, cooking and the minimal amount of hygiene during an emergency. Using bottled water instead of gallon jugs is useful because you can pack them in corners and around other gear to keep your 72-hour kit smaller. Also, it's possible to swap out the bottles to maintain a fresh supply.

You might want to add some water purification equipment as well. The camping purification devices are small and very effective these days. Also a bottle of iodine tablets can make some drinkable, if not very tasty, water. Trust me the stuff doesn't kill you, I once was on an extended backpacking trip where the only water we had available was purified with iodine tablets. I can't tell you how happy I am that you can buy a purifier these days. Ugh... ;)

In other news I received a message from the local ARES group. They're setting up a shelter to receive refugees from New Orleans and they are asking for volunteers to handle health & welfare traffic and man the shelter. I volunteered to help.

Here's another tip for the month. Again, this one comes from AC7UK.

Hang a gas and water shut-off tool at the door that leads to outside to your meters, and learn how to use it. You can purchase a specialized tool, or just use a wrench.

A gas leak can be one of the most dangerous side-effects of a disaster - or sometimes the disaster itself. Make sure all your family members know how to shut off both the water and gas at the meter. Remember: Always turn off the gas if you have good reason to suspect a leak. But once you have turned it off, only the gas company can turn it back on. You may have a leak if you:

  • Smell gas (natural gas has no odor, so they add the chemical mercaptan for just this purpose)
  • Hear the leak (a hissing sound)
  • See the gas meter dials spinning, yet your gas appliances aren't operating

You can turn your water off and back on again at will, so your family members can practice. You may have a whole-house shut off inside your house, in addition to the shut-off at the meter near the street. If you are on a well, you will have a different procedure for turning off the water.

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