Election of Officers

At our April 4 meeting, the incumbent board members were re-elected to new two-year terms.

2nd Quarter Hospital Radio Drill

The Maryland-DC section of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (MDC ARES) held its 2nd-quarter hospital radio net on Thursday, April 6. Amateur Radio stations at four hospitals in Montgomery County were activated for this exercise.

Earlier this year, we received permission to resume our quarterly onsite hospital drills after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. So we are rebuilding the capacity that we had prior to the pandemic, both in terms of equipment and volunteer skills.

In mid-March, we conducted a dry run to inspect and test the radio equipment at the hospitals. The exercise on April 6 was only the second time we had visited the stations in three years. Three Montgomery County ARES members were present at HCH, HCG, and NIHRAC, and two at MSM. One ARES member served as net control, operating from his home station.

Our specific objectives for this exercise were to:

(1) Ensure that the relevant staff at our host hospitals understand our capabilities and have procedures in place to facilitate our access.

(2) Verify that the equipment at each hospital is available and in good working order.

(3)   Develop a cadre of volunteers who

•   know how to set up and operate the equipment at each hospital (and deal with equipment issues that might arise);

•   are capable of using voice protocols to efficiently pass traffic on behalf of the hospitals;

•   know which repeaters and simplex paths are likely to be used and accessible from a given hospital; and

•   are familiar with RMS Gateways and digipeaters that are normally accessible from a given hospital and have a toolkit of strategies for dealing with a range of contingencies that might arise. (That includes using strategically-located home stations or portable stations to serve as relays or digipeaters when the primary and backup gateways are unavailable.)

•   are familiar with the finer points of the Winlink system, including tactical addresses, service codes, and templates.

Voice messages and email were exchanged via VHF/UHF radio among the participating stations. In addition, voice contact was established with a station located at the MedStar corporate office in Columbia, MD, as well as several hospitals in Prince Georges County. Operationally, the exercise was a success.

Several Montgomery County ARES members were afforded their first opportunity to become familiar with the station at a hospital near their home.

Additional training and practice is needed by the existing cadre of volunteers to become fully proficient in both the technical and operational aspects of providing communications support. And we need to recruit and train additional volunteers to become familiar with the setup at each hospital. We should consider conducting these hospital radio drills monthly in Montgomery County, at least until we have developed proficiency in depth.

Technical improvements in the Winlink system over the past several years have made possible a tenfold increase in data throughput. A modest hardware upgrade is required to take advantage of this change. We have acquired the necessary hardware needed at each hospital, a small interface unit that connects between the radio and a laptop computer. A work session will be needed at each hospital to install and configure it.

Winter Field Day

Winter Field Day is a wrap. We had a great turnout, the site was fantastic, the weather was milder than we had any reason to expect in January, and there were smiles all around at the end.

We set up two stations in tents under a lakeside pavilion near Seneca Creek in Germantown. One station was kept on the air throughout the 24-hour period of the event. The second station was on the air for all but a few hours before dawn Sunday. We operated on the five traditional HF bands (80 through 10 meters). We made a total of 590 contacts over the course of the event, reaching stations in 42 U.S. states and 7 Canadian provinces.

Many thanks to the Izaak Walton League Rockville Chapter for making the site available and being such gracious hosts. Thanks also to Jim, K3MRI, for serving as Winter Field Day chair, Tom, W3TDH, for making a lot of equipment from his personal cache available, Ken, KC3MIX, for schlepping all that stuff back and forth and helping in myriad other ways. And thanks to everyone who turned out. I hope you had as much fun as I did.

Additional information and photos of the event are available here:

MCACS Volunteers Demo Capabilities at CERTCON 2022

On Saturday, Nov 19, MCACS members took the MAIPN van to CERTCON 2022, an annual multi-day conference of CERT volunteers in the National Capital Region. We demonstrated Winlink messaging on HF and VHF frequencies, making contact on multiple occasions with RMS Gateway stations in eastern Pennsylvania and New York to pass email traffic via HF. We also streamed HD video from a remote IP camera set up on site to the van using a point-to-point microwave link, and we exhibited our portable 70 cm repeater. Although the weather was chilly, it was sunny.

The van was fully operational on HF, VHF/UHF, and 5.8 GHz within one hour of arrival. We strung our terminated folded dipole between two trees that were conveniently located on either side of the driveway. Due to a leaking fuel filter supplying the on-board generator, we used an outboard portable generator, primarily so we would have heat in the van (there was plenty of battery capacity to power the comm equipment).

This photo shows how the terminated folded dipole was strung between trees, with the feedpoint supported by the telescoping mast. The SWR is below 2:1 on all frequencies between 3 and 30 MHz. A 2m/1.25m/70cm antenna is barely visible at the top of the mast. Right-click for enlarged photo.

We had a substantial number of visitors, including at least two CERT members who expressed an interest in obtaining a ham license and were referred to local resources.

Participants included KC3MIX, KC3MDX, and KN3U. Two MCACS board members, Jennifer KC3HEC and Joe KB3JG, are active in Montgomery County CERT. Jennifer was one of the conference organizers.

MCACS Volunteers Demo Capabilities at CARA Hamfest

On October 2, MCACS members demonstrated our disaster communications capabilities at the Columbia Amateur Radio Association hamfest, CARAfest. Operating in the MAIPN van, we demonstrated Winlink messaging on HF and VHF frequencies, and streamed HD video from a remote IP camera set up on site to the van using a point-to-point microwave link. WA3UHZ, N3DDS, WA3UEA, and KN3U participated.

MCACS Demonstrates Amateur Radio at Emergency Preparedness Fair

On August 17, MCACS members exhibited at the National Cancer Institute’s annual Emergency Preparedness Fair. We displayed the MAIPN van and demonstrated the capability to send email messages via HF and VHF radio. We also demonstrated the capability of streaming live HD video from a battery-powered camera over a microwave radio link, using the van’s microwave equipment.

I’m embarrassed that I (KN3U) misplaced the list of MCACS participants. From memory, they included: K3MRI, KB3FKH, AC3CJ, KC3MIX, K3XIT, WA3LTJ, AC3N, WN3R, and W3TDH. I’m sure I left someone out. Let me know and I’ll correct the omission.

WA3LTJ and AC3CJ at the MCACS “booth.”