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Index of News Items

Red Cross Drills

2Q Hospital Drill

Winter Field Day 2024

Winlink Workshop

HF/VHF/UHF mobile and portable radio setup — show and tell

Red Cross Drills, Past and Future

On Saturday, February 17, working jointly with the Montgomery Amateur Radio Club, Montgomery County ARES participated in an emergency communications exercise with the American Red Cross, National Capital and Greater Chesapeake Region. These exercises are designed to develop and maintain backup communications capability among Red Cross facilities throughout the region. They typically take place on a weekend morning, and occur at intervals of two to three months.

The Red Cross regional office maintains an HF Winlink Post Office, with call sign KC3WDO, at one of its local facilities. A Winlink Post Office functions like a standard Winlink RMS Gateway, except that it has no connection to the internet. Instead of messages being stored on the Winlink Central Message Server, they are stored locally and delivered automatically the next time the addressee connects to the Post Office.

Our assignment was to set up a temporary HF station at the Red Cross facility in Silver Spring and exchange messages with teams at other locations using the KC3WDO Winlink Post Office as the means of message delivery. Other teams were stationed at Red Cross facilities in Baltimore, Salisbury, and Gaithersburg, MD as well as Fairfax, VA. Additional messages addressed to conventional internet email addresses were sent via Winlink RMS Gateway stations in distant states. This arrangement was used to deliver simulated shelter reports and resource requests, using the appropriate Red Cross form templates that are built into Winlink Express.

View of comm van parked next to Red Cross vehicles. An HF terminated folded dipole antenna is supported from the van's pneumatic mast.
Site view

Using the Winlink Post Office has several benefits in emergency and disaster situations:

  • Avoids the complications of trying to arrange peer-to-peer connections with other participating stations.
  • Eliminates the need for direct contact with those stations to coordinate the delivery of messages.
  • Enables exchange of written messages completely independently of the internet.

Over the course of roughly three hours, we sent 19 messages to participating sites and ARC officials, and received 17 messages, all over HF radio.

View looking over shoulder of radio operator as she enters information into an on-screen Red Cross form.
W3JAG entering data into a Red Cross form using Winlink Express

We are supporting this ongoing initiative in partnership with the Montgomery Amateur Radio Club. As an example of how this might play out, we might use the MAIPN van for some of these exercises, the MARC communications trailer for others, and members’ personal go-kits for yet others.

The next Red Cross regional comm drill is scheduled for Saturday, April 27. We will be responsible for setting up a Winlink HF station at a Red Cross facility in Gaithersburg, and exchanging messages with other Red Cross facilities across the DC/Baltimore area and Eastern Shore. This drill is a good learning opportunity for our less experienced members to get involved with MCACS, see what we do, and learn new concepts and skills.

Most if not all of the activity will take place outdoors. We will be there rain or shine. We’ll provide suitable shelter for whatever weather conditions prevail. We might need to limit participation to six to eight participants to ensure that we have room for everyone, so sign up early. If interested, please drop an email to me (ataylor@mcacs.net).  These drills are scheduled roughly every other month, so you will have other opportunities if you can’t join us for this one.

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2Q Hospital Drill

The second quarterly hospital drill of 2024 will be spread over two evenings.

In Montgomery County, the drill will take place on Tuesday, 09 April 2024, beginning at 7 PM. It normally runs under two hours. You’ll probably want to arrive a half-hour before net time to sign in with security and get set up.  We are seeking 2-3 Montgomery County ARES volunteers to staff the stations at:

  • Holy Cross Hospital – Silver Spring
  • Holy Cross Hospital – Germantown
  • Medstar Montgomery Hospital -Olney
  • Montgomery County EOC – Gaithersburg

We encourage ARES members to participate in these quarterly exercises and to get acquainted with the setups at one or more county hospitals. We expect additional county hospitals to join the program later this year.

For this exercise, we also encourage participation from home-based Winlink stations (2m FM, packet- or VARA-capable), so if you want to participate from home, let us know.

Please RSVP to hospital-coord@mcacs.net, indicating which hospital or hospitals you would be willing to visit (and order of preference, if any). If you would like to participate from home, tell us that. Also, let us know if you are able to bring a Winlink Express-capable laptop configured with the Vara FM and UZ7HO softmodem software. We need at least one such member at each hospital.

In addition to our MC exercise, we have been asked to support PG County ARES in their drill. Due to a schedule conflict, the PG drill will take place on Thursday, April 4. Montgomery County participants in the PG drill are expected to participate from home, again using Winlink FM on 2m, either Vara or packet.

Again, please RSVP to hospital-coord@mcacs.net, indicating which hospital or hospitals you would be willing to visit (and order of preference, if any). If you would like to participate from home, tell us that. Be sure to clearly indicate which evening or evenings you are volunteering for.

— Chuck, KC3TCB (MC ARES Hospital Program Coordinator)

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Winter Field Day 2024

Dipole on the beach with dramatic sky

Eight MCACS members participated in Winter Field Day on the last weekend of January at the Assateague Island National Seashore. Winter Field Day is an annual emergency communications exercise for Amateur Radio operators. The objective is to set up an Amateur Radio station in the field and make contacts with other participating stations, demonstrating the ability to provide emergency communications in the field under winter conditions. The premise is that emergencies don’t always occur when the weather is nice.

Winter Field Day is an international event. Participation is primarily from North America, but a smattering of stations from Europe, South America, and Asia also participated. As I write this two weeks after the event, logs have been submitted to the sponsors of the event by over 1,800 stations.

MCACS set up two HF stations in a tent on the beach. Over the course of 24 hours, we made contacts with 535 other stations in 42 U. S. states, 4 Canadian provinces, and one station in Italy. Although the weather was unseasonably warm for January, we experienced fog, mist, and rain for a substantial portion of the weekend. Nevertheless, a positive learning experience and good time was had by all.

An after-action report—including photos—has been prepared and can be viewed by clicking here.

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Winlink Workshop – January 11

MCACS conducted a Winlink workshop on January 11 to help members get their personal Winlink stations set up and configured. The event was held at the Rockville Science Center. Participants brought their Winlink stations to the event (including power source and antenna or dummy load) and were coached through the process of connecting the radio to the laptop, installing and configuring the software, and setting sound levels. Eight members were in attendance.

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HF/VHF/UHF mobile and portable radio setup — show and tell

On Sunday, November 12, 2023, a group of about twenty dedicated amateur radio operators gathered in a show of camaraderie and preparedness. Organized by the Montgomery County Auxiliary Communications Service, this event brought together enthusiasts who share a passion for communication technology and a commitment to public service.

The event, held at Seneca Creek State Park in Montgomery County, saw a respectable turnout of amateur radio operators from across the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Enthusiasts of all ages came together to display and demonstrate their High Frequency (HF) and Very High Frequency/Ultra High Frequency (VHF/UHF) mobile and portable communication kits.

Attendees were treated to a diverse array of demonstrations and displays. From portable HF setups designed for remote locations to mobile VHF/UHF rigs optimized for on-the-go communication, there was no shortage of fascinating technology to explore.

One of the event’s central themes was the importance of rapid deployment in emergency scenarios. Amateur radio operators understand that during crises, the ability to establish reliable communication quickly can be a matter of life and death. Participants engaged in hands-on exercises, practicing the setup and deployment of their equipment with remarkable speed and precision.

Beyond the fascination with technology and the joy of camaraderie, events like this underscore the indispensable role of amateur radio operators in emergency communications. When conventional communication infrastructure fails during disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or power outages, these skilled individuals step up to provide a vital lifeline.

Amateur radio operators have a unique advantage in emergency situations. Their equipment is often designed to be self-sufficient, capable of running on alternative power sources such as batteries or generators. This resilience ensures that they can continue to communicate even when the grid is down.

Real-world examples abound of amateur radio operators coming to the rescue during emergencies. They have relayed critical information to first responders, coordinated search and rescue efforts, and provided a lifeline for isolated communities. Their commitment to public service is unwavering, and their skills are honed to excel in the most challenging of circumstances.

While the event showcased the technical prowess of amateur radio operators, it also highlighted the sense of community that binds them together. Enthusiasts from all backgrounds exchanged ideas, shared their experiences, and learned from one another. This educational aspect is a key driver of progress in the field, ensuring that best practices are continually refined and new innovations are embraced.

The gathering of amateur radio operators on November 12, 2023, serves as a reminder of the crucial role these individuals play in our communities. They are not merely hobbyists; they are dedicated experts with the skills and equipment needed to keep us connected when it matters most.

As we reflect on the event and its implications, it becomes clear that amateur radio operators are unsung heroes in the realm of emergency communications. Their commitment to service, technical expertise, and ability to adapt to challenging conditions make them an invaluable asset to our society.

In an increasingly interconnected world, where communication is often taken for granted, events like this remind us of the power of human ingenuity and cooperation. Amateur radio operators stand ready to bridge the gaps when other systems fail, providing a lifeline that can mean the difference between safety and peril.

The following slideshow will give you an idea of the amazing variety of portable stations created by our MCACS members. Hovering your mouse over the slideshow will pause it and allow you to advance the slides manually.

Jim | K3MRI

N3COB

N3COB operating his portable HF station. Note the cases and supplies in the back of the car, all neatly organized. N3DDS, watching Glenn in this photo, also brought his elegantly-packaged go-kit station, but we unfortunately failed to capture a photo of it.

KB3KGA

KB3KGA’s portable station.

N2MAU

N2MAU demonstrated his portable station and offered thoughtful advice.

WA2WDT

WA2WDT showed his commercial/ military grade HF flyaway station and accessories.

WA2WDT_2

WA2WDT’s terminated folded dipole, supported by a lightweight Kevlar rollup mast, was a big hit, although out of most hams’ price range.

KC3UKX

KC3UKX raising his antenna.

KC3UKX_3

KC3UKX’s tent, complete with wood stove, should be very popular at Winter Field Day.

KN3U

KN3U’s vintage HF/2m/70cm Winlink-capable station in a rack-mounted case. He also emphasized accessories needed to support an operating station, including seating, lighting, and tools.

KN3U_2

A lightweight two-step ladder can do double duty as a stool. The camp chair shown here doesn’t really work very well on a stool, but provides welcome back support if you plan to be operating for an extended period on a picnic table.

K3MRI

Our host and event organizer, K3MRI, shows off the high-power mobile HF station built into his vehicle. The radio is operated from the driver or front passenger seat.

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