OH8STN: Portable Power and Field Communications

Julian, OH8STN, has another good post up about using portable power during field operations and a couple of radios with versatile power options – Portable Power and Field Communications.

Hello Operators.

This is just a short post about the relationship between field communications, and portable power. Ham radio manufacturers would have us believe our goal is to go out and operate a couple of hours at a time, then recharge our batteries back at home. This may be true sometimes, but it’s not always true.

Ham radio manufacturers don’t recognize the importance of a decent operating run time from internal batteries, or the ability to recharge those batteries, without grid power. For example Elecraft offers one of the most amazing portable radios on the market, the kx2. Did you know it’s impossible to recharge the kx2 in the field without the Elecraft proprietary smart charger, connected to AC mains? This means if you’re off grid without additional batteries, or the ability to plug in a smart charger, you’ll have to use an external battery anyway. Despite how awesome the radio is, having to use that external battery diminishes its lightweight field utility of the radio.

The Yaesu ft-818 is another example. Its internal AA battery pack can power the radio for about an hour or two. Unlike the Elecraft kx2, the ft-818 can be recharged in the field from any DC power source 9 to 15 volts, (AWESOME). It’s Achilles heel is that it takes 8 to 10 hours to recharge its internal battery pack. What the heck is the point of having 2 hours runtime, and 8 to 10 hours recharge time? It’s freaking ridiculous! This means in practice, we need to use an external battery pack anyway.

Some operators have offered alternatives to these problems.

  • Carrying additional battery packs.
  • Using an inverter to power the smart charger.
  • Ration the radios usage so batteries last longer.

All of these ideas come from operators without a solid understanding of communications off grid. Off-grid communications requires us to be grid and energy independent. So when manufacturers tell us the only way to recharge the internal battery of their radio, is using their proprietary AC powered smart charger, we should tell them to go lay an egg. We should also tell manufacturers who have an 8 to 10 hour charge time on a relatively small internal battery, to do a little bit more engineering.

From where I’m standing, it looks like popular ham radio manufacturers have become complacent. We have become such Fanboys, that we continuously make excuses for why these functionalities are not built into their radios. Why don’t we demand amateur radio manufacturers create radios, which are grid independent!? Why do we still accept double AA packs inside our rigs, when a lithium ion or lithium iron phosphate pack are a fraction of the physical size, weight, and offer much higher capacity!? These ultra energy dense packs are standard in everyones mobile phones, tablets and laptops, so why not ham radio!? Why should I buy an Elecraft smart charger, when it’s simply a 3s lithium ion battery pack inside the radio!?

Most of the battery research and projects done on the channel, are in response to ham radio manufacturers not stepping up to offer viable solutions for the off-grid operator. Certainly Elecraft gives us low current draw, but what good is that when your battery is dead, and there’s no way to recharge it?

Although much of the research going into off-grid portable power on the channel, has been done for off-grid and field communications, some of the previous and upcoming projects, exists purely because ham radio manufacturers don’t understand our needs.

Yesterday I tried a new radio for the first time. It’s only the second time I’ve seen this functionality in a commercial radio. The functionalities are

  • Powering the radio from external power supply while
  • Simultaneously recharging the internal battery pack in a reasonable amount of time.

The two radios I’ve seen with this capability are the Icom IC-705, and the Xiegu X5105…(continues)

Click here to read the entire article at OH8STN.

New AmRRON Videos

The American Redoubt Radio Operators Network (AmRRON) is a network of Preppers, Patriots and Redoubters who have volunteered to keep each other connected when other means of communications are unavailable or unreliable. It was originally formed to server only the Pacific NW states comprising the “American Redoubt” but has since spread across the nation and into Canada. Around 2014 they also merged with The American Preppers Radio Network. They have recently released several videos to explain a bit what they are but more what they are doing currently and planning to do in the future.

You don’t have to be an amateur radio operator to be a member or participant and membership is free. The communication plans include non-licensed radio services as well as amateur radio.

Communications Academy, Seattle, Apr. 24-26, 2020 – Cancelled

UPDATE from Communication Academy 2020:

*** URGENT NOTICE ***

WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT DUE TO THE RECENT COVID-19 OUTBREAK,
AND UPON ADVICE FROM THE WASHINGTON STATE DEPT. OF HEALTH,

THE 2020 COMMUNICATIONS ACADEMY WILL OFFICIALLY BE CANCELLED.

WE ARE TAKING THIS PRECAUTION TO PROTECT THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF ALL OUR ATTENDEES

THOSE OF YOU THAT HAVE PREREGISTERED ALREADY WILL AUTOMATICALLY RECIEVE A FULL REFUND

 

The 2020 Communications Academy will be held on April 24-26, 2020 at South Seattle College.

The theme for 2020 is “If Cascadia rises, will we fall?!” This will be a theme for three years, leading up to the Cascadia Rising 2022 National Level Exercise.

The Communications Academy delivers education, resources and training opportunities focused on interoperability across the communications spectrum. The Communications Academy this year is three days of training and information on various aspects of emergency communications.  Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES©); Auxiliary Communications Service (ACS); EOC Support Teams; Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES), Civil Air Patrol, Coast Guard Auxiliary, REACT, CERT and anyone interested in emergency communications are encouraged to attend.

Location:

South Seattle College

6000 16th Avenue S.W., Seattle WA 98106 in the Olympic Building (OLY) and Jerry Brockey Student Center, at the south end of the campus.

Free parking is available south of the buildings.

Schedules:

Friday, April 24 (masters level classes)

Saturday, April 25

Sunday, April 26

2020 Registration Fees:

Rates: 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day
Early Bird Rate (Feb 23 to Mar 29) $36.00 $64.00 $95.00
Normal Rate (Mar 30 to Apr 19) $45.00 $80.00 $119.00
Register at Door (After Apr 19) $55.00 $100.00 N/A*
*Friday Masters Classes Pre-Register Only


Discounts available for:
Early Registration beginning:
Military personnel (active or reserve)
Students (age 18 years or under)
Late registration at the conference is higher but very limited so don’t delay!

A buffet luncheon with a variety of sandwiches, salads, deserts, and beverages is included with your registration.

 

ABC Australia: Amateur Radio Skills Prove Useful During Bushfire Emergencies

From ABC Australia, this article details how amateur radio operators have provided communications in areas where the local communication infrastructure has been damaged by fires.

Amateur radio enthusiasts have proved themselves useful during the recent bushfires after traditional telecommunication channels broke down.

Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, is a skill and international hobby whereby enthusiasts use specific radio frequencies to communicate with each other.

In Australia, users must complete an exam to obtain a license through the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

It was volunteers with these skills who were called in to assist during the recent New South Wales bushfires.

Neil Fallshaw is vice-president of WICEN NSW Communications, a group of volunteers with amateur radio licenses who can help in emergency situations.

He said about 30 members provided a temporary radio system in the Bega, Cobargo, Narooma, and Bermagui areas after some of the local radio infrastructure was damaged or had lost power.

A man sits at a desk operating a radio
Photo: Neil Fallshaw says radio operators were able to step in when mobile phones went down. (Supplied: Neil Fallshaw)

“We deployed one of our radio repeaters on the mountains. We put a radio repeater system on that mountain to cover a portion of the south coast,” Mr Fallshaw said.

He said that radio system assisted the NSW Volunteer Rescue Association and Bega Valley Shire Council staff to communicate from bushfire-affected towns like Bermagui and Cobargo.

“They normally use just mobile phones, but the mobile phones in the area were down because of fire damage,” Mr Fallshaw said.

Members of WICEN NSW also provided support operating regular radios at fire control centres in towns like Glen Innes, Port Macquarie, and Kempsey.

“They needed people who would be able to operate the radios in a communications environment which can get pretty hectic,” Mr Fallshaw said…

Tony Falla, an amateur radio user in central Victoria, said ham radio skills could be particularly useful when there were significant power outages.

For example, like that on the NSW south coast on New Year’s Eve when mobile coverage, the national broadband network, and the local ABC radio transmitter all dropped out.

“What I think amateur radio people have going for them is their ability to contact people outside the threatened area when there’s no contact inside the threatened area and pass on messages of a health and welfare nature,” Mr Falla said…

Mr Falla believes amateur radio skills could become more useful with the increased likelihood of extreme weather events leading to power outages.

“Amateur radio is considered old fashioned; why would you want a radio when you’ve got the internet?” he said.

“We have proved this year that the situations in place right now aren’t adequate in the extreme.”

Three people on the phone in a call centre.
Photo: WICEN operators also help with answering calls at the RFS headquarters in Sydney. (Supplied: Neil Fallshaw)

Mr Morley said there were some within emergency services in Victoria who were unaware of the skills amateur radio enthusiasts could provide.

“You have a lot of different staff coming in during emergencies, and while some people know what WICEN can do, probably many don’t,” he said.

Mr Gibson said the small size of WICEN NSW limited their ability to assist, but the work they had been doing was excellent.

“Since November 9, the WICEN group has completed 2,900 hours of radio communications, and that was only done by 30 members,” Mr Gibson said.

“WICEN, as a communications network, you won’t get any better.”

Rainier Redoubt: WA Emergency Mgmt CEMNET Radio Network

Rainier Redoubt has a short article out describing the Comprehensive Emergency Management Network (CEMNET) operated by the Washington State Emergency Management Division. This provides useful information for your monitoring center in the case of disaster.

The Emergency Management Division (EMD) operates a statewide, very high frequency (VHF) low-band radio system, as the primary backup communication link between the state EOC and local EOC’s throughout the state. It also serves as a link to other agencies such as the state departments of Ecology and Health, the UW Seismology Lab, and Harborview Medical Center.

The following map [the map is on the second page of this linked pdf – LVA] depicts the location of the twelve mountaintop base stations that comprise the backbone of the network. The CEMNET base stations are controlled from the state EOC through the Washington State Patrol microwave system.

CEMNET operates primarily on three (3) frequencies, designated for accountability purposes as F1- 45.200 MHz, F2 – 45.360 MHz, and F3- 45.480 MHz. In radios set up primarily for CEMNET use, this will usually correspond to channels 1, 2, and 3.

The State Emergency Operations Officer (SEOO) located within the State EOC monitors the network on a 24-hour basis. For operational purposes, the state has been divided into five regions (see table below), with a channel designated for use within that region. The State Emergency Operations Officer (SEOO) will monitor the designated channel (frequency) for both routine and emergency traffic and respond accordingly. Should traffic build-up cause a problem within the network, the State EOC will act as Net Control.

CEMNET is tested weekly with local emergency management jurisdictions on the following schedule:

Western Washington stations: Tuesday, 0900 hours
Central Washington stations: Wednesday, 0900 hours
Eastern Washington stations: Thursday, 0900 hours

Local emergency management jurisdictions are authorized to use the designated CEMNET region channel for local operations.

Northwest Southwest Central Northeast Southeast
F1 (45,20 MHz) F2 (45.36 MHz) F3 (45.48 MHz) F1 (45.20 MHz) F2 (45.36 MHz)
Clallam Clark Adams Ferry Asotin
Island Cowlitz Benton Lincoln Columbia
Jefferson Grays Harbor Chelan Okanogan Garfield
King Lewis Douglas Pend Oreille Whitman
Kitsap Mason Grant Spokane
San Juan Pacific Franklin Stevens
Skagit Pierce Kittitas
Snohomish Skamania Klickitat
Whatcom Thurston Yakima
Bellevue Wahkiakum Walla Walla
Kent Tacoma
SW Snohomish Lacey
Seattle Shelton
Auburn Puyallup
Kirkland
Snoqualmie
Port Angeles
Redmond

Local jurisdictions should use the region channel assignment as identified in the preceding table for local “base station” to mobile / portable communications in support of local day-to-day and emergency needs. Each local jurisdiction is authorized at least five (5) mobiles per license.

Additionally, MAST helicopters from Fort Lewis and/or Army National Guard may communicate on Channel F1 on their FM systems.

Although the CEMNET frequencies are outside of the Amateur Radio band, it is still worth monitoring the net to listen to Washington State Emergence Management traffic.

ARRL: ARES Standing By After Strong Earthquake Near Puerto Rico

From the ARRL:

A strong magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit Puerto Rico early on January 7 on the heels of a smaller magnitude 5.8 tremor a day earlier. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reported widespread power outages after generating plants automatically activated protective shutdown systems following the earthquake. Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced urged citizens to remain calm.

“The entire government is active and in action,” Governor Vazquez said in a tweet. “I ask our people to remain calm and urge you to remain safe.” Government offices have been shut down for the day.

The director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network, Víctor Huérfano, told The Associated Press that it’s been difficult to obtain reports of damage or injuries because communications are out over much of the island. Geologists had warned of additional seismic activity following the January 6 earthquake. Tremors have been occurring in some areas of Puerto Rico since December 28.

ARRL Puerto Rico Public Information Officer Angel Santana, WP3GW, said the earthquakes have damaged homes in communities including Guánica and Guayanilla, with aftershocks felt minutes later from today’s event. A tsunami advisory for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was canceled minutes after being issued. Santana said the PREMA Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has been activated.

Santana said VHF and UHF repeater systems having emergency power carried reports of power outages and other information. ARRL Puerto Rico Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF, told ARRL that no Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) activations have been necessary, as commercial telecommunication systems remain functional.

“The situation is scary, with houses, schools, and roads collapsing,” Resto said, with many structures — including a school and homes in Guánica — damaged.

Related:

Washington Post: Puerto Rico earthquake Tuesday morning triggers blackout, reports of injuries and at least one dead

Off Grid Ham: Go Boxes

Dan Passaro’s shack in a can.

In this article, Chris Warren of Off Grid Ham spends a little bit of time talking about ham radio go boxes. For ham radio enthusiasts, the radio go box is mostly commonly used when responding as an emergency communications volunteer or for fun, portable radio communications while camping or hiking. But the go box holds a place for preppers, too, even if you aren’t an amateur radio licensee. Even if your plan for emergencies is to “bug in” (stay put at home) there are disasters which may force you out of your home, and you will want some kind of portable communications ready to go – whether that is ham radio, FRS, GMRS, MURS, CB or just a kit for keeping your cell phone charged up.

Go Box Zen 2.0

I didn’t realize it’s been over three years since the last time Off Grid Ham specifically addressed go boxes. If the internet discussions and on air chatter are any indicator, it’s a very popular way to operate. It’s way past time to revisit the humble ham radio go box and come up with some fresh ideas.

In the last three years I’ve noticed an uptick in ham radio go box deployment. There are even entire social media pages dedicated solely to go boxes (or bags or whatever your thing is). I think there are several reasons why. Many operators live under homeowners’ association rules that severely limit having a fixed antenna. Theses operators may have no choice but to hit the road. Others want something they can take camping, for SHTF purposes, or EMCOMM. The various special event stations from parks and other significant places may be driving the trend too. There’s also new equipment manufacturers offering low cost gear. This opened possibilities to people who could not otherwise afford a dedicated go box.

As before, this is not going to be a step-by-step how to on building a ham radio go box. There are too many variables and too many individual choices for me to come up with a plan that works for everyone. Instead, we’ll go over some concepts to consider and questions you’ll need to answer before you begin.

Defining priorities.

What is the Number One priority for your ham radio go box? It it portability? DX-capability? Data modes? Keeping the cost down? Before you can construct a go box, you have to decide what trait is the most important. From there you can work in secondary needs. As with everything, there will be compromises, and some things are mutually exclusive.

The main reason ham radio go boxes do not live up to expectations is because they were not built to expectations in the first place. Or possibly, what you thought was a Number One priority turned out to be not such an urgent issue after all. Years ago my first go box was a huge fail because my Number One priority, cost savings, meant giving up so many other smaller things that they made the cost savings not worth it.

ham radio go box
The main parts of my new & improved, much lighter ham radio go box. Left is a 27 watt folding solar panel. Top is a DC power box which includes a 13 amp-hour lithium battery and the charge controller. Right is a random wire antenna. Not shown: Alpha Antenna FMJ.

I used an old Yaesu FT-757 GX II radio. I also dug up an inverter, a solar controller, an FT-2900 2-meter radio, a 100 watt solar panel, and some various plugs and connectors. All of this stuff I already had. I built a nice wood box to mount everything in. My out of pocket cost for the entire project was less than $100.00, and most of that was for a 35 amp hour SLA battery. It looked impressive. I felt like a boss!

Well guess what? I achieved my goal of keeping the cost down, but my ham radio go box was so clunky and heavy that I didn’t care. Between the battery, the wood box, and all the other stuff, I could barely move that beast by myself. There wasn’t much “go” in that go box, unless I invested in a forklift too. I thought saving money was my Number One priority but I gave up too many other attributes to make it worthwhile.

That was my lesson in not only defining priorities, but also considering what else I have to give up to attain that priority. I inadvertently buried the cost savings under all the other problems. I used that go box only once or twice, then dismantled it.

What comes next?

After admitting defeat in my first attempt at a ham radio go box, I reexamined my priorities…

Click here to continue reading at Off Grid Ham.

Related:

OH8STN: Grid Down Comms

Instructables: KE0OJE’s Ham Radio Go Box

Instructables: Radio Go Box (Ham, MURS, GMRS, FRS)

HARC Net: Amateur Radio Go Kit (pdf)