ARRL ARES Communicator's Comments - 2017-02-19

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio Emergency Communications' started by W.T. Jones, Feb 19, 2017.

  1. W.T. Jones

    W.T. Jones You can't make me come in Staff Member Silver Member Golden GPS Recipient

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    An ARRL ARES Communicator's Comments
    - The Job of the Emergency Coordinator...
    Last week I droned on about the Job of the Emergency Coordinator. As some surmised I was in the position of having to possibly remove one of our ECs. That is never a pleasant task. This especially true when the EC had been a stellar one and has just grown old in the position. However, I want to report that the entire issue worked out for the best with the old EC stepping into an Assistant EC spot so that he could continue running his favorite nets. Some times the situation requires a little more finesse and that was what happened last Monday. I am very happy to say that the club involved, the county EMA, the old EC, and the new EC are very happy with the results.

    I needed to explain to the club involved the relationship between the ACS (Auxiliary Communications System) and the ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) so I put this paper together with the "Talking Points" about both. It is something that I think has some value to all of us. Of course, I am prejudiced because I wrote it. Take a look at it though and it might help you understand where everything dovetails together.

    ARES and ACS - A Comparison

    But by the same token I had an ARES Emergency Coordinator resign this past week because, as he put it, I was forcing my agenda on him. I don't force anything on anyone. As an EC I have guidance from the ARRL on what is expected of me. As the ACS Officer for Luzerne County I am expected to do certain things which is clearly stated in the job. It is a sad thing when someone takes the job and then does nothing with it. It is a disappointment to the person that appointed them and it is a failing to the people in the area of responsibility.

    (LCARES Challenge - email "FLDigi Operator" to ec@w3luz.org)

    - Using FLMsg in a Network Setting...
    Last week I mentioned the Macro Challenge that I gave the LCADN members. The reason was to get the brain working on possibilities and exposure to the FLDigi Macro Language. This week I am going to try to give you an example of how someone who is in the position of being an FLDigi communicator in an Emergency Operations Center can be creative using the computers, Flmsg, and Fldigi to take messages, put them in a collection, and send the messages on their way. It is an artificial example? Absolutely and it is definitely not compete in any sense. It is rudimentary.

    The scenario is there are two positions in the EOC that will need to send messages via FLDigi. The two users could just write out the message and give it to the FLDigi operator to re-type into Flmsg but this is an alternative. I'll concentrate on just one, the Radiological Monitor (Radmon) Officer but it can be expanded to include others.

    The basic is that the Radmon Officer will use Flmsg to create his form, store it in a "shared" folder on his computer, and the Fldigi Operator will collect the message via the network, wrap it for sending, put it in a single file, and then send it using FLDigi. Don't worry I have lots of pictures with this. You can click on any of the pictures for a larger view.

    First, I am going to create a folder on the Radmon's PC called demo_msgs. You can call it anything you want but I started with demo_msgs so I'll stay with that for the purpose of this demo.

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    Now the way to create a folder depends on the operating system that you are using but those details I'll leave to you. For most Operating Systems it is pretty much a standard day to day happening.

    Flmsg will create all the directories that it needs when it is started. Yep, that is where those things come from when you look in the ICS Directory of the .nbems files folder. I am going to keep FLMsg confined to the demo_msgs folder because these are special messages and only FLMsg will be operating on the Radmon's computer. If you are using windows you need to open up the cmd: window and on Linux you need to open the console terminal.

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    The command is shown at the left. It begins with the 'flmsg' and the information after it just tells FLMsg where to start. It will be different for Windows. This command will start FLMsg and let it populate the demo_msgs folder with the folders it needs.


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    If you look in the demo_msgs folder you'll that it looks just like what is under the ICS folder in the nbems folder on your system.

    Now since these are brand new folders and because you started Flmsg in the demo_msgs folder Flmsg starts up without any configuration information. This is just like a new installation as far as Flmsg is concerned. It is pretty much without any knowledge what so ever. It does not have a callsign and it does not know about the Expert mode yet. It is easy to tell that because it starts with that little small window called the simple mode which is supposed to be used by a Subject Matter Expert rather than we sophisticated Digital Communicators.

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    Now since FLMsg is essentially dumb there are some things that need to be set up. The normal method of that is to used the configuration options on the expert mode. You can read that under the Tools item on the menu bar. When you click on it then you'll see the normal FLMsg window with the Config Option on the menu bar. You can click on it and get to the Personal Information window.



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    Now, because this is the Radmon's PC I am working on and he is the one that will be responsible for the messages I'm going to put some special information in the personal information page. If this had a real human I would put their name followed by their title in the Call field. And then fill in some of the pertinent information like telephone number where the Radmon officer could be reached. This information will help populate some of the fields that will be used when the message is generated.

    The rest of the information fields are left empty. There is no need for them at all. This FLMsg program is just generating the outgoing message.



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    Remember this is a dumb FLMsg right now. The Subject Matter Experts don't need the standard FLMsg interface because they will be building only messages using special forms. They are essentially fill in the blank forms. These forms are stored in the CUSTOM folder. So for our Radmon user I have to put the renr_new.html form in the CUSTOM folder for his copy of FLMsg to get to when it is needed.

    I will go to the standard nbems folder and under ICS I'll find the CUSTOM folder. It is a simple matter to copy and paste the form into the demo_msgs CUSTOM subfolder. At the left you can see that I selected file and selected copy and then I'll head on over the demo_msgs folder to put it where it needs to be.



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    It should be the only form in the CUSTOM folder. Always remember that this portion of the FLMsg network is being used by an expert in Radiological Monitoring and not a person who is familiar with FLDigi and Flmsg like we are.

    Once it is in the demo_msgs CUSTOM folder the FLMsg for the Radmon user is almost ready to be used.

    The only thing that remains to be done is to "share" the demo_msgs folder. This allows the FLDigi operator to have access to it. This again is something that is beyond the scope of that I am doing here but in this day and age it is common operation that can be done with the GUI (Graphical User Interface) without too much effort.

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    Now if the Radmon user starts his version of FLMsg, selects a new message with the renr (radiological emergency notification report) he will see what is to the left.

    The formed is filled in just like we have practiced on the LCADN. Nothing special. The SUBMIT button at the end causes the form to be returned to FLMsg where the Radmon user is prompted to store it in the messages subfolder.



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    Take note of the name of the file at the top of the file manager. It says rad_officer followed by a sequential number. This is the file that will appear later on when the FLDigi operator looks for his messages to send.

    At this point I am done on the Radmon side of the network. This process can continue over and over again with Radmon filling in more and more messages for the FLDigi operator to send for him. The messages are stored in a location that is available over the network and no walking is involved.

    Let us move to the FLDigi operator's PC. The entire FLDigi suite of programs has been installed on this PC. Everything a good operator needs to send and receive messages.

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    The first thing that the FLDigi Operator (FO from here on) is to make sure that he has connected with the demo_msgs shared folder from the Radmon's PC. You can see the demo_msgs being offered off the Radmon's PC (epasec in this case but pay no attention to the man behind the curtain) and it is selected for mounting on the FO's computer.



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    Now the FO can look into the Radmon's folder and see that message that the Radiological Officer stored for sending. This message with the -4 is there as is another one -3 that is also ready for sending.



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    The FO needs to prep the two messages for sending. He does that by selecting the messages, dragging them with his mouse to the FLWrap program on his desktop. The result is that two more files appear that contain all that is needed for FLMsg on some other computer to decode them.







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    The next step is to take the two files that are ready to send and drag them to the messages folder. This is a straight forward drag and drop operation. The files are moved to the demo_msgs folder under the nbems/ICS folder. And they are ready to processing into one file.





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    After the files are in the correct folder I used a small script to put the files into a single file called outgoing.txt. This script is written for Linux but it is easy to do on Windows as well. The script will do the following: remove the file outgoing.txt, for every file in the folder create modem control tags and then copy the contents of the file into the outgoing.txt file. This is the same concept that is used in the Macro Challenge but with a twist. The contents of the messages along with the modem control tags are going into one file that will be referenced by the Fldigi Macro.



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    A partial view of the outgoing.txt file is to the left.





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    The reason for using one file, consistently named, is that the FO will not have to modify the FLDigi macro at any time. The macro looks for the outgoing.txt file in the right folder and does it every time.

    So now the FO has things all ready to go. Messages in one file and waiting for his turn to send the messages. When that turn comes the FO presses the corresponding Function Key and the macro takes over. The file gets sent and because it is wrapped like an FLMsg the stations on the other side open FLMsg and put it to the FLMsg format file.



    This is what some of the file transfer looks like...

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    Now, what have I left out?

    Well, lots really. This is such a simplified example of what can be done that I have left out a lot of things that are beyond the intent of the example. The short list is:

    1. Management of the sent files so that the Radmon Officer would know what has been sent.
    2. Removal of the sent messages from the FO's que so that he doesn't have to worry about them.
    3. Checking for messages that will exceed the 3 minute repeater time limit.
    4. Logging the messages that have been sent.
    And so on. The idea again is to show what is possible. Creativity with message handling especially in the EOC where the messages could be coming faster than at outlying areas is a critical skill. And automation techniques that take any complexity away from the subject matter experts will make them more willing to use our special skills.

    And doing these kinds of exercises can be fun just to see if it works. It does take some creativity but it is just like Ham Radio. If you are inquisitive then it can be a satisfying effort.

    Not Going To Be Home For the Bulletin?
    - You do know that you can set up your computer and radio and leave them listening to 146.46 if you have to be some where else like sitting in front of the TV. You don't even have to run in to check it at 10:00PM if you don't want to do that. Just leave them running with Fldigi and Flamp doing their thing and go watch TV, play cards, stare at your phone, or manually plot the next ISS pass using a pencil and paper. It will be there when you get around to checking on it.

    I heard it today! I didn't think people actually copied this Bulletin but I had a fellow tell me that he just "sets it up" and goes about his business with the volume down. Hates the sound but likes to read it. Well, OK now. That makes me quite happy. See things do work if you just set it up and let it happen.

    EPA-ARRL Web site...
    If you have not do it yet then what are you waiting for? Get to the EPA-ARRL web site and either submit your email address or like it on Facebook. It is the place to get the information and news about the EPA Section.

    Ham Radio Links
    N3LLR's Ham Radio Forum
    ARRL Eastern PA Section Web Site
    Luzerne County ARESĀ©
    Harris County Texas ARES - A great training resource
    Lake County (OH) RACES Personal Go-Kit for Emergency Operations - KE7LHR
    MecklenBurg County ARES and RACES
    K0BG - The Website for Mobile Amateur Radio Operators (Perhaps the best web site on mobile operations I have found!)
    Origins of Ham Speak - Fact, Legends, and Myths??? - Compiled by AC6V from the Internet and other unreliable sources
    The Petite Prepper
    The VOA Radiogram
     

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