ARRL ARES Communicator's Comments - 2018-05-06

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio Emergency Communications' started by W.T. Jones, May 6, 2018.

  1. W.T. Jones

    W.T. Jones Moderator Staff Member Silver Member Golden GPS Recipient AtlDiv EPA Leader AtlDiv ARES Member

    Luzerne County ARES® Sunday Night Bulletin
    "We don't rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training."
    Archilochus - Greek Poet and Soldier

    "Success is not Final. Failure is not Fatal. The only thing that matters is the courage to carry on."
    Winston Churchill
    If you are not aware of what the ARRL Board is doing then it is time for you to get informed!


    • Current Versions of Fldigi programs
    • Luzerne County ARES® Information...
    • Luzerne County ARES®Net Control Schedule
    • !Luzerne County LCARES Announcements...
    • Click Here for the Luzerne County ARES®Activities Schedule
    • Click Here for Net Schedules of Interest - updated on 4/8/2018
    • 2018 LCARES Members Operational Status - Net Stats - Bulletin Responses (updated 5/6/18)...
    • Weekly Images
    • An ARRL ARES®Communicator's Comments
      • !In a Hurry?....
      • FT-8...
      • The Time Is...
      • The 2018 Commex Report...
      • (Preliminary) Luzerne County ARES 2018 Communications Exercise (Commex)
      • ARRL ARES Field Resources Manual...
    • EPA-ARRL Web site...
    • Ham Radio Links
    • Closing
    Bulletin Date: May 6, 2018
    Bulletin Number: 197

    This Bulletin is for all Amateur Radio Operators in Luzerne County and any interested Amateur Radio Station anywhere.

    Note: A copy of this Bulletin is stored on the web site in .wav file format. This file can be replayed by Fldigi and Flamp to get the complete Bulletin.

    Current Versions of Fldigi programs
    Current Versions of Fldigi Suite
    Fldigi Flmsg Flamp
    4.0.16 4.0.6 2.2.03
    Current as of: April 1, 2018. *Indicates an update in the past week.
    Latest versions available at

    Luzerne County ARES® Information...
    - Important: The Sunday Night Bulletin is required reading for all LCARES Members. If you are busy look for the things with the ! in front of them.

    Luzerne County ARES®Net Control Schedule
    The Rotation Schedule for the LCARES Voice net has been posted on the Last update: April 24, 2018

    Please be sure to review the NCS schedule before the upcoming nets.

    !Luzerne County LCARES Announcements...
    (These will be read by the Alternate NCS during the regular weekly session of the LCARES Voice Net.)

    * - indicates that announcement should not be read on the LCARES Net.

    1. N3SRO has requested NCS time during the LCARES Voice Net. His schedule permits May 8th, 15th, and 22nd. Due to his travel schedule he has been assigned those dates as NCS. If his schedule changes and he cannot take any of those dates then the listed ANCS will be the NCS for the net. WN3LIF will be the ANCS.
    2. Recently the TM@EOC have conflicted with training mandated by County Management. There is absolutely nothing that can be done about this issue by EMA management. The EMA Director and Deputy Director are not happy with the situation but it is out of their control. If training is in progress at the EOC on Tuesday Mornings then the TM@EOC will be canceled by default. The EC will make every effort to alert the usual TM@EOC group before hand to prevent a wasted trip.
    3. The LCARES Net Control Schedule has been updated. The following stations are net controls and are reminded to check the schedule since it has changed. AB3ZI, KC3FKW, N3SRO, WN3LIF, K3DBG, N3RN, and WB3FKP. The EC thanks all of you for helping with the net.
    4. The Nescopeck Duathlon is scheduled for Sunday, May 20th, at Nescopeck State Park. This is an easy effort. 6 operators can cover the event without any problem using HTs. So it is not like the Commex. There are 2 operators confirmed so far. Email to to confirm your presence.
    Click Here for the Luzerne County ARES®Activities Schedule
    Click Here for Net Schedules of Interest - updated on 4/8/2018
    2018 LCARES Members Operational Status - Net Stats - Bulletin Responses (updated 5/6/18)...

    Note: Credit is given for responding but to win, place, or show the answer has to be correct.
    Sunday Night Bulletin for April 29, 2018 Responses
    1st Response
    2nd Response
    3rd Response
    Total Bulletin Responses for Last Week - 5

    Weekly Images

    Is your PC's time correct?

    An ARRL ARES®Communicator's Comments
    !In a Hurry?....
    - I thought I'd leave this in here a few weeks. Remember, if you are rushed for time look for the items with the !. Those are the items that really need to be read. Everything else is just fluff. Read the important things and the other stuff when you can.

    - K3ZK, K2LNS, KB3FVF, and I had a great discussion about the FT-8 mode on Friday. As many of you know I am not a great fan of FT-8. That really isn't true any great extent and the nice thing about talking about it I think I narrowed my issue down to what was bothering me. FT-8 is just too darn easy to use. OK, that doesn't make it bad. K3ZK and I finally worked the issue down to the electrons. I think that FT-8 is so easy that there has to be some discrimination in the awards that are issued for it. I think, right or wrong, that a Ham that garners the Worked All States award via Phone or CW has taken a rockier path than the one who obtains Worked All States via FT-8. There are still many factors that making WAS even on FT-8 a real challenge. Time in the chair is just one of them. But the brainchild of Dr. Joe Taylor makes the operating so slick and easy that it cannot compare to dragging out Hawaii on SSB or CW. Just saying you know.

    BTW, I did go home and make 4 more contacts on FT-8 just to make sure I wasn't smelling the smoke from the neighbor's barbecue. It is easy and I will admit that seeing that DL station on the list made me itch a bit so I clicked.

    When I imported them into my CQRLOG was when the challenge started. The latest release is having trouble with LotW. I had to manually upload the contacts but that doesn't have anything to do with FT-8.

    The Time Is...
    - I am inveterate manual reader. I read all the FT-8 stuff including the tips on how to operate FT-8. Good stuff but there was one item I never knew about. That is the web site called "Time is" and I highly recommend it to you. Your systems clock should be within milliseconds of being perfect. The "Time Is" web site will let you know how you are doing. Here is the link:

    I highly suggest you try it. I was .039 seconds slow. That is within 39 milliseconds of perfect. If any of you comes withing .010 seconds let me know!

    The 2018 Commex Report...
    - I worked on the Commex report. The Teamviewer client at the EOC is giving me fits since the disk failure. I may have to completely install it again. It is not a big deal but it takes time away from the fun stuff. So, in fact, I have not gotten a complete set of messages but from my point of view I am not too concerned about it. The insight I have received from the participants and the audio file from AB3ZI give me a pretty complete picture. The input does not change my mind about thinking that the Commex was a rousing success. I am very happy with the results and the people who participated! So here is what I wrote so far.

    (Preliminary) Luzerne County ARES 2018 Communications Exercise (Commex)

    Prepared by: WT Jones, WN3LIF, LCARES EC

    Overall -

    The original intent of this Commex was to give the Luzerne County ARES and other parts of the Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency (LCEMA) an opportunity to interact and role play in a communications down type of situation. That did not happen. However, LCARES did make the best of the opportunity and gained some valuable experience in the process.

    Objectives -

    Since the role playing part of the Commex did not materialize other objectives for LCARES were established. These include

    1. Utilize radio spectrum for communicating that was not normally used.

    2. Stress the operations by including an inordinate amount of messages.

    3. Move the center of operations out of the EOC to the locale to allow the LCARES members to deal with messages without direction.

    4. Utilize portable “in the field” operations to test setup and operations in the field.

    5. Allow operators to use both voice and digital modes.
    Results -

    Based on the observations and message movement the Commex was a complete success. All “canned” messages were moved successfully. Operators addressed situations (lack of direct contact, unable to contact EOC on the exercise frequency, power failure at the ICP) that arose and continued to operate to the end of the exercise.

    The intent of using a mode and frequency was to get the LCARES members away from the normal, day to day, usage of repeaters. The frequency selection was to require the use of different antennas, Single Side Band vs. FM, and was very different from what the members were used to doing.

    The connection from the ICP at the Lake Rose Overflow Parking to the the County EOC on the exercise frequency did not work. The decision to change from exercise frequency to VHF and a repeater represented a planned “out” allowed for in the Commex plan. There are issues that need to be reviewed since observers with line of sight to the ICP that should have been able to hear the ICP on the 10 meter frequency did not. The issue may have been propagation but unfamiliarity with the use of Fldigi on High Frequency/Single Sideband and the FT-897 may also play a part. This in no way changes the success of the Commex and the great performance of all involved. It was an unknown to be tested. Now the root cause of the inability to work that frequency needs further investigation. That will mean more time in the field this summer.

    It is just part of the lessons that were learned.

    Lessons Learned...

    The following Lessons are based on feedback from the LCARES members and the LCARES AECs that observed the exercise. It is stressed to LCEMA Management that these are Lessons Learned and identified to improve the LCARES performance. They are points for improvement.

    Voice Procedures...

    The prowords “over”, “out”, and “roger” during SSB operations are very important. The absence of FM signal drop, repeater courtesy beeps, or repeater signal drop to indicate that the sending operator is finished and invites the other operator to transmit make the need for proper net operation critical. The use of the prowords does increase the speed of voice message operations.

    Recommendation: Increase emphasis for all LCARES members on operational prowords during all operations.

    Acknowledgement of Digital Messages...

    Flmsg (a part of the Fldigi Suite of Programs that sends messages) checks for the successful decode of message and alerts the receiving operator to a failure. The usual practice is that if a message is received correctly then no response is necessary. This procedure does not allow for the fact that the message did not arrive at all. This practice needs to be changed to insure a positive indication that the message was received successfully.

    Recommendation: A sending operator will not automatically assume that an Flmsg or Flamp transmission was successful. Receiving operators must reply indicating that the message was received successfully. The form of the response will be established by the LCARES Leadership.

    Proper Equipment for Voice Operations...

    It was noted that none of the voice operators made use of headphones. The environmental noise and the use of SSB takes this from a nice option to a mandatory item. All amateur radio operators should have a good pair of headphones.

    Recommendation: All LCARES members should have a usable set of headphones with them during any operation. A set of adapter connectors that will allow the operator to connect to any radio is a plus.

    Proper Preparation...

    In some cases the equipment used at the various stations was not up to standards. Loose antenna cables, very makeshift antennas, and very minimal efforts made to succeed. Outdoor operations and operations on HF require that the equipment not only be usable but be better than usable. Before operations in the field the LCARES members need to understand the check, double check, triple check, and then have someone else check it philosophy. This includes pulling on the coax running into a connector, ensuring that all the needed connectors are available, running batteries to exhaustion and then recharging them before the operation, and other items.

    Recommendation: Use the ARRL ARES Field Resource Manual and have the LCARES members practice the needed preparation routines. (I know it is practice/training but I'll try to figure out something to make it more interesting!)

    Message Center Operations...

    The Commex was developed to stress the Incident Command Post (ICP) as a message center. All messages went through the ICP (not the EOC) and most of it stayed in the Ricketts Glen Park.

    It should be noted that the EOC was a resource center during the Commex and was NOT the command point for the Commex. The Incident Command Post was the focal point for operations. The sending of the ICS-214a to the EOC was the method to be used to keep the EOC management up to date in its role as the manager of the operations.

    There was a need for an additional person at the ICP to act as a message clerk/logger but in reality that person should not have been needed. The operator taking the message should have made the decision where the message needed to be directed. Some of the messages were “tactical” in nature and could have been moved without any “clearing” through a message clerk. This is especially true if the message was on the same circuit (voice/digital). The fact that the Search Base relayed much of the traffic from the Rescue Base should have resulted in no need to involve the ICP digital station. This was an unintended “benefit” of the ICP not being able to hear the Rescue Base.

    This was an unusual situation for the LCARES members since most of the time they are in the roll of communicator only. Advancing the skill set of the LCARES members is an important function of a Commex. A Table Top Exercise might be planned in the future as training.

    Recommendation: Provide training to the LCARES members on message flow and how to address it on an ad-hoc basis.

    What is a “Tactical” message...

    From listening to the audio of the Commex and reviewing what paper was provided indicates that the operators sent all messages as formal traffic. The instructions in the Commex Guide that was included with the messages stated:

    “Some of the messages are tactical in nature. It is left up to the ICP and the stations to decide what needs to be on ICS-213 forms. However, all messages must be logged in the ICS-309 forms. All the forms for the Comm Ex are in Flmsg. The recommendation is that you use them. Open the ICS-309 form, leave it open, and log as you go.”

    The intent was that the operators at Search Base and Rescue Base could simply state a message such as:

    “This is a drill X Communications for Rescue Command is now active X This is a drill”

    And the ICP could log it in the ICS-309 and the ICS-214a.

    Recommendation: Assist the LCARES members with the identification and use of “Tactical” messages.

    More Experience...

    It was pointed out that by more than one LCARES members that more experience doing things like the Commex is needed and desirable. This is gratifying because it is the LCARES members pointing this out.

    Recommendation: Have more “out of the EOC” exercises during the good months and maybe even the bad months such as Winter Field Day.

    Technical Issues...

    This covers observations made by the EC and Assistant ECs during the Commex. It is for the general information of the members to improve their awareness and hone their skills.

    1 – Antenna height used at all stations at Ricketts Glen was much too low. High Frequencies demand antennas with as much above ground height as possible. At the frequencies recommended for the Commex 25 feet would have been an acceptable height. The use of the masts should have been foregone in favor of using the available trees.

    Note: Antennas such as used by N3RN were to have been purchased last year but do to the lack of response from the vendor they were not obtained. The Chameleon Antennas may be acquired this year.

    2 – The frequency selection, 10 meters, was done to push the operators out of their comfort zone and it appears to have been successful. It was a scenario limitation. It was NOT selected on the basis of the best or most favorable frequency. It was selected because it was a restriction justified in the scenario that made the operators work and learn. In retrospect, LCARES can operate easily on 2 meters. That is where the comfort zone is for most of the members. In reality, 2 meters may not be the place where they can operate to fulfill the mission. It might be 6 meters next time.

    3 – The comments to use different antennas and different frequencies are well taken and the next EC will have the option of incorporating those recommendations in the next Commex. Please remember that the frequencies and antennas selected were for the purpose of the exercise in the full knowledge it would be difficult to do. Doing the things that can be done easily will not strengthen the abilities of LCARES.

    4 – Additional HF capabilities at the LCEOC are definitely needed but the physical impossibility of doing that makes it almost a non-starter. There is hope but it is not something that can be counted on. Antennas at the LCEOC have been an issue since the building was constructed. New coax runs for the existing radios are planned and the possibility of additional runs have been asked for during the re-cabling. This means there will be cables but antennas will still be ad-hoc and not permanent installations.

    5 – Fldigi operations in the LCARES Room need better documentation. Agreed and one of the LCARES members will have the opportunity to write them. The odd thing about the Fldigi in the LCARES room is the fact there are 2 Signalink devices on it. Figuring out which is in use is not hard and once explained will be a simple task. The hard part is switching from the easy to use FM on VHF to SSB on HF. That part will take some practice.

    6 – High Frequency Fldigi Operations need to be practiced. HF Digital work is very different from the VHF/FM operation that LCARES practices. It is not as forgiving as FM. It is a good time to do some training on HF operations. This will be discussed with the LCARES members to see how they would like to proceed on this type of training.

    7 – The use of the Antenna Trailer was mentioned and this is something that should definitely be done. The good news is that the generator on it will be operational by the time that this is read. That will make its movement and use a definite asset in the future. The low antenna issue will be solved at least for one station.

    8 – The 10 meter operation would be have been greatly enhanced by the use of the LCARES Hex Beam that is in the Antenna Trailer. The use and assembly of the Hex Beam and its rotor will be addressed at future TM@EOC meetings.


    As the EC I want to say again just how pleased I am with this performance of the LCARES who participated in this Commex. There were Lessons Learned but that always happens. The fact of the matter is all of you did a great job.

    This is a preliminary report and comments from the LCARES members for inclusion in the report are invited.

    ARRL ARES Field Resources Manual...
    - Ever had one of those moments when you did the palm strike to the forehead and then exclaim "you dope!" Just had one of them.

    The ARRL ARES Field Resources Manual is probably one of the best guides that is available for ARES members to have with them at all times. I have a bound copy (you get one when you have that weak moment and step up to being an EC) in my car. Practical advise to all of those who may venture forth to do emergency communications like we did during the Commex. I thought I'd go over to and grab the link. Well, guess what. The old EC never put it on that center for all information for the LCARES. The link is there now.

    Here is the link for you:

    I am going to ask KC3IMJ to print out hard copies of this valuable guide. Please put it in your car after you read it. The checklist alone is worth the space.

    Have a great week!

    EPA-ARRL Web site...
    - If you have not done 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 ARES®
    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
    Luzerne County ARES Facebook Page <-- New
    Thank you for copying our weekly digital information Bulletin to all Amateur Radio Operators.

    Send reception reports and comments to

    Have a good week everyone!


    ARRL EPA Section Emergency Coordinator
    ARRL EPA District 3 District Emergency Coordinator
    ARRL ARES® Emergency Coordinator
    Luzerne County ARES®
    ARES and "Amateur Radio Emergency Services" are registered service marks owned by the American Radio Relay League, The National Association of Amateur Radio. Use of these service marks is by permission only. Total prep time for this bulletin - 5 hours.
  2. wedgar

    wedgar Administrator Staff Member Gold Member

    Good flexibility.

    I wish more ARES groups would test communications without using repeaters sometimes. After all, sometimes repeaters go down.


    Good to know and good to practice.

    Also good to know and makes very good sense

    Amen! More practice can make more activities and having fun with ham radio

    Outstanding - sounds like your team had a good time testing and learning.
  3. W.T. Jones

    W.T. Jones Moderator Staff Member Silver Member Golden GPS Recipient AtlDiv EPA Leader AtlDiv ARES Member

    I am so happy with our core crew. They are without any doubt - OUTSTANDING!
    wedgar likes this.

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