Hams Across New England and the Maritimes Respond to Blizzard
Read by: RANDY KJ4TFU
As a blizzard swept across New England February 9-10, SKYWARN was ready. The storm dumped heavy snowfall — with some areas receiving upwards of 3 feet of snow — as blizzard conditions brought hurricane force winds that created power outages and significant tree and power line damage over Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. ARRL Eastern Massachusetts Section Emergency Coordinator Rob Macedo, KD1CY, helped lead operations at WX1BOX, the Amateur Radio station at the National Weather Service office in Taunton, Massachusetts, where hams were active for 28 continuous hours. Macedo also serves as the ARES SKYWARN Coordinator for the NWS office in Taunton.
“The Amateur Radio mission in our region has evolved into providing information on damage, power outages and meteorological surface observations in situations such as this blizzard,” Macedo told the ARRL. “But our hopes of escaping the winter of 2012-2013 with nothing more than routine winter storms ended when this blizzard came to New England. Eastern Massachusetts ARES was placed on stand-by on Friday, February 9 and that standby continued through Tuesday, February 12 for both Eastern Massachusetts ARES and those amateurs remaining active on Cape Cod who provided communications support for active shelters and for the Barnstable County Mutual Aid Coordination Center on Cape Cod.”
According to Macedo, WX1BOX Amateur Radio SKYWARN operations handled several hundred snowfall reports, as well as reports concerning wind, wet snow damage and coastal flooding. “We sent these reports to multiple agencies, including the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations, as well as the media,” he explained. “These reports provided critical situational awareness and disaster intelligence information to all of these entities.”
Read by: MARTHA KJ4RIQ
Snowfall totals of around 12-32 inches were recorded across Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, with lesser amounts on Nantucket Island. “Boston’s Logan Airport recorded its 5th highest snowfall ever with this blizzard,” Macedo said. “In addition, we had reports of moderate to major coastal flooding, with the most significant coastal flooding damage to roads. There were reports of flooding damage to shore structures in the Massachusetts coastal towns of Hull, Scituate, Sandwich, Gloucester and Salisbury. Hurricane force wind gusts coupled with wet snow caused more than 410,000 homes to be without power in Southeastern Massachusetts, with more than 170,000 without power in Rhode Island.”
The New England Reflector System on EchoLink *NEW-ENG* node 9123/IRLP 9123 was active and, according to Macedo, at one time had more than 65 connections from stations within the blizzard’s area. The VoIP Hurricane Net system on *WX_TALK* node 7203/IRLP 9219 system was also utilized as a listen-only system for those amateurs who wanted to listen in on some of the blizzard operations. “Many local VHF and UHF repeaters were active with roll-call SKYWARN nets set up at two or three hour intervals on more than a dozen repeaters in Southern New England,” Macedo told the ARRL. “We heard from Hartford-Tolland County Connecticut SKYWARN Coordinator Roger Jeanfaivre, K1PAI, that their net alone had eight nets and 181 check-ins from those eight nets, including nets run during the overnight period.”
Read by: NICKI KF4DHK
In Massachusetts, hams affiliated with RACES staffed Amateur Radio stations at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Regions 1 (WC1MAA) and 2 (WC1MAB). “Having Amateur Radio operators at these served agencies helped to provide auxiliary communications,” Macedo explained. “For instance, when power outages became so severe that the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts lost power, a roll call was initiated on the state’s VHF network. The Region 2 office did not hear the roll call over the state’s VHF network, but they were notified by the ARES sub-regional command center at the Acushnet Emergency Operations Center in Acushnet, Massachusetts, WA1EMA, that the roll call was taking place.”
“Amateur Radio remains the ultimate back-up,” said ARRL District Emergency Coordinator for Southeast Massachusetts Ed Caron, KA1RSY. “It has a significant place in providing situational awareness information for various served agencies.” Caron also serves as the Acushnet Emergency Management Communications Officer.
On Cape Cod, ARES remained active through Tuesday, February 12, putting in more than 72 hours of continuous operation during and after the blizzard. Macedo said that these hams provided SKYWARN with reports of coastal flooding, snowfall, wet snow and wind damage from around their area. Cape Cod ARES members also staffed multiple shelters and multiple Emergency Operations Centers. “Cape Cod ARES has been active with rotating shifts to staff the shelters and the Mutual Aid Coordination Center. I’m very proud of all my people who have put in very long hours,” said ARRL Cape Cod ARES District Emergency Coordinator Frank O’Laughlin, WQ1O.
American Red Cross to Phase Out Emergency Communication Response Vehicles
Read by:RICK N9GRW
The American Red Cross has made the decision to phase out and decommission its Emergency Communication Response Vehicles (ECRVs), due to changes in technology, as well as a new satellite system and other factors regarding the vehicle fleet. “Retrofitting the decade-old vehicles with new equipment is not a good use of donated funds, as the long-term strategy is to move to more portable systems,” American Red Cross Disaster Services Technology Manager Keith Robertory, KG4UIR, told the ARRL. “This is consistent with the trends in the telecom and technology industries.”
The American Red Cross will be removing the Amateur Radios out of the ECRVs as part of the decommissioning process. These radios will either become part of the deployable inventory or provided to the chapter to build the local capacity. Equipment that can be used by the American Red Cross will not be phased out with the vehicle. According to Robertory, every communication capability of the ECRV already exists — or will soon — as a rapidly deployable kit that can be loaded on any vehicle that is owned or rented by the American Red Cross, providing more flexibility in shaping its response to match the disaster.
“From a radio perspective, the American Red Cross has a variety of different kits for amateur, business and public safety bands covering HF, VHF and UHF with portable radios, mobile units and base stations,” he explained. “Two-way radio remains a valuable tool, providing communications in the initial days or weeks of a disaster, until normal communications is restored. Each American Red Cross chapter should continue with — and improve — the relationship with their local Amateur Radio operators.
Read by:LARRY KC4ZOA
In a disaster, Amateur Radio will be the fastest deployed radio network because operators already live in the impacted communities.
“Robertory called the ECRV operators “the key to the success of the ECRV program through the years. Their skills, dedication and flexibility have made the ECRV one of the most visible aspects of the American Red Cross Disaster Technology team. The ability to establish connectivity and communications remains vital to the American Red Cross, and their skills will continue to be needed as the American Red Cross implements new technology strategy and tactics. The commitment and flexibility of technologists — including radio operators — is what makes technology on a disaster successful. Building our future path based on the lessons we have learned is important to keep us all successful.”
Radio amateurs who are concerned about how the decommissioning of ECRVs will affect opportunities to serve the American Red Cross can be assured that such opportunities still exist. “This should not be seen as a setback for those radio amateurs who are working with the American Red Cross,” said ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U. “In disaster response, adaptability is critical and keeping up with new technology is essential. This all must be done with a mind toward an effective and efficient response. Amateurs have played an important role in assisting the American Red Cross with their mission and I know we will continue to do so in the future.”
Information about how to purchase these vehicles will be shared at a later date when the details are firm.
Amateur-created “Varicode” Adopted at ITU Recommendation
Read by: JERRY KE4ETY
On Tuesday, February 19, François Rancy — Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau (ITU-R) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) — announced the simultaneous adoption and approval by correspondence of a new Recommendation entitled Telegraphic Alphabet for Data Communication by Phase Shift Keying at 31 Baud in the Amateur and Amateur-Satellite Services. The alphabet — commonly called “Varicode” because the more frequently used characters (in the English language) occupy fewer bits — was developed by Peter Martinez, G3PLX, in the 1990s. Martinez was awarded the ARRL Technical Innovation Award for the year 2000 by the ARRL Board of Directors for his development of PSK31, which uses Varicode for transmission efficiency in much the same way as the Morse code. In ITU parlance, it now becomes Recommendation ITU-R M.2034.
Adoption of the Recommendation is the culmination of work conducted in ITU-R Study Group 5 and its Working Party 5A during 2011 and 2012. Working Party 5A is responsible for studies of techniques and frequency usage in the Amateur and Amateur-Satellite Services, as well as certain aspects of the land mobile and fixed services.
Read by:PAUL KJ4WQN
The Recommendation was proposed by the United States, and ARRL Chief Technology Officer Brennan Price, N4QX, advocated for the Recommendation’s adoption as United States spokesperson for Amateur Radio issues at Working Party 5A. “The text of the Recommendation borrows heavily from the technical description of PSK-31, prepared by Steven Karty, N5SK, on the ARRL’s website,” Price explained. “ Steven’s thorough description of Peter’s invention enjoyed relatively smooth sailing within the United States preparatory process and at the ITU.”
Adoption of an ITU-R Recommendation requires multiple levels of review.
Following proposal by an administration, a draft Recommendation is vetted by one or more relevant ITU-R Drafting Groups, Working Groups, Working Parties and Study Groups, usually through several meeting cycles. “We are grateful to United States 5A delegates — particularly delegation leadership from the FCC, NTIA and the State Department — for supporting this effort at every step of the process,” Price said. “We also appreciate the deliberations of ITU delegates from dozens of countries who evaluated the draft as it proceeded to adoption and approval.”
“Nothing that radio amateurs do on the air will change as a result of this ITU decision, but it is significant nonetheless,” observed ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ. “It provides further documentation in an important international forum of radio amateurs’ continuing creativity and contributions to the art and science of radio communication.”