Using the Wisconsin Network - Part 33

by Andy Nemec, KB9ALN

Last time, we started a discussion about the types of things an Emergency Coordinator or Radio Officer has to think about before planning to use packet in their operations. In this part of the series, we will talk about the actual planning, once you find a niche for it in your ARES and/or RACES system.

Last time, we talked about the types of emergencies, and the types of operations you are likely to encounter. An EC probably already has a very good idea of what is expected of his or her organization. We will assume, for the moment, that we are dealing with a fairly common scenario in Wisconsin. This county is mostly rural, with one smaller city and a number of smaller towns and villages. While Milwaukee county may be the exception to this usual scenario, some of the same basic rules apply, the system is bigger and more complex there.

From what we know of our county, we can prepare for flooding, hazardous chemical spills from either rail or trucking, possible severe weather, and potential of a large fire, perhaps. In the right circumstances, any one of these can mean mass evacuation, mass casualties, or both. Anytime we are dealing with this type of scenario, the Red Cross is likely to become involved. Here is a very good place for packet radio.

In addition to communications between the on-site Red Cross staff and other agencies, there could be utility in having an operator at the Red Cross Chapter office. A Red Cross shelter would be a great place for a portable station. If there is a possibility of a large-scale disaster and multiple shelters, then more portable stations would be handy. You also know you will need communications between the on-site Incident Command Post and the Emergency Operating Center. I

f your county has a mobile communications center, a permanent installation is ideal. An older laptop (8088 even) will do fine in such an installation. In fact, none of the computers need be exotic if you are doing basic packet radio. When starting an emergency packet setup from scratch, it is best to "Keep it Simple,..".

The RF portion will require some testing and perhaps even a little experimentation. How far away will you be from a network node (or something suitably similar) is a big determining factor when you start to look at radios and power levels. The installation itself will also dictate what you use for equipment. For example, you would not want to use a high-powered radio in a mobile communications van. This radio will also be subject to interference from other radios. You may wish to investigate using a surplus commercial radio (Motorola or G.E.). They are generally far better performers in a bad radio environment and are not too expensive. In any case, do make certain the radio is easy to operate.

The TNC is something you can be a little flexible on. There are two considerations here. One is to look for ease of future upgrading. Just how exotic are you likely to get with the system? If you need expandability (for adding APRS, for example), stick to a TNC that is TNC-2 compatible. You might also think about what might be the most popular TNC in your area. It makes sense to select one in wide use. It would be more likely to be familiar to the packet operators. Less time trying to figure out a given TNC is more time spent operating.

The same can be said of software. Field units should use the simplest possible software. Again, familiarity works in your favor. If everybody in town uses Hostmaster, then you should consider it. In general, it is not a good practice to use a complex program like PaKet on a remote or portable station, there is too much to go wrong for the novice user.

Exotic services provided by a station at the EOC or elsewhere need to be carefully thought out. How likely is a whiz-bang service to be used? If it is absolutely necessary to make your job easier, do try to use and implement it in the simplest way possible.

In addition to all of the planning mentioned before, these things need to be mentioned:

1) Keep it as simple as you can.

2) Stay in regular contact with your local Node Operator. Find out what his plans are for the future. Does he have emergency power? Are there any plans he or she is making that would affect your equipment purchases?

3) Try and utilize what you already have, rather than building an entire network around your needs. If you have trouble accessing the network in any of your county, consider looking for a packet operator in that area who can activate his KA-Node (or digi as a last resort). See if he is capable of operating on emergency power. If not, see what you can do to help him with this.

4) While a lot of us are quick to offer help, not many of us are good at asking for it. If this packet game is kind of over your head right now, delegate! Find a practical minded person to head up this project, and get acquainted with the project and packet.

5) Once you have a system in place, use it. Incorporate it into your routine operations as well as your drills, if you can.

6) Make it a point to find a path to the Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management ham station through the network. It is a BBS with the call-sign of WC9AAG, alias of WIDEM. Once you get registered, leave a message with Mack, N9NTB telling him you are packet-ready. Introduce yourself, and leave instructions on the path used to get to your local LAN, as well as a BBS (or mailbox) where mail can get your mail. This will help the packet operators in Madison should they need to get a hold of you, and they can put that BBS in their forwarding files.

7) Support packet radio networking whenever possible. Remember, the more developed a network becomes, the more useful it will be to you.

Hope this helps as a guide to planning the packet-based part of your emergency communications system. Next time, we will look at incorporating APRS into the system. We'll discuss what it is and if it can be useful to you.

On to Part 34 - Basic APRS Info

Back to Part 32  - More info on Emergency Packet Operations

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