Volunteers Providing Emergency Communications for Multnomah County, Oregon

March 7 Team Drill

We will have a field drill involving all MCARES teams on Saturday, March 7 from 09:00 to 13:00. All MCARES members are asked to participate if possible. Your team leader should be in touch with you prior to the drill, to discuss location and any other details specific to your team’s role. Please be sure to thoroughly read the drill guide and ICS-205 before the drill, and direct any questions to your team leader.

All-Team Drills

We will be running training exercises for MCARES on Sunday, July 21 and Saturday, August 17. I hope for maximum participation on these dates, as the plan is for full drills to maximize training value. That said, I do not expect everyone to make both dates, although it would be great to participate in both if you can.

For now, I just wanted to give everyone a heads-up for these upcoming drill dates.

How to Prepare for and Participate in a MCARES Drill

The Winlink Drill from Home on February 9 indicated that we need to improve in three basic ways: understanding the drill guide, testing knowledge and equipment, and sticking to business.

The first and last step in preparation for any drill is to read the Drill Guide. This is usually emailed to the entire membership up to a week or two before the drill. Read it carefully all the way through as soon as you receive it and be sure you understand what is expected of you. If you don’t understand something, email leadership [at] multnomahares [dot] org for clarification. If we get the same question several times, we will revise the guide. Watch for a last minute revised drill guide and read it all the way through again. About an hour before the drill starts, read the drill guide all the way through again, and again, and again. Print it, highlight the tasks and instructions you will need and keep it with you throughout the drill.

As MCARES operators, we should always have our gear in top operating order and know how to use it. Drills give us an opportunity to check this. At least a day or two before the drill, check out the equipment you will be using, including the software. Are your batteries fully charged, including your laptop? Is your Winlink Express version up to date? If you don’t do this often, you may need to reinstall with the latest version. Update the channel selection too. Waiting until the last minute may lead to unexpected delays if your operating system decides it needs a major update and you need to reinstall Winlink Express. Do you remember how to send and reply to Winlink template messages? Can you connect to two or three gateways?

Are your settings and preferences correct? Everyone, please, in Winlink Express click Settings then Preferences.

All of the boxes in the “Message acknowledgement options” section should NOT be checked. In the “Message sending options” section, the “Add //WL2K’ to the subject of messages” should NOT be checked. //WL2K is ONLY needed if you are sending a message FROM a standard (not Winlink) email address to a Winlink address AND your standard email (from) address is not in the recipient’s whitelist.

In a disaster situation and in drills, the airways and gateways are very busy. That is why we stress keeping all communications brief and to the point and we do not engage in chit-chat and social niceties. This goes for voice as well as Winlink. Do not send any messages that are not asked for in the drill guide. Do not send copies (cc) unless requested. Do not ask for or send receipt acknowledgement messages. Do not resend a message if you don’t get a response quickly. Do not send large file attachments. (One gateway crashed because of this.) All of these things steal time from the frequencies and gateways and slow the delivery of the essential message traffic.

Every drill should be treated as if it were a real disaster response. Preparing for drills keeps us ready should something happen and we are activated. Following these suggestions (did I mention to read the Drill Guide?) will keep us all on our toes and ready to serve when we are called upon.

News from Around the County

Congratulations to MCARES for taking first place in the Statewide ARES 2018 Fall SET MacGyver task! It was a great team effort and we had 31 members help in the many roles of the relay. The grand prize was a SignaLink which we have already received. It will go to the Gresham EOC radio room.

We also completed the other elements of the SET and had many HF checkins from members at home. Robert did a fantastic job putting together a video documenting our approach to the MacGyver task. A special thanks to Adam and Carrie who were unable to attend but worked long hours on writing the drill guide to make sure we all knew what we were doing. Way to go everyone!

This was the last big exercise for the year and now we can all kick back and enjoy the holiday season. The final general membership meeting for the year will be November 29 and there will be no December meeting. The Leadership team meets on December 2 for a day-long planning session for 2019. The new training calendar will be decided as will be dates and times for special drills and events. The ARES newsletter will also resume in January.

Thanks to all our members for making 2018 one of our best. We increased our membership to 115 members and worked together to train and to become one of the best ARES units in the state!

News from Around the County

Thanks to everyone who participated in the July 28 “Shelters in the Park’ exercise. In all we had 38 AROs operating outdoors from 11 local parks. The Mike team was net control from Westmoreland Park and the new portable UHF repeater was set up at Council Crest Park keeping us all connected. All of the teams sent Winlink messages to the County EOC and to our shelter coordinator at the ARES trailer. The County EOC team also coordinated and received SSTV images from the field. The focus of this exercise was to continue to train on the yellow digital go kits and to test the range of the portable UHF repeater from the Council Crest location.

We did learn a few things. As awesome as the elevation is at Council Crest, our Echo team was not able to make contact from Fairview City Park. They were successful from Gresham at Bella Vista Park which is located on top of a hill at 410 feet. The Delta team signal was pretty scratchy from St. Johns Park but was much improved when they moved east to Kenton Park. The Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Mike teams were very clear into the portable repeater from all of their parks. All of this testing really helps to expand our capabilities and evaluate the best location for the repeater. We will try several different locations in the future.

There was also great feedback from the field that this was a fun and worthy team building exercise. Our newer members got a lot of hands on experience and we had suggestions on needed improvements to the drill guide.

Be sure to attend the August 23 ARES meeting to learn more about the portable repeater and the 2 small cross-band/digipeater kits. Adam KF7LJH will be showing them to you and talking about their amazing capabilities.

Mars Attacks, the Sequel (Fall SET)

I would like to start out with a big thank you to everyone who participated and volunteered 140 personnel hours to the Fall Simulated Emergency Test (SET).

We successfully executed operations from three stations on Saturday, October 16. Adam KF7LJH and Deb KK7DEB led the operations from the trailer (N7MCU) at Scouter’s Mountain. Robert WX5TEX was in charge of the county station at the Donald E. Long Center (JJC). Nathan N9VCU operated from Kelly Butte. Thanks to Metro, Multnomah County, and Portland Bureau of Emergency Management/Portland Parks for providing access to these great locations for our exercise.

Thank you all for taking our safety training seriously, and to Deb and John KI7LYP for procuring the hard hats. Masts were raised at Scouter’s Mountain and Kelly Butte. The Kelly Butte mast operation was somewhat different than normal. Normally the masts we use are either the nested push-up style or aluminum style with the large tripod. At Kelly Butte we used a 40ft mast that was assembled to full length on the ground and then raised to the vertical position. We used 7 personnel to achieve this lift, and were able to do so safely. We learned a few things in the process, and I will cover those at the general membership meeting. Potentially another 1,000 feet of line and a come-along may make this a one or two person operation.

Additionally, Martians were able to make off with the arrow your fearless EC has used to loft antenna lead-lines in the past. This has led me to swear a vendetta against their entire planet. As soon as Elon Musk can provide reasonably priced accommodations, I’ll take the fight directly to them.

Voice communications on HF were extremely poor from the JJC. Kelly Butte is a very quiet operating location (low RF noise) and we were able to make some HF contacts. The bulk of Multnomah ARES’ operating successes were via Pactor. Although the HF Winlink nodes were busy, the low S/N needed for Pactor to work made a great difference at the power levels we normally run. Kelly Butte also was able to effectively pass NTS traffic through the Metro area. This included the ability to hit many VHF repeaters in neighboring counties. Word on the street is that Lynn Burrell had a grill going in Washington county, making the operators on this side of the hills salivate. Multnomah ARES normally has the grilling game on-point, so I’ll avoid letting down our field teams in the future!

Again, thanks to all the operators who made the SET such a great time. I may have had more fun than any drill in the past few years. I’ll try to hide the ICS-214 from the Kelly Butte crew from judgmental eyes, as it shows N9VCU cared way more about antennas, masts, and Pactor modems than complete paperwork, but all in all a great success!

Delta/Charlie Team Drill Recap

Thanks to all who participated in last month’s team drill. Delta Team operated from Nate’s home in North Portland. Charlie Team operated from Lewis and Clark College, one of our served agencies, in Southwest Portland. I think it’s safe to say that we all learned from the experience. After all, that’s what drills are for.

This was, by design, a very laid back exercise. Our goals included the sending of Winlink, SSTV image transfer, and voice traffic. We had no emergency scenario and no pre-written messages. We were focusing on systems practice. We made things up on the spot and sent things along.

Some of the challenges we faced were due, in part, to the introduction of some unfamiliar equipment into the mix. If you have to swap out a computer (for SSTV) that you thought was going to work fine but didn’t, for one that had an unfamiliar set of applications, the learning curve can be a challenge and cause a domino effect on the whole process of getting the image passed through the system. We had several challenges like this. A surprise development was that were unable to make VHF simplex contact between the two stations. The reason for this is not entirely clear but most likely due to line of sight issues. When the VHF Winlink set up didn’t work the way we thought it would, we switched to HF/Pactor and accessed a station on 17 meters. Good job Julie! The good news is that the teams were able to improvise and get the job done.

For me the biggest take away was realizing that things don’t always go as one expects them to. Stay focused and have confidence in the team to solve the issues.

Again, thanks to all who helped with the drill.

Echo/Bravo Team Drill Recap

The Echo/Bravo Team Drill on Saturday, March 11 went very well. The Bravo Team operated with three team members and Matthew, team leader, at the PBEM ECC and a three member field team simulating a shelter. Special thanks to Joe WA7FWC from the Charlie Team for heading up the field team and teaching the three Bravo team members how to operate the digital go kit.

The Echo Team had two members plus myself at the Gresham EOC and two members at Gresham Fire Station 74. This was the first time we have operated Winlink from a fire station. Joel N7LF ran net control from the trailer. All three Echo locations had some equipment difficulties but we managed to solve or work around the issues and got the job done as planned.

I was very pleased to see how well everyone did with message and station logs! Nice job! I will point out that each station should only log the messages they send or receive at that station, not every message handled in the entire drill.

Charlie/Alpha Team Drill Recap

Our first team exercise was last Saturday with the Charlie and Alpha teams. The Mike (ARES Trailer) team also participated as a field station for the Alpha team. The focus was on sending ICS 213 messages both by voice and Winlink, and image transfer via SSTV. Logging on the ICS 214 and ICS 309 was also a top priority. The primary planning was done by the Charlie team and they did a great job. The County ECC was activated by the Alpha team and Lewis and Clark was activated by the Charlie team. Both teams had one field team acting as shelter locations. In all we had 18 AROs active for the 2 hour exercise.

The feedback from the teams was extremely positive. Team members really appreciated the opportunity to get hands-on experience. Everyone felt this was time well spent and they learned a lot. Mother Nature was even cooperative and seemed to approve by giving us mild temperatures and clear skies. Thanks Charlie and Alpha team members for spending a few hours to sharpen your skills.

All members are strongly encouraged to participate in their team drills. The next one is March 11th with the Bravo and Echo teams.

October 10 Exercise Scaled Back; Marathon and DRT Prevail

It was decided at the leadership meeting that we will minimize our participation in the statewide exercise on Octtober 10. We will only activate and staff the County ECC for this exercise. The team will handle the Winlink traffic from the State ARES/OEM. The ECC team will be contacted by team leader Deb to staff this.

The exercise activities requested by the state ARES leadership involve field deployment, which we have done already fairly extensively this year. We feel it is too much to ask of you to devote three weekends in a row to ARES. It is more important and more valuable to your training and to the community that we put our effort into providing communications for the Portland Marathon the week before the exercise and the Disaster Relief Trials the week after.

The Portland Amateur Radio Club coordinates communications for the Marathon and Multnomah ARES coordinates communications for the Disaster Relief Trials. This is where we need to concentrate our efforts and our volunteer hours in October. Both of these events are fun to work and provide very different communications and radio experiences. We will be using interesting technologies for the DRT with APRS, EasyPal (Photos), HSMM (high-speed data), and field VHF Winlink.

Please sign up for one or both of these public service events. We need your help!