Conversation with an ARES Operator

K7JLJ.com
07.06.19

Below is my first and only conversation attempt with an ARES repeater owner. I found it enlightening to say the least, as I had assumed we would be more on the same page when it came to EMCOMMS.

Unfortunately, when it comes to EMCOMMS in a true grid-down scenario, I get the feeling that you are going to be on your own!

While his system is well implemented, it is all for not concerning the average HAM who is likely thinking that it will be there for them in times of need.

See following comments at bottom of post for what I mean...

My Email Exchange:

The first correspondence I posted to the groups.io reflector they run for the repeater. He declined to publish it and responded by email instead. You would think that you would want the rest of the 168 members on the reflector to know the answers to my questions, but obviously not...

ME

... My primary interest in HAM radio is a means of communication in grid-down scenarios and am always looking for regional resources. This led to me finding the group, but I was hoping for clarification on it's ability to perform in such a scenario when there is no grid power.

Can anyone confirm just how "grid down" ready this repeater is exactly? Is it solar powered and setup for indefinite self-power or genset / solar temp powered?

... Personally I don''t see 2M as a viable system in any kind of long term power outage (even a week) unless it's E-Power and setup for indefinite use. Thus the question, since not having this pretty much makes it a non-starter for Emcomms when you need them the most.

NVIS 40M/80M nets would make the most sense, but I have not seen anything in the PNW heading this direction.

Is there anyone in the state running an actual HF Emcomm net that practices message traffic, tests it's ability to get out of the region and bring in national news? Like you would want if there was no more radio/tv/internet from a nationwide outage?

... Any help pointing me in the right direction would be appreciated!


HIM

Our two repeaters were set up as Emergency repeaters and associated with NAME REMOVED County to serve in times of need. Radio is always subject to issues during different severe disasters and no system can really predict all failures affecting communications during a disaster. We try.

REPEATER SITE is on a volcanic mountain covering a vast area... The self standing tower is installed and operated by NAME REMOVED county. The site has at least three sources of power. Solar (many panels, but never enough), generator (propane enough to run for about a year), wind to supplement solar, with no connection to mains.

I have never heard of a more resilient system. The radios are housed in a concrete vault that looks like a truck could park on the top.

... The building is not impervious to everything, but has withstood a 6.5 quake without even disturbing a pencil on the bench. It sits on a volcanic mountain with 3 or 4 feet of dirt allowing good grounding and stability. The power is off mains to allow lower power costs. Batteries have backed it up for two weeks in the past. We have on site personnel that can start a generator to recharge batteries. I am hoping to find a source of funding to make the generator automatic, but there are enough people nearby that can see to our needs for power.

Transceivers are redundant and antennas are made to swap in case of need. Intervention would be required if the forest fell – not very likely in any scenerio.

In general both are expected to survive in a Cascadia event as per the County plans.

Our ARES unit practices message handling and according to State and County plans, we are expected to use Winlink, which is used by ships at sea. I see your concerns, but discuss this with our net and the County emergency planners. There are plans, some more geared to severe disasters, some to typical severe storms and such.

Total “grid down” lasting for 6 weeks or more would be a severe killer and impossible to plan for. No one is going to swap normal economic development for the “prepper” way of life. In the end, money determines how we behave – right?

I hope there is still time to plan. What do you propose? What changes do you feel are needed? HF is not 24 / 7 or even 100% reliable. Both VHF and HF have their weak points. Why not use all available? We do.


ME

NAME REMOVED, Thanks for the reply. Sounds like a good setup, and knowing that it's .gov controlled has it's pluses and minuses for sure.

VHF is a great local solution, but without an internet connection it does me no good 600 miles away like I am. Repeaters are just a huge downfall in a grid-down (Cascadia) scenario unless they are setup like yours AND can be maintained. Even then they are very localized.

Total “grid down” lasting for 6 weeks or more would be a severe killer and impossible to plan for. No one is going to swap normal economic development for the “prepper” way of life. In the end, money determines how we behave – right?

I gotta disagree with "impossible" it's just that it seems no one does because "the power never goes off for more than a month right?" Why plan for something that never happens, yet NAME REMOVED County is planning for the big quake and they can't imagine no power for months on end?

I'm an Electrician by trade and have little faith in our local grid surviving such a quake without months of rebuilding, and that's with surrounding states / fed.gov pouring money and resources into it.

The one constant I see with all county / state emergency plans is that they have NO PLAN for anything more than a local emergency, yet every threat report given to congress has stated the destruction and rebuild times of an EMP attack or grid hack as being a year minimum.

HAMs will communicate in times like those via HF, and I gotta believe OEN Edit:(Oregon Emergency Net 3980) and other regional nets will be the watering holes, but the more I look into something that is simplex and reliable and cheap, the more I see digital modes being the answer. HF Digital like JS8Call works with little power, has message box ability and is simple to setup.

My goal is to find or start a net that uses such a format to have something in place before it's needed.

Thanks again for taking the time to answer my question. I will try to drop in via echolink sometime.

Great resource website BTW, been reading a lot on there.


HIM

I am betting tens of thousands of dollars per year on UHF / VHF out of my own pocket. I am betting on heavy contribution during disasters by my systems. I am talking about four or more systems, not just what we have discussed.

I and a few others are investing in Fusion / Wires-x. I tend to feel much of it is just toy value, but with Wires-X, I have many channels of communications at one time and a server that is not in Oregon California or Washington. The internet has proved it does not go down during disasters to date, so it might be of service, but I do see severe inadequacies....


ME

How do you see your system being used in a local emergency? Extended outage (Cascadia, grid hack, EMP) use?

Are there not just as robust systems on the EMS side already in place?

Is your setup to work when theirs goes down or as overflow and if so, who is operating on them?

Will HAMS be able to use it or will it become an EMS system only?

Is this how most counties are setup in Oregon?

Do you have a plan to get information from inside the region out and vise-versa without an internet connection? Is this practiced?

Please don't think I'm criticizing, I don't know enough about these systems to even know what I don't know. You are the first "insider" I've spoken to and I'm trying t get a feeling for what to expect in various length emergencies based n the existing HAM infrastructure. Any direction pointing is appreciated!

From reading other HAM's comments that were in ARES, I've only heard that they have no plan that doesn't use winklink / internet and VHF repeaters extensively and are EMS driven only.

The internet has proved it does not go down during disasters to date

Exactly my point, we have never had anything but a regional grid-up emergency. I don't see it fairing well with a nation wide outage.

Thanks again for coming back to my questions!


HIM

Networks are just that. Many individuals connecting together. How do you see the internet entirely going down? You may have misunderstood how a EMP attack works. We have studied EMP issues rather heavily.

Big countries, not individual terrorists, can fire off and cause an EMP attack, but it cannot cover the entire USA at once.


ME

Hi NAME REMOVED, I've studied what our .gov has shared, but what I understand is that nobody really knows and nobody is hardening the grid.

The "internet going down" is a local issue obviously as it's not reliant on the USA, but the ability to use it is dependent on electrically powered switching that does not switch without grid power.

I've yet to see anything that has shown our cascading events are a non-threat in power switching of the grid. The uncoordination of the grid nation wide will continue as long as the grid is open market. Bottom line of the electric company is $$$ not grid security, hardening is cheap but there is no payoff so it's not done.

Pacific Power has such old crap that is not being replaced due to $$$ and needs to be. If they can't replace standard equipment because of cost, I don't see them upgrading to hardened equipment.

If you have information that's opposite of what I'm reading from Homeland Security I'd love a link.

How do you understand the threat of EMP/CME differently?

I'm very interested in your answers to the other questions about your system in the last email if you have time?


HLS Library https://www.hsdl.org/?collection&id=86638

U.S. Department of Energy Electromagnetic Pulse Resilience Action Plan

HEMP disruption and damage to the electric grid could be quite extensive, both in terms of area coverage and of duration. Except for certain critical military assets, existing lightning protection, and some pilot hardening against GMD threats, critical national infrastructure remains largely unprotected from EMP threats.

DOE and industry lack experience on exactly how EMPs affect the high-voltage, heavy-duty equipment in substations and generation plants that are essential to grid operation.

Strategy for Protecting and Preparing the Homeland Against Threats of Electromagnetic Pulse and Geomagnetic Disturbances

High-altitude electromagnetic pulse attacks (HEMP) using nuclear weapons are of most concern because they may permanently damage or disable large sections of the national electric grid and other critical infrastructure control systems.

Adversaries with highly developed nuclear capabilities might cause widespread harm to U.S. infrastructure with complex HEMP attacks in the context of an escalating international conflict. Space weather phenomena are relatively well understood within the scientific community, but the historical rarity of extreme GMD events limits availability of data useful for predictive analysis. Past events, such as the 1989 solar storm that led to the interruption of power in much of Québec for nearly nine hours, offer proof of the disruptive potential of GMD, as well as their potential to cascade impacts across critical infrastructure sectors and geographic regions. The impacts to critical infrastructure resulting from electromagnetic incidents differ significantly from other large-scale, naturally occurring hazards, such as hurricanes. Many of the most harmful effects caused by electromagnetic incidents occur within milliseconds or seconds. These effects may simultaneously damage critical energy distribution nodes and industrial control systems over wide geographic areas through damage to microprocessors and power transformers. Such simultaneous disruptions over large areas of the country would likely undermine the implementation of mutual aid plans and agreements, a cornerstone of our approach to disaster response.

Life Without Electricity: Storm-Induced Blackouts and Implications for EMP Attack

Following the last meeting of the EMP Commission on June 8-9, 2017, global events have strengthened public awareness of the worldwide vulnerability of critical infrastructures to high altitude EMP. North Korean state news, KCNA, displayed photos of an alleged thermonuclear weapon and claimed on September 3, 2017, “The H-bomb, the explosive power of which is adjustable from tens of kilotons to hundreds of kilotons, is a multi-functional thermonuclear nuke [sic] with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes for superpowerful EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack according to strategic goals.” The United States, its territories, and allies are therefore the target of current threats by the government of North Korea that specifically include EMP, and also include further development and exploitation of high altitude EMP weapons.


HIM

"Nothing Heard."


MY TAKEAWAY...

  • ARES guys are an extension of the County .gov and serve at their pleasure, not yours.
  • They have the same "normalcy bias" of most in that they can't imagine the power grid falling, even though fed.gov reports all show how vulnerable it is to attack, and many report 90% die off of Americans as most likely if left off for a year.
    • The same amount of time it takes to build a new transmission transformer and ship it from Korea or other foreign state, as we shipped those jobs overseas along with the rest of them.
  • Listening to a net on this guys repeater, I saw it put out of service by someone simply keying their mike. It's as easy as that, so unless you are going to rotate CTSS on a regular basis and not make it public, any anarchist can put it out of commission with a $25 Baofeng and some 3m electrical tape on the PTT.
  • Once you commit "tens of thousands" of dollars and time to your "baby" it's hard to be objective about it's abilities and look at it's vulnerabilities.

Basically, I reason that the repeater will likely be taken over by local.gov and then fed.gov if needed for EMS, the average Joe that uses it now will be out in the cold when he needs it the most. He will be able to monitor it until encryption is used, but not use it himself.

Bottom line... VHF is for local simplex "tactical" comms only and if you need a repeater for range, better have your own.

Good news is a $100.00 cross-band HT repeater will work just fine for 99% of your needs when the balloon goes up.


Good discussion of this post at: OffGridComms


A READER RESPONDS

This article hit home deeply with me. I have been a ham since 1965 as a Novice then later on after a few years off line tech then now as an extra class operator. I was very active in ARES in for 12 years, and even before that in other states I've lived in as well as in the military (MARS).

I moved to my current location in 2011 and immediately joined the local ham club hosted by the local University group; since then I have been almost 100% ignored by that bunch save for a small few who are retired military like me. The local ARES head has repeatedly refused to let me join the group (ARES) and has vilified me in public. When I was the commanding officer of the Signal Detachment I invited her and her group to the local National Guard armory to see our communications set up including the military side and the civilian equipment as well. They came but refused to make any form of commitment or try to form a memorandum of understanding; what they failed to consider was our ability to bring millions of dollars of equipment and resources to the table at their disposal when needed.

I offered to develop a memorandum of understanding with the group and allow them access to the armory to man the civilian equipment we would make available to them for emergency use, or even just rag chewing. They refused to even consider the idea and again slammed our even having civilian equipment; this despite several of our members including myself having ham tickets.

I would like to believe this is not the same around the country, but I fear that RACES and ARES has been or is being hijacked by left wing socialists thugs who absolutely cannot be counted on in an emergency.

I was the commanding officer of the Joint Command Communications System(JICCS) deployed Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria hit; we were boots on the ground after it cleared up. Needless to say it was just like being deployed to the sandbox Jim, no power anywhere, 98 % destruction of all infrastructure, no water, no roads or road signs; it was utter devastation and no place for the homeless until a week later when FEMA parked two cruise ships in the harbor in San Juan for shelters. People lived in tents and make shift shelters made from debris collected from what was left of their homes.

The military set up 13 comm stations on the island and two on the Virgin Islands with 137 troops manning them 24/7. I had absolutely no problem with volunteers from the ham community there, in fact we had to add more tents and gear just to house them and get them up and running until civilian support could be organized. They did a magnificent job handling the emergency traffic while we concentrated on the military support side. we fed them, provided potable water, and shelter for them and their families as needed ... in the sweltering heat, bugs, unbelievable rain showers (monsoon) and they in turn treated us like gods; what a wonderful people and support group. We also used their defense force and national guard as interpreters and drivers when the roads were available or open.

This is what I envision for our use here in this country; to that end even though I am now retired,I maintain my relationship with the guard unit here, and we are working to build a separate ham radio club to create a working EMCOMM system state wide.

"I'm an Electrician by trade and have little faith in our local grid surviving such a quake without months of rebuilding, and that's with surrounding states / fed.gov pouring money and resources into it."

OK, let me argue a valid retort to his statement: I was there in PR when the power companies from all over the USA started showing up. The grid system in PR was a disaster before the disaster; the system relied on two main power sources, a dam in the mountains with a generator station, and a generator station in San Juan. Both are now in the ocean and destroyed. The grid system in PR was devastated to the extent of 100 % in the country side and mountains, and about 90 % in San Juan. Fully 90 % of all housing was destroyed. The politics of the day (Democ-RAT) stopped the power workers dead in their tracks, and I saw thousands of them just sitting around waiting to be sent out. The mayor of San Juan hated President Trump, the Governor loved him. The left V right is the worst disaster to hit the Islands .. it is going to take generations to rebuild that Island; and the politics will keep that from happening along with the cartels. I have photo's to prove my statements Jim. What is taking place in PR is also effecting us here ...

The internet has proved it does not go down during disasters to date, so it might be of service, but I do see severe inadequacies...."

His statement is full of BOVINE FECAL CONTENT,THERE WAS NOTHING Left when we arrived; no power, no radio of any kind either military or civilian, just a few ham operators smart enough to be ready individually. No cell phone or internet and no satellite comms at all. WIRES X, C4FM, DSTAR, FUSION ... non of it would would work because there was no internet. Mesh networking didn't exist because nobody there could afford it and there was no plan for it. If this bozo thinks that the mainland isn't subject to these conditions he's 100% wrong. The very best system is to have hundreds, if not thousands, of groups capable of operating independent of any nationwide EMCOMS system or with them; it has to be a two way street or there is no street at all, just chaos.

Even if those groups are limited to just a few members actively working , growing in skill sets, and able to step in and eventually join with other groups this would be the foundation of return to normalcy in an TEOTWAWKI situation. Your plan is the most viable and sane plan for this Republic; but we need to win the hearts and minds of more folks both civilian (which includes all ham groups) as well as our military.

Our group net is on 3953.000 MHz and there are other frequencies we use. I have very clear comms with them and many others around the state. I'm using an Elecraft KX3 system, solar battery powered, 1 watt QRP up to 110 watts amp contained in one back pack. My antenna is a OCFD (off center fed dipole) strung up 60 feet in a spruce tree. I also have a Buddie pole deluxe antenna , a ELK 2M/70CM Yagi, as well as random end fed wire antennas in the back pack. My KX3 was built by me for military use (the only one of its ind in the world that I know of) not commercially available since I modified it for military comms use. I also have a military surplus NVIS antenna system to use. The KX3 has HF and 2 meter comms ability, internal battery and clock, external battery with all Anderson Power Pole connections.

I use a military surplus folding solar panel with a modified charge controller to keep the batteries up. My goal when I built this prototype system was to field two soldiers into the bush and establish all mode comms for up to 72 hours with out support. I took it with me to Puerto Rico, and though I had $25 million dollars worth of military gear at my disposal, I used this system with other civilian operators to make and maintain comms stateside outside of the military mission concurrently. Too bad the military politics got in the way of the development of this system, in the end it was rejected by a few higher ranking officers who didn't know comms from a cucumber ... but the upside is that I was able to purchase it from them for the exact cost they had in it at the time, just over $5000.00 so in the end I win.

The system works, I have worked digital such as PSK31/64, RTTY, CW and other digital modes as well as voice analog. I am developing a WIRES X set up for use here and maybe mesh networking via self supporting internet, and other modes as well. I really would like to explore JS8 Call and WSJT-X? too. I lost some of the cables from the Puerto Rico deployment for my set so I have ordered new ones for replacement and also bought a new Raspberry PI 4 to use in conjunction with my KX3 maybe as a hotspot? Really I just wanted to play with it ... :)

I am considering the mini computer with Linux on it to attach to a small (10"or less) LCD screen to carry with and use for digital ops ... everything is in ESD bags double wrapped for EMP protection. The system was designed around two soldiers, one carried the radio gear, the second carries the food,water, ammo and shelter. Using Arctic MRE's ( think Mountain House in cammo bags) for deployment. Guess I'm going to have to draft my wife ...:)

Your article was interesting and informative, thank you for posting it.

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