Off-Grid Comms Test - 2019 Snow Storm

K7JLJ.com
03.03.19

PUMMELED BY STORMS, DOUGLAS COUNTY DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY Read all about it...

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It is the worst snow storm in the region ever recorded and the resulting power outages have lasted 7 days so far for my location in Oakland, OR.

Many had power back on day six, but we are in one of the "blue circle zones" and expected to be without for another 2 weeks. :(

pond_snow
Looking towards our pond (see the ducks on bank?) after 12" of snow.

road_closed Road fall nearby.

Below is some stuff I wrote down during the first week concerning my comms plan and how to address some short comings I found.

02.24.19 @ 1930

"That's the Night the Lights went out in Oakland..."

It's been 18 hours or so without power. For something to do, I started writing this and would add to it over the days to come as I noticed short-comings in our comms plan.

By Monday, the first morning after, it had dumped 12" of snow on the ground. The dirt road we live on was no longer passable and everyone on it was socked in.

Monday night after having got the road cleared out, thankfully we have a construction company at the top of our hill that maintains the road for the community and keeps a large CAT tractor up there, another 6-8" of snow fell, blocking me in again and keeping me from going to work on Tuesday morning.

With the exception of Tuesday afternoon, when I was able to get the truck out of the driveway and head to town, we were snowed in with no cell service, no Internet, no TV for almost a week. By end of the first week we had cell service again, which made time go by a little faster.

Radio Silence

Because it was a local outage (Douglas County mostly, some of Lane County), I expected to hear someone talking about it on the OEN (Oregon Emergency Net, 3980) but did not.

Not even during the 1800 nightly check-in. The noticeable difference was a lot of E-Power check-ins that night. Just goes to show that a huge net like that barely has time to get everyone (700+ members in Oregon Alone, with ~100 checking in nightly) logged before conditions fade. Forget about passing on non-emergent info.

THE NEED FOR OFF-GRID COMMS GROUPS

A major reason why I started the Off-Grid Comm Group was to develop a network that could pass information regionally on a smaller scale, with people able to operate without power for extended periods of time.

The group site is designed to be a place where like minded people can make contacts in their region and practice emergency comms for such an even like I am writing about here.

Such a group would have been great to have had in place during the first week for information gathering before the cell phones started working again.

OREGON'S PROFESSIONAL VHF SOLUTION

The state VHF repeater system W7PRA is a great system that links many repeaters together throughout all of Oregon. It allows you to talk to just about anyone with an HT anywhere in the state on VHF. I believe it's a 100% volunteer system and not state sponsored.

Unfortunately, it was down the first night and seemed intermittent the next day.

I was not able to get "into the box" (the cool way of saying "I could not hit the repeater") from the house with a 5W HT in the house though, so I went out to my truck which has a 50W Kenwood D700 in it. I was NOT ABLE to hit the W7PRA network with 50W either, which is normally an easy trip even in the hole I live in so I believe it was back down again.

The next day W7PRA was up for good though, which is great news, seeing as it is the easiest way to talk to my wife from work 50 miles away when cell service is out at the house.

While she has never done anything with her Tech License since getting it with me years back, it does allow her to use the state repeater on VHF, so it's a good thing to have.

SCANNING

Not getting much info from HF and spotty reception in the house via HTs from the VHF repeater network, I turned to the scanner and Douglas County Sheriff's Department dispatch on 155.700 for information gathering.

Listening to 155.700 in the truck on a Diamond 77 antenna made for easy listening. In the house though with my old Uniden Bearcat HT Scanner and rubber ducky or hooked to my HF sloper wire, things are pretty choppy!

One thing I'm for sure changing from this storm experience is to put up a Discone antenna on the roof and likely move the D700 into the shack. I under estimated the value of VHF information gathering.

This has me wanting to try a VHF Winlink type program to get emails/sms out via VHF/HF also, for things like telling my boss I won't be into work tomorrow and letting family know via text we are OK.

OFF-GRID COMMS SURVEY

My main shack solar batteries were DEAD at the start of outage! This was a combination of not enough solar panels, old batteries, and poor maintenance.

I had just enough power for calling from the 100W TT-599 when bypassing the MCR for ~6hrs, then batteries went to low for non-emergency use. The only reason I could do this is the TGE N8XJK Booster I have in the shack as described in my EmComms Solar Setup post.

I have learned the hard way that you can't just throw some old RV batts in a box and hope for the best when it comes to solar.

A major upgrade is coming in this department! I've already talked the wife into expanding the battery box outside and bringing the charge controller, etc. into the HAM Shack on the wall. This will get the inverter out of the cold also and keep all electronics inside.

When we discovered that her sewing machine only takes 0.66 amps, and the new system could handle that easily if we did the upgrade, it was a done deal! :)

MEANWHILE

When the main solar batteries went down, I had to switch to a backup 12aH SLAB and run my FT-817 QRP rig instead of the Ten-Tec Eagle.

This little 12aH also was used to power the scanner and charge phones, until it died eventually. I did make it to work (50 miles away) one day of the first week and brought my charging unit to top the 12aH SLAB off while I was there for 10 hours.


The next day the main solar system had charged up enough to switch back over, but had to limit use of the Eagle severely and limit transmissions to 25W.

ft817_latern My DIY 2P3S 16850 cell 11.4vdc battery kept the QRP FT-718 rig powered for emergency use when shack was power down, the main solar system recharging individual cells in the Nitecore i4 charger.

CONCLUSIONS

There are a few other areas I will be looking to shore up, but the big one is to put a serious effort into a quality solar setup and battery maintenance regiment. Below are a few quick notes to follow up on also.

TO DO:
- Printout 12 Codes, and pre-programmed channels on radios.
- Printout W7PRA Freqs - Printout calling freqs & HF nets, add to comms book.
- Printout scanner freqs.
- Move D700 to shack for VHF / Scanner use and add Discone antenna.
- Start a solar battery PM regime.
- Switch to an MPPT charger system
- Check out CommsPreppers videos I skimmed over before, thinking he was going overboard, LOL!
- Move solar controls inside house, make room for more batteries outside house.
- Finish FT-817 "Go-Box" and program base repeater info as well as setup Repeaterbook control via Bluetooth.

BUY:
- Another 12aH SLAB for in the house and keep charged off of grid power, using my PWRgate PG40S. Will allow true UPS for 12hrs.
- (3) More 100W panels to max solar potential on existing system.
- Replace batteries with (4) 6V - 125aH batts in 2S2P for 250aH @ 12V
- Battery load tester.
- Mobile antenna for FT-817
- Bluetooth 38400 baud CAT unit for FT-817

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