July 2019

July 2019

DEC Bulletin

FIRST NET IS COMING! and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®) and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) is going to be no more. DON’T BELIEVE IT! Some in public safety and disaster relief agencies have made some comments to me that El Paso is going to switch over to First Net and amateur radio may not be needed anymore.

So, what is First Net? It’s the First Responder Network Authority (https://firstnet.gov/).  It’s a nationwide broadband network dedicated to first responders. Amateur radio will not have access to this network. This is okay with me. Why would we want to be limited to channels of frequencies when we already have bands of frequencies to choose from to do our communicating on. The nice part about First Net is that it will allow many different agencies to be compatible with each other and will link many like agencies so they can be in the same room to collaborate with each other in real time. This network will reside in hardened facilities. Could still be exposed to cyberterrorism though. The slogan “When all else fails, then amateur radio” may be a thing of the past. The system may not fail.

Even after First Net is in place much of the services that ARES® provides are still going to be valid. We can still be eyes and ears on the ground by implementing our KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD program and call in damage reports to the EOC, the American Red Cross or the National Weather Service. We can pass critical information to the neighboring communities. We can pass information back to the EOC from places such as gaps or shadows where First Net cannot cover. Such as along the base of the Franklin mountain. We can get information into and out of neighborhoods and back to the EOC. We can adapt on the fly to changing situations such as scaling up our communications teams when needed and scaling down when demobilization occurs. We still don’t need infrastructure to operate. Amateur radio systems have stood tall in the past during disasters and emergencies making us a reliable source of communications until help can arrive.

However, we need to be thinking outside of the box. Think beyond analog voice. This is something that El Paso County ARES® (EPCARES) has been doing for the last decade and a half. We have two Winlink 2000 (WL2K) Packet RMS stations (email via amateur radio) on the air 24/7 here in El Paso. If the recipient has a valid email address, we can deliver an email message to their inbox. We have WL2K HF stations to work through the WL2K Radio Mail Servers (RMS), or work Winlink Peer-to-Peer if needed. We can send messages using Amateur Radio Digital Open Protocol (ARDOP) or VARA HF using the WL2K RMS or VARA FM Peer-to Peer. Our Broadband Hamnet Network (BBHN) is an asset that needs to be expanded throughout the city. Anyone that would like to sponsor a node on their tower would be appreciated and should contact me as shown below. Anything that can be done on the Internet can be done on the BBHN. Being able to pass videos or pictures is critical to our services. Expanding the local D-Star capabilities is another asset. Adding the 1.2 GHz capabilities will allow us to do Fast Scan TV back to the EOC. Pictures speak a thousand words. Using the RS-MS1A Android App allows us to send picture and real time text messages back to the EOC.

For us to continue to provide emergency communications for our community we need more ARES® members. Go to http://www.hamradioelpaso.com/emergency-coordination and see what needs to be done to become an ARES® member. Being vetted and having the proper credentials are more important than your operating skills. That’s just a fact of life in today’s EMCOMM world.

I am still looking for a few good amateur radio operators to man amateur radio stations in our hospitals.

  • Amateur radio operators are needed to perform hospital communications. Will work in teams of two people (ARCT Type 4).
  • Must complete FEMA courses IS-100c and IS-700b. Additional training will be provided locally.
  • Hospitals will provide additional credentialing.
  • VHF/UHF radios capable of transmitting 25 watts will be needed.
  • Will be required to man stations in the hospitals for all exercises and nets.

Get a friend and form a team. Contact me as shown below to get started.

Questions and comments are welcome and encouraged regarding the content of this article. Send an email to the address shown below.

The terms ARES® and Amateur Radio Emergency Service® is both registered trademarks of the American Radio Relay League, Inc. and are used by permission.

Lew Maxwell, KB5HPT 
Amateur Radio Emergency Service® 
DEC, District 6 – Far West Texas