May 2021


For the past few of years I have turned to social media to keep up on the happenings with major events such as hurricanes, wildfires, etc. Social media has been the best way to get situation awareness, and to advise people on what to do, where to get help, and how to help. A lot of cities/counties/states use Twitter and NOAA Weather Radio to give out real time information for incidents still in progress. An example during hurricanes Irene and Sandy - disaster relief agencies were telling people to “Text First, Talk Later”. In other words, use your cell phones and send your own health and welfare messages to family and friends. Send only I-M-OK by text. Texting uses much less bandwidth and will not overload the circuits. After the recovery efforts have begun and the heavy traffic on the cell towers has subsided then make your phone calls. Another option is the city, county, or police and sheriff’s departments have a Facebook page, and this is the best place to get information or updates. Another source of information for both preparation and current information are smart phones. There are App’s available for all the smart phones for just about any situation imaginable. This will also help ARES® out by not having to handle the Health & Welfare (H&W) traffic leaving us free to handle the FLASH and Immediate traffic. Our digital message modes do not have a specific H&W category anyway. Any H&W messages input to our Winlink system would be handled as routine email. Get these social media tools and technologies in your tool bags to improve your situational awareness.


On April 20, 2021 I upgraded the KB5HPT-10 Radio Message Server (RMS) to the VARA FM Wide mode. I installed a Master Communications, Digital Radio Adapter (DRA) interface that will allow us to be able to do the faster modes. The DRA-50 board is a sound card modem that replaces the Signalink USB. The Signalink USB that was on the RMS would only do the VARA FM Narrow mode. Both modes, narrow and wide are ten times faster than the packet modes. The VARA FM narrow is capable of speeds up to 12K bps while the VARA FM wide can achieve over 25K bps. VARA FM will automatically adjust the speed to accommodate the conditions it is experiencing. As the name implies the narrow uses less bandwidth than the wide mode. The KB5HPT-10 RMS DRA board by default is in Wide mode, but if it detects a narrow signal connecting it will automatically throttle back and accept the narrow connection.

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

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

Lew Maxwell, KB5HPT

Amateur Radio Emergency Service

DEC, District 6, WTX Section