MARS Coronal Mass Ejection Disaster Exercise

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I have a suspicion if I or any of us were to mention the something like this out loud, we would be featured on a reality TV show with experts commenting on how conspiracy theorist we were.

You do have a standby / backup radio in that large faraday cage with the combination lock door, correct? Also, imaging how well QRP would work if all of the fluorescent lights went dark.

A disastrous coronal mass ejection (CME) will be the focus of a national Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) communication exercise in early November, and MARS is hoping to collaborate with Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) groups.

via MARS Hope to Work with ARES/RACES in Coronal Mass Ejection Disaster Exercise.

List for Self-sufficient Team Communications

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The following is based on my experimentation and experiences with field radio operation. I am blessed with the opportunity to operate field portable, almost monthly, while camping with a Boy Scout Troop. Sometime the duration is a single evening, most times a weekend, and annually for a week long event. Sometimes the setting is urban, mostly it’s at a state/regional park, and sometime the setting is remote wilderness.

Initially this task of supporting communications seemed daunting, as experimentation continued, clarity formed about what was ‘need to have’ and what was ‘nice to have’. There is no single answer, but there are several capabilities and systems that need to be thought through and tested. With that, I present a list that tries to address those capabilities and systems required to provide comms support for a group.

The task is to, in a self-sufficient manner, support a small group’s communications needs; that group could be anywhere from a Scout troop at a camping event, to a team helping with disaster relief, to a community protection team (which is kind of disaster relief). The goal of the list provided below is to identify, at a high-level, the necessary capabilities and systems. Once that is established, we can discuss suitable means to address each.

Communications Capabilities

  • HF NVIS communications for regional communications
  • Squad radios for team member communications
  • Base radio to support squad radios; depending on operating environment, either simplex with control operator, cross-band repeating, or same-band repeating

Antenna Systems

  • HF NVIS antenna system
  • Antenna system to operate with base radio

Support Systems

  • Antenna support system; needs to be adaptable to the operating environment (setting up in a desert is different than setting up on an urban rooftop)
  • Power system; enough capacity to operate all radios and support systems for event duration
  • Human sustainment; water, food, shelter suitable to the operating environment and duration of event
  • Transportation system; suitable to delivery of the radio operator(s) and supporting gear to the event location
  • Maintenance system; all of the above needs to be maintained at an operational level over the duration of the event

I’m very interested in other’s thoughts.

HF NVIS Frequency Selection – Idaho ARES

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Understanding propagation is critical to successful cloud burning.

NVIS requires using a frequency that is below the Critical Frequency, the highest frequency at which NVIS communications can operate at, but above the frequency at which the D-Layer absorption results in excessive attenuation, or the Lowest Usable Frequency (LUF). NVIS communications is not possible below the LUF or above the Critical Frequency. Use of frequencies below the LUF or above the Critical Frequency will result in a loss of NVIS communications.

via Idaho ARES – HF NVIS Frequency Selection.

CAMP COMMS

In the arena of grid down communications, wilderness plays a big part. In a SHTF scenario you will most likely find yourself operating outdoors at some point. With this in mind, your training should focus on operating in a less than perfect environment.

Don’t expect your shack station to work ‘field-portable’ the first time you need it to. One of the reasons I’m skillful with HF field comms is because, since the beginning, field-comms has been a purposeful constrain on my station and I operate from camp or go portable at least monthly, year round.

Can you carry your stuff a mile?

How long does your portable power keep the tubes warm?

Do you know how to get a wire un in the trees?

These are all skills to understand before they become necessary.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Source: CAMP COMMS

Burning the Clouds

My first trip into the local ham radio store was made with one question in mind; what do I need to do to listen to lots of stuff, and talk locally for 0-200 miles(ish); similar to what we did with radios in the Army. The person I was talking to looked quite confused at my question and thus began my quest.

Now that I have enough comfort with the science, skill, gear, and art that I thought I’d present the case for Near Vertical Incident Skywave (NVIS) and share my learnings and experiences regarding this important radio art.

Let’s start with the why. I’ve played with technology and traveled enough to experience regional power outages, communication outages, and other mayhem that happens when infrastructure fails. Thus far NVIS is the one reliable communications that is low power, field portable, and zero infrastructure.

Now, let’s establish what NVIS is; Wikipedia has a nice description here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near_vertical_incidence_skywave

If you’d like a simple demonstration, go into your yard, point a hose straight into the sky and turn it on. One quickly notices the water pattern falling back to the ground. That is what NVIS essentially seeks to accomplish; but reflecting RF off the F-layer of the ionosphere and then creating a pattern roughly a few hundred miles in diameter.

Understanding NVIS is one thing, being able to use it in a true grid-down / field-portable environment require understanding and enough practice so you can rely on your knowledge, skill, and gear if it ever needs to be put into practice. In future articles we will cover aspects of this; radios, antennas, propagation (band conditions), power, etc.

Thanks for reading and I hope you get something from my ramblings. Post a comment and let me know your questions, comments, and thoughts.