MARS Coronal Mass Ejection Disaster Exercise


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


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.

Estimating NVIS comms ranges

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 08.17.45

The good people at AmRRON posted an article about Radius Mapping. Using the GitHub tool linked in that article, you can place circles of any radius on a map.

The picture above is a 50 mile radius and 300 mile radius from St. Paul, MN. This is good base information for a radio ‘DOPE book’; field validation is the next step.


HF NVIS Frequency Selection – Idaho ARES


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.


NVIS Primer by KV5R

One of the best NVIS primers I’ve encountered.

Near-Vertical Incident Skywave is a combination of radio hardware, skywave radio propagation, operating procedures, cooperation, and knowledge used by a group of radio operators who need reliable regional communications. It fills the gap between line-of-sight groundwave and long-distance “skip” skywave communications.



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.



Skip zone – Wikipedia


Overcoming the ‘skip zone’ is what NVIS is all about. Study and understand your obstacles. More info soon.

via Skip zone – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


QRP NVIS on 75m

Logged a checkin to this morning on the regional Pico Net (3.925). I was running my FT-897D at 5 watts, into my G5RV (not great SWR on 75m), tuned through my match box, with batteries at only 11.9v.

I wasn’t beaming back to the earth like the fires of God from heaven, but I did get a 55 signal report, which, most definitely, gets the job done.



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 –

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.