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OPINION: ARES is Dead; Let's Bury It.
#1

I quote the following from the latest TCA:

"As a result of the global pandemic and the need to follow the health guidelines involving physical distancing, there continues to be few Amateur Radio Community Service and ARES EmComm group activities to report."

Whatever happened to "when all else fails there is amateur radio"?

The global pandemic should be just the kind of emergency that the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) stands by to assist.

But, ask yourself, if the RAC ARES organization were called up to provide a group of volunteers to grab their go-kits and sleep the next few nights on camp cots at the Grey County Emergency Operations Centre while sending and receiving emergency traffic, would you make yourself available?

Are you perfectly comfortable sending and receiving messages using one of the approved message forms used in the National Traffic System (NTS)?

Are you an accomplished Narrow Band Emergency Message System (NBEMS) operator?

Are you a registered Winlink operator?

Are you familiar with the ARRL FSD-3 Relief Emergency - Routine Messages (number coded emergency messages) and how to send them using NTS?

Can you copy Morse Code at 20wpm?

Let us imagine that the emergency was not Covid-19 but a computer virus that has taken down the power grid and power has been out for over a week. Cell tower backup generators are out of fuel, all ham repeaters are down. Gasoline pumps are unable to operate.

Your handheld radio is good for a range of a few kilometers at best. HF is the only way to get signals out. Now ask yourself:

Do you know how to reliably get a signal into the next county?
Maybe the answer is NVIS (Near Vertical Incidence Skywave). Operating NVIS requires distinct skills and knowledge. A lot of the available information is out-of-date and will cause communications failure. Can you setup an NVIS antenna? Do you know how to find out the critical frequency (foF2) for your location and time-of-day?

Do you know what band to operate on to reach a DX location?
Are you proficient in digital modes that will get a signal through even when the S/N ratio has a minus sign?

I cannot put a check mark down against all these questions and I doubt there are many hams who can. But the biggest question is probably the first one: "if the RAC ARES organization were called up to provide a group of volunteers to grab their go-kits and sleep the next few nights on camp cots at the Grey County Emergency Operations Centre while sending and receiving emergency traffic, would you make yourself available?"

I have had enough exposure to the RAC ARES organization to understand that it is a top heavy bureaucracy. It is a classic case of "too many chiefs, not enough Indians" - and I mean no disrespect to the First Nations community. ARES should have been built from the bottom up. When there are enough dedicated, thoroughly trained volunteers willing to interrupt their lives at a moment's notice, then - and only then - do they need an organization to manage them.

GBARC must address this issue if we are to make a meaningful contribution to EmComm (Emergency Communications) whether it is for the benefit of our community or just protecting our families and ourselves in an emergency.

When all else fails, there is amateur radio - really?

John, VA3KOT
Volunteer GBARC Net Manager
SKCC #11989T NAQCC #7155 FISTS #19777
May the Morse be with you.
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#2

Our area is under a declared state-of-emergency due to Covid-19 but it is unclear what this actually means in terms of emergency response.
   
The role of amateur radio is undefined in an extended declared emergency like this. However, we could be prepared to assist individuals connect with family, friends and support services during a lockdown.

When an earthquake hit Italy a few years back, hams set up an open channel on 20m for just that purpose. Regular communications in the affected region were disrupted and hams helped Italians in North America find out whether family and friends in the earthquake zone were safe.

The City of Owen Sound has an action plan for emergencies and Grey County ARES is a part of it:

Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) On request from the City:
Provide a representative to the City’s EOC to determine the amateur radio communication needs and capabilities
Activate emergency notification procedures for the Saugeen Sector of the Amateur Radio Emergency Services operators
Ensure that the EOC is properly equipped and staffed
Establish an area wide radio network in the event of a telephone failure
Coordinate the deployment of amateur radio operators and resources during an emergency according to the needs of the EOC.
Maintain a personal log of all actions taken

Are we ready I wonder?

A neighbour of mine is a firefighter with the City of Owen Sound. When he found out that I am a ham operator he told me the city's fire hall has ham radio equipment "but nobody ever uses it" he said.

He told me that firefighters turn it on from to time but never hear anything on it. I cautioned him not to try to transmit on that radio because its operation requires a ham radio licence.

I also told him the equipment is there in preparation for an emergency and would not be used except for that purpose.

Are we maintaining this equipment? Has it been tested regularly to ensure it is ready for use when required? Where else do we have an emergency station set up?

John, VA3KOT
Volunteer GBARC Net Manager
SKCC #11989T NAQCC #7155 FISTS #19777
May the Morse be with you.
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#3

It pays to be ready. Before moving to Owen Sound I spent several years working with Dufferin ARES. Dufferin ARES was formerly a very large group and was well connected with the County. Dufferin County provided a retired ambulance which was converted into an emergency communications vehicle equipped with three fixed VHF/UHF stations, another three VHF/UHF portable go-kits, one HF station and three computer stations. We conducted frequent exercises to ensure we were ready when called.

Images show the Dufferin ARES Communications Vehicle exterior, and the interior being filmed by CTV Barrie who broadcast a feature on ARES including interviews with several of us.

       

The deadly 1985 Dufferin F5 tornado resulted in an ARES callout. There was one more callout during a storm a few years later but then years passed by with no further action. We became a little complacent and our numbers declined but we kept up our exercises - just in case.

Then one day "just-in-case" actually happened. In November 2015 a freak windstorm blew down the county communications tower at Melancthon Fire Hall. ARES was activated and five of us responded immediately.
   
Grey County ARES is a part of Owen Sound's emergency action plan. We may never be called upon, but one day the call may come. We must be ready.

John, VA3KOT
Volunteer GBARC Net Manager
SKCC #11989T NAQCC #7155 FISTS #19777
May the Morse be with you.
Reply
#4

There are lots of things I would be rusty at like traffic handling, but I think I could scare up a station with antennas and feedline fairly quickly. I can see a little problem with the leaving home for a few days. It's not so much the being away from home, it's who is left at home. The security of the family is important also but maybe it's just a matter of organization and scheduling.  my 2 cents
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#5

ARES in Bruce County does seem to be coma.  From what I'm reading, Grey Co. may not be much more alive.

Rather than "let's bury it" why don't we say, "we can rebuild it, we have the technology" (with apologies to The Six Million Dollar Man)

Certain things must exist or be created if ARES is to be reborn around here. Some of the more important ones are:
  • Effective leadership
  • A critical mass of hams willing to (a) learn how to communicate in an emergency, and (b) maintain a state of readiness
  • Working relationships with local emerg. managers & understanding of where amateur radio fits in to their local emergency plans (and where it does not)
One thing we do not need is more procedure manuals.  We already have a RAC ARES EC Manual and a RAC ARES Ops Training Manual - about 350 pages worth.  I see RAC is working away revising the Training Manual.  Well, good for them.

We also have some training available.  We can all do the RAC Certified Emergency Coordinator self-study course online.  We can all do the Emergency Management Ontario IMS-100 certification course online for free. 

We have to first possess some capability before we offer it to local emerg. managers.  Right now I believe our capability is essentially zero.   (If you don't believe this, imagine some accident at one of the Bruce plants has resulted in hundreds of local residents near the site being evacuated to reception centers in Port Elgin and Kincardine.  Cellphone networks are totally saturated & bogged down.  The municipal emergency managers have asked amateur radio operators to set up stations at the reception centers & handle evacuees' welfare traffic to and from their relatives.  Could we do it?  Based on what I saw & did during the Provincial Exercise in 2016, I'd say no.)

Critical mass is a big issue IMHO.  Grey & Bruce have sparse ham populations, relative to a city environment.  It may not be possible to maintain two viable ARES organizations.  A single Grey-Bruce ARES is a possibility, but would be a huge geographic area.  I don't even know how to survey all the hams in Grey & Bruce for interest, without digging them out of the ISED database and sending each one a letter.

I'd like to help address this issue, just don't know where to start.

73
Dave, VE3WI
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#6

(2020-10-16, 08:06:51)VE3WI Dave Wrote:  ARES in Bruce County does seem to be coma.  From what I'm reading, Grey Co. may not be much more alive.

Rather than "let's bury it" why don't we say, "we can rebuild it, we have the technology" (with apologies to The Six Million Dollar Man)

Certain things must exist or be created if ARES is to be reborn around here. Some of the more important ones are:
  • Effective leadership
  • A critical mass of hams willing to (a) learn how to communicate in an emergency, and (b) maintain a state of readiness
  • Working relationships with local emerg. managers & understanding of where amateur radio fits in to their local emergency plans (and where it does not)
One thing we do not need is more procedure manuals.  We already have a RAC ARES EC Manual and a RAC ARES Ops Training Manual - about 350 pages worth.  I see RAC is working away revising the Training Manual.  Well, good for them.

We also have some training available.  We can all do the RAC Certified Emergency Coordinator self-study course online.  We can all do the Emergency Management Ontario IMS-100 certification course online for free. 

We have to first possess some capability before we offer it to local emerg. managers.  Right now I believe our capability is essentially zero.   (If you don't believe this, imagine some accident at one of the Bruce plants has resulted in hundreds of local residents near the site being evacuated to reception centers in Port Elgin and Kincardine.  Cellphone networks are totally saturated & bogged down.  The municipal emergency managers have asked amateur radio operators to set up stations at the reception centers & handle evacuees' welfare traffic to and from their relatives.  Could we do it?  Based on what I saw & did during the Provincial Exercise in 2016, I'd say no.)

Critical mass is a big issue IMHO.  Grey & Bruce have sparse ham populations, relative to a city environment.  It may not be possible to maintain two viable ARES organizations.  A single Grey-Bruce ARES is a possibility, but would be a huge geographic area.  I don't even know how to survey all the hams in Grey & Bruce for interest, without digging them out of the ISED database and sending each one a letter.

I'd like to help address this issue, just don't know where to start.

73
Dave, VE3WI

That's a very good analysis Dave. I agree with every point you made. My original post title was intended to be a little provocative to stimulate responses. It is the bureaucracy that should be buried, not the activity.

My understanding is that our licenses are free and we are given slices of spectrum in the expectation that we will develop skills and capabilities that could benefit the community. If we fail to do that we may find competition for spectrum eroding our very cosy hobby.

John, VA3KOT
Volunteer GBARC Net Manager
SKCC #11989T NAQCC #7155 FISTS #19777
May the Morse be with you.
Reply
#7

John, I share the same fear about loss of spectrum:
- attack on 2m in Europe
- loss of 3 GHz in US
- ever increasing use of HF for high speed (AKA wide band) data for stock trading

Even given our misgivings about ARES, RAC is our only advocate against loss of spectrum allocation from the amateur service.  It's really disappointing that the vast majority of Canadian hams do not see the need to support RAC - to the extent that it almost went bankrupt and disappeared a few years ago.  Canadian RAC membership penetration is vanishingly small compared to, for example, ARRL in the US or RSGB in Great Britain (best numbers I could find: Canada: 4500/70000, USA: 160000/700000, GB: 22000/76000).  Those numbers should be an embarrassment to all Canadian hams.  It's really frustrating to hear the litany of excuses people give for not joining RAC.

So if hams won't even do this one little thing (pay a few $$ once per year) to help preserve the amateur service, how can we hope to create and operate an effective emergency comm organization, to help preserve the amateur service?

73
Dave, VE3WI
Reply
#8

(2020-10-16, 19:28:07)VE3WI Dave Wrote:  John, I share the same fear about loss of spectrum:
- attack on 2m in Europe
- loss of 3 GHz in US
- ever increasing use of HF for high speed (AKA wide band) data for stock trading

Even given our misgivings about ARES, RAC is our only advocate against loss of spectrum allocation from the amateur service.  It's really disappointing that the vast majority of Canadian hams do not see the need to support RAC - to the extent that it almost went bankrupt and disappeared a few years ago.  Canadian RAC membership penetration is vanishingly small compared to, for example, ARRL in the US or RSGB in Great Britain (best numbers I could find: Canada: 4500/70000, USA: 160000/700000, GB: 22000/76000).  Those numbers should be an embarrassment to all Canadian hams.  It's really frustrating to hear the litany of excuses people give for not joining RAC.

So if hams won't even do this one little thing (pay a few $$ once per year) to help preserve the amateur service, how can we hope to create and operate an effective emergency comm organization, to help preserve the amateur service?

73
Dave, VE3WI
Agreed Dave. I am a RAC member and even though I don't think they are doing a great job with ARES I do support the organization's principal goals.

John, VA3KOT
Volunteer GBARC Net Manager
SKCC #11989T NAQCC #7155 FISTS #19777
May the Morse be with you.
Reply
#9

Good points raised in previous posts but without participants and no one to take the reins to bring ARES as active member of our community we can only talk about it and been doing that for past few years. 

As a club, the upcoming executive should conduct a survey to get an idea of the number of hams still active and not just hold an amateur radio licence which seems to the case now days. IC website is not updated if ham becomes deceased and not reported we don't know the real count. Also the survey should include the tools each hams has at their disposal, meaning: able to handle traffic in various forms (digital, cw, ssb), station capabilities (mobile, portable or fixed). 

With Covid-19 still to deal with, meetings over Zoom or WebEX should be considered in place of a regular meeting so club and/or ARES presentations and training can be done without endangering anyone and still hold on-the-air weekly nets. In many ways I find using the video platform I can attend other club meetings without physically going there.

Right now, "ARES is dead" in Grey/Bruce but like Dave ve3wi said, "we can rebuild it, we have the technology"

73 and stay safe.
Adam ve3fp   

73, Adam ve3fp
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#10

(2020-10-16, 21:13:21)Adam_VE3FP Wrote:  Good points raised in previous posts but without participants and no one to take the reins to bring ARES as active member of our community we can only talk about it and been doing that for past few years. 

As a club, the upcoming executive should conduct a survey to get an idea of the number of hams still active and not just hold an amateur radio licence which seems to the case now days. IC website is not updated if ham becomes deceased and not reported we don't know the real count. Also the survey should include the tools each hams has at their disposal, meaning: able to handle traffic in various forms (digital, cw, ssb), station capabilities (mobile, portable or fixed). 

With Covid-19 still to deal with, meetings over Zoom or WebEX should be considered in place of a regular meeting so club and/or ARES presentations and training can be done without endangering anyone and still hold on-the-air weekly nets. In many ways I find using the video platform I can attend other club meetings without physically going there.

Right now, "ARES is dead" in Grey/Bruce but like Dave ve3wi said, "we can rebuild it, we have the technology"

73 and stay safe.
Adam ve3fp   

Thanks Adam, excellent ideas. Some members are already using Zoom. A couple of us were trying it out for the first time this morning. It looks like a good platform for holding club meetings while the Covid restrictions are still in effect.

John, VA3KOT
Volunteer GBARC Net Manager
SKCC #11989T NAQCC #7155 FISTS #19777
May the Morse be with you.
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