Oct 30

In view of the terrible plight involving Hurricane Sandy, I think everyone needs to read an article I posted in one of my web sites several years ago. Emergency communicators – take heed.

Sometimes Getting There Can Be Your Greatest Problem

Bob Hejl W2IK

So, you’ve joined some emergency support group, taken some training and even done a few drills. That’s great! Your equipment is ready. You’re ready. But, “Murphy” has other ideas. Whether you’re a member of ARES, RACES, SATERN, REACT, CERT or any other group, you need to do more homework than what they’ve suggested. What good is all your equipment, training and confidence if you can’t get to a deployment site? Unfortunately, I’ve never seen any group adequately cover one of the most important steps in emergency communications: Getting volunteers to their final destinations as quickly and as safely as possible. Although this is especially true during natural disasters such as winter storms, hurricanes or intense periods of rain which produce almost catastrophic flooding, it can also encompass volunteers who attempt to deploy during other events such as wildfire emergencies. Can you imagine deploying to a wildfire disaster and almost getting trapped by the flames because no one told you the extent or the range of the fire? Well, it happened to me when I, with others, attempted to deploy during the Long Island wildfires a number of years ago. We were armed with everything we thought we needed…. except up-to-date information. No maps or directions were given so there we were “driving by the seat of our pants” in the dead of the night into what almost was a catastrophe for us all. Luckily, we back tracked and took the long way around finally reaching our deployment points.

Everyone was to blame for this screw-up.

Read the rest of this entry »

May 21

Field Day is coming, so here are a few thoughts as you plan your group’s operation.

A FEW TIPS FOR ANY FIELD DAY OPERATION  – I’ve posted some of this before but I think they should be repeated. (I’ve updated them a bit)

1. When setting up antennas within close proximity: If you are using wire antennas such as dipoles, and they run parallel to each other there will be interference on your HF operating bands in the form of hash so arrange them at right angles to each other and at slightly different heights. If you use wire antennas such as dipoles, try to stay away from trap dipoles and use full length antennas instead.  You may also wish to run your dipoles in different configurations such as have one as an “inverted V” and another as a sloper, etc. An antenna cut to the exact band you are using will decrease interference to and from other bands. Do not use compromise, trap or “all band” antennas. (The only efficient “all band antennas” are a log periodic and a “fan dipole” NOT a “folded dipole” or others that claim they use “balancing resistors” as this only wastes rf energy in the form of heat.) With others you may make a few contacts, but they are junk and will cause harmonic radiation. Dedicated operating needs the right antenna. Wasted energy on trap antennas (some of your RF energy is used up in the form of heat) and that equals an inefficient radiator, especially as you go lower in frequency. On HF, do not use vertical antennas as they receive too much man-made noise from sources such as generators, etc.

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Nov 13


Hill Country State Natural Area – Bandera, Texas


 When: 7th and 8th of January 2012


It is that time of year, to start forming the roster and making preparations for the 10th Annual Bandera 100k Ultra-Marathon held at Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera County.

Tejas Trails Communication Group – Sponsored by Hill Country REACT has been the lead team for communications for this event the past 6 years with the assistance of many hams from the San Antonio, Austin and other areas around the state..

This event typically requires 15 – 16 Amateur Radio Operators in a situation that is similar to what an Emergency Communications Operator would experience in a disaster zone. UHF, VHF and Packet communications are involved in this event.

This is a fun event with challenges.  The participants of this event, are of a type you will not encounter at most other events we deal with throughout the year.  Over the years, we have made some lasting friendships!

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Aug 31

“National Guard Helicopters drop supplies to support towns completely cut off due to Hurricane Irene” “No power, phone or roads to towns hard hit by Hurricane Irene”

I’m sure you’ve seen the videos of cars being swept down swollen rivers in Vermont. Who would have ever thought that a coastal hurricane would dump so much water over land-locked Vermont to cause such devastation! This reminds me of the time back in the late 1990’s when I was dropped along with supplies in to a town in upstate New York to supply emergency communications during the North East Ice Storm. It’s just another reminder that emergency communications teams must be prepared for any event. This is also a glaring reminder that we need well-trained “Jump Teams” in every area to assist with emergency communications support. EVERY local emergency communications group needs to have a Jump Team on hand to help cope with this type of disaster. Just as it happened in Vermont, it could happen in Texas. Towns being cut off. No power. No communications.

 If you don’t know how to start a Jump Team, or what your team would need, just go to this website for information and support: http://www.texasmars.com/

 Bob W2IK

Jun 26
A little different, but successful none the less, we operated using solar charged battery power in a very minimalistic Field Day using very little in the way of equipment. This was a test of our operating skills as much as it was a test of setting up an emergency station and all worked well.
We used a multi-band “inverted V” antenna that worked fantastic. When band changes were in order, all we had to do was unplug/plug band extensions which, being at the lower ends of the V, were easy to accomplish. This kept the loss from using a tuner, with this antenna we didn’t need one, to zero which is advantageous when you run low power. (A tuner usually has a 2db insertion loss! This is also why you don’t use a tuner if your swr is 1.5 : 1. It isn’t worth the insertion loss.) 
Running just one station, we managed a little over 530 SSB and 48 CW contacts, all by W2IK, for a total of 578 Qs which was down from last year. This year, it was not a W5BOG operation. Krissy, again, was the chef of the operation, keeping me fat and happy!
Some observations from this operation were: 15 meters was “long and hard” – this means the band was open for working distant stations (long) with no signal fading (hard) and we were hit with DX such as KH6EL whom we worked using only 5 watts with an actual (honest) 5/9 return from him. 10 meters was open at mid-day, but we couldn’t get the distant stations we wanted to.  20 meters was open until daylight hours waned, growing “legs” for a while into the pacific and then it opened in a sporadic manner later.
Jun 14
Since we weren’t happy with any of the local radio club offerings for Field Day, Bob, W2IK, along with Krissy, KD5YTN, have planned a “Minimalistic Field Day” this year. We will be operating from a local park (to be determined), bringing only the simplest of equipment, unlike previous operations where a massive amount of equipment was brought. To be sure there are no problems, all equipment, cables and supplies will be given a through check out the day before Field Day. The only added supply will be a toolkit just in case. This means ONE radio, ONE coax cable, ONE multi-band “inverted V” antenna (W2IK design), ONE telescoping mast, etc. The radio will be powered by twin deep-cycle batteries charged by banks of solar panels. ONE 10×10 canopy will shade both the operating area and cooking area where a propane grill will cook the meals. W2IK will be operating 1Batt, STX so if you hear him, please give a shout out. Logging will be accomplished by a net-book with “SQUIRL Field Day Logger” program. As always, a paper log will provide back up. Pictures will be taken of the event to be posted at SA Hams.
Jun 9

A FEW TIPS FOR ANY FIELD DAY OPERATION  – I’ve posted these a few years ago, but I think they should be repeated.

1. When setting up antennas within close proximity: If you are using wire antennas such as dipoles, and they run parallel to each other there will be interference on your HF operating bands in the form of hash so arrange them at right angles to each other and at slightly different heights. If you use wire antennas such as dipoles, try to stay away from trap dipoles and use full length antennas instead.  You may also wish to run your dipoles in different configurations such as have one as an “inverted V” and another as a sloper, etc. An antenna cut to the exact band you are using will decrease interference to and from other bands. Do not use compromise or “all band” antennas. On HF, stay away from vertical antennas as they receive too much man-made noise from sources such as generators, etc.

ICE_Bandpass_402x2. When operating within a tight area, as required by FD rules, it also pays to use “band pass filters” such as those manufactured by ICE. I have a full set of these HF filters and they work great. They are only about $ 38 per band and drastically reduce interference from your other operating posts. If your pocketbook can’t afford them, use coax “stub” filters. The lengths of these and how to build them can be found at: http://www.k1ttt.net/technote/k2trstub.html They are simple to make and easy to use. Both systems have been used by the major DXpeditions all over the world with great success. On HF frequencies make sure each operating station is properly grounded. Do NOT use a common ground for all your operating posts.

3. Make sure that each operating position has a laminated chart of frequencies that can be used under your station’s or club’s operating license. Watch out and don’t operate too close to the band edges. (remember: no one “owns” a frequency)

4. If using computer logging, always have paper logs and scratch pads ready to use in case your computers bog down or crash. (ever use a “dupe sheet”? Don’t know what it is? Find out!)

5. Whenever  I operate either in contests or operating events, I find it advantageous to camp out (remain on) a frequency rather than tune around (hunt and pounce). Remember that propagation conditions will change so stick with it even if you think the band has died or other stations appear on your frequency that weren’t there earlier. That’s just how propagation works.

6. Keep your calling frequency active by calling CQ often. Don’t wait! Leave a gap of only 4 seconds between calls or stations tuning by will miss your call and other stations mfj434bwishing to camp out may take over your frequency. In events such as FD, it also pays to use an automatic voice unit such as MFJ 434B “voice keyer”. (Cost is about $170.) If you can’t obtain one, use a cheap electronic memo reminder and just play back your pre-recorded CQ while holding it close to your microphone. This form of “acoustic coupling” is an inexpensive way to save your voice. I have used both methods over the years with success. Keep your calls “short and sweet” using ITU phonetics ONLY. Don’t use any “cutesy” phonetics.

7. If you are lucky enough to cause a “pile up” (several stations calling you at once) answer the easiest one to hear first. If you can’t make out complete callsigns, ask for the station with the easiest partial call to reply. The others will wait. Do not get flustered.

8. Ignore jammers. Do NOT bother answering them.

9. Have your station’s callsign and exchange info posted in large letters at your operating position in case you get a bit tired so you won’t forget and announce your own call by mistake.

10. If possible, bring your own headphones to make your life easier and to cut down on ambient noise from your area.

11. Talk in a loud, clear voice. No need to shout as it distorts your signal. Speak in to the microphone at an angle.

12. Pace yourself, drink plenty of fluids and let whomever is in charge know when you need a break. Do NOT be a “mic hog” as other people may wish to gain the experience of operating.

13. Learn a bit about propagation characteristics for each band and time of day before you come to FD.

14. If there are enough people, have someone do the logging for you. This way they will learn to copy callsigns under less than perfect situations and will make life easier for you. A “double set of ears” makes it easier to operate and log. It might even entice non-hams to get their license.

15. If you want your FD to be more successful, WAIT until all members have arrived before deciding what amount of stations you wish to put on the air for the event. You can always change bands, even with a 1A station. Years ago one club I was a member of decided to operate 20A ! That’s 20 stations operating. The only problem was there wasn’t enough people to man all the stations for the length of FD, so we were stuck at times with 10 stations we couldn’t use. You can’t change your exchange once the event starts. Talk about bad planning.

16. Flag all coax runs, power cords and antenna guy lines with brightly colored caution tape so no one walks into them or trips over them.

17. Never assume you’ve “worked them all”.  In 1991 a pair of inexperienced ops came out of the 40 meter SSB tent claiming they “worked the band dry”. I told them they hadn’t and taking another op to log for me, in 30 minutes I worked an additional 60+ stations on that “dry band”. Lesson learned: There are always other stations out there to work.

18. Know the rig you are operating by reading each radio’s instruction manual. By doing so you’ll avoid problems and make more contacts.  Be especially careful of the filters in complex radios as they could filter out wanted signals. Keep your operations simple so the next person assigned to your station won’t get confused twisting and turning knobs!

19. Turn off all gear during refueling of any gas generators. Use proper saftey procedures so voltage spikes won’t harm your radios. This means to turn off your radios BEFORE the generator shuts off and wait until it reaches operational speed before turning your gear back on. You can get voltage spikes during the shutting off of the generator and the start up cycle. Use care when refuelling the generator and NEVER gas it up while it is running. A gas spill even when the generator is off but HOT can also spell disaster.

20. Learn , but most of all : Have fun. (also, have your license handy… it’s an FCC requirement)

73 W2IK

Jun 7
   With the start of Summer, June 1st marks the beginning of “Hurricane Season”. It’s been predicted to be a very active period. We hope a hurricane doesn’t strike our area, but we must be ready in case it does.Many newly licensed hams have joined the amateur radio ranks just in time to become useful communicators should an emergency caused by severe weather arise. There is always a need for trained emergency communications personnel, but this is especially true in the areas which are more likely to be impacted by a hurricane, those regions being the Atlantic and Gulf Coast areas. However, it takes more than just a license and a hand-held radio to make you a useful part of emergency communications. It also takes preparation, training and practice.

Preparation requires each communicator to develop a cache of supplies to help them in fulfilling their communications duties.

There are various websites you can rely on as basic lists in building your “go bag” of supplies. I realize that most of you are on limited budgets regarding the purchase of additional rigs or other related equipment, so improve on what you have with the addition of a better antenna system and upgraded power sources. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to “run home” to get something you’ve forgotten.

There are NO second chances with emergency communications during a hurricane.

 Reminders –

If by choice or by wallet your only rig is an HT: The battery pack that came with your HT is NOT enough during a deployment. Make sure you have additional power in the form of extra batteries and a power supply. You should have enough “portable power” to last for at least 4 days of operation.
The “rubber duck” antenna that came with your HT won’t do much good during an emergency. In terms of Effective Radiated Power (ERP) a 5 watt HT with it’s standard rubber duck antenna at shoulder height actually radiates only 1.5 watts ERP. (The stock antenna that came with your HT is what’s known as a “negative gain antenna”) Clipping the same HT on your belt would attenuate the signal an additional 20 db, meaning the ERP would only be about 15 MILLIWATTS!  This is why you need a “gain” antenna at a decent height for emergency communications deployment. You should have a 17 inch flexible whip antenna and at the very least a roll-up “J Pole” antenna with coax. If you are really serious, you’ll need an emergency VHF antenna.  This is a very light weight, portable antenna that is packaged in a 48 inch tube yet deploys to a height of over 16 feet. It is easy to build. It exhibits gain. It can be used with an HT to greatly expand it’s range and can also be used with a mobile rig for indoor or outdoor use.
Always document what you do. Keep accurate notes and communications, marking times of each. This will help in reviewing later.
You’ll also need to refresh yourself on the basics of emergency communications. The better armed you are with information and the basic proper gear, the better you’ll be able to do your communications task.

Time to test and inspect all your equipment. Replace weak re-chargable batteries and check out all cables for wear or fraying. Make some test transmissions to see how well your equipment will “hit” the various local repeaters that are used during emergencies and put them in your radio’s memory bank. Perhaps it’s time to buy that deep-cycle marine battery as you might need it to power your mobile rig indoors during a power failure. (Don’t forget that emergency VHF antenna system as mentioned above)

Hopefully you are a member of some emergency communications group in your area. Time to attend meetings and on-air lessons in earnest. Ask questions no matter how trivial you think they are because others will probably benefit from the answers. If your group is smart, they’ll have a small drill or two. Keep your group updated on any new gear (radios, antennas, etc) which would make your deployment more valuable to your team.

Keep on your toes when a developing storm starts it’s march across the Atlantic. Follow the path and look at projected paths at: WEATHER UNDERGROUND website. It’s a good source of info during hurricane season.

PREPARE your family for the hurricane season.  Train your family members and build a “home bag” so they won’t have to do without should severe weather occur in your area.

Make sure that if a hurricane is within 300 miles of your home that you keep all your vehicles’ gas tanks “topped off” and buy extra, extra batteries for any flashlights used by your family. At the same time, be sure to monitor your EmComm group’s repeater frequency for updates or possible “call outs”. Make sure that you also have “wide-range” repeater frequencies in you rig’s memory. If you have a General or above license, try to have a working, portable HF station which also includes an NVIS antenna system for reliable short-range HF communications.

Keep every battery charged and have all equipment gathered and ready.

Be an active member in your EmComm groups activities so you can all be “on the same page”. Hopefully, your emergency communications group has in place an honest, comprehensive emergency plan for it’s operators and has trained it’s members with something more than “table-top” drills. FIELD DAY IS NOT ENOUGH.

May 6
May 7, 2011 – Special Olympics Spring Games

Hill Country REACT will be operating a special events station at the 2011 AREA 20 Special Olympics Spring Games. The guest operator will be W2IK, who will concentrate on 40 meters, around 7.270 MHZ from about 9AM until he poops out in the afternoon. Feel free to work this station, send a QSL card and a SASE to the QRZ address of  K5HCR, since this is the callsign he will be using.
Guest ops are welcome to join in at the operation:  Location is in Schertz at the Samuel Clemmons High School at the athlete village. If you hear us, work us and please post on the cluster!  Back in 2006, we made over 130 contacts in 4 hours. Help us break that record.
Dec 25

On January 23rd at 1600 UTC, W5BOG, the Bexar Operators Group, will go on the road (operating ROVER) during the 2011 ARRL January VHF SweepStakes. We will attempt to cover a few rare grid squares during this operation: EM00, RT 41 North Of Leakey, DL99, RT 55 South of Rocksprings, EL 08, La Pryor, DL98, West of La Pryor on RT 57, and DM90 at Rocksprings with a quick stop at EL09 at the “look out” North of Leakey. (Grid square operation in the following order but subject to change especially if we get any pileups) We will be operating on both 6 meter (horz. loop) and 2 meter (horz. beam) SSB.:  EL09 (1600 utc), EM00 (1730 utc), DM90 (1930 utc), DL99 (2100 utc), DL98 (2300 utc),  and EL08 (0030 utc).  Anyone who wishes to join us may do so by emailing: alonestaryank@aol.com   See what it’s like to operate vhf rover and hand out QSOs from rare grid squares.


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