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Better Think about being A Ham

Posted: 03-16-2016 04:26 PM
by voguy
Old story but worth thinking about with world events about to occur....

LINK to Story

After Nepal earthquake, people turn to ham radio
An old tech shows its resilience, while new tech reveals its problems.
by Megan Geuss - Apr 28, 2015 6:50pm EDT

On Saturday, Nepal was shaken by a massive earthquake that registered a 7.8 on the Richter scale, causing widespread destruction in areas of dense population, and preventing aid workers from reaching more isolated villages in the mountainous regions. As of Tuesday, at least 5,000 people were dead and at least 10,000 were injured. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless.

With any natural disaster, communication can often become a matter of life and death, and if phone lines are broken and cell towers crumble, relaying messages to the outside world and coordinating rescue efforts becomes that much more difficult. Add to that the fact that Nepal's government is woefully unprepared to handle such a humanitarian crisis, and chaos reigns.

Still, some volunteers are trying to impose order on the chaos. After the quake, which shook cities in India as well as Nepal, volunteer ham radio operators from India traveled to the region to relay messages from areas whose communications infrastructure is broken or overloaded. Ham radio, also called amateur radio, is a means of sending and receiving messages over a specific radio frequency, and it is often used in disaster situations because it operates well off the grid; transceivers can be powered by generators and set up just about anywhere.

Amateur radio has taken a back seat with hobbyists in recent decades as other means of wireless communication have become cheaper and easier for people to use (you don't need a special license from the FCC to operate a cell phone, although sometimes it seems like we'd be better for it if that were the rule). The decline in participation rates is unlikely to change substantially in the US, and the Times of India noted that awareness about ham radio is still low in India and nearby areas. Still, it has proven to be effective as a means of communication in Nepal in recent days.

Ars spoke to Jim Linton (whose call sign is VK3PC), the Chairman of the International Amateur Radio Union’s (IRAU) Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee, to get a sense of what kind of information ham radio operators are getting (Region 3 encompasses the vast Asia-Pacific area; Linton is based in Australia). Throughout the day, Linton received updates from Jayu Bhide (call sign VU2JAU), who is the National Coordinator for Disaster Communication for the Amateur Radio Society of India. Bhide was in frequent contact with people on the ground in the mountainous regions of Nepal that had been hit the hardest.

As of today, Bhide told Linton, rescue teams are still struggling to find missing people trapped in the ruins. In one case, a hotel housing four doctors was demolished during the quake. Only one of the doctors survived, and he stationed himself in a Red Cross facility across the street from the demolished hotel. "The flights from Kathmandu airport were delayed and people were stranded [in] several places,” Bhide added. "More than 17 Red Cross camps were set up.”

"The situation is still one of chaos,” Linton wrote to Ars this morning. "The Government of Nepal has asked all people to stay out of buildings due to them being unsafe.”

As of Tuesday morning, four amateur radio operators from India’s Gujarat region and four others from North Delhi have left to set up stations at critical places in Nepal. Three operators, including Bhide, said they are setting up High Frequency and Very High Frequency stations on the border between India and Nepal.

Amid the chaos, many Nepalese have struggled to get messages out to family members in other countries. The Los Angeles Times noted that the disaster has worsened the economic woes of an already poor country, which has long depended on foreign aid and remittances from family members working outside of Nepal. Bhide told Linton on Tuesday that much of his work had been to relay inquiries from family members abroad looking for news of their families. ”Many messages piled up to pass on to Nepal to find missing people,” Bhide reported.

”Many more HAMs were busy passing messages as well as forwarding them to relatives,” Linton wrote to Ars.

According to a January 2015 report from the Nepal Telecommunications Authority (PDF), only three percent of Nepal’s population relied on fixed telephony service like Public Switched Telephone Network (PTSN) or Wireless Local Loop (WLL) lines. By contrast, 86 percent of the population said they relied on mobile phone service to communicate. 39 percent of the population reported that they had Internet access. It is unclear how much of that communications infrastructure remains intact.

Bhide noted that “a request was also made to Ministry of Nepal to make mobile roaming free so that Indian mobiles as well as other mobiles can be used. It will reduce the load on wireless communication." On Tuesday, he added, "The mobile network and some telephones lines were restored along with power in some places.”
New tech, same problems

For areas where Internet is still accessible, some solutions to determine the safety of family members have surfaced. The International Red Cross quickly set up a website on which family members outside of the disaster area can report people for whom they are still searching. People who are safe in Nepal can report their safety on the site, called "Restoring Family Links," as well.

Facebook also dusted off its “Safety Check” feature, announced in October 2014, which asks people who are ostensibly in an affected area to confirm that they’re safe in the event of a natural disaster so that friends and family around the world won’t worry.

Still, this feature, while well-intentioned, is not a perfect solution to distributing information—issues about Internet access aside.

I personally noticed the feature on Sunday when I got a notice in my feed alerting me that Sonia Paul, a former colleague of mine who has been working in India for a couple of years, was “marked safe.” She had listed Lucknow, India—a city that did experience some destruction from the quake—as her location, but when I messaged her a day later, she said that she’d been working in Mumbai and never was in any danger.

Still, she got messages from concerned friends who assumed from the alert that she was in the thick of the disaster. Their concern, she said, was sweet but unnecessary—she had just clicked Facebook's automatic alert, and didn't realize it would cause such confusion. "It wasn't dire, just confusing," Paul said. "And that's the nature of our lives, that people move around a lot and are not always updating [Facebook]."

In contrast, she said, a friend of hers from Mumbai had gone trekking in the mountains where the earthquake was felt. But because he had listed his hometown as Mumbai, Paul said, "I didn't know if he was ok until I WhatsApped him.”

While Facebook's new feature is neat in theory, in practice, active confirmation of a person's well-being after a disaster is difficult and not always possible to reduce to an algorithm. Sometimes it takes the sweat of a handful of volunteers using decades-old tech.

Re: Better Think about being A Ham

Posted: 03-16-2016 04:56 PM
by kbot
Been thinking abut it - still have my books, but never bought a rig. No stores around here selling that sort of equipment......

Re: Better Think about being A Ham

Posted: 03-16-2016 07:23 PM
by voguy
kbot wrote:Been thinking abut it - still have my books, but never bought a rig. No stores around here selling that sort of equipment......
Stores are nice to look at stuff, but buying over the internet is probably cheaper. When I was in Ohio I would buy from A.E.S. in Cleveland, (, or DX Engineering ( Personally, I like the Yaesu radios. I have the FT857D and the FT897D. Both are good performers. The 857 is smaller and they have back-packs to take them with you. As for a study guide, go with the W5YI software. I think it's about $29.95 for the disc. If you run through the sample tests for a month, then you'll ace the exam. It's not that hard.

Re: Better Think about being A Ham

Posted: 03-17-2016 06:15 AM
by kbot
Thought about buying online but wasn't sure about which company (and band ranges) to look-at.

I've been using the ARRLs books mostly - but, it's been a while. Started studying code and picked-up the ARRL CD course and a practice set-up. Something that they never taught us in the Air Force, although, being medical, there probably wasn't a need. I think that this was being turned more into a Navy thing, but, as they say, "When everything else fails............"

Re: Better Think about being A Ham

Posted: 03-17-2016 07:27 PM
by voguy
This is what I and several others used. Ham Operator Software Version 15.0

You set it up so you're taking practice tests. If you get a question wrong, it will tell you immediately. Spend just 10 minutes a night on it. After a month you get to the point where you see a question like "What is the lowest frequency you can transmit on in 80 meters." And because you've gone over it maybe 30 times or so, you know the answer or at least know the answer is "C". Questions are multiple choice, so they don't change.

I would recommend code if you can learn it. Code gets through when voice doesn't. I use a mode called PSK-31 which is digital, and I can talk from Germany back to the states on 20 meters most of the time with just 25 watts of power. Voice won't do that. Code is more efficient.

If you get a radio such as a FT857D, be sure to upgrade the CW filters to 500 kHz.

When I was up in northern Michigan camping a couple years ago, I used my radio, with key, and basically a wire tossed up into a tree to talk all over. Code gets out. There are also survivalist nets on the radio which are good. You can also use it to listen to shortwave broadcasts, (ie: WTWW – "We Transmit World Wide"). I've listened to Midnight in the Desert that way a few times.

Re: Better Think about being A Ham

Posted: 03-18-2016 06:16 AM
by kbot
Thanks! - I've done the practice tests and over time have done well enough to pass (I think....) a written exam. The electronics part is basic enough since I had to take much of this material for my radiography training in my physics classes. I think that, with the array of equipment out there, to me, it's mind-boggling - and seems so expensive. I've heard people boast of shacks with thousands of dollars in gear and I'm wondering how to pay the mortgage....... :mrgreen:

So I thought low-power, 2-meter band using repeaters and developing some skills would be a good start - just not sure about how to practically go about it.

Need an Elmer......... :oops:

Re: Better Think about being A Ham

Posted: 03-18-2016 04:39 PM
by voguy
You can get into 2-meter for working repeaters for about $150(US) and then maybe $70-125 for a decent antenna. Not knowing where you live I can't say what your access might be, but there are resources on the web to find repeaters in your area. Be sure to get a radio which has a microphone with touch tone pad/keyboard. If you have any IRLP repeaters in your area you can use the repeater to access IRLP. Once on an IRLP repeater you enter a 4-digit number to link that repeater to another one anywhere in the world. The list is at IRLP.NET. For example, if I want to talk to someone in Boston MA, I use my local repeater, then enter "4314" on the touch tone pad and now the repeater where I'm at is linked to Boston's repeater.

There are also things called "nets" where you get people from all over who will check in at specific times. Those are called Reflectors. There is one reflector which carries audio from NASA when they have missions.

You can also use DSTAR on 2-meters, but it's more expensive. A radio for DSTAR can be $550(US) or more. Some people like to use it because it has an inboard GPS which reports your position when you transmit. Hikers and campers love it.

I prefer 6-meters and HF for several reasons. 6-meters is great for point to point communications over distances. It's also somewhat private as most hams don't like it as the antennas have to be 96" long. Remember the old state trooper cars? HF is great because you can sling a wire up in a tree and talk all over the world. Most of the newer radios, such as the FT857, are expensive because they are "all mode" They have the ham frequencies, they can be used for AM and FM listening, as well as shortwave broadcast listening.

So there are choices. Just be careful buying something "used". Best to stay with a dealer.