EmComm – Have We Forgotten Our Roots?

Cold War Amateur Radio Operators,  EmComm, Appliance Operators and 9/11.  What is the linkage between these terms?


Cold War Amateurs is a term I recently ran into on another blog. As I understood it, the term relates to the older, more technically refined and highly respected generation of the Amateur Radio operators among us.  In my opinion, these are the guys who have the knowledge to create gear from a box full of parts and fix complex problems deep inside solid state radios.

At times you hear these guys on the HF bands with their quality audio conducting nets or having one on one discussions about equipment.  In the past, I was very fortunate to have met a number of these gentlemen while serving as an officer in the local Radio Clubs. What I learned from them and more importantly about them are wonderful memories which I will never forget.

EmComm is the new (digital sounding) acronym for a process which has always been the heartbeat of Amateur Radio. Traditional Amateur Operators made EmComm a part of their hobby mindset. There was no question about the loyalty of the Cold War Amateurs when this aspect of the hobby was put in motion.

If a true emergency occurred then, there was no direct EmComm chain of command to follow as there is today. Amateur Operators just knew it was their duty to participate in any way possible  and get through the problem at hand.

I volunteered to man Amateur Communications in a local high school during the Wildfires here on Long Island.  It was amazing to see the outpouring from local businesses. There were so many truckloads of food, water and clothing that they had to be turned away. Local repeaters were turned over to us and our local health and welfare traffic was handled smoothly and efficiently.

As I see it, Field Day is still the prime example of traditional EmComm. I know and knew many Cold War Amateurs who had long given up building equipment and working the bands but when field day rolled around, they would always show up to do their part.  Most did not stay but made damn sure that the operation was up and running satisfactorily before they went on with the rest of their day.

Back in the day, no Amateur operator I had met would have turned their back on this crucial aspect of the hobby. Why? Because we  knew that it was the underlying reason that the hobby existed in the first place. Hanging on to frequencies, like anything else has to be justified and EmComm was and is a big part of the reason that the Feds have not sold off our part of the spectrum… yet.

Appliance Operators, according to the post I read is the label that traditional Cold War Amateur Operators have given to some of the post Cold War Amateurs. These Amateurs do not possess the traditional knowledge and skill set held by the Cold War generation.

I suspect that dumbing down of the license requirement and removing code as a rite of passage has given rise to this label. I actually think there is some shred of truth to this but the label will fade as the torch is passed to the next generation of Amateur Radio Operators. Let’s see, what what the term that was used on the older Amateur Community as they were coming up through the ranks? Was it LID?

Both labels have been pasted on my forehead at one time or another during my 27 years with the hobby. I don’t possess that refined knowledge to create RF circuits from a box of parts. My knowledge would barely fill a thimble if I compared myself to some of the  Amateur Operators that I have and had known over the years.  Labels are not productive but are just an unfortunate component of  human nature.

9/11 has changed much in the world. I know, that goes without saying. Getting something close to a strip search occurs every time you fly. Spot checks, occurrences of  racial profiling and cameras exist  everywhere.

9/11 also has changed the face of EmComm.  EmComm Managers no longer hold the same view of the volunteer Amateur Radio Operator.  Strict guidelines have been implemented within government.  At the center of the controversy is the fact that volunteer Amateur Operators can no longer directly communicate with Emergency Managers.

In summary, human nature leads some to believe that there is an embedded “caste system” within the Amateur Radio community. It appears that Cold War Amateur Operators look down upon the newer generation as Appliance Operators. As I mentioned previously, there is an element of truth to this but at the end of day, it will be the post Cold War Amateur Radio Operators that will mold the future of Amateur Radio.

EmComm is more important today then ever. I don’t know how many threats the government receives each year but the facts that are revealed do speak for themselves.

Try not to let anyone’s thinking (or your own) stand in your way when it comes to getting involved with Amateur Radio or EmComm. We all have different skill sets. We can all apply the skills we have toward the common good. Isn’t that what Amateur Radio (and life in general) is all about?

Comment’s Please!

Ham radio operators have fun, help keep communities safe

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2007 (By CARLA MCCANN)

Fort Atkinson No electricity? You still have options. No electricity and no phone line? Well, there’s still ham radio.Much of the ham radio’s appeal is its independence, said Dennis Rybicke, a member of the JefCARES, an Amateur Radio Emergency Service in Jefferson County. Ham radios aren’t dependent on commercial electrical power or telephone services. They can be operated on batteries and generators. Whether ham operators prefer communicating in Morse code on old brass telegraph keys, talking on hand-held radios or sending computerized messages via satellite, they all share an interest in global happenings and reaching out to help others in times of need, Rybicke said.

Rybicke is one of many dedicated hobbyists still clinging to the time-honored and respected tradition of being an amateur ham radio operator in an age when a myriad of technological advances offer communication access to a global community. Within that world of radio frequencies, ham operators are filling a variety of roles, including providing backup during emergencies, weather monitoring services and enhancing international goodwill.Although the main purpose of amateur radio is fun, it is called the Amateur Radio Service because it also has a serious face, Rybicke said.Countless lives have been saved where skilled hobbyists act as emergency communicators to render aid, whether it’s during an earthquake in Italy or a hurricane in the United States, Rybicke said.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and other cities along the Gulf Coast, a Brodhead woman asked for help from the local ham operators in contacting a relative who lived in one of the states hardest hit by the 2005 storm.As a section traffic manager in Wisconsin, Rybicke relayed the woman’s message to the National Red Cross working in that area. We pride ourselves on getting the message exactly right, Rybicke said.Every word in the body of a message is counted before and after it’s sent, he said. In Wisconsin, it’s ham radio operators that report weather conditions statewide. Every day from 4 to 7:15 a.m., ham radio operators are busy collecting weather data for the national weather service, Rybicke said. About two years ago, one of the local ham operators spotted a tornado out of town on Highway 106 and immediately informed the Sullivan weather station, Rybicke said.That tornado hadn’t shown up on the weather services’ radar screen, Rybicke said.It’s a neat feeling to provide this service, Rybicke said.

Since Rybicke first received his ham radio operator’s license in 1958, the 64-year-old retired New Holstein High School teacher has taken many advanced classes to become a skilled operator.He also has seen many technological changes in ham radios.When I started, the radios were huge, Rybicke said. Now, they’re 100-watt transmitters in a little box.Operators also now have access to pocket-sized hand-held radios, he said. Rybicke’s home-based radio antennas are unobtrusive, buried in his backyard and strung among tree limbs outside his home. Communicating on the ham radio also can be considered a trip down memory lane. It’s a big party line, Rybicke said. You can call one person and everyone can listen to the conversation on their radios. You might have 25 or more people talking together. It would take one heck of a party line on a cell phone to do that.


Q: Who are the people operating ham radios?

A: They are from all walks of life and three or more generations. They are volunteers involved as emergency responders, weather monitors and global neighbors.

They even can communicate with astronauts on space missions by radio frequencies called amateur bands.

The bands are reserved by the Federal Communications Commission for use by hams at intervals from just above the AM broadcast band all the way up into extremely high microwave frequencies.

Q: Why do ham operators need to be licensed?

A: The FCC created the service to fill a need for a pool of experts who could provide backup during emergencies and acknowledges the ability of the hobby to advance the communication and technical skills of radio and enhance international goodwill.

Q: What are the amateur radio bands?

A: Look at the dial on an old AM radio and you’ll see frequencies marked from 535 to 1605 kilohertz. That is one radio band. Other bands exist for amateur, government, military and commercial radio uses. Amateurs are allocated 26 bands spaced from 1.8 megahertz, which is just above the broadcast radio frequencies, up to 275 gigahertz. Ham operators can talk across town, around the world, to space satellites and even bounce signals off the moon.

Q: What are the costs of becoming a ham operator?

A: Basic study materials for passing the FCC test to get an initial license cost less than $40. Classes also are offered by many local groups for people who want more interaction. A ham radio can be bought for less than $200. Used radios also are available for sale at flea markets across the country.

Q: Where can you find additional information?

A: The best ways to learn about amateur radio is to talk to hams face-to-face. Hams take pride in their ability to Elmer (teach) newcomers the ropes to get them started in the hobby.

Published at: http://www.GazetteXtra.com/news/2007/nov/17/ham-radio-operators-have-fun-help-keep-communities/

San Diego ARES Amateurs Stand Down after Wildfires

With the wildfires in Southern California well on their way to be being contained, San Diego area ARES Amateur Radio operators have ceased assisting their served agencies; many hams had been called to action early last week. When the fires began early Sunday morning, October 21, ARRL San Diego Section Emergency Coordinator Jim Cammarano, KG6R, conferred with California Fire VIP Red Flag Coordinator Rich Beisgl N6NJK; Beisgl told Cammarano that local ARES groups were not needed at that time. “A few hours later, I called again and our status remained the same. They assured me that they would call me immediately if they required [assistance from] San Diego ARES. With the Santa Ana winds blowing, the fires had rapidly advanced far beyond the point where volunteer radio operators would be safe in performing such a role,” Cammarano said.

Cammarano said that San Diego ARES “first started up an information Net before any concrete news from the mainstream media existed. People were checking in with facts about road closures, traffic congestion and reports on the locations of the fires. Once we were told to deploy by the San Diego County EMS [on Sunday afternoon], I initiated our Web-based automated call-out system that made more than 400 calls in less than five minutes.”

Hams were deployed all over the San Diego area, including Mt Palomar, home of CalTech’s 200 inch telescope. ARRL Assistant SEC Teri Rowe, KI6FKD, a Registered Nurse, was appointed Incident Command nurse, providing a supply of responders available for initial deployment and replacement personnel. “She compiled manpower reports and lined up personnel well in advance to the Medical Operations Center order to deploy. On Sunday evening, she manned three phones and two PCs monitoring the County WebEOC online message boards, keeping us updated with road closures, patient transports and hospital evacuations. She answered questions, reviewing the ICS forms and calling each hospital Incident Command RN or Officer to coordinate deployment of the responders,” Cammarano said. “Mark Williams, KF6ZBF, manned the radio room at Kaiser Zion (a local hospital); he assisted an RN onsite who had her radio license, but who needed help. Mike Green, W6MTG, helped Teri on Tuesday, making calls to our members, all while evacuating from his home.”

Many ARES hams were busy serving local hospitals, some working for more than 15 hours, Cammarano said. “Hospitals asked our responders to help get their staff deployed to the hospital to relieve their overworked personnel. At one point, a trauma center was in danger of losing a communications tower. Numerous hospitals were evacuated and patients were transported. We were there as back-up if the critical communications links were broken. As the order to change our status from deployment to standby came, many responders were asked for their contact information in case they were needed again.” While many hams did not pass emergency traffic, many communicated critical information regarding the status of other hospitals to the various Incident Commanders at the facilities where they were deployed, Cammarano said. “The hospital staff was thankful for the support from our responders, for many feared that the fire might force the repeaters on Mt Woodson off the air, causing the hospitals’ regional radio link to ambulances to fail, resulting in a serious impact of hospitals to prepare for arrival of critical cases or transports to other vital trauma centers in the county.”

According to Cammarano, other ARES members volunteered at Qualcomm Stadium; with more than 5000 evacuees, this became the largest temporary shelter in the area. San Diego city officials closed the stadium, home to the NFL’s Chargers, to evacuees at midday Friday and cleared the team to play its scheduled Sunday afternoon game there against the Houston Texans. After a week in which nearly a million Southern Californians fled their homes in seven counties, fewer than 50,000 people remain under mandatory evacuation orders in hardest-hit San Diego County.

At least two of the fires were started intentionally and two more have suspicious origins, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said during a news conference on Sunday. He issued issuing a warning for the arsonists: “We will hunt down the people that are responsible for that.” Meanwhile, downed power lines, leaking gas lines, broken water pipes and still-blazing fires have blocked the return of thousands of Southern Californians who fled their homes this week ahead of more than 20 wind-whipped wildfires. Fourteen people died, seven from the fires and seven from causes linked to their evacuation

President Bush visited the area on Thursday, October 25 and declared a federal emergency for seven Southern California counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura. FEMA Administrator David Paulison said that the President’s action authorizes FEMA to “coordinate all disaster relief efforts, which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives, protect property and public health and safety and lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe.”

Schwarzenegger estimated that at least $75 million in federal aid would be needed for the devastated areas. He announced cash grants of up to $10,000 will be available to help people with expenses caused by the disaster, such as housing, medical costs and transportation; this is in addition to any FEMA money residents may be eligible for. “California stands ready to provide fire victims all the assistance they need to get their lives back on track. Even after the fires are extinguished, we will still be here to help fire victims in need,” Schwarzenegger said.

The number of people hurt in the fires increased Friday to 85, including at least 61 firefighters, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Flames destroyed almost 2000 homes. The cost of homes destroyed by the wildfires is likely to top $1 billion in San Diego County alone, an emergency official said.

Cammarano expressed his thanks to the amateurs who went above the call of duty to the public and to served agencies: “The San Diego Amateur Radio Community had high visibility to the County of San Diego and the nation; I want to acknowledge their many contributions to public safety. Other EmComm groups protected the citizens of San Diego. This was a community effort and San Diego ARES was part of a greater team who performed our mission to a high level. We had a part to play in contributing to the public safety and welfare of citizens of San Diego and Imperial Counties. I want to express our sincere appreciation to CERO, ECRA, MARA, PARC and SANDRA, for the use of their repeater systems. I heard many reports of their member’s heroic efforts to keep the repeaters up and running, providing the county with this critical communications link.” — Some information from CNN