Category Archives: Amateur Radio

Amateur Radio Supports 9-1-1 Outage

Amateur Radio Supports 9-1-1 Outage

This morning on the scanner I heard dispatch advising that people were having trouble calling 9-1-1. Apparently they were getting “circuits busy” messages or just getting cut off. I thought to myself, “hmm, wonder how long that will last. Long enough, and we might see an ARES activation.” (one of the contingency plans stations amateur radio operators at published locations who can relay emergencies from the public to the Emergency Operations Center.) Sure enough, a little while later we got the word that we were being requested to activate. I checked in and asked what I could do (our net control operator wasn’t quite sure what to do with me since most people sit in their cars to stay out of the weather and … I don’t have one). He asked me to go to one of the local hospitals and activate the station there. It took a few minutes to get out there (whatever was affecting 9-1-1 was also causing trouble for my out-of-state number calling into the area). After waiting a few minutes for a security escort, I got to the area where we set up. There was a class going on in the room the antenna connection lives in, and I was asked to wait until the class was done before setting up.

All righty then. You’re our servd agency, so whatever you say goes. Sadly, I couldn’t hit the local repeater from the area with my handheld and had to wait until the room cleared. The promised 10 minutes was more like 15, and I got the radio plugged in and turned on just in time to hear our group being told the situation had resolved itself and advising we could stand down.

I’m thinking we might want to put an extension cord in the cabinet. Both for power and the antenna. That way, if this happens again, someone can slip in, hook up and move out of the way. Oh well, in either event I know where the radio is for next time. 🙂

Playing Catchup

Playing Catchup

Or if you prefer, Ketchup.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist…

Rather, I simply chose not to.

Here’s what’s been happening with us lately.

Work has been crazy. We’re gearing up for the annual NFB National Convention which takes place in Detroit starting July 2nd. It’s always a crazy, but massively fun, week.

Treva just finished work on a video to promote mentoring of blind youth by blind adults. She put a ton of work into it and it came out exceptionally well!! If it ends up online I’ll link to it.

In non-work related, but completely geeky, news. I upgraded my amateur, ham, radio license to Extra class (the highest level) and Treva earned her Technician class license. Somewhere around the 20th of May I decided that it it had been 14 years and I hadn’t advanced my license very far (I upgraded from Technician to Tech Plus somewhere around 1996 or 1997 which only required a 5WPM morse code test) and I decided it was about time to do something about it.

There were two exams I needed to pass to upgrade to Amateur Extra. The General class exam is a 35 question test on intermediate theory, regulations, and radio wave propegation. The Extra class exam consists of 50 questions on some of the more obscure, but no less important, regulations, advanced electronics theory, and operating practices including Amateur Television and using Amateur Radio Satellites.

When I started studying I thought it would be an interesting challenge to see if I could complete the upgrade by the 2009 ARRL Field Day which begins June 27. Field Day is an annual operating event that runs for twenty-four hours during the last full weekend in June. It is an opportunity both to test operating in abnormal conditions, clubs and individuals will often set up operating in tents and use power sources such as generaters or batteries to simulate emergency operating conditions, and as a public relations tool to teach people about amateur radio. It’s usually one of my favorite operating activities aside from public service events. Many years I am unable to participate since the NFB convention frequently falls on the same weekend, but with the 4th of July falling where it does I get to do both.

When I first started studying I thought that it would be cool to take the General and Extra exams at the same time and just “get it done”. I used a combination of the ARRL study guides and Simon, AA9PW’s, Online Practice Exams to prepare. There was a point where I thought I wasn’t going to be able to pass the Extra (some of the theory was killing me), but when I started passing the general exams I crammed for it the last week before I planned to take the actual exam.

That’s when Treva started studying for her Technician exam too. See, I’m definitely a radio geek. I think it iss much easier to use a radio to pass quick messages when you’re at a convention or other event than to use a cell phone. Especially some of these convention hotels where mobile phone coverage is abismal to say the least. I’d kind of been bugging her to get her ham license for a couple of years. We’ve had General Mobile Radio Service licenses for a while, but in areas where they even exist GMRS repeater information is scarce and many urban areas suffer from channel congestion because of the “bubble pack” radios fromWal-Mart and the like. (Most of what we need will be simplex, but occasionally a repeater will be handy.) (You can’t conduct your employer’s business on ham radio, but generally we’re just trying to figure out where the other person is, or I’m being sent on a Diet Coke Run :-)).

I’ve also been playing around with Amateur Satellites. We’ve got several of them up there, and since there are bonus points for satellite contacts during Field Day, I’ve been trying to see if I can successfully use one. So far I’ve almost heard one (I had extremely minimal capture, but couldn’t pull anyone out of the noise) and heard it on a subsequent pass (I forgot to compensate for doppler, and had to move out of the way of a car in the parking lot, so lost it before I could try to make a contact). I’m going to try again tomorrow morning and see what happens.

I wonder if I can convince the apartment complex people to give me a key to the roof so I don’t have to “play radio” in the parking lot to get a clear shot at the sky.

Wow, sorry, this has turned into way more of a radio geekery post than I planned.

You can wake up now… Really, you can… HEY! Wake Up! 🙂

I’ve also been geeking around with a couple of computer projects, but I’ll save those posts for when they’re actually working.

We ditched our cable company at the end of May. Over memorial Day weekend we obtained an DTV converter and antenna to see if we could get the broadcast network channels. Most of what we watch is either on a broadcast network or reruns. We figured we could just keep using Netflix, Hulu, or similar digital streaming/download services to get the rest. I can’t say I’ve even noticed that we haven’t had it.

I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t think of anything that will not bore you any more than you already are.

2008 Baltimore Marathon

2008 Baltimore Marathon

I participated in the Baltimore Marathon today. It was not, thankfully, in the run 26miles or die trying kind of participating though.

The Marathon organizers use amateur radio operators to help coordinate what is happening; track racers, pass information to the finish lines from different water stops, and handle other logistics related efforts. I was assigned to a combined water stop and first aid tent. We were at the half-way point in the course.

I got there about 7:15 this morning and checked in with the water stop captain and medical team leader. Our medical team leader, it turns out, took a nasty fall off a loading dock while gathering supplies for the race and had, what we are pretty sure was, a broken wrist. Since she was the only one with a medical license assigned to the team she had one of the med students splint it and she dealt with it until the location was secured.

The med tent was set up a slight distance from the water stop. Since the water stop was staffed by a club I had never heard of and the Med tent was being handled by a bunch of med students and a couple staff from Hopkins, and we happened to have a crew from Lifestar and their shiny, flashy unit there, I set myself up with the people who’s stories I figured would be more interesting. :-).

Sheesh. I sound like some sort of EMS groupie.

After he informed us that the Gateraid had been mixed in a trash can (which spawned a discussion of trash can punch and a mutual agreement to avoid the Gateraid) I had a good chat with a Baltimore police officer before the race. He asked about Amateur Radio, being under the impression that I was going to be doing some sort of broadcasting. I told him about our role in public service events and what we would be providing for the race. I was actually surprised that more people knew what Amateur Radio was and how active we were in disasters. A couple of the medics answered questions from the other medical providers before I could.

We stood around for a while and chatted until the runners came through. Not a whole lot happened, aside from me passing a request for toilet paper for the porta-potties. A request that could not be filled. Eww. 🙂

We secured a little before 12:00 and I started walking up to catch the Light Rail. I had kept the radio on and heard one of the hams at the stadium (where the start/finish, primary medical, and everything else was located) trying to helpanother ham get over there to fill a vacant position. He eventually decided he couldn’t get through due to traffic. I offered to head up there, figuring I would be more mobile on foot. It took about 25 minutes to walk down there and another 20 to get through the enormous crowd gathered to watch the finish line. I eventually made it through, met up with our coordinator, and staffed the Information Tent (with PD/FD/Public Works, and race coordinators) for the duration.

It was a good day. Communications went relatively smoothly, I finally got back into doing public service events, met some cool people, and even managed to dispell a few misconceptions about Amateur Radio, and blindness along the way.