Ham Radio Bridging the Gap in Wildfire-Stricken California

UPDATED: 2017-10-12 @ 1840 UTC] More than a dozen wildfires in Northern California have damaged or destroyed cellular telephone and Internet infrastructure in some areas, and Amateur Radio has helped to fill the communication gap. Mendocino County Sheriff Thomas Allman told news media on October 10 that damage to cell towers and fiber optic telephone phone and computer lines had left officials relying on Amateur Radio operators to communicate with area hospitals.

ARRL contacted Robin Carter, a resident of the Willits area in Mendocino County, who confirmed to ARRL that ham radio operators until midweek were stationed at all North County hospitals and large nursing homes, supplementing the county’s emergency communication system. She said cell and landline telephone service was knocked out at her home, along with the fiber optic Internet connection, although the family has satellite Internet, and conventional Internet service was at least temporarily restored on Wednesday.

Her husband Mike Carter, KC6MGM, a Mendocino County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteer, had until Wednesday been staffing a station at Howard Memorial Hospital in Willits for 12 hours a day.

Radio amateurs also assisted with communication at Ukiah Valley Medical Center in Ukiah; Northbrook nursing home in Willits; the Mendocino Coast Hospital in Fort Bragg, and Red Cross shelters at Ukiah High School and Willits High School, Robin Carter said.

The Redwood Complex Fire, the northernmost of the fires, was responsible for the Mendocino County outages. The Atlas Fire in Solano and Napa counties is the largest and most disastrous wildfire. It covers more than 42,300 acres and was only 3% contained as of October 11.

In Sonoma County, Sonoma County Radio Amateurs (SCRA) has been conducting an ARES Fire Watch Net to relay fire and emergency information on its repeater. Auxiliary Communication Service (ACS) Radio Officer Dan Ethen, WA6CRB, said a controlled Sonoma County Fire and Emergency Services RACES/ACS net is also active.

Steve Fischer, K6ETA, told ARRL that the Sonoma County ACS has been continuously supporting shelters in Petaluma since Monday morning, and an operator is at the area Emergency Operations Center (EOC). “I have personally worked 32 hours in the EOC since Monday, and expect to continue through Friday,” Fischer told ARRL. “Our efforts helped coordinate the delivery of over 500 cots, breakfasts from the Redwood Empire Food Bank, and many donation and volunteer offers.”

Radio amateurs are reported to be supporting shelter operations in Solano County as well.

The fast-moving, wind-driven blazes — 18 large fires in all, according to FEMA — have driven thousands from their homes, killed at least 2 dozen people, and destroyed more than 1,300 homes. FEMA said the fires cover some 150,000 acres in all. Some towns have been virtually leveled. Most of the wildfires are clustered around Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco. According to FEMA, some 106,000 residents are under mandatory evacuation orders, more than 36,500 homes are threatened, and 59 Red Cross and independent shelters are open with 5,117 evacuees.

A state of emergency exists in Napa, Sonoma, Butte, Lake, Solano, Mendocino, Nevada, Orange, and Yuba counties. The California Emergency Operations Center is partially activated.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection mobile communications centers (MCCs) are equipped with Amateur Radio stations, but it’s not known if any hams have been deployed on any MCCs in the field for the current spate of wildfires.

ARRL East Bay Section Manager John Rabold, KS6M, said their thoughts are with the victims of the wildfire disaster to the north. “Many of us Amateur Radio licensees find ourselves wanting to help,” he said, advising that no one should self-deploy to the disaster area.

“Members of the public, including hams, should respond to the area only as recognized members of agencies who are active in the response or at the explicit request of those agencies,” he said. “At this point, the Red Cross has not made a request for support from the [East Bay and San Francisco] sections. However, disaster response continues.”

FCC Affirms Huge Fine in New York Interference Case

The FCC has affirmed a huge fine of more than $400,000 on Jay Peralta, a Queens, New York, man who has admitted to making unauthorized transmissions on New York City Police Department (NYPD) radio frequencies, maliciously interfering with officers’ communications. The FCC had sent Peralta a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) last April 14. Peralta, 20, is alleged to have transmitted false bomb threats, false claims of criminal activity involving firearms, false distress calls from purported NYPD officers, and threats against individual NYPD officers. The unauthorized transmissions began in 2016, according to the FCC.

“Mr. Peralta has not filed a response to the NAL,” the FCC said in an October 10 Forfeiture Order (FO). “Based on the information before us, we find no reason to cancel, withdraw, or reduce the proposed penalty, and we therefore assess the $404,166 forfeiture the Commission previously proposed in the NAL.”

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The Doctor Will See You Now!

“Dirty Transmitters” is the topic of the new (October 12) episode of the “ARRL The Doctor is In“ podcast. Listen…and learn!

Sponsored by DX Engineering, “ARRL The Doctor is In” is an informative discussion of all things technical. Listen on your computer, tablet, or smartphone — whenever and wherever you like!

Every 2 weeks, your host, QST Editor-in-Chief Steve Ford, WB8IMY, and the Doctor himself, Joel Hallas, W1ZR, will discuss a broad range of technical topics. You can also e-mail your questions to doctor@arrl.org, and the Doctor may answer them in a future podcast.

Enjoy “ARRL The Doctor is In” on Apple iTunes, or by using your iPhone or iPad podcast app (just search for “ARRL The Doctor is In”). You can also listen online at Blubrry, or at Stitcher (free registration required, or browse the site as a guest) and through the free Stitcher app for iOS, Kindle, or Android devices. If you’ve never listened to a podcast before, download our beginner’s guide.

ARRL Expresses Gratitude for Outpouring of Ham Aid Donations

ARRL is thanking the Amateur Radio community for its generosity in support of the ARRL Ham Aid Fund, which is making it possible to provide relief and recovery communications in Puerto Rico. Overall, there have been more than 600 donations to the Ham Aid program in response to a call from ARRL President Rick Roderick, K5UR, and nearly $125,000 has come in from clubs and individuals. Several Amateur Radio retailers and manufacturers also have stepped up to donate needed equipment. Roderick said he was amazed at the overwhelming response, including those who answered his call to join the “Force of 50” now deployed in Puerto Rico.

“The Amateur Radio community really came together in providing donations of equipment, funding, and personnel in response to the great need in Puerto Rico,” Roderick said. “The scale of these efforts and the response is making history. This has got to be one of Amateur Radio’s greatest moments. Our sincere thanks go to all involved.”

The list of those offering their generosity and support is long and growing. Contributors include International Amateur Radio Union Region 2 (IARU R2), which donated two Ham Aid kits in addition to a monetary donation; the Yasme Foundation, which made a monetary contribution to the Ham Aid Fund and donated critical equipment, and the Northern California DX Foundation (NCDXF). Donations also came from the Orlando Amateur Radio Club (OARC) and from Orlando HamCation®.

Amateur Radio dealers and retailers have made in-kind donations. Quicksilver Radio (QSR) has contributed antennas and accessories, Radiowavz has provided antennas, and Heil Sound Ltd. has donated headsets with cables. Other corporate and retail in-kind contributors include ABR IndustriesAT&TIcom AmericaYaesu, Ham Radio Outlet (HRO), and DX Engineering.

Monetary donations also have arrived from the CW Operators Club (CWops); the SouthEastern DX and Contesting Organization (SEDCO), sponsor of W4DXCC; the Northern California Contest Club (NCCC); the Fort Myers Amateur Radio Club (FMARC); the Wahkiakum Amateur Radio Club; the North Shore Radio Club (NSARC), and the Steel City Amateur Radio Club (W3KWH).

Ham Aid was created in 2005 in response to the need for equipment and resources to support the Amateur Radio response to hurricanes in the US and the Caribbean, and Ham Aid kits are in use throughout Puerto Rico for the Hurricane Maria relief and recovery effort.

Ham Aid equipment will be needed for future disasters. “Your donation to Ham Aid will help us now, and contributions to Ham Aid are 100% tax deductible,” President Roderick said.

You can donate online (select “Ham Aid” from the Donation Form list), or by mail by printing a donation form and mailing it with your check payable to ARRL, noting “Ham Aid” on the memo line, to ARRL, 225 Main St., Newington, CT 06111 USA.

Puerto Rico Volunteer Aids Burn Victim, Contacts Family via Ham Radio

“We had a stressful night on the island!” That’s how Puerto Rico volunteer Jeremy Dougherty, NS0S, described a medical emergency on the island of Culebra in which Amateur Radio played a major role. Dougherty, a Force of 50 American Red Cross volunteer who is supporting communication at Culebra Hospital, said fumes from a gasoline fuel container ignited last evening (October 12), seriously injuring a woman who needed immediate help. Dougherty was unable to raise any of the other volunteers in San Juan — likely because of the late hour — but the only doctor at the hospital at the time called Centro de Medico (Medical Central) on a satellite phone to coordinate transportation for the patient. The only other after-hours staff was a nurse.

“This patient was far from being within our scope to treat at this facility,” Dougherty said. “The patient had burns to at least 30% of her body. I had to do a lot of medical work here. The nurse knew the patient — this is a small community — and she left to get belongings from the [burn victim’s] house.” That left Dougherty — a medic who works for the Kansas City (Missouri) Fire Department — to administer first aid.

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Global Effort Under Way to Restore Dominica’s Amateur Radio Capabilities

The Yasme FoundationYaesu USA, the Foundation for Amateur International Radio Service (FAIRS), and individual GoFundMe donors have joined forces to restore country-wide Amateur Radio communication on Dominica in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Private pilots Brian Machesney, K1LI, and Dave Bridgham, N1AHF, are set to take off on October 14 from Vermont with a planeload of Amateur Radio gear, relief equipment, and supplies to better prepare the small Caribbean island nation for disasters. Bridgham is a volunteer for the Dominica “Angels to Eden” airlift spearheaded by round-the-world pilot Brian Lloyd, WB6RQN.

“Almost a month after Hurricane Maria, there are still families waiting to hear whether their loved ones are alive or dead or in serious need of medical attention,” said Michelle Guenard, Machesney’s spouse and spokesperson for the joint effort. Guenard pointed out that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Dominica and its telecommunications infrastructure, “the only news of their families and friends was gleaned through the transmissions of local [Amateur Radio] operators.” She noted that many were able to listen to live streams of ham radio traffic via Facebook and YouTube live feeds.

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The K7RA Solar Update

At 0326 UTC on October 12 the Australian Space Forecast Centre issued a Geomagnetic Disturbance Warning.

”The high-speed streams associated with a recurrent positive polarity Northern hemisphere coronal hole are expected to persist for a few days. If the Bz component of the IMF turned strongly southward for prolonged periods, earth could experience Minor Storm conditions on 13 October.

“Increased geomagnetic activity expected due to a coronal hole high speed wind stream for 13 October 2017.”

Earlier Spaceweather.com reported, “A hole in the sun’s atmosphere is spewing solar wind toward Earth, and this is sparking bright auroras around the poles on Oct. 11. At the time of this alert, a G1-class geomagnetic storm is underway. NOAA forecasters estimate a 70 percent chance of continued storms at high latitudes on Oct. 12 and 13 as Earth moves deeper into the solar wind stream. Visit Spaceweather.com for pictures and updated forecasts.”

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WWROF Webinar on Contest Season Propagation Outlook Posted

The October 4 webinar, “A Look at Propagation for the 2017 2018 Contest Season,” sponsored by the World Wide Radio Operators Foundation (WWROF), has been posted. Conducting the webinar were Carl Luetzelschwab, K9LA, and Frank Donovan, W3LPL. Contesters and DXers alike will appreciate their predictions and suggestions as to what to expect over the next few years in terms of HF conditions.

The discussion covers such topics as “Adapting Your DX Contest Strategies to the Steadily Declining Solar Cycle,” 160-, 80-, and 40-meter propagation at this point in the cycle, and some explanations as to why making contacts with Southeast Asia, focusing on K4ZW’s DXpeditions to Laos, is so difficult.

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Hurricane Watch Net Stands Down from Nate Activation

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) formally secured operations for Hurricane Nate today, October 8, at 0900 UTC. The net uses 14.265 and 7.268 MHz.

The National Hurricane Center reported at 0600 UTC that the eye of Hurricane Nate had moved over Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, where hurricane hunter planes are stationed, with maximum sustained winds of 85 MPH. Nate has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, and, at 0900 UTC, was some 80 miles north-northeast of Biloxi and about 135 miles west-southwest of Montgomery, Alabama, with maximum sustained winds of 70 MPH, moving northeast at a brisk 23 MPH.

During the 14-hour net activation, HWN members collected and forwarded ground-truth weather data from numerous reporting stations across the northern Gulf to the National Hurricane Center.

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Hurricane Watch Net to Activate

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) will activate at 1800 UTC today on 14.325 MHz and will remain in operation on 20 meters until the band closes. The HWN will commence 40-meter operations on 7.268 MHz at 2200 UTC and will remain operational overnight. Operations on 7.268 MHz will pause at 1130 UTC, and, if required, resume at approximately 1230 UTC, to allow the Waterway Net to conduct its daily net.

“By all indications, Nate should weaken to Tropical Storm status by this time,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said.

HWN requests observed ground-truth data from those in the affected area — wind speed, wind gusts, wind direction, barometric pressure — and, if available, rainfall, damage, and storm surge.

“Measured weather data is always appreciated but estimated data is accepted,” Graves said. “We will also be interested to collect and report significant damage assessment data back to FEMA officials stationed in the National Hurricane Center.”

In addition to collecting weather data for the forecasters at the National Hurricane Centers and reading the latest advisories, bulletins, and updates, the HWN will call for stations with emergency or priority traffic. The HWN is available to provide back-up communications to official agencies, such as emergency operations centers and Red Cross officials in the affected areas.