Thursday, September 9, 2010

Volunteering for the Red Cross

Back in July 2010, I volunteered to be a member of the King and Kitsap American Red Cross Communications Team. As of this writing, I am completing the various steps to be an active volunteer.

Why did I volunteer? I am originally from the East Coast, specifically New Jersey and even more to the point a small town called Rio Grande. Rio Grande is about 3 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and at about the same elevation as the local beaches. In 1960 we were hit with hurricane Donna and the Red Cross's actions left me with a mission of one day giving back to the organization. It has been a long time between hurricane Donna and this moment, but the need still exists, so now is the time to give back.

Recently, I heard the Seattle Chapter was creating something called the Reserve Corps - Communications Team Auxiliary. The concept of the auxiliary is to provide supplemental communication capability during disasters to that of the normal Red Cross Communications Team.

When a disaster such as flooding, wind storms, power outages or earthquakes occurs, the Communications Team Auxiliary would be mobilized and work alongside Red Cross employees and fully trained volunteers. The Auxiliary program allows for recruiting, training and processing of amateur radio operators to meet the extraordinary emergency communications needs. One point that was emphasized was if you already have a role in another organization's emergency communications, the auxiliary understands your primary responsibility would be to that organization. However, as an auxiliary member you will have cleared all the processing and credentialing for the Red Cross, so if you are available, you will be able to immediately assist with the Red Cross efforts.

How do I get started?

If you live in the King or Kitsap County area, once you sign up, there is one-day training and orientation class, provided free of charge, which details the basic skills required to assist the American Red Cross in a major local disaster.

What would I do?

You would be asked to provide emergency communications for the Red Cross King-Kitsap chapter.

You could be assigned to work in the chapter radio room or provide communications duties at command posts, shelters and in vehicles.

You might be assisting mass care workers in the assembly of radio kits and providing on-site training in the use of the radios as needed.

How will I know what to do?

The Seattle Red Cross Chapter office will provide the following:

- one hour orientation and paperwork session
- three hour "Fulfilling Our Mission" (AKA FOM) course
- two hour radio room orientation and Red Cross radio operations training session

Prior to the above training sessions, you will need to submit an online application which asks for your contact information and three references who the Red Cross Office of Volunteers will contact. There is also an online background check which gets completed.

Finally there are several administrative processing requirements which happen during the one hour orientation listed above. These include:

- Signing a job description, photo release and intellectual property agreement
- Signing a local policy statement and code of conduct
- Getting your photo taken for your Red Cross identification badge

As you can see the processing takes some time. Therefore, having the Communications Team Auxiliary pre-processed and ready to go removes most of the bureaucracy and gets you helping others as rapidly as possible.

In addition to the personal satisfaction of helping others, the Communications Team Auxiliary members are eligible to take Red Cross Training, free of charge.

If any of this has sparked your interest, but you're not quite ready to sign up, send an email to Lynn Burlingame at requesting more information about the local Red Cross Communications Team or Auxiliary.

Thanks for listening. Stay safe.

Online links:
application is located at
Lynn's email address is

Update after more than a year from first volunteering -

Back in July 2010 I first volunteered for the American Red Cross through the Seattle Chapter. Things some how got delayed for several months until September 2010 because my original application disappeared from the normal processing. As I mentioned above Lynn Burlingame magically retrieved it and I was once again moving through the maze of classes and volunteer opportunities. From September 2010 through April 2011, I completed a variety of classes and qualified as a ERV driver.

In the spring and summer of 2011, I attempted to volunteer for the various deployments, but never got any responses to my efforts. I assumed that the Red Cross was getting enough volunteers and I was just signing up a little too late. Later, I was to find out that this wasn't the case.

The surprise came in September 2011 when I received an email asking if I was still interested in become a Red Cross volunteer, since it had been a year and I had taken any action towards become a active member. To say I was surprised and extremely disappointed is an understatement. I started imagining that all my efforts in training had been lost or something like that. Then I decided that this may have been why I wasn't able to be deployed. Clearly the Red Cross records indicated that I hadn't done anything to become a volunteer. Well, it ended up that somehow my records were split between to different email addresses. My original application was under one email address and all my classes, etc. were under another. I notified the DSHR folks that I was interested and had completed many classes.

I have never heard back that anything was corrected. So, at this point, even though this has been a long time dream of mine to be part of the American Red Cross, I am taking this as a sign from the "Force" that perhaps my energy should be better spent elsewhere. The "Force" gave me an indication early in the process and now after hours of classes, volunteering, and study on my own it provided a rather obvious "sign" that perhaps a different path should be taken. Normally, I am an extremely tenacious participant. Of course all of these obstacles are most likely clerical mishaps that can be corrected. But as you look back across the 2011 Red Cross efforts you will see a major need for volunteers and hours upon hours needed to make those efforts succeed. For me, due to some clerical error I could not participate and could not find out why until long after the events.

This is a sad moment for me, but I will be backing off from my involvement with the American Red Cross. I will maintain my semi-active role in the Red Cross Communications team.

So what have I learned from this experience? Well, several things. First, never assume that an organization as huge as the American Red Cross can't make simple clerical errors. Second, be persistent and a bit more demanding when trying to get answers about applications and transcripts of your many hours of effort. Finally, when fulfilling a dream, listen to your heart, observe how others treat your efforts and evaluate whether or not your efforts are making a difference. Some times reaching for a dream can blind us to the reality of the moment. In some cases, that focus is a good thing helping us past obstacles other see as roadblocks. While at other times, there are signs along the route that need to be taken as warnings and indicators of needed new directions. One always should have situational awareness. My awareness: new direction.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Neighborhood HamWatch

In the June 2010 (page 77) issue of QST, Norm Lauterette, WA4HYJ wrote a piece on a growing aspect of Amateur Radio known as the Neighborhood HamWatch. Much like the old Neighborhood Watch elicited neighbors to help within their local areas, this concept adds the "when all else fails" resiliency of Amateur Radio to the mix. Norm mentioned the new program was developed in 2009 by Andy Gausz KG4QCD of the Lake Monroe Amateur Radio Society (LMARS) in Seminole County Florida.

In our local CERT group the question was asked "How do we communicate to official channels about our situation in the event of a major emergency?" With Hams throughout the neighborhoods, this may be a possible answer to that question.

A short "What is Neighborhood HamWatch?" sheet provided by Andy Gausz states:

Neighborhood HamWatch is a voluntary program for all amateur radio operators who want to provide a helpful service to their neighbors during times of extended power outage.

When the power goes out for long periods of time, such as after a major storm, and everybody’s batteries wear out and their generators run out of fuel, people are virtually left in the dark and without any way to receive radio or television, or talk to friends and relatives outside the affected area. It gets lonely and you feel isolated because you can’t talk to anyone and you can’t find out what Emergency Managers in local governments are planning or doing to help you. “Communication Isolation” can be worsened by downed trees and power lines which make it very difficult for emergency services to reach your neighborhood. This is a time period that often lasts several days, maybe even weeks. It is a time when Amateur Radio Operators, often called, “Hams” can help.

There are three things “Hams” can do.

1. Neighborhood Hams can get on their radios and talk to each other across the city and county and share information about what’s going on in their neighborhood. This conversation provides effective therapy to fight against the psychological depression that often accompanies communication isolation. Just talking to each other, and sharing information with their neighbors helps keep people in touch with what’s going on and how the community is coping with the emergency.

2. Hams in your neighborhood can also contact local government Emergency Operations Centers that are equipped with Amateur Radio Stations and operators and describe conditions and special needs in the neighborhood to local emergency managers. This information helps officials plan and coordinate a response to current needs and organize the recovery effort with first hand information about community conditions. Emergency Managers can also relay information through Hams to neighborhoods providing vital information about the recovery effort and reassurance that action is being taken to help the citizenry.

3. Hams that are equipped with special capability can also relay simple, short messages from their neighbors to distant relatives or friends, helping people reassure others that they are OK, survived the storm, and are in the recovery stage. There are two ways they can accomplish this special service, one through an amateur radio nation-wide message relay system called the Amateur Radio National Traffic System, and another more direct and efficient way, by using their Ham Radio to link their computer to the Internet, totally independent of Internet providers who are likely to also be without power.

In the ARRL article Norm summarizes the three elements of Ham Watch in a different way.
The NHW program design consists of three levels of participation.

The first level is nothing more than ham’s communicating with each other during the recovery period for the purpose of sharing information and relieving communication isolation associated with an extended power outage. Just hearing another hams voice from a different neighborhood can help ease the suspicions that grow from not knowing what is going on outside your immediate area.

The second level of participation is establishing a NHW net and communicating with local EOCs through their ARES station and operator. This is the information relay tool that connects emergency managers with the neighborhoods in their community.

The third level will allow hams with Winlink capability to directly send welfare traffic at the request of their neighbors to extended family outside the stricken area to relieve concerns and reduce clogging of commercial cell phone and telephone systems. Winlink allows hams to send email directly to message recipients without stressing the National Traffic System with routine or welfare traffic requests.

I have additional information from Andy including a customizable NHW brochure for sharing with neighbors, clubs and public officials or just about anyone else who has an interest.

Andy Gausz is President of the Lake Monroe Amateur Radio Society in Seminole County, Florida.
Norm Lauterette is ARRL Public Information Officer.
QST June 2010 Public Service Section (includes Neighborhood HamWatch article)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Finding Amateur Radio resources on the Internet

I recently came across several amateur radio information sites. Here is my newest find, although it appears they have been around for quite a while.


There is an article on about episode 28 of AmateurLogic.TV where they state:

"In this episode Tommy demonstrates the great EchoLink for iPhone application. Peter shows us his shortwave QSL collection. Our guest Charlie, KY5U teaches us about Streaming Video and CamRadio.Net. And George talks about I.F. (Intermediant Frequency) in radio receivers and how it can relate to Software Defined Radio use. Plus plenty of viewer email and Facebook comments."
Its 56:30 of very informative amateur radio content.

Their blog is found at:
Their videos are found at:

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Comm Academy 2010 Portable Radio Contest - K7RFH Radio in a Box Entry

Today I attended for the first time, the Communications Academy 2010. Having my Amateur Radio License since December 2009, it was a real challenge to come up to speed fast enough so that I was able to create a "radio in a box". Just finishing the radio only about 2 weeks prior to the Comm Academy's start. All in all, I am very proud of the outcome. The following information was provided to the contest organizers.

Purpose of Project:
The original purpose was to provide a radio system that could go anywhere, yet be stored easily in a compact space. This project morphed into a portable radio shack to be used for EMCOMM, Field Days or home base station. Requirements were to be able to run using any adequate power source in fixed, mobile or portable modes.

Capabilities Available in Package:
Current total weight of this unit is 27.5 pounds (12.5 kilograms)
The portable shack is designed for use on AC or battery power. Power options include providing power output to charge handhelds, run power inverter or powering a secondary external radio. Power is regulated using the Super Powergate 40S so with battery connected, auto failure is provided and battery is charged when AC is available. System power is provided by the FT-897’s FP-30 power supply.
Yaesu FT-897D can operate on all Amateur Radio Bands in a variety of modes. Local Emergency frequencies are preprogrammed in the FT-897D. Onboard antenna tuning is provided using an LDG AT-897Plus
Signalink provides soundcard based digital operations capability.

Deployment Process:

Deployment steps:
1. Connect power source(s). AC, battery or both.
2. Connect required antennas
3. Connect ground wire
4. Power on and operate radio

Optional deployment steps:
1. Connect computer to CAT and Signalink (marked TNC) cables
2. Start software on computer and operate radio

Design Features:
Unique modular open frame design provides easy access to equipment for maintenance, modification and inspection. Aluminum framing significantly reduces weight. Cooling is provided without the need of powered fan because of open over/under air paths. Sound chamber style layout means no external speaker is required.

Other features:
• Separate HF and VHF/UHF antenna inputs
• External grounding block
• Cigarette lighter DC power output
• Powerpole DC power output
• Powerpole battery power input
• Power monitor displays power consumption and charging reference.
• Time of day clock
• Laptop/document storage compartment

Secondary power box provides battery power via Anderson Powerpole connections.
Starting at the top right and moving clockwise, the power box presently contains all manuals needed, 200W power inverter, powerpole cigarette lighter socket, 2 - 12V 7.0 AH batteries, MFJ SWR meter, rollup 2 meter antenna, rollup 6 meter antenna and the power box itself.  The tray contains a spare Yaesu microphone,  LDG 4:1 Balun, Yaesu compatible headset, cheap set of earbuds and tape measure.  Not pictured is a 12V AGM 135 AH battery.

Radio carrying case is weather resistant SPUD-7 MTM Case Gard. Lid can be used to hold documents or provide some weather/sun protection. 
Additional Comments:
Pictures demonstrate equipment’s easy separation from carrying case; layout of components and simply, clean design elements.
Additional items available – equipment user manuals, coaxial jumper cables, variety of connectors/adaptors, SWR meter, antenna analyzer

Antennas to be used:
• 2 meter J-pole roll-up
• Dual band (2 meter/440) aluminum J-pole
• Dual band (2 meter/440) mobile mag-mount
• 300 Ohm twin lead 6 meter vertically polarized omnidirectional end-fed antenna (roll-up or fixed)
• G5RV-lite dipole 80 meter-6 meter
• 40 meter Tak-Tenna

Links to related material: THE BOX: PORTABLE EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS STATION IDEAS Hints and tips for your GO-Kits Emergency Ham Radio Portable Go-Kit Revealed Building a Go-Kit Emergency Amateur Radio Communication Kit by KH7O HAM Radio Emergency Go-Kit presentation Benicia Amateur Radio Club (BARC) ARES Boom Box A RADIO GO BOX OR PORTABLE EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS BY David P Schornak N1IB

Several people have asked about where the MTM SPUD 7 box came from, so here is a list of the various parts and where to get them:

MTM SPUD 7 Case: OR Sinclair International
Powerpole parts and other power accessories:
Aluminum framework parts and other hardware: My local Home Depot

Download the PDF brochure for my creation, which was given out at the radio contest.

Update 5/20/2010: Just found this article about another SPUD-7 based Go-Kit
Update 12/5/2010: Found another Go-Kit Radio in a box article

Update 4/19/2011: Recently, Shane Cruze wrote to me and had some great questions that weren't answered in the information above. So I thought I would share the questions and answers with everyone here.

Update 3/29/2015: Revised configuration.  Only minor surface changes.

Q: Where did you get the front mesh? I can find the aluminum angles, etc at Home Depot but could not find the mesh.

A: The perforated aluminum was the hardest to find, but we have a local hardware store called McClendon's Hardware that basically is the place you go when you can't find it anywhere else.
The to finding it online is the terms "perforated aluminum". carries it

Q: How do the roll up antennas work for you?

A: The TV antenna wire J-Pole roll-ups work okay in a pinch, however, I haven't needed them yet. I can connect the box using standard mag-mount antennas in the car, in the EOC and at home. One of the antennas I like for 2M and 70cm is the EE-3
It is definitely an in-the-field style antenna for light duty use.
I am still researching a better roll-up style 6M antenna.

Q: How did you connect the 12V feed from the radio's AC power supply back to the Powergate?

A: Connecting the 897's power suppy required getting and extra connector and installing Anderson powerpole connectors to the other end. Or I found later that you can buy them from Powerwerx pre-mode.

Q: Can you say more about how the Powergate is wired to everything?

A:All connections use Anderson Powerpole connections, bulkhead adapter and/or splitter.

External AC runs from front bulkhead into FT-897D power supply.
Power supply output runs into Powergate "PS" connection.

Powergate "BAT" connection runs to the battery IN Powerpole bulkhead adapter's lower connection

Powergate "OUT" connection runs to a Powerpole fused splitter. It has one input connection and three output connections. Each output connection runs to the one of the following:
- FT-897D power input
- bulkhead cigarette lighter adapter
- Powerpole bulkhead upper connection

With these connections you can attach an external battery which will run the "box" when no AC is available or the battery will be charged if AC is available. The Powerpole bulkhead 12V out connection can be used to power another radio or radio charger.

Q: I bought the identical SPUD case so that I could duplicate your setup exactly. Do you happen to remember the dimensions you cut the aluminum angles as well as the flat strips? Do you also remember which screws and the size holes drilled in them?

A: The key was to make the face plate fit as snug as possible. The dimensions are:
Faceplate: 16" x 11" (Rounded corners) Rear: 13 3/4" x 9" Sides: 12 1/2" long
As I understand from others, sizing is a little variable with the boxes, so customized fitting is needed.
Wherever possible I used aluminum pop rivets. I don't recall the size, but probably 1/8 inch. Any screws, bolts and nuts used were those that came with the equipment.
The tricky part is aligning the shelves so that the knobs, etc don't hit lid when closed. Lots of trial and error adjustments to get it right. I used screws initially to allow for adjustments then replaced with rivets for final assembly.

Q: Did you get your grounding block (s) inside the box and on the front panel from Home Depot also or did you get that from an electrical supply?

A: Yes, I brought two sizes from Home Depot and used the longer one. Only ended up needing the shorter one since only 3 ground wires needed (1-897D, 2-AT897, 3-faceplate grnd). Also discover with second box that the chassis itself is a ground, so grounding block was just an extra but convenient ground. The faceplate grounding terminal has a matching one on the inside of faceplate. Again, overkill, a bolt holding terminal through faceplate would have worked fine to attaching wire.

Q: Did you use a flat black paint or a glossy?

A: Neither, I used a textured or pebble finish. It gives it a more "equipment" look.

Q: Did you get the strain reliefs for the accessories that attach to the perforated aluminum at home depot as well?

A: No, most of the little stuff came from Harbor Freight or Radio Shack or my "parts" drawer.

Q: Were you able to use tin snips to cut the aluminum or did you just use a hacksaw and sand down the edges afterwards? Did you just punch out the holes for the accessories on the perforated aluminum?

A: Yes, snips to cut the perforated aluminum. Hacksaw and grinder for framing. All holes were drilled. Larger holes were Dremeled out. Don't have a punch.

Q: I assume you used 12 gauge wire for all your connections?

A: Yep, from Powerwerx, red/black 12 gauge zip cord

Some other thoughts and additions for future modifications:

Added 12V LED light bar from IKEA

Laptop section in the top will later be changed over to hold Signalink, power monitor, clock or maybe another radio for doing dedicated sound card digital. Found that I carried the computer separately and the size has dropped significantly with the purchased of a netbook.