Systems Testing On Comm III

20160926_123958_1474931064983_resized-1 Tuesday a beautiful day in our area.  This time of year, we understand these days are fleeting and we will be in the rainy season in a few weeks so it was a great time to do a systems test of the primary radios in our new communications trailer, designated “Comm III”.  We towed the trailer to Riverside Fire Station #3 at the extreme north end of Centralia.  Using generator power only, the antenna system was set up and the decision was made to try our smallest mag mount dual band antenna.

As we began the tests we discovered Jade, KG7AQJ – one of our Fire Hams – and Bill, KI7DFF, a new ARES team member were both on the air and willing to participate in the tests.  Tests using the K7CEM repeater went very well with only a little static on the frequency from the portable generator.  Moving the generator helped quite a bit.  We did find that adding an extra antenna section, raising the little mag mount to 12 feet, helped as well.  On simplex, we had only a marginal signal but much of that was due to our location with plenty of hills  between us.20160926_121058

We closed up shop and moved the trailer to the Centralia Airport at the very south end of the city.  ^This time, without the hills between us, all systems worked perfectly.  Even simplex tests were loud and strong.  We also tried to test our fire/law enforcement radio as well but discovered only marginal reception.  We believe we’ve narrowed it down to the antenna and will be doing further tests in the weeks to come.  All in all, it was a beautiful day and a great way to test the primary radio systems on Comm III.  Still to come will be testing the solar power system and the HF radio system.

Centralia ARES Communications Trailer, “Comm III”

20160913_115116   With our Communications Trailer project completed, we spent Monday evening introducing the finished product to the entire team.  On Tuesday evening, we set up both the comm van, “Comm II” and the communications trailer in front of Centralia City Hall as part of September’s National Preparedness Month while giving us the opportunity to show off a little to the city officials.  We think it was great way to display our newest ARES project.

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Radio communications box with HF stack, VHF/UHF & Law/Fire radio stack as well as “radio in a box”, battery and power supply.

The communications trailer concept germinated when EC Bob Willey read an article in October 2014’s CQ magazine written by William Akins, AK1NS about an emergency communications trailer he created for Nassau County, NY ARES.  Centralia ARES is always looking for a useful team project and we started planning. Sometimes, things just take on a life of their own and manage to come together like magic.

After presenting the basic concept to the Centralia ARES team during a meeting in October 220160913_115559015, one of our team members, Jim Nodell, said he had a similar trailer (5’x8′ single axle utility trailer) which we could have free of charge.  The trailer had been out in the weather for some time piled high with yard waste and parts.  It also had a bent crank but otherwise was in working order so we grabbed it up.

Over the next eight months, the team cleaned the trailer, added rust prohibitive paint followed by a coat of black enamel, changed out the decking, installed new taillights, built and painted sides, installed a new crank, had the wheel bearings packed, installed a trailer hitch, safety chains and lighting socket on Comm II and generally made the trailer look presentable.

The Pacific Northwest is not always friendly to an “open trailer” concept as it generally rains here nine out of twelve months of the year.  Rain or not, we needed this communications platform.20160913_122206  We know from previous experience that when our area floods or when an earthquake occurs, our community can and usually will become four islands, difficult to reach by normal roads.  We need ARES communications capability in all four response districts BEFORE bad things happen.

In planning our trailer, we made sure everything was as water tight as possible.  We added 18″x 60″ wooden storage boxes along each side to store antenna poles and a 10’x10′ pop up tent.  Above the boxes, were installed 18″x 60″ aluminum work boxes.  One of these boxes would hold supplies (coax, first aid kit, rope, tools, and even two folding chairs) while the other would become the communications equipment box, holding a large deep cycle battery, an HF radio, a dual band “radio in a box”, a 2 meter radio, another dual band radio and a fire/law radio, and a power supply.  Internal lighting included both AC and DC LED lighting along with a conveniently located flashlight as backup.

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2 Meter / dual band / law & fire “radio stack” is removable. Lighting switch, coax connections and ground to the right

The trailer also holds two generators (one is for the communication van that tows the trailer when it is deployed separately), a solar panel, fuel containers, orange reflective cones and storage for the wheel chocks.  After all the painting was completed, we added Centralia Police and Riverside Fire Authority decals as well as ARES decals and our club callsign, K7CEM.

The HF radio in the communications box can easily be removed for use in a shelter or hospital, as are the three (2 meter, dual band, and law/fire radios) in another specially built “radio stack”.  The “radio in a box” is also capable of being removed for use elsewhere and there is enough coax on board to reach from inside a shelter outside to the antennas on the trailer.

With the 10’x10′ tent up and sides attached we can be pretty well water tight and temperatures here don’t tend to run into the extremes.  While our main communications van would be warmer, dryer and more comfortable, the trailer will serve nicely when needed.  We hadn’t planned it, but Facebook follower and Northumberland County, PA AEC recognized the trailer was perfect for wheelchair bound ARES members to operate.

The communications trailer was always, first and foremost, a project designed to bring our team members together and allow them to put hands on a project we could do during the winter.  Now completed, we will be testing all systems and including this platform in most if not all of our disaster drills.  We completed it just in time.  We already have another great project in the works!

City Council Display For National Preparedness Month

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Setting up in front of Centralia City Hall

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The sun had set by the time the council meeting was over . Time to “light up the evening” for a great equipment display

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AEC Chuck Verdon, explaining the new communications trailer to a city council member.

No volunteer group should ever miss an opportunity to put themselves in front of their City Council and remind them of all we do as volunteers.  Last evening, we used September’s National Preparedness Month to “show off” just a little.  With our mobile communications van, “Comm II”, and our new communications trailer parked squarely in front of Centralia City Hall, the team turned on the radios and opened the doors so anyone and everyone coming or going from the council meeting would have the opportunity to ask questions and meet our team members.

Team members in their lovely yellow vests packed the council chambers while Emergency Coordinator Bob Willey gave a short presentation about Amateur Radio Emergency Services.  We turned on the “after dark” lighting and stayed until the council meeting concluded for yet another chance to “meet and greet” with city officials.

Before we were done, we had talked to and given a tour to the city manager, all the city council members, the city clerk, the human resource officer, the city light director, police commander,several citizens attending the meeting and even the Chronicle reporter. All the team members really stepped up and did a great job explaining why our group exists and just what our capabilities are.

Thanks to the entire team for helping with this event.  You did great!

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