Repeaters 101 Class

Scott Dakers, W7SGD

The days of sitting for your amateur radio license in front of a FCC examiner are long gone and most would agree that is a good thing.  The method currently used seems to produce more new hams with the least number of study hours.  Unfortunately, that isn’t the whole picture.  Those of us who spent weeks if not months attending a licensing class in the past often feel we were better prepared after receiving that all important license.

After a recent and successful licensing class sponsored by the Chehalis Valley Amateur Radio Society, we thought we would try something different and initiated a basic “Repeater 101” presentation at our Ham Lab.  Our idea was to take questions from those who had been recently licensed and determine where they felt they needed more in depth training. We began wit the Repeater 101 class because almost all new hams have their first experiences on a local repeater.  While they quickly understand how to use a repeater, they often don’t

Viewing one of the portable repeaters

know how a repeater functions.  Scott Dakers, W7SGD, a Centralia ARES team member and the Radio Room Manager at the Washington State EOC gave the class and targeted the repeater ‘s basic parts and how these parts come together to create a repeater.  He also explained how propagation works and gave some fun ideas on what other ways an HT can be used.  Scott brought two different portable VHF repeaters for “show and tell” which really helped as those present could physically put their finger on each part and ask questions.

This didn’t turn out to be a giant class but there were hams there from three different local groups which was nice to see.  One difficulty for us is targeting the local Fire Hams – those Riverside Fire personnel who are also amateur radio operators but who hold their regular drill night on the same nights we train.  Working to find the best training day for both groups could be difficult but is important.  The Repeater 101 class was but a small attempt to educate our local ham population on the basics that are sometimes passed by when working toward their licenses but we hope it helps as many as possible to have a better understanding of our fascinating hobby.

Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade

ARES Comm II On Station

Who wants to come out on a cold, dark December evening and stand around for two hours or more watching some vehicles – of which only a few are actually tractors – covered in Christmas lights drive down the street?  Well, apparently everyone in and around beautiful, historic downtown Centralia does!  The Centralia Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade has been around for a few years now and it just gets bigger and bigger every year.  The number of parade entries last year was around 56 but this year it topped 90.

And this isn’t one of those quiet parade.  Oh, no, its a Christmas party on wheels with singing, bands playing, Christmas music on every float and dancing in the streets.  Yup, when it comes to a lighted tractor parade, we know how to party!  This year Centralia ARES had 10 volunteers and two communications vans working the parade.  CPD had 9 officers,sergeants, and two command staff doing walking patrols, on bicycles or in patrol cars.  Riverside Fire Chief Mike Kytta redirected a couple of his aid crews around the parade route and had his small, quick response vehicle in the downtown area as well.

With 10 volunteers, the ARES team was spread out to cover about every other intersection.  The first intersection required two volunteers and two police officers working crowd control to keep the kids back and out from under the floats but even that wasn’t enough.  One ARES communications van held the net control and the other van, set up on the

One of 90+ parade entries

far side of the parade monitored a safety channel just in case one of the volunteers needed help.  We were also responsible for delivering and setting up the police department’s communication and command van.  This year, however, it was never used as the Sergeant Patty Finch, the officer in charge of the parade, spent much of her time monitoring the event from inside our ARES van as we had a nice heater going.  Unfortunately for her, when things started to get hectic, out she went into the cold.

Thankfully, just as planned, the parade ended without any major problems or incidents.  It was evident that everyone had a good time.  By 9pm, Centralia ARES had all the vans back in their facilities and all team members accounted for and

Pollice Chief Carl Nielsen

heading home.  Centralia holds two major parades each year, the other being the July 4th Summerfest parade but for us, the Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade is the most fun.  From the looks of it, all those folks standing out in the cold appreciated it as well.  Must be the Christmas season.

Response Flexibility

Today we spent some time at the Cooks Hill Fire Station conducting team orientation on our Amateur Radio Emergency Service communications vans.  These are complicated vehicles and we just want to be sure everyone is familiar with them – inside and out.  It starts with knowing where the vehicles are stored and how to get into the fire station.  Everyone must know how to open the garage bay doors, unplug from shore power and operate the vehicle.

Once inside the communications van, it becomes much more complicated as the vehicle is filled with multiple VHF, UHF, and HF radios.  If its not the same radio you have in your personal vehicle, there is always going to be a learning curve when it comes to operating different radios.  Add the high frequency radios and it gets much more complicated.  But that’s not all that is in the vans.  There is a CB radio, scanner, police and fire radios (mobile and HTs) and computers.  There are backup antenna systems, lighting for a rural helicopter landing zone, maps, tools and even survival equipment.

So why do we have all this stuff?  If our team members have a mobile radio in their vehicles and perhaps an HT as a

Skip, K1HEK, explaining the HF Icom 7300 radio to James, AE7TF

backup, isn’t that enough?  The answer is “I don’t know”, and that’s the problem.  An Amateur Radio Emergency Response is a funny thing.  Months or even years may go by without anyone needing our special talents.  Unfortunately, “our special talents” are most helpful after catastrophic events such as a devastating earthquake.  Can we be of use if we only have an HT or a mobile radio?  Can we be more helpful with a complete communications van?  Only if you know how to use all the equipment in the van.  It would be silly for a fire truck to leave the station without the fire hoses.  It would be even worse if the fireman had the truck, the hoses and water but didn’t know how to use them to put out the fire.

When thinking about flexibility within our own community, these vans with all their equipment become even more important.  Our city’s Emergency Operations Center is located on the second floor of a brick building built in the early 20th century.  While it has been structurally improved, no one knows if it will remain standing after a large earthquake.  Our area has experienced several 100 year flood events.  These floods can and do cut our community into sections when the rivers and creeks swell and overflow their banks.  The city has designated four “Emergency Response Divisions” – basically areas that become islands when large floods occur.  The plan is to place emergency response equipment, including mobile communication vans, in these areas before a flood occurs.  With the equipment in place, first responders can respond to help neighborhoods even if cut off from the rest of the community.  Who operates these communication vans?  Yup, amateur radio operators.

Lyle, KB7PI, Testing the HF radio on the Communications trailer

Our Amateur Radio Emergency Service team has spent years creating a small fleet of communications vehicles.  We’re proud of them and they certainly look professional but the real test comes when they are needed after an disaster or during a flood.  Can we use all that equipment to do the job we are asked to do?  That takes training and commitment and that’s the reason for today’s orientation.  You know what they say…. “Amateur Radio is a hobby… Amateur Radio Emergency Service is a commitment”.