2017 Clewiston Sugar Festival

KI4QIQ, KI4LFF, and some Big Tires

The 31st Clewiston Sugar Festival is in the books, and by most any measure it was a mass-of-humanity good time. Live music, shiny custom cars, old-school steam farm equipment, and food, food, food.

The participating amateur radio operators of Big Lake ARC wore their Reservist colors as Hendry EM representatives working out of the Joint Command Post supporting Hendry County EMS, Clewiston Fire, Montura Fire, Pioneer Fire, Hendry Sheriff’s Office, and Clewiston Police.

Incident Command was Clewiston PD’s Lieutenant Aaron Angell, backed by Clewison PD’s Debi McNeil, Hendry EMS Captain Adrian Damms, Hendry EM Director Brian Newhouse KJ4WIC, EM Logistics Chief Cristina Mercado, and E-911 Technician Brandi Frame KN4AFW.

Clewiston began as a work-camp during the construction of the Moore Haven and Clewiston Railroad. The railway was acquired by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company (ACL) on July 1, 1925. – – Hendry County, Florida. 1920. Black & white photonegative, 4 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

After the group briefing from Lieutenant Angell, the hams were honored with a personal team briefing outlining their expected duties as support personnel.

KC1FLU set a high bar for net control at the go-box with measured tones, time and station checks, and regular information updates on both the amateurs 446.000 ground frequency, and the local Clewiston 2-meter repeater.

The go-box is a bright yellow Pelican case containing an Alinco DR-635 dual bander and matching 32-amp switched power supply. A Diamond X50A dual-band antenna gets the signal out.

KI4LFF, KM4EWE, and KI4QIQ also set a high performance mark as Rovers, supporting Public Safety teams in the field, and acting as dispatched eyes-on-site for specific areas of the festival.

On three occasions they helped sweep the grounds looking for parents separated from their children, and to help locate a mentally-disabled man for his family. The Rover teams were out the door immediately after a quick briefing, moments after the calls came in for the missing individuals.

They were equipped with County 800-MHz public safety radios for direct communication with the Command Post as well as their UHF amateur communications.

An exercise was planned to simulate a failure of the 800-MHz system. Hams would have been dispatched to the EMS strike teams to act as their communicators. A spike in activity among festival-goers requiring increased attention of Public Safety personnel about the same time led to the decision to postpone the exercise.

KC0SJU wore his Red Cross vest during the festival, manning a responder rehab tent with water and snacks.

Breakfast was served up from St. Martin’s Episcopal Church courtesy of Hendry County EC, WA4PAM.

WD4RCC acted as unit leader for the amateur’s participation in the Sugar Festival, to which all the senior members of Joint Command gave high marks for readiness, flexibility, and cooperation with County and City Public Safety staff.

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot – Clewiston. 192?. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The takeaways from the deployment were mostly technical. The command post was located in a room that was acoustically highly reflective. The noise level with multiple radios going off simultaneously was taxing the focus of everyone in the room.

Some modifications to the go-box were suggested including a front-firing speaker, or a way to prop the box lid to direct the sound towards the operator. Also, keeping some duct tape in the box to secure power and coaxial cabling to floors and walls in a busy environment.

Unlike February’s Labelle Swamp Cabbage Festival that had the hams exceeding the range limits of handy-talkies on UHF simplex along a two mile parade route, the Clewiston Sugar Festival was more compact, all within nine city blocks. (Think a tic-tac-toe grid.) For this deployment, the large Diamond antenna was overkill. A smaller dual band whip attached to a connector mounted through the go-box would have been sufficient.

by Davis, Wally. Aerial view of Clewiston, Florida. 1958. Black & white photoprint, 4 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

2017 Labelle Swamp Cabbage Festival

Swamp Cabbage Festval Logo
Trash Panda Approved!

The Labelle Swamp Cabbage Festival is a February tradition, pulling in more than 6,500 visitors to Hendry County. The 51st edition over the weekend of February 26th and 27th was one of the largest, with over one hundred vendors offering food, drinks, crafts, games, and live music.

Setting up the Big Green Canopy

This year, legacy country band Shenandoah was on the ticket, kicking off their 30th Anniversary Tour, along with two days of entertainment, food, river cruises, food, car shows, and the Swamp Cabbage Parade, Saturday and Sunday, February 25 & 26.

Sheriff’s Lieutenant Billy Griffin briefing EM Reservists

Fifteen members of Big Lake ARC and Hendry CERT worked the Parade Saturday morning, taking assignments at key intersections along the route, and then after the parade, throughout the festival grounds.

KN4AFW performed well as net control, maintaining communications on 446.000 simplex and the local Labelle repeater.

During the parade, one of the Reservists fell ill due to the heat, and the difficulty of moving emergency vehicles through a densely packed parade route was never more clear. A Hendry EMS team checked the Reservist out, and sent him home to rest. Thanks to Belle’s Ice Cream Bar for their hospitality during the action.

A missing child put everyone on alert for a few minutes. KN4AFU and KN4AFV were able to locate the parents within moments of the alert being posted by Sheriff’s dispatch.

Hendry County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Billy Griffin, in a note of appreciation to EM Director Brian Newhouse KJ4WIC, said, “Thank you so much for your assistance during the Swamp Cabbage Festival.  The group of volunteers you have are Top Notch and I enjoyed them immensely .  Please share with them my sincerest Thanks and appreciation for all they did that day to make the 2017 Swamp Cabbage Festival not only successful; but safe as well.  Great job from some even greater people.”

Everglades guide George L. Espenlaub prepares a pot of swamp cabbage (photo circa 1950s). Photo courtesy floridamemory.com.

The takeaway from this event was that 70cm proved to be at the edge of range using handhelds for all functions, including net control at the command post. Future operations will use a higher-powered mobile 70cm at the command post with an external antenna.

2017 Severe Weather Tornado Drill Report

The week of January 23-27, 2017 is the National Weather Services Severe Weather Awareness week in Florida.

On January 25th, at 10:10 AM local, the Miami NWS office issued a practice Tornado Warning alert tone on NOAA Weather Radio and began the drill. Participants were asked to find a safe place to shelter, and post a photo fo themselves to social media.

Hendry County Amateur Radio Emergency Service operators took the opportunity to practice emergency communications by scheduling a Severe Weather Watch exercise net at the same time.

Over the course of thirty minutes, controllers and participants passed exercise messages relating to what they were experiencing at their location.

Amateur radio operators worldwide can be found providing primary and backup communications for municipal agencies and NGO’s during times of crisis.

Big Lake Amateur Radio Club works with Hendry County Emergency Management to provide training and a pool of communicators that can be called up when needed. If you would like more information on amateur radio, emergency communications, or Big Lake ARC, please contact us at biglakearc@gmail.com.

Click on the link below for the exercise final report.

Tornado Drill Final Report 01-29-17


Culpeper VA Amateurs in Disaster Drill


Most of those passing Culpeper’s Lenn Park Saturday morning had the same question: “What’s with all the people and antennas down there?”

Those people and antennas might just save lives one day and the men and women manning them worked Saturday and Sunday to make sure the Culpeper community will be able to communicate with the outside world even in the wake of the worst natural or man-made disasters.

All across the United States, amateur (ham) radio operators, individually or in groups such as the Culpeper Amateur Radio Association, Saturday set up emergency antennas in unlikely places and began communicating with one another in simulated emergency conditions.

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Courtesy Fredricksburg.com, powered by the Free Lance Star

Amateur Radio during Hurricane Matthew

After the longest activation in its more than 50-year history, the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) secured operations for Hurricane Matthew on October 9 at 0400 UTC. HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, reported that the net was in continuous operation for 6 days, 7 hours, gathering real-time ground-truth weather data as the storm passed through the Caribbean and up along the US Eastern Seaboard, and passing the data along to WX4NHC at the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Various Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) nets also activated along the East Coast. The first major hurricane of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season and, at one point, a Category 5 storm, Matthew was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone as it headed out into the Atlantic.

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North Country Hams Fill The Gaps

The North Country’s Solar Powered APRS Digipeaters
– Courtesy ARRL ARES E-Letter, Rick Palm K1CE, Editor

While there are a few good mountaintop Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) digipeaters in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, there are gaps in local coverage — many roads and towns are in valleys, shadowed by high mountains on either side, blocking access to the digipeaters.

Thus, “fill-in” digipeaters are required, critical for support of large ­scale public events such as the Prouty Century Bike rides. For this event, the local Amateur Radio club deploys two dozen trackers, and employs several fill-­in digipeaters for local use and access to the mountaintop machines.

A recently introduced, compact, all-in-one APRS unit (receiver, transmitter, and TNC) is easily incorporated in the fill-in digipeaters, easily transported by off highway recreational vehicles or backpack, and capable of operating for extended periods off the grid.

A solar powered digipeater can be employed for short term use as with our bike rides, or as a permanent installation. Here are a few considerations we factored into our systems.

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Cascadia Rising/Coastal Response Exercise

In the June 6-10 Cascadia Rising 2016 FEMA exercise in the Pacific Northwest, amateur radio found a role.

ARRL Oregon Section Manager John Core, KX7YT, and Western Washington Section Manager and State RACES officer, Monte Simpson, AF7PQ promote amateur participation in the September 2016 QST.

The scenario was a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and consequent tsunami, causing a blackout of all conventional communication channels, partnered with British Columbia, holding a parallel exercise, Coastal Response.

Including Amateur Radio as “an actual functional part” of Cascadia Rising was a big plus, and that the participants felt they were “actually part of the team and not some ancillary group that was just being tolerated.”

Among his recommendations, Simpson said there should be more standardization on language and forms, as well as coming up with a method of establishing contact with communities that lack communication if repeaters go down.

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— Courtesy Rick Lindquist, WW1ME, ARRL Letter and QST Contributing Editor, and ARRL ARES E-Letter, Rick Palm K1CE, Editor

No Cell Service? No Problem for Georgia Hams

Georgia Mountains’ District ARES Trains On Public Event Comms Supportcourtesy ARRL ARES E-Letter, Rick Palm K1CE, Editor
The mountainous Northwest Georgia District ARES program supports four public events each year as a public service and training exercises for its operators.
This month, the organization is supporting the Georgia Jewel foot races of 35, 50 and 100 miles and the seven aid stations situated along the course. ARES operators establish communication centers at each station and track all runners for event safety and progress.
The 36 hour event in the mountains has only 5% cell coverage, hence the focus on Amateur Radio for essential communications.

Puerto Rico ARES in Caribe Wave 2016 Exercise

(From ARRL.org)

Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) volunteers in Puerto Rico for the second year took part in the annual Caribe Wave exercise (formerly known as the Large Atlantic Tsunami Exercise — LANTEX), a tsunami-preparation communication drill undertaken on different dates on the US East Coast, in Canada, on the Gulf of Mexico, and in the Caribbean Basin. The object of Caribe Wave is to test the reliability of communication systems and protocols among tsunami alert centers and to help emergency management agencies to improve their preparedness to execute a tsunami alert. In Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, Caribe Wave takes place in conjunction with the Puerto Rico Seismic Network (Red Sísmica de Puerto Rico), FEMA, NOAA, and the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA-AEMEAD).

The scenario for the March 17 drill was a tsunami generated by a magnitude 8.4 seismic event, 15 kilometers deep, off the coast of Venezuela. The Tsunami Zone website includes information on other programmed exercises in the US and its territories.

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ARES, SKYWARN Respond in Louisiana

(From ARRL.org)

Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and SKYWARN volunteers in Louisiana assisted the National Weather Service (NWS), as record-setting rainfall led to severe and widespread flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved a disaster declaration for the state. Region 7 District Emergency Coordinator John Mark Robertson, K5JMR, in the Shreveport-Bossier City area, said Amateur Radio involvement began on March 8, when the NWS-Shreveport Office requested a SKYWARN activation during a tornado watch. For the next 17 hours, Robertson reported, a group of volunteers handled weather-spotting duties over linked repeaters, filing some 70 reports. Their coverage included parts of Texas and Arkansas. The severe weather included hail as well as major flooding that closed Interstate 20 in three Louisiana parishes and inundated entire neighborhoods. On March 10, the ARES team in Tangipahoa Parish in southeastern Louisiana was active for nearly 2 days in response to heavy rain and flooding.

“Local hams operating from their fixed stations in homes, on portable HTs, and mobile provided updates on local conditions and were able to offer road reports to travelers on the state highways and Interstate 12, which crosses all of the major rivers in our area,” ARES Region 9 DEC Bob Priez WB5FBS, told ARRL. He said the Tangipahoa, Tickfaw, Tchefuncte, and Bogue Falaya rivers, as well as numerous streams and waterways, were well above flood stage by the afternoon of March 11.

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