OK. Now we'll have our brief training segment.
First, I'd like to invite anyone who would like to present a training segment during a future session of this net to contact me. We also welcome suggestions for future training segments that would be applicable to a broad cross section of the participants in this net. Please contact me after the net on this repeater, or by phone or e-mail.
Second, since we are discussing training, I'd like to encourage everyone to take one or more of the ARRL's Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Courses. For those who are unaware of these courses, let me explain.
The ARRL has developed a set of three courses directed to emergency communications in amateur radio, and these courses are collectively referred to as the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Courses, or ARECC. There are three levels of these courses--Level I, Level II, and Level III.
The Level I course is entitled "Introduction to Amateur Radio Emergency Communication," and is a basic Amateur Radio Emergency Communication course (ARECC) to raise awareness and provide practical knowledge for amateur emergency communication volunteers. The course includes basic message handling, equipment and use, the incident command structure, and operations and logistics, among other topics. This course is appropriate for any amateur interested in emergency and public service communications.
Levels II and III are more advanced, and the subject matter is targeted toward people interested in leadership positions in emergency and public service communications. However, the more advanced levels may be of interest to others who are not in or seeking leadership positions, and you don't need to be appointed to a leadership position in the ARRL or another organization to take any of the courses.
These courses are theoretically available as both traditional classroom courses, and via computer-based instruction. In addition, you can purchase the course materials in book form from the ARRL. However, I am not aware of any organization currently offering any of the ARECC courses in the traditional in-person format in the Northeastern Illinois area. If anyone else is, please let me know after the educational segment.
The computer-based instruction is conducted via the world-wide web. Each student is assigned a mentor, who has extensive knowledge and experience in emergency and public service communications. The courses are divided into a number of learning units--say 20. Each learning unit includes some material to read and understand, some student activities--the equivalent of homework exercises which get sent to the mentor for feedback, and some multiple choice questions to allow the student to evaluate his or her progress. As the student answers these questions, the system indicates whether the answers are correct, but these answers do not affect the student's successful completion of the course. The Level 1 course takes about 25 hours to complete over an 8-week period. At the end of all the learning units, there is a multiple choice test of 20-25 questions, and the student needs to answer some fraction of those correctly (I forget exactly how many) in order to successfully complete the course.
In order to register for one of these courses, you can go to the ARRL's web site--we'll have a link to their pages for information and registration for the ARECC courses on the Cook County ARES web page, which is ARES.N9NL.COM. You can also register for the courses by mail, and you can get the address and additional details from the ARRL's web site. Those who don't have internet access can contact me for further information. Traditionally, the web registration has opened at 12:01 AM Eastern Time on the first Monday of the month. If things are done as they have been in the past, this will be Monday, August 4th, which is one week from next Monday. In the past, registration has filled up in a few hours, so the earlier you can register on Monday, the better. The cost of these courses is $45. HOWEVER, the ARRL has received a federal homeland security grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service to pay for the cost of these courses, and if you complete the course successfully, the registration fee will be refunded--until the money runs out or the grant is terminated.
Please consider taking these courses. Among those people who have taken the courses and with whom I've discussed them, every single one has indicated that they learned something valuable from the course and that the course was well worth their time, and this includes some individuals with extensive experience in amateur radio emergency communications.
For our third topic, I'd like to bring up a few field interoperability issues for your consideration.
Modern radios, whether HF, VHF, UHF, etc., and whether base, mobile, or hand-held, tend to be microprocessor controlled, and have a large number of features, controls, and settings, the operation of which can be non-intuitive. I have several radios which are sufficiently complex that although I use these radios just about every day, I need to review the manual to control many of the more advanced features.
When we volunteer in emergency or public service communications, our radios may be pressed into service for use by other amateurs. Other hams are likely to be less familiar with our radios than we are, and may need to access advanced functions of the radio. With modern radios, it is not always clear even how to change the radio from Memory mode to VFO mode, for example, to operate on a frequency for which the radio was not originally set up.
Please consider keeping a copy of the manuals for each of the radios you may use for emergency and public service communications in your go kits or some other location that makes it highly probable that the manual will accompany the radio in the field. If you expect that your radio will be used by others, you may wish to provide a "cheat sheet" or quick reference guide to features that other operators are likely to need, particularly where the appropriate steps for controlling those features are not likely to be apparent to an average ham from a quick look at the radio's front panel. Even if you are present at the event, you may be busy with other tasks or sleeping, and may not wish to be interrupted every time someone needs to change something on the radio. This is also a good idea for any radios equipped in emergency operations centers, communications vans, or other areas where multiple operators may use a radio with which they are not completely familiar.
Many radio manufacturers provide copies of the manuals for current and recent radios accessible on their web sites. Often, these manuals are in the Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF), and you can print a copy of the entire manual on your printer. In order to display or print these files, you would a copy of any of the following software products:
Adobe Acrobat Reader (this software displays and prints PDF files, but does not enable you to create the files; it is available for download at no cost from the Adobe web site);
Adobe Acrobat (which you have to buy, but provides additional functions, including the ability to create PDF files from common applications); or
the Ghostscript package, which is available for download at no cost from several sources.
Some manufacturers remove the instruction manuals from their web sites once the corresponding product is no longer for sale, and their policies on providing these files may change at any time. Accordingly, you may wish to save a copy of the files for your radios while the files are still easily available.
For "cheat sheets", you can make up your own, or there are some commercially available for popular radios.
As an aside, I have one hand-held radio--it happens to be from one of the big three Japanese manufacturers--that assigns many functions to each of the few buttons. I really enjoy this radio, but it is so complex that a third party sells a separate instruction manual that is designed to be small enough to carry around with the radio--and this manual is more than 70 pages long and takes up about 40-50% as much volume as the radio itself.
Next, consider antenna and feedline connectors. In field operations, the radio may be provided by one person, the feedline may be provided by another, and the antenna may be provided by still another. These may have incompatible connectors. In addition, if you are at a site with a permanent radio installation, and the radio fails, you may need to connect a spare radio (perhaps your own) in its place. Again, the radio and the feedline may have incompatible connectors.
Thus, it is an excellent practice to carry a small kit of antenna adaptors in your go kit. Common antenna connector series used in amateur radio equipment include UHF connectors (including PL-259 male and SO-239 female individual connectors), BNC, N, and SMA. Adaptors to and from male and female instances of these various formats are often available at hamfests at reasonable prices.
Care should be taken when using rigid adaptors on radios with SMA connectors--the small size of these connectors, and the mechanical arrangements of the adaptors, can put enough force on these connectors to damage them, perhaps putting a radio out of service in an emergency, and requiring expensive or time consuming repair later. Some rigid SMA-to-BNC adaptors with additional structural support to minimize the stress placed on the radio's connector, or to couple any loads to the radio's case instead of the delicate connector, are available from commercial sources. In addition, flexible adaptors, with a small length of coaxial cable between the two connectors, are also available.
I'm sure some people are anxious to point out that adaptors and connectors introduce loss, which may be significant, particularly when several connectors and adaptors are used. This is true, and we acknowledge that using adaptors is generally not as good as using radios and feedlines that have compatible connectors. However, in emergency situations, there often isn't time to change the connector on the feedline, appropriate connectors for the available feedline may not be available, and the owner of the feedline may not wish to have it modified. Thus, although adaptors may not be the best technical solution, they may be the only way to get the job done.
Now, let us consider 12 volt power supply connections.
In an emergency or public service communications activity, one person may provide a radio, and another person may provide a power supply, and still another person may provide a battery or the like. Although this may sound pretty trivial, the connectors on the power supply cables for these items are often incompatible. There are a variety of connectors which have been used to supply 12 volts to radios. Recent Japanese radios that draw high current (e.g., 20 amps or more) tend to have a 12-conductor block-style connector. Radios that draw in the 7-12 amp range tend to have a so-called "T-connector." The ARRL has, in the past, recommended certain connectors commercially available from Molex under the designation series 1245. Some people use Cinch-Jones connectors for low-current applications.
A problem is the proliferation of these types of connectors is that they are incompatible, so that a radio from one person is as likely as not to be impossible to connect to another person's power supply or battery without an adaptor or without changing the connector. But even if everyone were using the same one of these connectors, most of these connectors are not suitable for modern 100 W HF radios and the new 80W VHF/UHF radios now available.
And there is a futher problems with all of these connectors: the connectors are genderized. Some people may use a male connector for energy consumers (e.g. the radio) and a female connector for the energy suppliers (e.g. the power supply), while others may use the opposite arrangement. Further, how do you know what gender to use for a battery, which sometimes provides energy (e.g., when powering a radio), and sometimes consumes energy (e.g., when being recharged).
Accordingly, a large number of amateur radio organizations involved in emergency and public service communications across the country, including many ARES and RACES groups, and a number of state and local EMAs and ESDAs which use amateur radio volunteers, have adopted a series of connectors, commonly referred to as Anderson PowerPoles, which resolve a number of problems with some of these other connectors. Cook County ARES has adopted these Anderson PowerPole connectors, and encourages all amateur radio EmComm groups and all individual amateurs to use these connectors in their 12-volt power cables.
The connectors to which I refer, and which are commonly specified by amateur radio EmComm organizations, are supplied by Anderson Power Products under the designation PowerPole, and include a polycarbonate housing with a 30-amp silver plated contact. Other contacts are available for use with these housings and are said to be compatible and interoperable with the 30-amp silver plated contacts, although I have not personally tried them. The contacts accept up to number 12 wire (although number 10 stranded wire can be used by clipping a couple of strands). The contacts can be crimped, soldered, or both. These connectors are not designed to interrupt current.
Two principal advantages of these connectors are: they handle high current (e.g., 30 amps); and they are hermaphroditic, or genderless. That is, the appearance of the connectors on the power-supply end of a cable is identical to the appearance of the connectors on the radio end of the cable. A power supply can be connected to a battery to charge it, and then the battery can be connected to a radio to run the radio, all without an adaptor, which would generally be required to do the same thing with traditional gendered connectors.
A number of vendors to the amateur radio marketplace are supporting these connectors. For example, and the mention of specific vendors here is for information only and does not constitute an endoresement by Cook County ARES or any member thereof, West Mountain Radio supplies a line of power distribution panels under the designation Rig Runner which are equipped with these connectors. Another vendor, PowerWerx, sells a number of pre-made power cables, cigarette lighter adaptor cables, and other adaptors, that employ these connectors. The connectors themselves are available from both of these companies, and from a variety of other commercial sources. The going rate is about $9-10 per "pair" of connectors, plus shipping. A "pair" is one red housing, one black housing, and two contacts. You need two "pairs" to connect a radio to a power supply. Several amateur radio EmComm organizations also sell these connectors. At least one local radio club has arranged group purchases of these connectors at somewhat lower prices; those interested in participating in such group purchases or arranging their own may contact me by telephone or e-mail for more information.