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“Testing, Testing, 1-2-3!”

ARES D1 is Training, Testing and Learning

Lifelong learning and frequent practice help the mind stay sharp, and help ensure emergency communicators and severe weather spotters are ready to help save lives in emergencies, disasters and severe weather events.

NORTHWESTERN, Ind. (Dec. 12, 2020) - You have likely heard the phrases, “Testing, Testing, 1-2-3” and “Can you hear me now?” Both phrases are applicable to what has been going on within the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) District 1 (D1) recently.

In the last month, we have been offering opportunities for people to get some training (online, on-the-air, and over the phone), test their capabilities and learn.

Training, testing, and practicing will be an ongoing effort. It will help keep us sharp and ready to serve the agencies who call upon us to help them.

One of the attractions to become an Amateur (Ham) radio operator is the ability to stay current with technological advances and being able to use the knowledge, skill, radio and computer equipment to help save lives or lessen the suffering of people and communities hit by an emergency, disaster or severe weather event. But, liked anything that takes skill, "practice makes perfect." The people and agencies who rely on ARES D1's help deserve no less.

Software and Digital Mode Training

Tim (N9CA) - the Lake County Assistant Emergency Coordinator (AEC) for County and Club Liaison; Joe, (W1SPY), the District Emergency Coordinator (DEC) and others in ARES D1 offer help in getting setup on Winlink and other digital programs and modes used by ARES D1, and in operating, testing and practicing with them on High Frequency (HF), Very High Frequency (VHF) and/or Ultra High Frequency (UHF) frequencies.

Tim did a presentation this Fall on the installation and setup of the Winlink Express software that enables Email over radio. He made the presentation at the Lake County Amateur Radio Club meeting held at the County’s Emergency Management Agency in Crown Point, Ind. The presentation can be found on You Tube.

Software being used within ARES D1 include: FlDigi, Winlink, VARA, VARA FM, JS8 and MMSSTV, each of which offer useful digital modes to ensure ARES D1 mission success.

The Winlink message form is designed to look very similar to Outlook and other Email clients to enable served agency personnel to sit at the Ham's computer and prepare an Email message for transmission by clicking on "Post to Outbox."

Email to schedule training/testing/practicing individual or group sessions at mutually convenient times.

Testing and Learning

In addition to learning from free, online emergency management, severe weather and emergency communications courses, the testing sessions have also resulted in learning.

"Murphy” showed up and rendered the Lake County station’s computer useless after successfully testing two of the digital modes.”

For example, while testing various digital modes between HF stations in Lake and Porter counties, “Murphy” showed up and rendered the Lake County station’s computer useless after successfully testing two of the digital modes used by ARES D1. After trying a backup computer, the same issue existed – no audio from the soundcard. Troubleshooting did not lend itself to finding the problem.

Luckily, the Porter County station’s operator remembered what the Lake County station’s operator forgot – “Computer 101 for Dummies” – delete the CODEC, then reinstall it. Following the Porter County operator’s suggestion, the problem was solved, and a valuable lesson was learned. One that needs to be in the “How To” notes of every ARES D1 operator for future reference.

Other learning included the successful transmission and reception of various digital modes used by ARES D1, including Slow Scan Television (SSTV) and VARA (Military grade communications algorithm) for images.

Bill (N4GIX), the Lake County Assistant Emergency Coordinator (AEC) for GMRS Liaison and Network Operations, conducted separate tests on VHF and UHF simplex following different sessions of Lake County Amateur Radio Club nets. The tests provided good information about connectivity between the participating stations.

The first simplex test occurred on Veteran's Day, with 12 stations participating.

The tests also provided some learning. For example, at least one “well-seasoned” radio operator learned that today’s radios are much more complex and computer-like than those of yesteryear. Not all of them can quickly and easily be switched from one frequency to another, or one band to another, just by pressing a button or two and spinning a knob to get to the desired frequency, followed by pushing some buttons or spinning another knob to get to the desired sub-audible (CTCSS/PL/DSC) tone.

"Cheat sheets" jog the memory when skills are not practiced often! It's not "cheating" when lives are at stake during an emergency, disaster or severe weather event.

There is a reason why at least one company sells, and does pretty well selling, computer programming software and an radio interface cable – today’s radios are computers. And like computers, they can be challenging to manipulate on the fly, unless a person has the knowledge embedded in his/her brain for quick recall, or has easy access to a “cheat sheet,” for reference/reminder of how to do it.

Because the radio operator lacked the practice, therefore the knowledge was not easily recallable when needed, and did not have a “cheat sheet,” to refresh the memory, the operator was unable to get to the simplex frequency being used, no matter how much the knobs were turned or how many buttons were pushed in the VFO mode. Yet another entry for the “How To” notes.

Easy to program? Not so much without a computer nowadays.

How About Your Learning or Relearning? Why Not Share?

Most of us have learned or relearned skills or lessons while working with our radios or weather instruments, perhaps both. We encourage you to share what you have learned or relearned while testing, experimenting, practicing or in a real-life situation.

Many in our ARES D1 “family” could benefit from what you share. It may save them time, frustration and effort. It will make us all better prepared to provide the service called for in our mission statement.

If you prefer, we will not use your name or callsign. Just let us know. Please send your “lesson learned” or relearned with some detail to:

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