Re: Narrow Band Emergency Messages

Oliver K6OLI

Hi Sarah,

Actually, things have changed dramatically in the last few months with respect to AREDN MESH accessibility in Los Angeles County.  There are now nodes covering most of the county south of the San Gabriel Mountains. Moreover, we are connected to the Orange County MESH (and have been for a while) and Ventura has been connected to Los Angeles lately, too.  The gap in the SoCal Backbone was in the Pasadena area and that has been closed.

Michael's concerns about infrastructure are well taken, however, I think we need to make a distinction here. Just like with VHF/UHF repeaters, it is nice to have infrastructure to get people talking, interested and practicing.  But we do not rely on infrastructure to make MESH work, quite the opposite. The true power of amateur radio is the ability to create ad hoc networks in a disaster and we can do that on HF, VHF/UHF and with MESH, all on simplex. Quite a few of our nodes easily cover 40+ miles in spite of drawing only 200mA and deliver speeds of 30Mbps. A whole network of them placed on rooftops can leverage and sustain amateur radio traffic for quite a long time. We practice ad hoc field deployment now regularly at races and events.

We amateur radio enthusiasts offer our served agencies a cross-platform, multimode approach that can run independently of infrastructure at a moment's notice. Moreover, we are already a distributed neural network that can adjust to pretty much any situation. MESH simply extends our already impressive capabilities in VHF/UHF and HF. 

As Training Coordinator of the ARES LAX Northeast District I am occasionally asked whether hams should learn NBEMS or Winlink and I always tell people "yes".  Our task is to get the message through and we will employ whichever tool works. 
NBEMS: great for broadcasting, distributing forms, coordinating across multiple platforms (Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android), very transparent, BUT not MESH compatible
Winlink: great for P2P connections, excellent for distribution when gateways are available, MESH compatible and very easy for agency staff to understand and use ("email"), BUT more challenging to use and train people in.

MESH is great and great fun, but it is not the end-all be-all of amateur radio. If it works and is available, it should be the operator's go-to choice, if not then the choice is VHF/UHF NBEMS or Winlink, and then HF NBEMS of Winlink, whatever the situation dictates. If there is no line-of-sight then VHF/UHF and HF (NVIS) might be the better choice.
But MESH is now a core part of our deployment concept. You will find that our operators' go-kits usually consist of a VHF/UHF (+HF, if licensed) mobile rig, a Signalink, one or two MESH nodes, batteries and chargers and a portable computer.  At our recent NBEMS/Packet Winlink workshop you saw operators had set up their go kits and were exchanging messages on VHF as well as on MESH, it has simply become second nature to operate across bands and modes in our group.

MESH is also a great way of getting younger people involved in the hobby who naturally understand wireless networking.  From there they learn about Winlink and then NBEMS and then upgrade to do digital on HF.  At the South Pasadena Open House on Saturday we got a more questions about our MESH gear than about any other gear we exhibited. 

At the heart of it all is the training. Without learning, training regularly and providing feedback which goes back into the training, EMCOMM is just well-meaning intention, but not actionable skills. Our workshops cover the learning part and our nets and deployment exercises cover the training part.  We talk about challenges and exchange ideas for improvements and that goes back into our workshops. 
There is no perfect in EMCOMM, just works and doesn't work. So we encourage our operators to try, experiment and explore. Break it, learn from it, fix it, try to break it again.
It is also important to encourage people to ask questions, no matter how simple they may seem.  We are a learning organization and we want everyone to feel comfortable asking and commenting. Chances are if you have a question other people in the room have the same question.

I enjoy NBEMS, we use it and train with it regularly because it is reliable, flexible and easy to use. At the Statewide Medical Health Exercise last year one of our operators took his Android phone with AndFlmsg and a Baofeng UV5R handheld, went to an upper floor of the hospital he was assigned to and sent us an ICS-213 simplex. The point was to prove that we could do it if that were all we had and it worked. 

David W1HKJ has created an incredibly powerful tool for EMCOMM with NBEMS and we are forever in his debt.

Oliver K6OLI

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