REPORT 11 September 2016

September is national preparedness month. Being prepared for an emergency means that you should be able to be self-reliant for at least three days without utilities, water service, sewer services, access to supermarkets or local services, and maybe even without response from police, fire or rescue.

Preparing can start with four important steps:

  • Be informed about emergencies that could happen in your community and neighborhood.
  • Identify where you can get sources of information in your community that will be helpful before, during, and after an emergency.
  • Make a plan for what you will do in an emergency.
  • Build an emergency supply kit for your home, car, and work.

Ensure that each member of your family knows where to go to get important life safety and official and up-to-date disaster information.  Take advantage of social media, and “like” or follow official news media outlets, local and provincial emergency management agencies, and the Weather Service.  Subscribe to weather alerts on your smart phone if possible and maintain up to date contact phone numbers for your family and others you may need to connect with.

Make an emergency communications plan that includes information about where your family will meet if a disaster strikes and how you will communicate with one another.  Establish a contact person that family members can call to notify they are safe.  Keep in mind up-to-date prescription and medical information about each member of your family and other special medical or functional access needs, as well as planning for the needs of your pets, as you plan.

Build an emergency supply kit at home that includes the essential food items and supplies you will need to survive a disaster situation.  Include basic first aid items, flashlights with extra batteries, a portable radio, personal hygiene items and an extra set of clothes, a warm blanket and basic tools, pet supplies, and cash in case credit and debit cards cannot be used. Additionally, a 3-day supply of non-perishable food items for each member of your family should be part of your kit, as well as five litres of water per person per day. And, of course, make sure your mobile amateur radio kit is working, there is no corrosion on the antenna connectors, and you have spare fuses for the inline fuses in your power cables from the car battery. Thank you to for the core of this insert.

On the matter of transmitting emergency messages, Gordon KX4Z, has done an interesting study comparing messages being sent by voice, by PSK31, by MT63-2K, and by Winlink. Various limiting factors in each protocol do provide problems, with the estimated efficiency of the first 3 systems being assessed at about 50%. Winlink becomes more efficient as messages to send get bigger, because the message headers and error-correction handshakes get less. Gordon estimates the number of 50-word messages able to be sent per minute by voice as 0.3, for PSK31 0.48, for MT63-2K 2, and for Winlink 3.02. He says Winlink messages are 10 times faster for multiple short messages, and up to 69 times faster for large files. His concluding paragraph reads:

“One digital station using a faster digital protocol (MT63 – 2K) is likely to be able to perform the same throughput of short, 50-word emergency messages as 6 voice stations. One WINLINK station using the same Signalink equipment may be able to perform the throughput of 10 voice stations, with error-corrected text transmission. For larger data files, the throughput of the WINLINK station dramatically improves to over 1,000 words per minute, apparently due to decrease in the required message overhead baggage—making it the equivalent of over SIXTY voice stations working together.

“Because of this tremendous throughput advantage in emergency communications, it would be useful both to develop, train, and include both digital and WINLINK-based HF stations in emergency communications planning”. All in all, a good reason to train our HAMNET members in Winlink-based communications. You can read his article at    Thanks, Gordon!

In a propagation report issued by the ARRL news this week, Propagation guru Carl Luetzelschwab, K9LA, says that, while conditions on 12 and 10 meters will pick up as they always do in our Spring, F2 propagation on those bands will decline thereafter, with only sporadic E during the summer months as a possible saving grace. On the other hand, the lower bands — 160, 80, and 40 meters — should be good going forward, and 20 and 17 meters will be the mainstays of daylight HF propagation. He said data suggest that Cycle 24, the current solar cycle, will bottom out in 2020, and advised that radio amateurs may need to lower their expectations on the higher bands (and 6 meters) looking beyond that.

“I think the only conclusion we can make with some confidence is that we are headed for some small cycles,” he said. He cited various evidence related to the Sun’s polar fields — which appear to be decreasing in strength, A index trends, and cosmic ray data, to support his assertion. Luetzelschwab cautioned, however, that past performance does not necessarily predict future performance.

“There seems to be a good correlation between how long a solar minimum is and the next solar cycle,” said Luetzelschwab. “The longer you spend at solar minimum, the smaller the next cycle.” He observed that hams active since the 1950s and 1960s have experienced short inter-cycle solar minimums of approximately 2 years, until the one between Cycle 23 and Cycle 24, which lasted about 4 years.

Let’s hope his pessimism is unfounded.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.