Tuesday, March 4, 2014

More on Go-Bags and EmComm

I do a lot of reading, mainlly about emergency communications, disaster preparedness, etc. Having been a deployable member of the Gwinnett County ARES group for about 5 years, I have noticed a few things that give me pause to reflect on my own EmComm preparedness.

Something interesting surfaced while doing an inventory of the majority of the ARES group's volunteers. I find that most of the members do not have a "real" Go-Bag. Looking through the various member's bags I find lots of radio related stuff, connectors, power cords, antennas, coaxial cables, headsets, speaker-mics, etc. Very few, if any, have food items, water, shelter options,etc. Having the necessary radio gear and associated cabling, mics, etc, is fine BUT you NEED to have the other major areas of a 72 hour "survival Go-Bag" covered in order to be really autonomous. This means you need to take a critical look at your radio gear, pare it down to bare essentials, and add items designed to make you independent for a minimum of 72 hours.

As discussed in an earlier post your emphasis must include (in order of importance), water, security, shelter and food items if you are to be truly able to survive in a disaster scenario for the minimum 72 hours. This doesn't mean that you need to scrap your entire Go-Bag and get a huge backpack. It does mean that you have to take a serious look at your present bag with an eye toward autonomy and not just comm gear.

For several years my go-to radio set was the Yaesu FT-817. True it had only a 5 watt output on HF through 70cms, but with the addition of a very small Mirage dual band V/UHF amplifier I now had a station capable of 30+ watts! The antenna that I settled on was a Diamond dual band base station antenna and 35 ft of RG-58 coaxial cable. The DC power source was a trade off. Originally I had a 7.5 A/hr gel-cell but I later changed that to a 20 A/hr battery. It was a lot bigger and much heavier, but it gave me more power budget to play with while deployed. Of course, you could opt for one of the new Lithium-ion batteries with their special charger. This would drastically reduce the size and weight of your power supply. However, many of these exotic batteries are extremely expensive. The choice is yours. I also had an Arrow V/UHF beam that could be placed on a fiber glass collapsible mast set that was carried in it's own bag. That way I could have either an omni directional vertical antenna or a directional beam, depending upon the need. I had also experimented with RG-174 mini-coax....this stuff is great for video lines and short runs on HF, but for serious V/UHF work it has too much loss at the higher frequencies.

As of a couple of years ago, I have dispensed with the FT-817 (no real need for HF EmComm in this area at this time) and went to a Yaesu FT-90 dual band HT with 5 W output. It is much smaller than the 817, and provides me with the necessary RF coverage I need. Power budget is now governed by the size and type of batteries I use with the FT-90. I  no longer need to drag a heavy gel-cell which is a real blessing.

Some ARES folks take a notebook computer or I-pad type tablet. I have a General Dynamics Go-Book (their answer to the ruggedized  Panasonic Tough Book computers) laptop for those times I need to go digital (FL-Digi, etc). I rely on a 300 watt inverter to furnish 120V AC from a 12 V DC source to power the laptop. I find the GD Go-Book, although heavy, to be a great laptop and I am not afraid of taking it into the bush.

As you can see my Go-Bag is not just one bag. It is a collection of several bags, each one dedicated to a specific task for EmComm. My radio gear fits into the top section of a small backpack. The GD Go-Book fits into it's own carrying bag with strap, and my food, water, shelter, security items fit into another portion of the backpack. Finally, the 40 ft collapsible mast with guy ropes, fits into it's own carry bag.

Obviously it is advantageous to make up an inventory of your entire Go-Bag to insure that what ever goes on deployment comes back from deployment. My inventory list is on my computer hard drive (HDD) and I can add/subtract/change it quickly and print out an updated listing of my gear. All my gear is labeled with my call sign for ID purposes. I also have TOPO USA installed on my Go-Book along with a small GPS receiver that I can plug in to get a real idea of the terrain and routes into and out of the affected area. This takes the place of a stack of maps, giving me more room of other items.

Well, that is about it for now. We have pretty well beaten this Go-Bag thing to death. If you have any ideas, send them along in comments and I will include them in an update sometime in the future. While you may agree or disagree with my individual plans and assessments that is fine. Each deployment will be different and circumstances will change, sometimes quite quickly in a disaster scenario. While it is impossible to cover everything, "all bases" if you will, the more flexible you are with your Go-Bag and your preps, the better off you will be to meet your EmComm obligations.

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

Birmingham (AL) Hamfest 2014

This was the second year in a row that I attended the Birmingham (B'Ham) Ham Fest on March 1 & 2, 2014. Last year Pat and I, along with Ken Evans, W4DU, motored the three hours to B'Ham where we set up a QRP ARCI table where we waved the QRP flag and sold a bunch of my "stuff".

This year, Dave Kuechenmeister, N4KD, made the trek with me. We took my "new" (old) truck, a recently procured 2001 Chevy Silverado 1/4 ton pickup with a full cap and a full length pull-out bed tray. This time I managed to install an Icom 2100 H 2m FM rig so we had mobile VHF comms. 

Dave and I arrived in time for the B'Ham DX Club's dinner. The food was great but the companionship was even better. My good friend, Don Keith, N4KD, was there with his wife, Charlene. Dave Cisco, W4AXL, was sitting next to me during dinner. Dave is one heck of a DXer and lover of all radios that glow in the dark!

The hamfest was good. It is a two day affair, and is housed in the Zamora Shrine Temple just outside B'Ham. The flea market was always interesting. However, I was under orders from Peppermint Patti to off-load a bunch of my "stuff", which I did. Sort of....more on that later.

We got the last table available and were positioned directly across from the Alabama Historical Radio Society (AHRS) display. I met these folks last year and joined their club on the spot. Their reflector is full of good info and the membership is absolutely fabulous when it comes to helping out a fellow collector/restorer. I had brought along two boxes of Sam's Photofacts on CB radios....almost a complete set from #1 to #111. I had arranged to give these to the AHRS prior to the hamfest to add to their unbelievable library of technical books and information. In addition, I had packed up my father's old Arvin Silver Prince AM/SW console radio (sans console) for them to work on, and ultimately I will donate this radio to the AHRS collection. Dave (W4AXL) is fairly sure they can find a console that will fit the chassis.

At 12 noon on Saturday Dave and I attended an AHRS power point presentation given by Dave, W4AXL. This was an overview of the 100th anniversary of the ARRL combined with the history of the Birmingham ARC and AHRS., complete with a vintage radio program at the end. There were about 40-45 people in attendance and Dave's briefing was terrific.

After the AHRS presentation Dave took Dave K and myself to their "club house" in down town B'Ham. To say this place was astounding is an understatement. Literally hundreds of radios of all makes and models. Vintage televisions by National and Hallicrafters. There is also a complete AM radio station control console complete with cart tapes, 16 inch reel-to-reel tape decks, a Gates audio board, dual turn tables, etc. Right out of 1964!!!! That brought me back to KCLX (Colfax, WA) where I started as a Dee-Jay in August of 1964!!!

As I stated before the AHRS technical library is nothing short of fantastic. All copies of QST from 1915 to present in hard copy, only 4 or 5 magazines short of a full set of CQ Magazine from inception to present, along with all sorts of books, service manuals, service bulletins, etc. Amazing, truly amazing. 

The AHRS repair facility was also a treat to view. They do restorations for almost any antique radio or piece of amateur radio gear. They even wind their own voice coils and transformers! What a great place!

Back at the hamfest I proceeded to slowly off-load my stuff. I had purchased a Heathkit MT-1/RT-1 transmitter/receiver along with the power supply, speaker and cables from a local ham. This set was an AM/CW station from the 1960s. I had wanted to put an AM station on 80/40 meters just for grins. I tried this set out prior to plunking down my money. The radios sat for about a year while Pat and I discussed whether or not I would move my ham shack from the back of the house (with no air conditioning and/or heating) into the spare bedroom. When I went to fire this rig up about a year later, I noticed that the transmitter bandswitch was binding. It turned out that it was something I could not fix without major surgery so I packed it up with the rest of my stuff to take to B'Ham.

There I met a fellow ham who had a number of boatanchor receivers for sale. He seemed interested in my Heath twins, so we made a deal...sort of...We traded gear. His SX-122 Hallicrafters general coverage receiver for my Heath twins. For me it was an outstanding trade since I had been looking for a SX-122 for quite a few years. The styling on the 122 is the same as the SX-117/HT-44 receiver/transmitter by Hallicrafters, which is the station I used in college. The SX-122s would turn up on e-bay once in a while, but the auction prices were in the high $200s, sometimes climbing to over $300, which was way out of my price range.

While at the AHRS club house I was presented with an Eico RF generator and B&K 3 inch oscilloscope, both of which I sorely needed. These two items were surplus to requirements at the club, so with a donation to the club I ended up with two very handy pieces of test gear for my workbench. My sincere thanks to the AHRS folks for those two items.

Dave and I drove back on Sunday, after packing what was left of my stuff into the Chevy. One-way mileage was just under 200 miles and I used slightly under 10 gallons of gas in the truck so the mileage is great compared to our Jeep Commander with the 5.7L Hemi!!!!

After dropping Dave off at his place, I continued on home where I hooked the SX-122 to an antenna and fired it up. Everything worked as it should and the calibration was spot-on all the way across each of the four AM/SW bands. I verified this by using a calibrated signal generator coupled to a digital freq counter which was plugged into the receiver's antenna socket. This SX-122 was in excellent cosmetic shape with only a small blemish on the front panel. The chassis was clean above and below. In short, I got a great deal on the #1 item on my "Equipment to be Acquired List". It's great to enter the shack, catch the smell of warm vacuum tube electronics and listen to the SW bands while I work at getting the place straightened up and on the air. My new SX-122 sits atop the ops bench above my cherry Drake TR-4 station!

Next year I plan on another trip to B'Ham to attend their fest. It is a great venue and the people involved were extremely friendly and full of southern hospitality. My only regret about this year's event was that we were unable to spend more time with Don, N4KC and his wife. However, Don and I have made plans to hook up at the Huntsville hamfest in August.

So if you want to have a great time at a ham radio flea market/hamfest give the Birmingham hamfest a try. Hope to see you next year.

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ