ID #1004

RMS Gateway best deployment practices

I don't know about best practices, but we have four FPAC nodes in the Tampa
area. One is at the Hillsborough County EOC and another is a short distance
from the Pinellas County EOC at the top of a senior citizens' 12-story
apartment tower. The Hillsborough County EOC station and the Pinellas
County station also have a UHF link.

Another RMS gateway is in the Hillsborough County Center in downtown Tampa.
This station has a UHF link to my home approximately 10 miles east of Tampa,
and I also maintain a VHF RMS gateway.

I know of two other RMS gateway stations in our general area that can be put
on the air in times of emergency. You can see our "green balloons" in RMS
Packet Positions page on the Winlink site:

The four FPAC nodes also have an FBB BBS running on the Linux machines that
are compatible with the Outpost program developed by the folks in the Santa
Clara, CA EMCOMM operations. If these gateways lose their internet
connection the BBS can be used as a store-and-forward.

I think all of our RMS gateway stations are at risk should a Hurricane stike
the Tampa area, but could be of use in a more local disaster such as a
tornado, a localized flood, or some other man-made disaster. If we lose our
power, internet, and antennas in Hillsborough County we'll have to rely on
HF Winlink for e-mail.

In the West Central Florida Section we are following the lead of Budd
Thompson in the North Florida Section in establishing a Winlink
Certification program. There are two certificates available. One is for an
"E-Mail operator" who has demonstrated a basic understanding of the Winlink
system and can send and receive e-mail, perhaps by using a telnet connection
to a CMS server.

The next is a "Deployable Station" which is awarded to an individual who has
demonstrated the knowledge and ability to set up a Winlink packet station in
a "field location" (the back yard would qualify).

A number of classes have been held about the Winlink system and how to
install and use the client programs. Budd Thompson has been doing this for
years. At this point I would say that there are not very many stations in
the Tampa area that are prepared to use the VHF packet gateways. However, I
think a few more people are experienced with RMS Express using Winmor on HF
frequencies. There are also a few mariners who are experienced using Pactor
and can afford the more expensive TNCs.

The Hillsborough County ARES/RACES Communication plan is being rewritten,
but does not incorporate a specific role for the RMS gateways. However, we
had a simulated mass casualty drill in March, and a number of "drill"
e-mails were forwarded to the EOC during the exercise.

There was an Simulated Emergency Test (SET) this month based on a
hypothetical hurricane striking the east coast of Florida and Georgia. This
involved four ARRL sections, and Budd Thompson organized some Winlink e-mail
activity. I heard through the grapevine that he counted approximately 60
messages sent.

I am going to copy Neil Lauritsen, W4NHL, on this e-mail and he is the WCF
EC. He is also very active in the Pinellas County Florida EOC and I believe
their ARES group is planning to put packet capability in the VHF "go-kits"
they will deploy to shelters. Maybe Neil has some additional thoughts on
"best practices."

I personally prefer a TNC rather than a sound card solution for VHF packet.
My opinion is that it will be more reliable during an emergency to keep the
radio system, hardware, and software as simple as possible. A sound card
system with variable audio amplitudes plus the requirement of the AGWPE
Software and virtual TNC requires more skill to set-up and operate. Plus my
testing has shown that there is a problem sending longer BBS messages with
AGWPE and Outpost.

Also I prefer VHF/UHF transceivers that have a digital port rather than
requiring the use of external speaker and microphone jacks. Examples are
the Alinco DR-135T and the Yaesu FT-8800R. The Kenwood TM-271A (USA
version) does not have a digital port, but the PCB has well marked pads that
can be connected to a short cable/connector exiting the case. A dedicated
digital connector eliminates possible confusion when setting up an emergency
packet station.

In spite of my preferences, a number of retired amateurs have limited
budgets and find sound card/speaker/microphone cables attractive solutions.

I have successfully used the TNC-X with Paclink (in the KISS mode) but found
the TNC-X/AGWPE combo inadequate with Outpost...and Outpost does not
directly support TNCs in the KISS mode.

I hope this is helpful,

Bernie Huth
Riverview, FL

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Last update: 2011-05-06 06:57
Author: Bernie Huth
Revision: 1.0

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