AFTER ACTION REPORT

“Operation Sky Bridge”

5 DEC 2020

General:

Evaluate the ability of ARES field radio operators to provide essential elements of information (EEI) gathered from 44 participating hospitals and report that information to District 13 Emergency Coordinator during emergency operations.

Evaluate the ability of the ARES District 13 Emergency Coordinator to provide essential elements of information (EEI) gathered from ARES field radio operators and relay that information to State officials in the State Operations Center (SOC) during emergency operations.

Potential Problems:

  • HF atmospheric band conditions not favorable for clear communication
  • EchoLink connection difficulty
  • DMR packet loss resulting on loss of connection
  • Radio operators not arriving at assigned staging area
  • Hospital liaisons not locating radio operators
  • Inclement weather

Modes:

DMR – South Texas Talkgroup 31482

HF – (Primary) - 40 Meters: 7.210 MHz; (Secondary) – 60 Meters: 5.330.500 MHz

EchoLink – K5RAV-R

Local VHF repeater nets in District 3, 4, 13 & 15


Organizers:

KG5AZE – Nathan Rubio (CBRAC)

AF5OS – Victor Gunnoe (Command Center Net Control)

KF5KYL – Rene Lopez – DEC District 3

AD5CA – Mark Mireles – DEC District 4

K5RAV – Dr. David Woolweaver – District 15  


 Participating Radio Stations: 

N5SSH – Frank Aguilar (Webb)

KD5REJ – Van Eash (Webb)

N5DEM – Eddie Martinez (Webb)

KF5RM – Mario De La Rosa (Webb)

W5JDR – David Rubio (Webb)

KI5JBQ – Chris Rivas (Bee)

KE5AWU – Brian (Cameron)

W3OQ – Ross (Cameron)

KF0MP – Andy (Cameron)

WA7MOX – Peter (Cameron)

KI5GNH – Byron (Cameron)

KS5KS – Kimbal (Cameron)

W5OE – Ed Warwas (Hidalgo)

KZ5DNA – David (Hidalgo)

KI5ZID – Hardy (Hidalgo)

KI5DXE – Willard (Hidalgo)

K5UEZ – Eddie (Hidalgo)

KI5HOW – Shain (Hidalgo)

WA5ZIP – Patty (Hidalgo)

KF5UPC – Pete Saenz (Hidalgo)

KG5AYD – Harley Schwartz (Kleberg)

W5HOP – Charles Petty (Nueces)

N5WLC – William Creacy (Nueces)

N5VL – Jim Wilkins (Nueces)

KF5EOU – Kathy DeMeulle (Nueces)

KF5MEC – Doug Carter (Nueces)

K5LYT – Robert Cisco (Nueces)

N1NYZ – Augi Garcia (Nueces)

W5MON – Monte McCollum (Refugio)


 Command Post Equipment Used: 

ICOM-7300

Ailunce HD1

Anytone AT-D878UV

Baofeng UV-5R

EMCOMM II Antenna (end-fed)

Cell phones for EchoLink

Double Bazooka 40M (dipole)

Dual Band Mobile Magnet Mount

LDG AT-ProII Autotuner

12v 70 AH AGM battery

TGE Power boost regulator (13.8v)

Table and chairs


 Positive Observations:

  • There were no problems setting up the Command Post at Doctors Hospital. There were enough radio operators to help put up the antenna mast for the 2 HF antennas and make connections to the radios.
  • Testing of the four radio modes began at 1300 and received good signal reports from ARES Regions 3, 4 and 15, including DMR. Temperature was a pleasant 62 degrees. Even though there was a 15 minute rain shower at around 1415 hours, the 10’x10’ canopy proved to be a lifesaver, protecting both the radio operators and radio equipment.
  • Band conditions for HF (7.210MHz) were perfect with strong, clear signals coming in from Corpus Christi, Harlingen, Mission and Austin.
  • All operators arrived wearing PPE.
  • Organizers reported that their radio operators enjoyed the exercise and look forward to doing this again next year.
  • All participating districts reported an eagerness for this exercise, especially since the COVID crisis has put a damper on training.

Negative Observations:

  • The DMR digital mode proved to be problematic. It worked during the 1300 radio check, then suddenly, the connection was lost. Several reasons come to mind. On Friday, December 4, 2020, Brandmeister began implementing its cyber security protocols and all their accounts needed to login and create a password. The Command Post/Net Control account was not registered so connection to the 31482 South Texas talkgroup was prohibited, at least that is the hypothesis. This issue has been resolved.
  • Some field radio operators reported to their local net control that they could not locate the hospital liaisons with their report.
  • All paperwork, forms, maps and exercise directions needed to be organized with enough lead time prior to the event so we do not send things in disconnected pieces, then later have to send revisions to the previous emails. This seemed to have created some confusion in the information received and a little frustration as a result.

.Recommendations:

  • A more thorough understanding of the process on the part of the hospital personnel
  • Here are my (Frank Aguilar-N5SSH) observations on using Winlink during the exercise:
    • Any attachment must be made as small as possible.  I believe there is a limit of 120K with regards to attachments.  It just so happened that the document you asked to be sent to the SOC was saved in Microsoft DOCX format which by its very nature is compressed.  The file was 28K in size but when I removed the embedded fonts, it was further reduced to 15K.  This makes for an acceptable size to send.
    • We could use Winlink's built-in forms which are even more efficient because they are sent as text and is interpreted at the receiver's end in a graphical form format.  I noticed there is even a form for DECs and/or ECs to send their reports to their respective DEC or SEC.
    • I did not have VHF Winlink set-up as a stand-alone client so I opted for HF instead.  I used Van's RMS Gateway because it registered as the best propagation wise.  I'm sure I could have used the RMS Gateways in Central Texas as well as the Valley, however I wanted to make sure the local Gateway was included and it proved to be a great choice.
    • Winlink reports were sent to me via voice, Winlink relay and Winlink direct.  Local reports were VHF voice, Valley report was Winlink relay via KD5REJ and Corpus Christi reports were Winlink direct from W0PSI.  I compiled my report from these sources and sent the final report to all ARES DECs involved in the exercise along with the coalition representative, KG5AZE Nathan Rubio, the State Operations Center (K5SOC) and Kevin Lemon (Texas RACES).
    • I think we could do great if more exercise participants were able to send their reports in via Winlink.  As mentioned before, we could use the built-in supplied forms for this purpose.  I think that Van KD5REJ has built a solid infrastructure for Winlink locally and it would behoove our membership to utilize such a valuable resource.  I would be willing to help coach users in the use of Winlink.  I'm sure that Van would be as well. - N5SSH

Other Observations:           

  • Amateur radio operators were not easy to secure for this event, further reinforcing the fact that hospitals need to grow their own.
  • When the day comes that a real emergency does occur, emergency operations centers will likely be calling upon any available amateur radio operators to handle their communications in and around disaster areas. Most hams already belong to either RACES or ARES, two radio organizations that partake in emergency communication.
    • The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) is a public service provided by a reserve (volunteer) communications unit within government agencies in times of extraordinary need. 
    • Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES) The Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES) consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment, with their local ARES leadership, for communications duty in the public service when disaster strikes.
  • At the same time, if locations where these operators and their families live in is compromised, they will be taking care of their first priority – their family and loved ones.
  • This exercise proved one major point, that being that there are not enough licensed radio operators to fill in the communication gaps within the hospital community and emergency operations centers.

Recommendations:

  • Each hospital must ensure that there are at least 2 licensed amateur radio operators per hospital shift, ensuring that communication drops can be mitigated.
  • In addition, monies must be directed at establishing fully functional emergency communication stations at each hospital, capable of operating exclusively on emergency power – solar and generator.
  • A professionally installed radio tower supporting an antenna system capable of accommodating VHF/UHF vertical antennas and multi-band HF dipoles.
  • A computer and modem will take care of multiple digital modes including Winlink (packet and Pactor).
  • An all-mode 100-watt HF radio and a 50-watt mobile radio with a built-in TNC for packet radio.
  • A Pactor modem for HF radio email.
  • Each operator will need a hand-held transceiver for portability using a repeater.

Acknowledgements:

A special thanks goes to Rene Lopez, DEC for District 3 in the Upper Rio Grande Valley, Mark Mireles, DEC for District 4 in the Corpus Christi Area and Dr. David Woolweaver, President of the ARRL Foundation and organizer for District 15 in the lower Rio Grande Valley for their excellent organizational skills in assembling their teams of adept ham radio operators who performed in a professional and proficient manner.


After-Action Report submitted by Victor Gunnoe (AF5OS)