Pacificon 2016

I had a chance to attend this year’s Pacificon, the big annual ham radio fest. The sessions were varied: technical, or equipment-based, or focused on emergency communications. Here are my notes and links to the presentations that I attended.


This was my first day at the event. Multiple sessions and a couple of vendor areas were going on when I arrived.

Changes in the Future of Emergency Communications

Presenter: Duane Mariotti WB9RER

FEMA now with Homeland Security. Fallout from 9-11 is raised priority (“dramatically”). You can get PhD in related security topics.

Since then, now there’s money for “Emergency Management” person. Has Amateur Radio changed? Not dramatically. No summary of improvements, changes or successes. unlike State of NY, which now has a multi-page color brochure on what they’ve done. “We haven’t done that.”

Encryption: early responses were not very professional, everyone said no. Our customers want encryption: almost all fire and most fire agencies are encrypted. Amer Red Cross only uses encrypted channels. Issue: customers want it, we can’t provide it (also FCC says we can’t too). Doesn’t
make any sense. Subpart A: General Provisions 97.1 see fundamental purpose (e.g., Hurricane Matthew). 173 MHz of spectrum, FCC says its worth $22.49 billion. Congress says make money.

Am Radio must be sponsored to support EMCOMM (Emergency Comms). We may be asked to leave if sponsor has better options. Do we have an 800# to use to coordinate? Depends on GOVERNMENT sponsors. We have no standing as community members, but even education doesn’t have standing.

FCC no national standards, May 2009
CERT is only gov agency that we have an agreement with. No national emerg response plan. 3000 counties in US with repeaters, that would be a national plan. ARRL is working against themselves (repeater guide).

Bottom line: pre-familiar, planning, edu plan means more lives and propertyy at risk. FEMA training: 100, 200, 300, 700, 800, other special courses. That’s EMCOMM minimal training.

Set the bar high, watch results. Improve candidate pool. 80% of firefighters are volunteers (110 hour class & phys fitness courses). Lots of past lessons learned. EmComm needs infrastructure and comms, no HAMS. Veterans Agency has last resort in own tool. Sponsoring agency is integrated, not a responder. Seen as an extension of sponsor. othing in Part 97 about ARES (non-profit corp). RACES is in Part 97, an official program.

Gov EOC: professionalism & confidentiality. ICS 214 unit log: document everything to make it legal and tie $$.

EMCOMM is business systems: mission statement, org chart, onboarding process, education and competencies, personsonel files, It’s not a phone system/tree for activation. Expectations of success (and discipline). How do you resign as a volunteer?

Example mission statement: intended to be a supplemental communications support (LA)

Member expectations/job description: promote a safe work environment, support an EmComm plan for self and families.

Tech infra: simplicity, redundant, professioal installation, resilient, diversity, not solely amateur radio, primary + secondary + tertiary channels (FEMA), ownership control (have a good MOU).

“Wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”

Future EmCOmm: people need competencies, situally aware, frequent involvement, diversity, attitude and appearance. No shift should be over 10 hours, plan on succession planning (who’s taking over?). Team player, follows policies, participation, confidentiality. Maintain compliance and competency.

What the customer wants: PTT, clearly hear and understand. Someone that looks and acts like an employee. What customers see: complexity, dials, knobs. What customers hear: jargon. They want reliable comms, someone who can hold a conversation, can read/write, remains level headed and understands surroundings, situationally aware.

Effective comms: Repeated to make sure you got it right, else failure to communicate. There is a 30 page doc for Boston Marathon.

Successful programs: specific mission, significant sponsor, documented, business like, manual training & educational. Litigation risks. Need to have policies and procedures written down. Boston now has a good example.

Volunteer EmComm management is not easy. Manager training class? Like a small business. Motivating and working with volunteers vary. Planning = operational results: education, training, integrated with community, etc. Speak with one voice, positive and professional (respectful), understand EMComm role, competent education, grow the hobby.

Amateur Radio Operators and Supporting STEM Education

Presenter: Darryl Paule KI6MSP

How he got interested: YouTube video of Google Science Fair, young woman who made a flashlight that runs on body heat. He’s also a technician license class teacher. Started teaching students about components and soldering.

How AR supports STEM: we make sense of a problem to be solved, reason abstractly and quantitatively, viable arguments, breadboards and mathematics, appropriate tools strategically, attend to precision, structure and patterns, regularity in repeated reasoning, general methods and valid shortcuts. (paraphrased from Standards for Mathematics Practice from common core state standards). Team work/building, engineering skills.

How ARRL’s ETP supports STEM: wireless tech as a learning strategy, make most effective use in learning, increase awareness of wireless tech in education

ARISS (space station) contact with NASA. Submit questions that are relevant to work that’s being done at the station. Scott Kelly, A Year in Space (YouTube, 9 parts). They are one out of 12 schools accepted. Working with math teachers, English teachers, Principals. School has a garden, needs a weather station ( – edu).

It’s about the art and science of radio. ARRL’s ETP supports STEM: ETP offers grants and training to teachers (radio = powerful teaching tool). Integrates multiple techs: math, science, geography, writing, reading, speaking, hands-on apps. Encourages investigation and experimentation as basis for understanding technical subjects.

How you can support STEM: talk with kids; they love to solder & learn stuff.

Supporting a classroom teacher: volunteer time, help organize and run a school club. (Most schools will require a TB test and fingerprint. Teach basic electronics: start with safety! AC/EDC and magnetism experiments: use your experience, discuss the difference, what makes a circuit. (Kit building) Dollars needed for projects: work within your community, ask prospective businesses for support. Most businesses are willing to support schools. Funraisers, PTAs, Parent donations… Be excited, it’s contagious.

Goals for program: basic electronics, where to go next. Start with Michael Faraday’s experiments, basic magnetism, electromagnets, basic motors, generators. Foxhole radio: no batteries required. – look for Altoids box projects. BoE-Bot (Parallax) offers a chance to program a robot (in Basic). Simplest bot can be programmed to follow a course on the ground, or controlled using a Sony TV remote. Old Lego robotics kits. Squishy Circuits (playdoh) – Ohm’s law V=IR

Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto. First Robotics Challenge.

Fox hunting (direction finding) –

Suggestions: Boy Scouts, the busiest teachers in the school.

New members: Sonoma County Amateur Radio is his club; he does outreach at local foot or bike race (comms support, often qualifies for free booth space because we support the event), other events. Have a table.

ARKnet: Wireless Emergency Intranet

Presenter: Marcel Stieber, AI6MS

City of Cupertino project: lots of tech. Why? 70 ARES members, 60K residents. 2012 Citizen Roadmap: what would they like to improve? ARKs/PODs localized points for coordination, quality and timely info. Mesh network problems: low power, common frequency. ARKnet: emergency wireless connects to Critical locations, used by Citizen Corp and City staff during an emergency or as need arises. Supports need for accurate and timely info.

When cell/phone network goes down: it supports hazardous or situational awareness (real-time video monitoring), file sharing, IMing, etc. CERT portion of Citizen Corps have data automation project (WebEOC in Cupertino) for filling/filled forms.

System design: coverage is distributed (map) with ARKs, City and Fire stations, connected via line of site, high freq. point to multi-point. Central site (slower latency, single point of failure/fixing, lack of redundancy, line of site issues.) They use MikroTik equipment because all-in-one, most gear $120-150 makes it affordable to roll out. Using 5GHz, PoE for much of the gear.

Pilot program: test between 3 points worked. Sector site design: need sector site with central point identified (map). Two sites close to foothills but far from each other. Sites on foothills were identified, checked out and chosen (one was an abandoned water tank). Farthest distance (>5 miles) also calculated, tall trees plotted and worked around (devices in trees). Mostly using Part 15 Channels, watching for ISPs with 5GHz pointing in opposition. Not using 20MHz channels, using 5Mb channels. Largest reach area 40 degree beam width (with 90 degree possibility), good opportunity to expand.

Design criteria: off the shelf, repeatable, flexible, self-powered. Part 15 (unlicensed) in use now, vs Part 97 (licensed HAM, future option).

Sector site design (block diagram) with solar power, controllers, ethernet switches, uplink antenna, batteries, etc.

Client sites: solar panel on roof, local access point (door), radio. Can be in a shipping container. See presentation for list of gear. They chose ATA phones instead of SIP for cost of phones, volume of ringers. Document and label everything!


Not Your Grandpa’s Ham Radio: Introducing a New Community to Amateur Radio

Presenter: Dennis Kidder, W6DQ
Presentation title: The Maker Faire Experience: Bringing Ham Radio to a New Community

Intro to Maker Faire: a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement. A gathering of engineers, students, fabricators, artists, and ordinary folks. Combination of art and technology. Gets young people interested in science & engineering.

Maker Fair first encounter: overwhelming, but not much ham radio and nobody there (2011) except Cubesats and high altitude balloon launch. They offered a proposal for “a different sie of ham radio” in 2012 to dispel stereotypes: keeping up with times, all walks of life, have fun, anyone can become a ham, and have been makers for 100 years. Goal for first event: show cutting edge tech (microwave at 76 GHz), microcontroller-based ham projects, lasers, amateur TV) to educate public and recruit new hams. They got a 20 foot booth near the main entrance (for free). Collaboration of three groups: San Bernardino Microwave Group, San Diego MW gGroup, and 50mHz and Up Group (Bay Area).

They made standarized graphics to explain projects that they were doing: spaceball controller, morse keyboard and station controller, waveform visualization, HeNe laser and laser diode, microwave radios. Other things in the booth and running slide show.

Maker Fair has more than just electronics & robotics: fire, sculptures, big cool animals (fire, electric giraffe, Burning Man type vehicles). Building a telescope. Pipe Dream (Intel’s ani-music with ping-pong balls). Over the top: DIY scanning electron microscope.

Five years later: retain some projects, introduce new, form new alliances (UC Davis, Microwave Update MUD Santa Clara), expanded to other maker faires (Irvine 2012, 2013, San Diego (2013 mini, 2015 & 2016 at Balboa Park). Orange County “Meet the Makers”.

New displays: electromagnetic radiation visualizations (using microwaves), ties to STEM, rooftop 10GHz transverter, other new projects.

This year: lots to show off. ARRL is hams for hams but not as good at non- or new-ham outreach. They had arduino, direction finding, stuff to draw people in. Software defined radio RTL dongle… Broadband hamnet: Part 15 has different limitation than Part 97. esh network with Linksys & Ubiquiti hardware, others. Next year: Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) demo, microwave antenna range (spectrum analyzer), lightening detector.

Legal way to hack Part 15 hardware is with HAM license.

Wildflower Triathlon: Building a Comms Network from Scratch

Presenter: Kenneth Finnegan, W6KWF

Wildflower Triathalon is an athletic event: 1.2 mi swim, 2.2 mi run, 56 mile bike ride, then another 10.9 mile run. Started as a blue grass festival with a triathalon, now a major event. Cal Poly volunteers since 1985, Cal Poly Comms Committee (40-60 HAMS) to support the event.

Lake San Antonio dropped by 97′ due to drought, now moved to whole new location & solution. Event support is about providing useful info to organizers: logistics, emergency support, knowledge (what happened on course?), via a relatively well-trained team (radio protocol, first aid). They’re out in the middle of nowhere so cell phones don’t work. Weekly nets (his is pretty fixed) would be more useful if something unexpected happens.

In their event, 40 amateur radio operators, 200 commercial HTs, 30 commercial mobile rigs, 20 APRS trackers and 3 I-gates (Internet gateways), and 18 operating frequencies. ALl FM analog; hilly areas don’t work well with digital. Dispatch: amateur station, APRS Internet-gate and APRS-IS server, 8 antennas, 5 radios outside; in a commercial station (a trailer), computer aided dispatch server (Blackflower, TicketsCAD). Dispatch supervisor becomes a useful roll-out carpets and hanging moving blankets to make room quieter. Second set of ears in “race command” near dispatch. Two dispatch centers–one downhill and one uphill.

Q: How can we (HAMS) operate under a for-profit event run by a commercial enterprise? Title 47 section 97.113: volunteers aren’t getting paid.

“Radio Hill”: solar powered commercial USF repeater, APRS digi-peater/I-gate, Commercial crossband repeater, 5GHz point-to-point IP link. They set it up 2 months in advance to help with logistics and coordination of other sites/rest of the event, so solar used to provide power. 5GHz Wi-Fi links used for P2multi-point used for CAD server, Internet gateways, linking FRFID timing mats. They use Ubiquiti and EnGenius point to multipoint gear.

Main radio site “Benchmark” was a random hillside, USGS marker was there. Apply radios and (mostly UHF) antennas. (Property owner was asked if this was ok.) The Benchmark site was an hour drive away, so if anything goes wrong it wouldn’t be fixed during the race.

Benchmark radios: four iterant UHF repeaters, UTAC Interoperability repeater & VTAC link (from Office of Emergency Services), APRS Digipeater/I-gate, and 5 GHz AP, also a webcam for site statistics (pointed to equipment displays). Did they really need five repeaters? Yes, 5-30% duty cycle because of voice traffic.

Q: Concern about earthquakes? If there was a major quake large enough, the event would likely be cancelled.

Unrelated: they used to rent from Bearcom but they screwed up too often. Now they rent from others.

They load in Thursday, load out by 8pm on Sunday. All of the plans roll in with equipment, everything is documented.

Amateur vs Commercial: they bought a commercial license ($165 for a 10 year license) for 2 repeaters + 300 mobile units. 20 minute radio class on Thursday night (200 more volunteers with radio). no silly limitations on paid staff using radio. “That which they lack in skill, they make up for in shear numbers.” Part 90 has 17 Itinerant Frequencies – WQXE668 for both mobile stations and repeaters.


At my Day Two. The session for Disaster Communications Workshop was cancelled. I just learned this from the guys who would have done it. Here are some random notes from one of the sessions that was going at the time.

Northern California 2 Meter Band Plan
144.200 single side band calling
144.390 APRS Digital data
145.390 Bay-net repeater
146.460 Remote bases
146.520 Calling frequency (simplex) UHF
147.420 Red Cross

Coordinators: FM/repeaters | packet: | satellite

UHF band is about 10x as large, more services (ATV, experimental, satellite, repeater input and output frequencies. Band plans are often different across the country–even Southern and Northern Calif band plans are different.

Standard Transmit offsets (“shift”)
-10m 100kHz
-6m 1.2MHz
-2m 600kHz
-220 1.6MHz
-UHF 5.0MHz
-900 25MHz

Tone (continuous tome coded squelch system, CTCSS) is a sub-audible tone between 67-230 Hz, allows multiple repeaters to co-exist on the same frequency. Motorola calls this as PL (private line), and GE calls it Channel Guard.


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