A Small Grant Makes a Big Impact for College Club

At ARDC, we think that both education and amateur radio are important, so what better way to support and promote both than to invest in college amateur radio clubs? Case in point: a modest investment in K7UAZ, the University of Arizona Amateur Radio Club, has paid big dividends. An $8,287 grant in 2021 enabled the club to purchase equipment, including 5 Icom IC-2300 2-meter FM radios, SignaLink digital interfaces, and an Icom IC-9700 VHF/UHF Transceiver. This equipment has helped engage students and get the club moving in the right direction.

According to Hilly Paige, W7HIL, club vice president, the availability of this equipment has spurred several students to get their licenses and join the club. “The club has just exploded with all the upgrades we’ve been able to make to the station.” In 2021, there were only three club members, but now there are 16 on the club roster, according to Sarah Li, K7SLI, club president. “We’re on a really healthy growth curve,” she said.

Students can easily check out equipment by going to this rack in the K7UAZ shack and filling out a card saying that they borrowing it.

Li also noted that making equipment available to students is one of the keys to their success, and that most of the equipment available to students is  almost always checked out. For example, in addition to the IC-2300s they purchased with the ARDC grant, the club has six handheld transceivers that they loan out to students. They plan to purchase three more because they anticipate more demand when several of the new members get their licenses.

Station Trustee and Manager, Curt Laumann, K7ZOO, views this as an excellent measure of student engagement with the club. He also pointed to increased participation in the club’s weekly net. According to Laumann, they average four or five student check-ins per week.

The weekly net is more than just a gabfest, though. According to Li, they schedule student members to be the net control station each week. “It’s a great opportunity for the students to learn how to handle traffic on the air, be comfortable with using phonetics, and choose an interesting radio-related topic for discussion,” she said. According to Laumann, it’s this structure that makes the net successful. The net control station not only chooses a topic, but also emails resources to the members to review before the net. Those who check in then can contribute what they know to the discussion.

Upgrading the satellite station

Hilly Paige, W7HIL, working on the satellite station antennas.

In addition to purchasing the VHF/UHF gear that they loan to students, the club was able to upgrade their satellite station. They purchased an Icom IC-9700 all-mode VHF/UHF transceiver to replace an aging Yaesu FT-736R, and replaced the club’s az-el rotor system. A grant from the university allowed the club to replace the antennas. The result, according to Laumann, is a “modern, highly effective satellite station.”

According to Paige, who is also the chief system engineer for the university’s CubeSat program, the new station is “fantastic.” It allows students to make satellite contacts much more regularly than they could with an HT and handheld Yagi antenna. Paige also noted that the station has helped him gain experience that he’ll be able to use in pursuing a career in signal intelligence after he graduates.

Li pointed out that she feels her work on club projects helped her stay engaged with the club. “Getting involved with the station upgrades is one the reasons I stayed in the club,” she said, “I felt that I was contributing and getting some hands-on experience with the equipment.” When she was handed the manual for the IC-9700 and encouraged to learn how to use it, she was a little hesitant at first, but with encouragement from the station manager and other club members, she was able to make a positive contribution.

“Learning how to use a voltmeter and how a circuit works has been very helpful to me. We deal with similar concepts in neuroscience, so what I learned in the ham radio class was very applicable to what I study.”

Li and Paige are both engineering students, but the club has found that amateur radio appeals to students in other departments as well. For example, Hanna Nkulu, who is now KK7EKD and club treasurer, studies neuroscience. To get her license, she took a Technician class taught by Laumann and Paige and found the class to be very enlightening. Hanna said, “Learning how to use a voltmeter and how a circuit works has been very helpful to me. We deal with similar concepts in neuroscience, so what I learned in the ham radio class was very applicable to what I study.”

Paige noted that some music students have a natural affinity for ham radio, especially Morse Code. He said that the club’s secretary, Tiana Molina, WB7TIA, who is a music major, just started learning Morse Code a month ago and has already sped past him. “I’m kind of jealous,” he said.

“Doubling down”

The club was so successful with their first grant that they applied for a second grant in 2022 for $4,300. The club will use this grant to help students learn how to build antennas and to learn about digital modes and software-defined radios. “The 2022 grant is a ‘doubling down’ of the 2021 grant,” said Paige, “There’s huge interest in digital communications and digital signal processing here. There’s a lot of interest in the high-tech field of amateur radio.” For example, the club recently held a presentation on digital modes, and Li noted, there were only two or three empty seats.

By all accounts, the University of Arizona Amateur Radio Club is on the right track. With a little help from ARDC, they have been able to upgrade their station and attract new members–and they’re just getting started.. We would like to help your college club, too. If you have an idea for a project that will help your college club make an impact, get in touch with us to see how you can qualify for an ARDC grant.

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Tips for making your communications trailer grant proposal stand out

The Chippewa Valley Amateur Radio Club’s communications trailer was one of the first ever funded by an ARDC Grant.

ARDC has received many grant proposals for communications trailers and vehicles over the past few years. We have funded many of these, but going forward these projects will be a lower priority for us. We will be funding some of these projects, just not as many as we have in the past. This means that for your proposal to be successful, it will have to be exceptional.

Here are some tips for making your proposal stand out:

  • Emphasize how you will use your trailer or vehicle. This is perhaps the most important point. We are looking for projects that are going to be used on a regular basis and not just dragged out in an emergency. Using your trailer regularly will not only ensure that the installed systems work when there is an emergency, it’s good publicity for amateur radio.In addition, be very specific as to how you plan to use the trailer or vehicle. Don’t just say that the trailer will be used for outreach. Specifically list the outreach activities in which you plan to use the trailer. Examples of these types of activities include Field Day, county fairs, bicycle tours, marathons, and community festivals. Describe how you plan to showcase amateur radio at these events. If emergency communications is one reason that you want to build a trailer, list the emergency communications organizations that will make use of the trailer and the exercises that they hold throughout the year. You get bonus points if you will use the trailer to educate children (STEAM, Scouts, etc.), and if you have a proven track record of engaging in these kinds of activities.
  • Include letters of support from served agencies or community organizations. For example, if you say that the trailer will be used to support your county’s emergency management team, include a letter from the county’s emergency manager noting how the trailer fits into their overall strategy and will help them do their jobs better.
  • Show that the local community supports your efforts. We’ll look more favorably on your proposal if members of your community have donated, or are ready to donate, their time, material, or funds to help you build your trailer.

Include a complete budget and project plan

The next thing that we will be looking for is a complete and well-thought-out budget and project plan. This includes a complete list of all the expenses that you think that you’ll incur and a plan for how you’ll build out the trailer. Make sure to include:

  • Cost of the vehicle. Chances are that we will not fund requests to purchase high cost vehicles, such as motorhomes or very large trailers. These vehicles are not only costly to purchase, but also to store, insure, and maintain.
  • Radio equipment. Your proposal should show how the equipment you ask for will support your proposed usage. Ask yourself if you really need that $10,000 HF transceiver to provide local emergency communications or if you need that satellite station to provide communications for a bicycle tour.
  • Proper heating and cooling. Trailers get hot in the summer and cool in the winter, depending on where they will be used. Without the appropriate climate control, they’re not as useful as they could be. Also include a line item for graphics. Good graphics make it clear who’s operating the trailer and what services it provides.
  • Related expenses, including:
    • Insurance.
    • License fees.
    • Secure storage costs.
    • Maintenance costs.
    • Contingency costs.

If you’re not asking for the entire amount, please show how you will cover the other expenses.

In addition to the budget, we will be looking at your project plan. That is to say how you will complete the build out of the trailer and installation of the equipment. We look more favorably on projects that use volunteer labor than we do pre-configured vehicles. Projects that use volunteer labor are usually more cost-effective than buying something pre-configured, and the use of volunteer labor shows that your organization has some skin in the game as well.

Finally, the proposal should demonstrate sustainability. While ARDC may fund the first year of operating expenses, you should document how the vehicle and equipment will be stored and maintained after that. Only in very rare cases, will we fund operating expenses past the first year and almost never for a trailer project.

We want you to be successful with your proposal.Even though funds for these projects may be limited, if you follow the advice given here, you’ll increase your chances for success. If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch with us by sending an email to giving@ardc.net.

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ARDC Scholarship Helps Betty Aita Pursue Her Dream

Betty Aita Rukh-Kamaa is currently a senior studying electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park, but her engineering career actually started in the third grade. That’s when she started participating in Science Fair, under the tutelage of her father, a data scientist. “Every year, my dad and I would really go gung ho for Science Fair,” she said.

A broad smile appeared on her face when she described one of her first experiments: extracting iron from breakfast cereal. “We [Betty Aita and her dad] got a lot of cereal, then crushed it really fine, then spread it out, and passed magnets over it to attract the iron particles,” she said. “It was really amazing to see the iron form on the magnets. I was like, ‘OK. We’re eating that!’”

Later in her career, she participated in Final Frontiers, a physics competition held every November in Montgomery County, Maryland. In this program, one of the challenges she faced was to design a vehicle that would travel down an inclined plane as slowly as possible. “The key was having very big wheels,” she recalled. Learning about science wasn’t something she just did at school, though. “As a family, we would visit museums and go see eclipses and stuff like that,” she said.

In high school, she took a lot of math and physics classes, and that’s when she started getting serious about pursuing an engineering career. “I realized that engineering is a combination of physics and math,” she said. At that point, she wasn’t really sure which field of engineering she wanted to pursue, but in the end, electrical engineering won out.

After high school, she enrolled at the University of Maryland (UMD), where she is part of the honors program. One of the reasons that she chose UMD is that its size gave her an opportunity to meet many different types of people, while at the same time, connect with others on a more personal level. This led her to join the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in her freshman year. In May 2022, she applied for, and was awarded an ARDC-funded SWE scholarship.

At UMD, Betty Aita has taken a wide range of interesting courses, but she really enjoyed the Signals and Systems class. She found it directly applicable to her work as an intern for Northrop Grumman Communication Systems & Mission Payloads in Redondo Beach, California. There, she served as the technical lead of a team of interns tasked with creating a remote-controlled vehicle that was capable of fighting fires in a simulated wildfire.

This semester, she’s working with a professor on a simulation project. Her group, called the Bright Beam Collective, is working on improving particle accelerator predictive models, in particular how the location and strength of the magnets used to form the particle beam affect the beam shape. Her responsibility is to test the models.

After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in the communications field, hopefully in space communications. “I really enjoyed my internship at Northrop Grumman, and  there are so many ways to apply electrical engineering to that field,” she noted.

Outside of class, Betty Aita plays intramural soccer, and recently participated in an improv class with her brother. “It was a little bit scary,” she said, “but a lot of fun.” Another thing she does to keep in shape is box. So, watch out for her right jab!

We’re happy that we could help Betty Aita and other women pursue their dreams of becoming an engineer via the SWE Scholarship program. These scholarships support those who identify as a woman and pursue an ABET-accredited bachelor or graduate student program in preparation for careers in engineering, engineering technology, and fields related to engineering globally. In 2022, SWE disbursed 330 scholarships valued at more than $1,700,000. 30 of those scholarships were funded by an ARDC grant of $200,000.

For more information on the SWE scholarships, visit the SWE website. For more information on how ARDC might help fund your scholarship, email giving@ardc.net.

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January 21, 2023 Community Meeting Recap

On Saturday, January 21, 2023, we held our first community meeting of the year with a record 64 attendees!

If you missed the meeting, don’t worry – you can watch the recording below or download the slides. In the recap below, times are included in square brackets, so that you can quickly fast forward to a particular topic. For example, the announcement of our 2022 Annual Report begins at the [2:35] mark

The first order of business was to announce our 2022 Annual Report [2:35]. We’re proud of what we achieved in 2022 and hope you’ll check it out.

Next, we introduced our new Grants Advisory Committee (GAC) and Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) members [3:10]. We have seven new GAC members and four new TAC members. For more information on these new members, please see our blog post, “ARDC Welcomes New GAC and TAC Members.”

After the introductions, Rosy thanked the volunteers that were leaving us [5:10]. This included board member, Bob McGwier, N4HY, who not only served on the board, but also the GAC. Finally, we observed a moment of silence for Brian Kantor, WB6CYT, our founding director, who would have turned 70 on January 19.

Grants Update [7:00]

Chelsea, KF0FVJ, then reported on our 2022 grants. To make a long story short, we made 101 grants in 2022, distributed $8 million, and impacted nearly 15,000 people. As shown below, 28.5% of the grant money went to 14 research and development projects, 27.6% to 32 education projects, 25.4% to 47 traditional amateur radio projects, and 18.5% to 8 scholarship programs. Chelsea also reported that we’ve extended our international reach [9:00], with 13% of our grant dollars going to projects and programs outside of the U.S.

Chelsea then described some of the grants in each of the categories [10:00]. Check out the video for more information on these projects..

The next portion of the presentation dealt with how we’re trying to improve our grants process [15:50]. The first step  was to conduct an anonymous survey asking applicants and grantees about their experiences. We had two key takeaways from this survey. First, we need to be clearer on how long it will take a grantee to get the funds once an application has been approved – a process that used to take a few weeks to a couple months now takes 3-6 months.  We also  need to respond faster to questions and status update requests. We will be making that a priority in 2023.

44Net Assessment [34:30]

Rosy then handed the (virtual) mic to Matt Peterson of Two P, the consultancy that conducted the ARDC 44Net Assessment. The purpose of this assessment was to capture the current state of 44Net usage. Matt discussed the survey methodology, survey results, and notes from the focus groups. In the end, the survey was completed by over 1,500 respondents, half of whom did not haveany previous relationship with ARDC.

In addition to providing a picture of current usage, the report included some recommendations that would make 44Net easier to use and thereby increasing the number of people using this resource. These include:

•    Easier/modern connectivity (NAT44 compatible)
•    Easier/turn-key software (embedded SBC image)
•    Better documentation / training events

We encourage anyone who’s interested in the details to download and read the report.

Matt’s presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session [55:00]. The meeting ended at 1910 UTC.

Thanks to everyone who participated, and if you weren’t able to be with us live, please watch the video and give us your feedback. Your input helps us make better decisions about grants and about the direction to take 44Net. We couldn’t do what we do without you.

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44Net Assessment Survey Results are In!

One of the reasons that Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) exists is to manage – and encourage the use of – 44Net (also known as AMPRNet), the IP address space allocated to amateur radio. This space consists of about 12 million IPv4 addresses ( and and is used exclusively by radio amateurs for scientific research and experimentation with digital communications.

In early 2022, ARDC contracted with Two P, a consultancy with expertise in networking and systems management, to determine who is using 44Net and how they are using it. Two P’s first step was to conduct a survey of current users and potential users to get some basic data. They then conducted multiple focus groups to dive deeper into the data. Their report – ARDC 44Net Assessment Results – characterizes 44Net users, details the applications and services that run on 44Net,  and comments on ARDC’s stewardship of 44Net.

The report goes into some detail on the methodology used and the results they produced. Here are some demographic highlights:

  • There were 1,536 usable responses to the survey, many more than we expected.
  • 99% of the respondents were licensed radio amateurs.
  • Just under half (762) had no prior relationship with ARDC.
  • The respondents are fairly active. 34.8% replied that they engage in amateur radio activities daily, 34.0% replied that they engage a few times per week, and 16.0% said that they engage at least once per week.

The technical sophistication of the respondents was quite high. Approximately two-thirds identified themselves as an experimenter, hacker, or maker, and many identified themselves as a computer engineer or network engineer.

Although many of the respondents were not currently 44Net users, the survey asked those who were a number of questions about how they used 44Net. The most frequently-run application or service was DNS and FTP, closely followed by web and email. Other widely used services included remote operations and repeater infrastructure.

In addition, many users are using 44Net for networks such as HAMNET and WAMNet. Other networking applications, such as AREDN are not currently using 44Net, but they are popular and growing. Another interesting result of the survey is that 48.6% are using RF links as part of their 44Net usage.

Since we were interested in how we can better support our 44Net users, we had Two P ask questions to see what they could find out. Most users were neutral when asked if current ARDC policies meet their needs:

When asked about what improvements that ARDC might implement to make 44Net easier to use, respondents asked for:

  • Easier/modern connectivity (NAT44 compatible)
  • Easier/turn-key software (embedded SBC image)
  • Better documentation and  training events

There is, of course, much more detailed information in the report. If you’re interested in 44Net, we encourage you to read it and contact us with any feedback that you may have. One way to do this would be to subscribe to the 44Net mailing list, if you haven’t done so already. And of course you can always send your questions to contact@ardc.net




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2022 ARDC Annual Report now available

The 2022 ARDC Annual Report is now available. As you’ll see when you read the report, we accomplished quite a bit last year, including: 

  • Approving 101 grants! Last year, we approved over $6 million in grants and distributed about $8 million for projects big and small.
  • Completing our 44Net assessment. We conducted a survey of 44Net usage that garnered more than 1,700 responses – WAY more than we thought!
  • Hiring a new technical director. In October 2022, Jon Kemper KA6NVY, joined ARDC as technical director. John has decades of engineering management experience and is already helping us get our systems in order.

You can also find a financial summary in the report, which you can download here.  Contact us if you have any comments or questions.

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ARDC Welcomes New GAC and TAC Members

Some of the most important people in the ARDC organization are the volunteers serving on the Grants Advisory Committee (GAC) and Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). The GAC reviews and advises the ARDC Board of Directors on eligible proposals and helps identify potential grant-making opportunities, while the TAC advises the board and staff on 44Net technology, architecture, and policy.

Volunteers commit to serve for at least a year, and may serve up to a maximum of three years. The terms start in January and run through December, and every year we say goodbye to some volunteers and welcome new ones.

The volunteers leaving the GAC this year are:

  • Hank Magnuski, KA6M
  • Steve Stroh, N8GNJ
  • Randy Neals, W3RWN
  • Dave Pascoe, KM3T

We are grateful for all they have done for us and hope that they will  remain part of our extended family.

Only one volunteer, Tim Požár, KC6GNJ, is leaving the TAC, but he is still an important part of the team. As a contractor, he is helping us with our IT and advising us on 44Net issues.

Here are the volunteers joining the GAC this year:

Katie Allen, WY7YL. Katie has worked in government, as well as in management for nonprofit and for-profit organizations her entire career. Her life changed when she joined the ARRL as membership manager in 2006 and she fell in love with amateur radio. Ever since, she has been involved professionally and personally in the hobby.

Judi Clark, KK6ZCU. Judi was first licensed in 2015 and became an active member of her first amateur radio club shortly thereafter. She is enthusiastic about emergency communications and community preparedness.Creating new scenarios, exercises and events is her superpower.

Dennis Derickson, AC0P. Dennis is a Professor of Electrical Engineering at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). He was first licensed in 1975 and is now an Amateur Extra Class licensee. Dr. Derickson helps students obtain their amateur radio license to enhance their learning experience at Cal Poly.

Jim Idelson, K1IR. Jim has been involved in amateur radio since 1971, and he credits the hobby with helping him achieve a productive and fulfilling career in technology and business. He is an active contributor to the amateur radio community through his involvement in public service events, as an author, and through the Zero Falls Alliance – an initiative he created to focus on tower safety in amateur radio. Jim has also served as a volunteer with local, regional and national organizations. Other amateur radio activities include contesting, DXing, and experimentation.

Kristin Paget, KJ6GCG. Kristin is a computer security researcher who specializes in hardware hacking. She has over 20 years of experience at companies such as Intel, Apple, Tesla, and Google, designing and breaching security systems for self-driving cars, cellphones, building access systems, and much more. It’s likely that you have at least one device within reach that she has helped secure.

William Thomas,WT0DX. Bill was first licensed in 1968, and currently holds an Amateur Extra Class license. He spent 40 years working in cable TV, consumer electronics and media research as an engineer and manager. Currently, he spends his time building remote stations, operating in contests, chasing grids and DXing on 6 meters, and presenting talks at various ham clubs.

Randy Wilkinson, W4LKS. Randy is a semi-retired Registered Professional Engineer with 40 years of experience in energy engineering for commercial buildings. He lives in Spokane, Washington, and is an officer of the Washington Digital Radio Enthusiasts ARC and part owner of multiple D-STAR repeaters in the Spokane Area. He also likes riding motorcycles, working on old cars, and programming microcontrollers using Python.

They are joining current GAC members Bob Witte, K0NR (Committee Chair); John Hays, K7VE (Staff Lead); Dewayne Hendricks, WA8DZP; Douglas Kingston, KD7DK; Brian Mileshosky, N5ZGT; Leandro Soares Indrusiak, G5LSI; and Don Prosnitz, N6PRZ.

The volunteers joining the TAC include:​

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Dave Gingrich, K9DC. Dave was first licensed in 1965 at the age of twelve and earned his Amateur Extra Class licensee in 1975. It was his involvement with packet radio in the 1980s that motivated him to become a network engineer, where he used his skills to select products and services to meet specific customer needs. He owns and operates three repeaters in the Indianapolis area that are connected to the IRLP network. He is a former address coordinator for Indiana (44.48/16), and currently manages the 44Net allocation for IRLP mostly for VPN access and parts of the IRLP infrastructure. Dave is a Life Member of ARRL, and the Indianapolis Radio Club.

Rich Gopstein, KD2CQ. Rich has been a ham since 1981, and is currently a volunteer with the AMSAT engineering team working on the GOLF satellite. He is retired from a career in corporate IT and information security. He ran the networking teams for the RCA Solid State division and Bristol-Myers Squibb and managed the cloud computing group at BMS.


Randy Neals, VE3RWN / W3RWN. Randy holds both a U.S. Amateur Extra Class license (W3RWN), a Canadian Advanced license (VE3RWN). He is a senior network engineer/architect and has extensive experience with transmission and switching technologies including fiber, DWDM, microwave, land mobile radio systems, TCP/IP routed networks and VoIP. Randy is active on HF (operates 80-meter and 40-meter phone), VHF (helps maintain repeater systems in Seattle, WA and Peterborough, ON), and microwave (participates in 10 GHz and 24 GHz microwave contests).

Alvaro Prieto, KC2VVE. Alvaro is a firmware and electrical engineer currently working on marine sensing products. He enjoys working on open source hardware projects as well as cheese making in his free time.

Ian Redden, VA3IAN. Ian has been a ham since the early 1990s when he and his father started experimenting with packet radio. He went to Sir Sandford Fleming College and earned an Advanced Diploma in Computer Security and Investigations (CSI). He has spent his career chasing cyber-security fires as a consultant, incident responder, and digital forensics investigator. He is currently working at Cisco as a Director in Engineering developing third-party integrations. Ian spends his spare time tinkering with Fusion 360, KiCad, Arduino, Python, and 3D printing various project enclosures. He has spoken to numerous computer security conferences and is a member of the local hackspace and amateur radio club.

They are joining current TAC members Pierre Martel, VE2PF (Interim Committee Chair); Jon Kemper, KA6NVY (Staff Lead); Adam Lewis, KC7GDY; Zachary Seguin, VA3ZTS; Rob Janssen, PE1CHL; and Chip Eckardt, W9OQI.

“It’s always exciting to bring on new members to these committees,” says ARDC Executive Director Rosy Schechter, KJ7RYV. “This year I’m delighted to see more women and a variety of technical skills brought to the table. I’m looking very forward to seeing what these committees do in 2023.”

We’re happy to welcome this great group of volunteers to ARDC. To see the full list of our 2023 volunteer teams, visit the Who We Are page. If you’d like to meet these volunteers, please sign up for our Jan. 21 Community Meeting.

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Building Infrastructure in the Rocky Mountains and the San Francisco Bay Area

One of the ways that ARDC supports and promotes amateur radio is by helping groups build amateur radio infrastructure. Here are two examples. The first is high up in the Rocky Mountains. Here, Rocky Mountain Ham Radio is building a 5 GHz network that, when complete, will span three states. The second is in the Bay Area, where Bay Area Mesh is building a resilient, high-speed wireless network for use by responders, volunteers, and served agencies during disasters, emergencies, and large community events.

Linking Repeaters Across Three States

For more than ten years, Rocky Mount Ham Radio (RMHAM), a 501(c)3 nonprofit, has been building a microwave network that allows RMHAM and partnering amateur radio clubs to link their repeaters to other repeaters using the network. Using DMR technology, organizations in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico use the network to provide voice communications throughout the region. The network infrastructure gives them coverage that would otherwise be difficult or prohibitively expensive to achieve.

The network operates in the 5 GHz amateur radio band, and is managed and monitored 24/7/365 by a dedicated network operations team. Using Mikrotik NetMetal 5 radios, the network provides 50-100+ Mbits/s of bandwidth and currently links 40 repeaters. Over the years, the network has been used to provide backup emergency communications during Colorado’s wildfire season and to provide communications for public-service events, including popular bike tours in the Rocky Mountains.

RMHAM Network

The RMHAM network primarily covers this portion of Colorado. With an ARDC grant, the group plans to extend the network east and west, and north to the Wyoming border and south to Albuquerque and beyond.

With only a few exceptions, the RMHAM network is independent of the internet. If the Internet is down, the network will remain fully functional. It may use internet connections if one of the links becomes inoperable, but only until the problem is resolved.

A $374,000 ARDC grant is allowing RMHAM to expand this network (see map)  and provide service to more outlying areas. In Colorado, for example, RMHAM will use this grant to install 23 new microwave sites and 20 new point-to-point spans to expand IP connectivity and repeater coverage across the western slope of Colorado and along the I-70 and I-76 corridors in the eastern part of the state. In New Mexico, RMHAM will add 16 new microwave sites and 15 new point-to-point spans to expand IP connectivity and repeater coverage south from Albuquerque to El Paso, Texas; along US Highway 550 to Durango, Colorado; and across the Rio Grande Valley to Alamogordo, New Mexico. They will also expand RMHAM digital repeater coverage across New Mexico through the addition of seven repeaters located at the new microwave sites.

Work is already underway on this network expansion, significant progress has already been made. According to Wayne Heinen, N0POH – RMHAM treasurer – DMR repeaters have been recently installed at the Burlington, CO, and Limon, CO, sites, and network equipment has already been installed at the Strasburg, CO; Limon, CO; and Critchell, CO sites. Heinen expects that this work will continue through 2024.

In addition to expanding their network, RMHAM will also use this grant to repair and upgrade their Colorado communications trailer. This trailer has been instrumental in serving public service and emergency communication needs for the past 11 years, but now needs some work. In addition to replacing the rear axle, RMHAM will upgrade the trailer’s microwave network radios, replace the battery backup system and refurbish the trailer’s  interior and lighting.

To complement the Colorado trailer, RMHAM plans to build a 16-ft. trailer, with similar RF (HF to UHF) and microwave IP capabilities, for members in New Mexico. Like its Colorado counterpart, the trailer will support amateur radio organizations, public service events, and SAR/ARES groups.

A Mesh Network Driven by People, Not Equipment

Bay Area MeshWikipedia defines a mesh network as a “network topology in which the infrastructure nodes (i.e. bridges, switches, and other infrastructure devices) connect directly, dynamically and non-hierarchically to as many other nodes as possible and cooperate with one another to efficiently route data to and from clients.” While this is technically true, the Bay Area Mesh (BAM)—previously known as San Francisco Wireless Emergency Mesh (SFWEM)—is more than just a collection of electronic gear. Its real strength is the group of volunteers who are installing and maintaining this gear, thereby bringing the network to life.

BAM’s goal is “to install a resilient, high speed, wireless network throughout San Francisco and the greater Bay Area for use during disasters, emergencies, and large community events by responders, volunteers, and served agencies.” They’re building this network using inexpensive, commercial-grade WiFi equipment running open-source software developed by the Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network (AREDN). Using AREDN software allows BAM volunteers to set up a node with minimal expertise and effort, and because the software configures the network automatically, advanced network technology is not needed.

BAM Network

The BAM network uses AREDN technology to provide emergency communications to served agencies throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

BAM got its start when hams began experimenting with AREDN mesh networks in 2016. The communications challenges brought about by the 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons emphasized the need for better emergency communications in the Bay Area. Existing communication networks were overloaded or entirely knocked offline – often for weeks – isolating communities, hampering incident response, and delaying recovery.

These events prompted Greg Albrecht, W2GMD; Isaac Bentley, N6BF; and Kiley Davidson, KD8DRX, to start the San Francisco Wireless Emergency Network project. They spent their own money to get the project off the ground. Now, they have hundreds of ham volunteers and many served agencies, such as the City and County of San Francisco, Alameda County Sheriff, and the San Mateo County Sheriff working with them to expand the network. They incorporated San Francisco Wireless Emergency Mesh, Inc. as a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2020. They were awarded a $100,000 ARDC grant in November 2020 to expand the network

BAM is taking a bottom-up approach to expansion. What this means is that they’re using the grant to encourage volunteers within a particular region to set up a network in that region and then finding a way to connect that network to the entire Bay Area network. For areas that already have a network, the grant will allow them to update their network, improving its resilience and reliability.

Training is a big part of the BAM project. For example, BAM has participated in exercises with the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC) to provide internet service to CalFire firefighting camps. These are real-life scenarios in which the volunteers used their skills gained deploying high-speed wireless networks to provide vital services. BAM is also working with UC Berkeley students to develop mesh-linked radio direction finding techniques.

Even though expansion is ongoing, the current network allows served agencies access to services such as email, instant messaging, VoIP telephony, and live video streams. These services can be used in places where internet access is no longer in service. Recent examples include:

  • Live video feeds along the Kaiser Half Marathon route, allowing event planners and public safety officials to track the runners’ progress, crowd density, and potential security threats in real-time.
  • Backup network and telephony services to an overflow emergency operations center (EOC) during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a data link to the primary EOC.
  • An emergency phone link for staff at a remote observatory monitoring a wildfire during a public safety power shutoff that cut power to cell phone towers in that area..

The Covid pandemic has definitely put a crimp in their expansion plans, but BAM is forging ahead nonetheless. Their current goal is to be able to cover the entire San Francisco Bay Area by the end of 2023. “Our goal is not only to build out the network,” noted Bentley, “but to build a self-sustaining community that welcomes everyone to participate. The ARDC grant has certainly helped us do that.”

Do you have an idea for a project that will improve amateur radio infrastructure? If so, get in touch with us to see how you can qualify for an ARDC grant.

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Bob McGwier, N4HY, Resigning from ARDC Board

Bob McGwire, N4HYAfter serving ARDC for two years, Bob McGwier, N4HY, is resigning from the ARDC Board of Directors on December 31, 2022. 

Though he is departing our organization as a director, we don’t imagine that Bob will be a stranger to ARDC. Bob will continue to be involved in amateur radio, with plans to work with Dr. Jonathan Black of Virginia Tech’s Hume Center Aerospace and Ocean Systems Lab on the design and construction of a geostationary satellite payload. The design work will take place on the Virginia Tech campus and will rely heavily on amateur radio groups, such as Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI). One of the goals of this project will be to protect the 5 and 10 GHz amateur radio bands and prevent them from being allocated to other services. Such a project will take a great deal of his time and attention. In addition, Bob wants to avoid any potential concern about conflict of interest should this project eventually request funding from ARDC.

Bob noted, “I love amateur radio, and I want to do all I can to make it better. It has been my pleasure to serve many communities in amateur radio and communications technology over the years, and I am going to continue to do so, just in a different capacity.”

Phil Karn, KA9Q, ARDC board president said, “I’ve known Bob for 40 years. He brought invaluable experience to the ARDC board, and I’m really sorry to see him go. I know, however, that he’s going to continue to do great things for amateur radio.”

Everyone at ARDC wishes Bob the best on his next endeavors.

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ARDC helps ham radio prepare for “the big one”

Emergency and public service communications is one of the reasons that amateur radio exists. While recent advances–such as satellite communications and trunked communications systems–have perhaps diminished the importance of amateur radio in emergency communications, amateur radio still has a critical role to play.

Below are two examples of how ARDC grantees are meeting the challenge of emergency communications today. By working with existing community groups and adopting new digital technology, they are helping their communities prepare for future disasters.

Preparing for “the big one” in Tillamook County, Oregon

In December 2007, a series of three powerful storms, dubbed the Great Coastal Gale of 2007, hit the Pacific Northwest, prompting residents of Tillamook County, Oregon, to form the Emergency Volunteer Corps of Nehalem Bay (EVCNB). EVCNB is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building personal, community and regional resilience. Since their founding, the group has been promoting what they call a “culture of preparedness.”

According to Margarte Steele, president of EVCNB, one of the events they are preparing for is an earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The Cascadia Subduction Zone is a 600-mile fault that runs from northern California up to British Columbia and is anywhere from 70 to 100 miles offshore. The last earthquake that occurred along this fault was on January 26, 1700, and scientists estimate that this earthquake would have measured 9.0 on the Richter Scale. “An earthquake of this size, and the tsunami that it would create, would be devastating now,” said Steele, “If we can be ready for a Cascadia earthquake, we can be ready for anything.”

A big part of EVCNB’s culture of preparedness is amateur radio. According to Steele, the ability to communicate is critical. This includes communication with neighbors, between neighborhoods, and between the neighborhoods and the local Emergency Operations
Center (EOC). Accordingly, EVCNB has an extensive emergency communication plan that includes both GMRS and amateur radio systems.

In August 2021, EVCNB  submitted a proposal for a project that would improve the amateur radio emergency communications infrastructure in Tillamook County. The proposal included funds for a new UHF repeater on Neahkahnie Mountain and solar-powered, digital go-boxes to be distributed within Tillamook County.

Neahkahnie Mountain is the highest peak along the North Oregon Coast. Locating the UHF repeater there allows ECVNB to communicate more reliably throughout Tillamook County, as well as link to a VHF repeater in Clatsop County to the north. Fortunately, the site had space available for the ECVNB repeater in one of two existing buildings that were already housing public service repeaters, television and radio translators, and microwave links.

The site does not support solar or wind power, so ECVNB installed a battery system to provide power during an emergency. The batteries are kept charged from the commercial power lines and have sufficient capacity to keep the repeater running until backup generators begin supplying power.

In addition to installing the repeater, ECVNB used the grant to build additional solar-powered portable stations, sometimes known as go-boxes. They already had five go-boxes, but they needed more to support all of the neighborhoods that might be cut off in the case of a tsunami.

Margaret Steele, KG7RQZ, and Bruce Maxwell, N5GB, demonstrate
one of ECVNB’s solar-powered go-boxes.

The go-boxes include a 25W VHF/UHF transceiver, an antenna, two 20-Ahr LiFePO4 batteries,  a terminal node controller (TNC), and a 100 W solar panel capable of charging the batteries. With the addition of a Windows laptop, these portable stations are capable of sending and receiving messages via WinLink, in addition to providing voice communications.

They had originally planned to build ten more VHF/UHF go-boxes, but they soon realized that they also needed HF capabilities for longer-range communications. So, instead of building ten additional VHF/UHF go boxes, they plan to build several HF go-boxes.

“We are beyond grateful for ARDC’s support,” Steele said. According to Steele, the new repeater and the go boxes have really enhanced their communications capabilities and their emergency preparedness, and they are continuing to work on improving both. For example, they recently held a Technician class, which resulted in a dozen people getting their licenses.

Walnut Creek hams upgrade to digital

In northern California, they are also preparing for the big one. There, the Walnut Creek, California Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), in partnership with the Walnut Creek SHAMS Amateur Radio Club (SHAMS ARC), already had an extensive, amateur radio-based, analog (voice) emergency communication system in place. According to Don Prosnitz, N6PRZ, SHAMS ARC president, however, they saw the need to upgrade to digital communications. A digital system, he noted, would allow them to transmit digital information in a variety of formats and would provide more immediate and complete information to the city’s emergency responders.

An ARDC grant of $23,220 to Walnut Creek CERT allowed the club to develop and deploy the system, which includes eight VHF digital amateur radio stations all with back-up emergency power. These stations allow CERT members in the community to stay in touch with city officials by sending and receiving messages using WinLink.

It’s WinLink with a twist, though. Most WinLink systems connect to a remote message server (RMS), which then routes email and other messages to the internet. As shown below, the Walnut Creek system uses an RMS that connects only to other systems in the Walnut Creek network. This configuration eliminates the need for an internet connection, which may not be available during some emergency situations. It also improves the privacy of the traffic, reduces noise in the network, and reduces the traffic load on the public Winlink network.

Unlike most WinLink systems that connect to a remote message server (RMS), the Walnut Creek system uses an RMS that connects only to other systems in the Walnut Creek network.

The equipment itself is relatively simple. The RMS and each client system consist of a small Windows computer, VHF radio, external sound card, antenna and power source. Client systems are equipped with laptops, while the RMS system is normally run without a keyboard and monitor. The systems have been designed to run on 12V DC power, so that they can run on battery power, solar power, or mains power.

Of course, none of this works without trained operators. To ensure that enough CERT members are properly trained, the SHAMS ARC teaches several Technician Class courses every year, as well as classes that give these new Techs some real on-air experience. As a result of this training, according to Margaret Campos, AJ6LP, Walnut Creek CERT Program manager, nearly half of the CERT’s 280 volunteers have amateur radio licenses.

Training on the new digital radio equipment and using WinLink is an important part of this project, too. They initially underestimated the amount of training that would be necessary. To address this issue, they plan to purchase a loaner system for volunteers who wish to improve their Winlink skills.

To prove out the system, the Walnut Creek CERT participated in the Great ShakeOut on October 20, 2022, an annual earthquake preparedness drill held annually on the third Thursday of October. In Walnut Creek, 45 licensed amateurs participated, using the new digital emergency communication system.

The 2022 ShakeOut was a great success. Hams at the Walnut Creek City Hall and seven of eight remote stations were successful in exchanging Winlink messages during the exercise. After the exercise, they discovered that the eighth had a defective antenna system. As a result, the CERT created a maintenance team and set up a maintenance schedule to ensure the operability of all the stations.

The group’s success has not gone unnoticed. Following the ShakeOut and a Winlink demonstration for Walnut Creek City departments, the group was asked to provide amateur radio license training for city employees. The police department, the fire department, and the public works department are all interested in the training.

In addition, the group’s technical team, headed by John Trinterud, K9ONR, has given multiple briefings on their implementation of Winlink to amateur radio clubs both inside and outside of California. They have also given Winlink briefings to officials from Alameda County and the state of California and assisted in setting up four new VHF Winlink gateways in and around Walnut Creek.

This project, which started out as a way to keep club members engaged during the pandemic, has really blossomed into something special. The hams involved have developed a unique WinLink application that has not only improved emergency communications in Walnut Creek, but has the potential to do so elsewhere as well. In addition, the project has attracted the attention of served agencies (such as the public works department) in Walnut Creek, Alameda County, and the state of California.

Do you have an idea for a project that uses new technology to improve emergency communications? If so, get in touch with us to see how you can qualify for an ARDC grant..

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