SATERN Participates In FEMA Communications Exercise

December 31, 2016
William Feist | bill.feist@uss.salvationarmy.org | (601) 421-1496

NHQ SATERN (12/21/2016 ) –SATERN operator Ken Gilliland, AG6SV, participated in a FEMA Region X interoperability communications exercise on December 21 at the request of National SATERN Liaison Bill Feist, WB8BZH.  FEMA Region X covers Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.  Some of these states had recently participated in a major earthquake exercise called Cascadia Rising this past June where part of the exercise simulated a complete loss of the communications infrastructure.

The purpose of this exercise was to allow federal and amateur radio stations to practice communicating with each other in the event of a wide-spread communications emergency.  Federal law prohibits government stations from operating on the amateur radio frequencies or amateur radio stations from operating on government frequencies. 

However, the federal government has recognized the advantages of being able to communicate directly with over 700,000 amateur radio operators around the country in the event of a major emergency.  As a result, amateur radio operators have been given permission to use selected channels of a government-only band (60 meters) which allows for relatively short-range communications (approximately 200 to 300 miles).  Amateur radio and government stations can now communicate directly with each other on these selected channels and different departments within the federal government have begun to conduct exercises between government and amateur radio stations on the 60 meter band

The latest interoperability exercise was designed by FEMA to use Channels 1 and 2 on 60 meters to test communications between a number of federal entities and amateur radio in FEMA Region X.  Federal participants included the Department of Homeland Security, the US Coast Guard, FEMA, the US Army, the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS), Civil Air Patrol, and the Department of Commerce.  There was also participation by tribal and local government. 

“Cities, counties, tribes, authorized Federal agencies and amateur operators that support jurisdictional emergency management organizations are welcome to participate,” Laura Goudreau, KG7BQX, Regional Emergency Communications Coordinator for FEMA Region X, said in announcing the exercise. “The coordination and authorization of this net between Federal stations and amateur licensees has been coordinated and authorized by the NTIA [National Telecommunications and Information Agency]and the FCC [Federal Communications Commission].”

The exercise included both voice and digital communications components.  The voice component entailed two-way communications between government and amateur service operators, including SATERN.  The digital component was a one-way broadcast to test FEMA’s ability to send messages and for remote stations to receive them.  

The exercise began with a voice net that opened on 60 meter channel 1 (5.330.5 MHz USB) at 0900 PST (1700 UTC) with an alternate voice net frequency of 5.403.5 MHz USB.  Net control then announced the digital net and the call for check-ins was postponed until after the first round of digital transmissions. Participating stations could check in with call sign, city and state of operation, and a report on the ability to receive the digital messages, along with preferred mode.

The digital portion of the net on channel 2 (5346.5 kHz USB) consisted of two different messages, each repeated using two different digital modes. The first message sent was a brief introductory message intended to validate that stations were correctly set up to receive the digital messages. Reports from the second, longer message helped determine recommendations for modes to use in future exercises or real-world events.

Gilliland, who is located in northern California, reported that he heard many stations checking into the net on Channel 1 and was eventually able to check in when the Net Control asked for anyone to check in from other FEMA Regions.  Gilliland did not hear any of the digital transmissions on Channel 2.  In her report on the exercise, Goudreau said, “We had 48 check-ins of which 42 were amateurs.  It was very successful and also included our first digital test.”

FEMA announced during the net that this exercise would be repeated on the third Wednesday of every month. 

Other government users have begun to conduct similar exercises.  Earlier this year, SATERN operators participated in a nationwide exercise conducted by the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) network of the Department of Defense (DoD).  Part of that exercise was also conducted on 60 meters to test interoperability between the Department of Defense and amateur radio stations.  MARS is currently conducting quarterly emergency communications exercises which SATERN frequently participates in.

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