Emergency Communications Applications of EchoLink and IRLP
IRLP, the Internet Radio Linking Project, and EchoLink are two means of utilizing Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to link Amateur Radio repeaters, nodes, links and in the case of EchoLink, PC users together to form a wide area network of communications. It can provide tremendous flexibility and an additional means of long-range communications but is most assuredly NOT a replacement for HF disaster-related or HF DX communications. It is another tool we have as Amateur Radio Operators for emergency and disaster related communications and another way to enjoy the Amateur Radio Service that complements our existing Amateur Radio modes.
IRLP and EchoLink have been utilized for several years for ARES/RACES/SKYWARN communications for major events such as the Major Snowstorm of December 2003, the Democratic National Convention of 2004, the Blizzard of January 2005, the “Severe Thunderstorm/Heavy Snowfall Event” of December 2005, the Blizzard of February 2006, the Floods of May 2006 and the Severe Thunderstorm Derecho event of August 2006. The communications with EchoLink/IRLP were done utilizing the New England Network/Reflector EchoLink/IRLP Integrated Conference system .
This system has also been utilized for the 2005 and 2006 Massachusetts Statewide Hurricane Drills and other ARES/RACES/SKYWARN/MARS exercises in Massachusetts. It is noted that this system did not replace the usage of local VHF/UHF repeaters, 6 Meters, HF and other means during these disasters and exercises. The system was another way to run a command net of liaisons and to provide other Amateurs whose most reliable means may have been the use of this VoIP system, an additional way to communicate with key agencies such as the National Weather Service and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency State EOC in Framingham, Massachusetts. The system was also utilized to communicate with the National Hurricane Center Amateur Radio Station, WX4NHC, in Miami Florida during the hurricane exercises.
During hurricanes, an additional net has been setup using EchoLink/IRLP nodes to assist with making contact with stations within the affected area. The VoIP Hurricane Net , founded in 2003, has allowed the National Hurricane Center, WX4NHC, to make contact with stations that do not have their HF license or a means to communicate via HF. This has allowed for additional reports to be received that may not have been received by any other means. On the VoIP Hurricane Net web site, recommendations for proper technical configuration on nodes is given to keep the linked network of Amateur Radio systems running in an efficient manner.
Also, when HF Propagation is poor, the VoIP Hurricane Net offers another means to communicate with stations in the affected area of hurricanes. An example of this was with Hurricane Emily in 2005 as it affected Grenada, the Grenadines, Trinidad, and Tobago. Long-haul HF propagation via 20 Meters to the United States was poor but through the VoIP Hurricane Net, stations in the Caribbean islands relayed reports of damage from their HF 75 Meter Caribbean Weather Net to the VoIP Hurricane Net so that reports could get to the National Hurricane Center. This example exemplifies how VoIP is not a replacement for HF. Its also an example of how the two modes can complement each other nicely.
For more information on EchoLink/IRLP, see the following links:
The above links should provide you information on the various EchoLink/IRLP RF link/node owners. Some nodes require an access code to access the note much like accesing a repater autopatch. The node owners can provide that specific information for their specific node and additional info on EchoLink/IRLP.
An example of non-Emergency communication using EchoLink is listed below. IRLP can be utilized in similiar fashion except there is no way to connect in through IRLP utilizing IRLP through a PC directly as IRLP is all RF based.
Surfin’: Repeaters, Echolink and DX
By Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU
January 16, 2004
This week, Pete Kemp, KZ1Z, pays a visit to give us some tips for using Echolink when contacting DX stations.
Jonathan Taylor, K1RFD, is the creator of Echolink, which is software that allows Amateur Radio stations to communicate with each other over the Internet using voice-over-IP (VoIP) technology. For example, a ham in Podunk may use an Echolinked 450-Mhz repeater to converse with a ham in Framistan who is using an Echolinked 2-meter repeater. The Internet fills the gap between the two repeaters.
My old friend Pete Kemp, KZ1Z, is a big Echolink fan and has written the following set of tips for getting the most out of Echolink when “working DX.”
What it is, and isn’t…
Echolink is fast becoming an enjoyable mode for many via linked repeaters. Having a conversation with someone in a foreign country always brings with it a certain fascination. To understand the process a bit better one should understand that these conversations are a blend of the Internet and Amateur Radio. Contacts (QSOs) don’t count for anything except fun. You don’t QSL a DX contact on a repeater for what is, in essence, an enhanced telephone call with a computer. Imagine the day when certificates are given for Working All Area Codes via telephone modems? Some amateurs may send you an e-mail or QSL to confirm a particularly friendly exchange, but they are off the books for awards.
With the growth of our hobby, there is a large number of licensed amateurs who have never operated on HF frequencies; the procedures on shortwave are a bit different than a local ragchew on the repeater. This can be confusing to some. To assist with this process, here are some helpful hints that may make your conversations go a little more smoothly.
Know Your DX Prefixes: Have a DXCC or ITU call sign assignment list readily available if you are unfamiliar with prefixes. This will help you zero in a bit to start off your conversation. Remember that on Echolink, you’re likely to hear prefixes that you would never hear on HF. This is because some countries have a license class equivalent to our Technician (VHF privileges only.) The licensing authority often assigns special prefixes to these operators. For example, many Brazilian stations have a ZZ prefix.
Know the international or standard phonetic alphabet. Cute words are most confusing to others. Saying your name is “Pete, Pizza Every Thursday Evening” will destroy the flow on a conversation, as you have confused, instead of clarified, a response to the other operator. There are other lesser-known alphabets used mostly for domestic contacts. Pete could be Portugal Espana Tango Espana, if conversing with a Spanish speaking station, but in general, it is best to “stick to the standard.”
The Echolink web site is the home of K1RFD’s software that has added a new dimension to Amateur Radio.
Have a metric conversation chart handy. This helps when describing your QTH as being 60 kilometers northeast of New York City or giving the temperature in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. This always seems so much colder to us.
Time Zones apply to the Internet. Remember that UTC/GMT is the international standard. If you want to meet again, you have to have base to start from. If one operator were to say “I’ll work you again at 5” you are in big trouble. Five in the morning or five in the afternoon? His local time or yours? Don’t forget the International Dateline, as it is possible to talk to tomorrow.
Speak slowly. While English is taught in the schools of most nations, and is one of the most common languages on HF, it is a second language for most DX stations. This does not mean you speak s-o s-l-o-w-l-y as if you are talking to a 3-year-old. The proper procedure would be to take your time, speaking in an unrushed fashion, clearly pronouncing each word. As an example, The Voice of America (VOA) was well known for their use of “special” English for newscasts. This was done specifically to assist foreign listeners in learning English. To test this theory, have a native English speaker turn on Telemundo or Univision on TV to watch the news. You can pick out a word here and there, but everything seems so fast.
Identify in English. As long as you identify your station’s call sign in English, in accordance with the rules, you may try to converse in the other operator’s languages. In the true ham spirit of enhancing international good will, try using some phrases in a foreign language. DXers have long known that a friendly “Hello” works wonders. DX operators are always glad to help you out with pronunciation and phrasing. Learning is a life-long process.
Follow the Amateur’s Code. As with all Amateur Radio conversations, they should be friendly, informative and enlightening. Stay away from politics and other hot button issues, as they do little to build bridges.
Amateur Radio is a fun hobby/public service because there are so many avenues to pursue. Echolink has proven to be a fun road to travel, offering a fine adjunct to our hobby. Go to the Echolink web site to learn more about the software and download a copy for you.
Until next time, keep on surfin’
Editor’s note: Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU, is glad that Mac users can use the Echolink system, too, by means of the Mac OS X application called EchoMac. Visit the EchoMac web site for more information regarding EchoMac. Just don’t send e-mails to Stan at firstname.lastname@example.org to complain about the lack of Echolink software for the Commodore 64.