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So much this and worse.

In my state the ARES/RACES people got together and made a "statewide emergency network" of repeaters using local IP for interconnect. Our rural WISP arm provides the IP for several of their repeaters (incidentally we also provide IP to local gov). Our gear: 2-3 days of battery and industrial/carrier networking equipment. Their gear: APC UPS with (optimistically) 45 minutes of runtime powering a old Gateway P2 running WinXP.

Maybe 20 years ago they would have been useful, but post 9/11 FEMA/DHS grants have been very good to local emergency comms. My county now has their own towers with a ton of batteries, generator, and 11Ghz/18Ghz interconnect.

I'm just not seeing a scenario where their repeaters stay online, traditional comms fail, and we still have enough societal function where you can call for (or provide) help.

If there is a megascale disaster here (Seattle/Vancouver area), I know who I'm going to for my emergency electricity needs to power communciations gear, and it's certainly not the local amateur radio greybeards... It's the ISP network engineering people who have 'enable' on the core routers for many of the larger regional ASNs and have been collecting things like 40kW diesel generators for their houses, and datacenters with massive fuel storage on site.

It seems like you've got a chip on your shoulder against hams(greybeards, seriously?).

Not all of us live in a major metro area, where I'm at it's ~20mi to a major city so VHF/UHF fits the needs we have.

Question, did you participate in Cascadia Rising? Just about all of our local ham club did. We've had some pretty serious things happen down south here over the last few years and the local club has always stepped up. They also do a fantastic job of helping with community communication for events in remote areas that don't have cell coverage.

I totally get geeking out over the latest and greatest tech, but that doesn't mean you need to dismiss a whole group of people who would be happy to help in any situation.

(not OP, but since I agree with most of their comments in this thread...)

So, I knew a older ham once. Dude owned a commercial tower & paging company. Built his own power supplies because COTS switching power supplies were "too noisy". Gave me one to run our gear at one of his towers before we switched to -48 rectifiers. Awesome guy. Really knew his stuff on anything radio (RF, tower, grounding, etc) Got offed in a stupid employee payment dispute :(

Unfortunately most of the hams I know aren't like that. There's a type: generally older men with decent-sized egos who have been around forever and see ham insider tech (winlink, "high speed" data measured in bps) as the end all-be all of comms. They stress how they are first responders doing emergency communications. Throw lights on their cars, etc. Sometimes they've been around long enough to get a seat at the table and then everyone has to work around them. Generally ARES/RACES-affiliated, not SKYWARN. I haven't had any bad encounters with SKYWARN folks...

Of course, I'm sure there are a ton of decent hams around that I haven't encountered. Likely because they aren't being obnoxious :)

I mean, ham should be entering a renaissance and full of awesomeness doing hobbyist SDR and IoT things but there's so many people stuck firmly in the past...

I give the average ham emergency-response person 10 out of 10 points for motivation and enthusiasm, unfortunately, in the modern era IP and packet based emergency communications systems are increasingly much more important than half duplex analog radio channels. They are also seriously hampered by finances - ham projects are a labor of love for the mostly age 45+ males who are the vast majority of the community. I didn't mean to be dismissive or insulting by calling them greybeards, but if you google "ham radio shack" and look at the pictures of people about 9 out of 10 of the people who are seriously into the hobby are older white men who fit a particular demographic niche. It's a much less diverse community than the Internet engineering/IP community as a whole. Not that a NANOG or APNIC meeting has a great deal of female gender representation or ethnic minorities, but the demographic skews a great deal younger.

Regarding the finances - projects funded out of peoples' pockets and small funding sources won't be able to build the sort of serious five to six nines reliability networks with significant N+1 redundancy that will survive a major disaster. The amount of money that has been thrown around via the US DHS to local agencies in the past 14 years is immense. Similarly, large ISPs and major telecoms and their infrastructure providers (major IX points, datacenters, colos) have put a metric shitload of money into being able to survive a major disaster. Look at the engineering of the NAP of the Americas in Miami, for instance. In a major disaster I know of at least a dozen ISPs that might lose 75% of their network, towards the edges, as sites run out of battery and generator and fall of the network, but the remaining 25% of the network including their core will remain online for multi-week periods with fun things like 50,000 liter diesel tanks and N+1 2 megawatt generators. The telecom industry has a long tradition of seriously overbuilding stuff to survive disasters.

In a serious disaster, small transportable first responder command posts and similar need access to services that can only be delivered over reasonably-close-to-broadband IP services: GIS mapping, sending/receiving photos and schematics, logistics manifests, VoIP with 0.0% packet loss, medical data and a myriad of other things that you can't do by half duplex voice alone.

Hi walrus01, thanks for the reality check, and the detailing into the various present-day approaches for comms. I certainly have a lot of reading to do now :)

I do believe there are many situations where Amateur Radio can help during disaster scenarios since not all places have these IP networks that you're pointing us to. There are lots of real stories, as recent as last year, where HAMs went out of their way to help during local crisis. See the Chennai floods last year, for instance. I have many more such stories from India at least.

Amateur Radio is within the reach of the average citizen. One doesn't need expensive equipment, or connections with the Defense, or lots of money. I've attended camps where we learned to put together antennae for under a dollar, which gave us a range of about 300 kms. I've seen simple radios put together which permitted VHF and UHF communications. I don't have a license in the part of the world I'm in at the moment, but in the US, I've spent time with HAMs who are active on CW - transmitting Morse code all over.

While it is certainly true that ISPs would have lots of fuel, and that most repeaters are powered from the regular electrical grid, I believe these are opportunities for like-minded HAMs to put together something that is independent of regular power grids. e.g. Solar and wind powered Repeater stations, spare equipment wrapped up in Faraday Cages, and lots of people getting licenses to become Amateur Radio operators.

There's also a lot to be said for having the gear to be able to coordinate with friends/family until normal comms are restored for non-responders.

Just because you aren't coordinate the "real" help doesn't mean having your own communications in the short term won't be handy.

The demographics almost precisely match the classic car hobby or woodworking in that if you buy a $200 graphics card 5 years ago, today you have a paperweight sitting in a landfill and your net worth is $200 lower. Therefore "computer people" are somewhat egalitarian, a 65+ white guy probably spent the same amount of money on his macbook as a 22 year old black woman.

Ham radio or classic cars or woodworking are different. You can safely assume an old guy will have a fabulous workshop in the years before death. I inherited a nice 1960s craftsman drill press and it works perfectly and looks stylish in a retro manner and when I'm 65 people will be subject to google image search pix of my shop. No 25 year old kid is proud of his workshop unless he's trust fund rich or there's a weird back story. My electronics lab is about the same as is my ham radio gear.

There is also a side dish of all computer people are noobs, almost all of them, who will leave the field in a couple years either fed up or ageism'd out or they were only in it for the $$$ or maybe its just a hobby that doesn't appeal to most people for more than five or so years. Whereas you have hams or woodworkers or car nuts who've been into one hobby from age 12 till 82 and 70 years of growth in skill and equipment will result in some impressive internet pix of some 82 yr old dude's shop.

Likewise if selection pressures mean you're only going to see old peoples workshops, the demographics are going to look very much like a college EE class from say 1965, because that's who's workshop you're looking at. Its highly likely that in 50 years you'll see old people workshops online that match the gender and racial demographics of the MSEE graduating class of 2016, but you're going to have to wait 50 years to see todays freshly minted MSEE's as old people.

Finally I'll admit my workshop is not terribly well organized, or could be improved, and there's that selection pressure that I'm not going to post a pix of my table saw with pieces of wood stacked on the table or sawdust shavings all over my router table. What you see online is staged and unusual and artificial, much as very few houses in the real world look like the pix in a "Better Homes and Gardens" magazine. And that staging taking piles of cash and time mean you're mostly seeing old people stuff. Even if most of the world in reality isn't old people stuff, most of the pictures certainly are.

The ham radio version of the mall ninja!


I wish the ARRL would stop pushing EmComm to the exclusion of anything else.

Relevant short story: "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth"


The best short story I've ever read. Hands down.

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