Author Archives: N7WSU

What is Ham Radio?

This is a great blog entry from Jeff, KE7V.  It is a rather old description, which I think still holds up pretty well….

Tech and General License Classes Dec 2-4

The Federal Way Amateur Radio club is offering Technician and General License courses December 2-4, 2011.  See this web site for more information:

New EmComm Training Course from ARRL

This is a revision of the ARRL’s former Emergency Communications Basic/Level 1 course. The course is designed to provide basic knowledge and tools for any emergency communications volunteer. The course has six sections with 29 lesson topics. It includes required student activities, a 35-question final assessment and is expected to take approximately 45 hours to complete over a 9-week period. You will have access to the course platform at any time of day during this 9-week period so you may work according to your own schedule. You must pace yourself to be sure you complete all the required material in the allotted time. Prerequisites include the free mini-courses you can take online at ICS-100 (IS-100.b) (Introduction to the Incident Command System); and IS -700 (National Incident Management System). Also recommended, but not required, are: IS-250, Emergency Support Function 15 (ESF15) External Affairs; and IS-288, The Role of Voluntary Agencies in Emergency Management.

This is a mentored course. You will be assigned to correspond with an experienced radio amateur who will be your resource for any questions you have about the course content. Student and Mentor Expectations are included in the Policies for Online Courses. To register for the course, go to the registration page. The cost is $50 for members, and $85 for non-members.

What is the NTS?

(Reprinted from the ARES e-Newsletter at

The National Traffic System (NTS) is a structure that allows for rapid movement of message traffic from origin to destination and training amateur operators to handle written traffic and participate in directed nets. These two objectives are the underlying foundations of the NTS. It’s a system that operates daily, even continuously with advanced digital links.

The NTS consists of operators who usually participate for one or two periods a week, and some who are active daily. The National Traffic System is an organized effort to handle traffic in accordance with a plan that is easily understood, and employs modern methods of network traffic handling.

NTS is not intended as a deterrent or competition for the many independently-organized traffic networks. When necessitated by overload or lack of outlet for traffic, the facilities of such networks can function as alternate traffic routings where this is indicated in the best interest of efficient message relay and/or delivery.

One of the most important features of NTS is the system concept. No NTS net is an independent entity that can conduct its activities without concern for or consideration of other NTS nets. Each net performs its function and only its function in the overall organization. If nets fail to perform their functions or perform functions intended for other nets, the overall system may be adversely affected. Nets may sometimes find it necessary to adopt temporary measures to ensure the movement of traffic, however. – ARRL Public Service Communications Manual

The best way to get to know the National Traffic System is to hook up with a local NTS traffic net in your area where messages (Radiograms) are entered and others are accepted for delivery by mail or phone. Local clubs, repeater groups, and ARES operators are all good sources for local info on NTS activity. — K1CE

Why the FEMA courses?

(Reprinted from the October ARES e-letter at

For many years, Amateur Radio has longed to be taken seriously by governmental authorities as a professional-quality resource in disaster response. Although there are areas of the country where achieving and maintaining emergency management agencies’ respect is still a struggle, Amateur Radio’s service during 9/11 and the major hurricane disasters has brought us a new level of respect and new opportunities at the national level.

Being taken seriously as a resource comes with a price, however, that must be paid by individual volunteers, not in dollars but in precious personal time. When the federal government instituted the National Incident Management System (NIMS), it imposed a set of requirements on state and local emergency management agencies and their personnel. Affected personnel include not only paid employees of emergency management and related agencies but also volunteers such as those in volunteer fire companies, ARES, and RACES. If the emergency management agencies are to continue receiving federal funds, personnel must complete a number of FEMA training courses having to do with the Incident Command System (ICS) and NIMS. Individuals who do not complete the training will not be allowed to participate, even as volunteers.

These FEMA courses are free of charge, available on line or sometimes in person at emergency management offices, and not particularly difficult. The courses are useful in familiarizing volunteers with the principles of the Incident Command System and showing where communications fits into the ICS structure. These formal requirements are here to stay and more may follow. At the national level, Amateur Radio has earned the respect we always wanted, bringing us closer to the emergency management establishment. – excerpted from the ARRL National Emergency Response Planning Committee Report (2007)

Recommended Courses

ARES E-Letter Published

The ARES* E-Letter is published the 3rd Wednesday of every month.  ARRL members can subscribe by editing their email preferences in their profile at ARRL.ORG.  I’m posting links to the e-letter for those who are not ARRL members.

Text Version:
Audio version:

*The Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES) consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment, with their local ARES leadership, for communications duty in the public service when disaster strikes.  More information is available here:

D-Star QSO Party Nov 11-13

The biggest D-Star QSO party in the world.

Travel the world by connecting through D-Star repeaters around the globe.  Contact as many D-Star stations as possible throughout the world. 

The party runs from November 11 (Fri) at 00:00 (UTC) to November 13 (Sun) at 24:00 (UTC)

15 lucky winners will receive an ICOM ID-31A UHF Digital Transceiver with built-in GPS.

More details and rules at:

What’s in a Name?

Well, a lot is in a name.  In this case, I’m talking about the name of the new club.  I’ve tentatively named it the “Tukwila Radio Club” just so I could get a domain name for the web site, blog and email address.  It’s my intention to ask the club members to come up with potential names and vote on them at the first meeting November 9.

Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with:

  • “Tukwila Emergency Communications”, or “TEC Team” for short
  • “Tukwila Amateur Radio” (TAR Team).  This one may make us seem a bit slow-moving, which we certainly won’t be!
  • “Seattle/Tukwila Amateur Radio Team” (START).  Not sure if we should put “Seattle” in there, but it makes the acronym work
  • “Radio Emergency Amateur Communications in Tukwila” (REACT).  CB veterans will recognize that REACT International is the name of a radio organization that is mostly CB and GMRS focused.  Not sure if we want to confuse people with that name.
  • “Radio Amateurs Serving Tukwila” (RAST)
  • “Tukwila Emergency Amateur Communication Help” (TEACH).  It’s a bit wordy though

Then there’s always:

  • “Amateur Radio Service in Emergencies” (ARSE)
  • “Radio Emergency Services of Tukwila” (REST) (I kinda like the idea of RESTing for a change)
  • “Tukwila Emergency Amateur Radio Service (TEARS).  Uh, no.

Feel free to comment on this blog post with your ideas and bring them to the first club meeting!

I Have a Dream…

Since becoming a ham, I’ve learned a lot about emergency management and the role of Amateur Radio when everything else fails.  Most people don’t realize that when there’s a flood, a hurricane, a tornado, an earthquake or any other type of natural disaster, one of the most fragile and hardest-hit pieces of a city’s backbone is the communications infrastructure.  For those who remember the Nisqually Earthquake a decade ago, try to remember what you did as soon as the shaking stopped.  I’m willing to bet that most of you who had cell phones (they weren’t quite so ubiquitous back then) probably immediately called someone to discuss what just happened.  I know I did!  Of course when a million or so others in the area have the same idea it brings down the cellular communications system pretty quickly.  Especially since the system was already operating with reduced capacity because of the power outages to cell towers and damaged fiber and copper lines.  The reality is that when very big, very bad things happen, commercial communications infrastructure usually crumbles.  At least for a while.

In the early days of Amateur Radio, the emphasis of the hobby was on experimentation and discovery.  Communicating by radio waves was still a very new concept and anyone with access to some very basic materials could build a simple receiver, transmitter or antenna, maybe tweak the design a little here and there to see what happens and actually have a hand in the discoveries and advancements that have made radio communications into what they are today.

In today’s Amateur Radio, experimentation still plays a key role.  However, the experimentation is taking place more and more in the non-radio-propagation aspects of the hobby.  Most people have pretty much got a handle on how radio communication works and aren’t going to be experimenting on more efficient amplifiers or filters in their home ham shack.  However, we’ve got a whole host of relatively new technologies in the hobby that are still ripe for experimentation and advancement.  For example, D-Star digital communications over the same old radio waves we’ve always used for analog communications are an exciting area of experimentation and development.  D-Rats is a software program developed by a ham that, when connected to a D-Star radio, will allow the transfer of instant messages, binary files, images or emails without any dependency on commercial infrastructure.

As experimentation sort of stepped back in the Amateur Radio lineup, Emergency Communications stepped forward.  Hams are known for their independent, self-reliant personalities.  One of the draws of radio communications is the fact that they’re not dependent on an infrastructure that repeatedly shows how fragile it is, especially when we need it most as in the aftermath of an emergency.

I have a dream for this new club and it’s perfectly in line with the Emergency Communications emphasis that the radio hobby has today:

In the event of an emergency, the Tukwila Office of Emergency Management is going to need people in the field with whom they can communicate to deal with a host of problems.  There may be gas leaks, downed power lines, trees blocking roads, flooded roads and the communications infrastructure will most likely be down as well.  Imagine having residents scattered throughout the city who have their own radio equipment, the operation of which they’ve mastered, and who can report these problems to those who can do something about them.  They’ve trained with the city so they know what frequencies to use, who is in charge, who to report to, the format of messages, the routine of the meetings that will be taking place to get things done.  Also imagine that these people are some of the best-prepared to meet their own family’s needs in an emergency so they won’t be in need of assistance, but will be able to provide assistance to those who may be less prepared.

Let’s further imagine that our many businesses in Tukwila have invested in training and equipment to be able to join the radio nets that will be activated after an emergency.  In this way, the city can get reports of damage and injuries at Westfield Shopping Mall or the Museum of Flight or any of the other businesses in the City.  The City can communicate important information to the businesses so the businesses can make announcements to their customers and keep them informed.  Everyone has the information they need to understand their options and what to do next.

But how do we convince people to buy equipment, train for emergencies, study for exams, practice generating and passing messages using standard government forms and procedures?  To be honest, it doesn’t sound like much fun.  And it’s not MEANT to be particularly fun.  It’s meant to be a vital resource to our communities and it’s one of the reasons the FCC allows us to use a relatively large portion of the radio spectrum for free when they could be selling it to cell phone carriers for billions of dollars (yes, BILLIONS).  The FUN part comes in everything ELSE you can do with those frequencies.  Here are a few examples:

  • Build an antenna with your child in about 30 minutes at a cost of about $25.  Then put the microphone in their hands and talk to someone thousands of miles away using something that they built.  Re-use the antenna for the rest of your life.  A small investment indeed!
  • Gather with your radio club friends for conferences, swap meets, brag about the great deal you got on a great used radio, sell an old radio you don’t use anymore so that another ham can benefit from it too.
  • Take your radio with you on vacation.  Talk with the local hams on the local repeater, get the scoop on the best restaurants or festivals happening while you’re there.  Meet the local ham for coffee and a face-to-face chat.  A ham radio license puts you in a group of instant acquaintances and, sometimes, instant lifelong friends.
  • Put your operator skills to the test by participating in one of the dozens of contests scheduled each year.  Fight for most contacts, most states contacted, most counties, most nations contacted and other criteria.  Then brag about your score on the weekly social net you join on the local radio repeater.
  • Go “old school” and buy a morse code key or paddle (or better, build one).  Tap out the “dits” and “dahs” to communicate with someone who could be thousands of miles away doing the same thing on a radio the size of a tuna can running on a 9v battery.  Buy an inexpensive kit of materials and build your own “Tuna Tin 2″ radio with only basic skills.
  • Hook an old radio with a wire for an antenna to an old computer and carry out instant messaging sessions with dozens of other hams around the world doing the same thing at any given time.  Find out what’s news in Turkey, Russia, Brazil or chat with live-aboard sailers as they sail the Caribbean.  Amateur Radio is the best social tool ever.  If you reach someone on the radio, you already have ONE thing in common to talk about.  It’s a start!

So there’s my dream.  To have a great collection of residents and business partners in the City of Tukwila work together with the local Emergency Management Office to develop an emergency communications plan, train for it and drill on it until it’s stuck in our heads for life.  To maintain interest in radio between emergencies, the hobby side kicks in with fun activities, social potential, friendly competition and the all important “cool toy” aspect.  I hope some of you join us on this adventure!

Mark Lium (N7WSU)
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Federal Way Amateur Radio Club Offering D-Star Classes

The Hands on Basic Training and Introductory DSTAR and DRATS Digital classes will be held October 22, 2011 starting at 8:00AM.

This event is located at the City of Federal Way Council Chambers  at 33325 8th Ave. South, Federal Way, WA 98003.

Learn the future of Digital Communications from the ground up by attending all of the Introductory October 22nd classes.

Two weeks later on November 5th,  you can enjoy all of the Main DSTAR and DRATS Workshop talks and advanced techniques that will be held at the Federal Way Community Center located at 876 S. 333rd Street • Federal Way WA 98003

Everyone is welcome to attend and learn about this exciting ham radio future.  The Total Cost for both classes  (Oct 22nd, and Nov 5th) is $35.00 will take you to the pages full of info and registration.