Residents Survive CA Blaze in Chilly Lake

When over a dozen people became trapped by the Camp Fire last week, a firefighter sent them wading into the Lake Concow reservoir.

Nov. 14 — CONCOW, CA — When Scott realized that his lakeside home in the wooded hills of Butte County was surrounded by fire, he knew he had only one way out: the water.

He, his wife and their two young adult sons, along with two dogs and a cat, plunged into the chilly Concow Reservoir 20 miles east of Chico last Thursday as flames singed the giant tule reeds on shore behind them.

Not far from the family, at least a dozen others, some elderly, had also rushed into the mountain lake, all wearing what they’d woken up in. They were from a caravan of vehicles that a firefighter had been trying to escort away from the early-morning blaze before the group ran into the same wall of fire as Scott, who asked to be identified only by his first name.

The firefighter ordered the drivers out of their vehicles and into the murky water.

As time passed, the sizzling heat from the shoreline forced some to go deeper into the lake. Theirs would become another astonishing tale of survival from the Camp Fire, which continued to grow Tuesday after becoming the deadliest and most destructive inferno in California history.

Among those saved was 90-year-old Bruno. Scott’s son, Michael, helped their older neighbor from his home and into the reservoir, though he wasn’t sure he could survive the dip.

“Bruno was saying, ‘Just leave me. I can’t do this,’” Scott recalled. “I said, ‘Bruno, we’re not going to leave you. And I’m not going to burn, so you better hurry.’”

Before the Camp Fire laid waste to the town of Paradise, making the popular retirement community the center of the historic ruin, thousands living reclusively in the thick pines above had lost homes and loved ones.

In the first hours, the residents of remote places like Concow worked arm in arm to limit their losses, and save as many lives as possible.

“Most of the attention has been on Paradise,” said Scott, 51, who has lived in Concow for decades and didn’t want his family’s name used because of the sensitivity of his wife’s job. “We don’t get any attention here. We don’t really want it.”

Around Lake Concow, where recovery teams have been slower to visit the charred remains of horse ranches, organic farms, pot grows and the secluded enclaves of long-distance commuters, the chilly and wind-whipped water became a sanctuary — but a deeply inhospitable one. Especially for Bruno.

As Scott and Michael’s family cat struggled to stay afloat in a tiny cage, Michael noticed a pair of small rowboats chained to a nearby log. He loosened the vessels and helped Bruno, his mother, his brother and the family pets board. Everyone but his dad.

“There wasn’t enough room for all of us,” said Scott, who insisted that the others paddle to safety while he remained submerged.

It was so cold, he said, that at several points he waded back toward the flames to warm up.

Farther north on the lake, Scott’s in-laws were among an estimated 15 people standing shoulder-deep in water. Some of their abandoned cars, which included an old Dodge truck, a minivan and a Kia SUV, remained on Hoffman Road on the north side of the reservoir Tuesday.

Cal Fire Division Chief Garrett Sjolund, who is based in Butte County, said additional firefighters came to the aid of the fleeing residents, handing out fire shelters, the pop-up tents that serve as a last defense against life-threatening heat, to those that couldn’t withstand the water.

“It was a true rescue story,” Sjolund said.

At some point, Michael navigated his crew to an island in the middle of the reservoir. They were safe from the flames, but the frigid water left Bruno drifting in and out of consciousness and suffering severe hypothermia. Michael proceeded back into the water and then onto shore to find help.

“Somebody knocked on my door and said there was an old man on the island,” said Concow resident Peggy Moak, whose house was one of the few that survived the fire as hundreds of others around her were reduced to ash.

Moak said some friends and family threw a canoe into the back of a truck and headed to the lake. They were back in no time, having collected Bruno and the rest of the family.

“The man was fully clothed, too, all his jeans and shoes,” Moak remembered. “He looked like he wasn’t going to last much longer.”

She and others stripped Bruno of his garb and warmed him with a hot bath, tea and fresh clothes, and he appeared to liven up, Moak said. He was later driven to a hospital in Chico. His condition Tuesday was not known.

Authorities confirmed that several of the others in the reservoir were hospitalized, some with serious burns. Their status was not clear either.

Scott remained in the lake until the fire ran its course. When he finally returned to shore, he was virtually unharmed.

Troy Miller, who lives nearby, had heard the stories of neighbor helping neighbor and had, in fact, gotten a hand from some friends after his home was leveled by the fire.

“We take care of each other here,” he said, as he camped out on his small lot with his two dogs. “We take care of ourselves.”

Original article from San Francisco Chronicle by Kurtis Alexander


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If You Drive in Los Angeles the Cops can Track Your Every Move

It was a particularly chilly cold case. At 1 am on November 18, 2010, officers from the Los Angeles Police Department responded to reports of gunfire in a leafy cul-de-sac near Universal Studios. They found Jong Kim lying in front of his home and shot at least five times. Kim, a 50-year-old liquor store owner, later died in a hospital without regaining consciousness.

The most promising clues were grainy surveillance images that showed a two-tone Honda Prelude with a sunroof and fancy rims, but no visible license plate. Paperwork revealed a veritable haystack of vehicles—5,000 Preludes registered in Los Angeles County alone.

Despite a $50,000 reward for information, the investigation stalled for more than a year. Then in May 2012, detectives turned to a new Automatic License Plate Reader system. ALPRs use digital cameras attached to buildings, street lights, and patrol cars to snap photos of passing cars. Computer-vision technology can determine the make and model of the car, and “read” the license plate—turning public streets into massive databases of almost every car on the road.

After looking at hundreds of photos, detectives focused on cars with the suspect Prelude’s modifications. One stood out. Although it was painted a different color in 2012, officers searched through the ALPR database and confirmed that in 2010 the car matched the surveillance video. It was enough to identify a suspect, who in 2015 was convicted of Kim’s murder and jailed for 50 years.

The analysis was made possible by software provided by Palantir, Peter Thiel’s shadowy intelligence startup. The LAPD was one of Palantir’s first local law enforcement customers, after it had cut its teeth on Pentagon, CIA, and NSA contracts. Since signing with Palantir in 2009, the LAPD has spent more than $20 million on its software and hardware.

Documents obtained through a public-records request suggest at least $5.8 million of that went to ALPR technologies.

Hundreds of Requests a Day

The LAPD has never divulged how many ALPR searches it conducts. But an email obtained by WIRED through the public record request says its police officers tapped the system 200 to 300 times a day in 2016. Los Angeles County sheriffs performed a similar number of searches through Palantir, according to the email. Police in Long Beach, the city south of LA, made an additional 30 searches a day. Together, the three departments make hundreds of thousands of searches a year.

It’s hard to put that number in perspective because there are few statistics on police use of license plate readers. However, Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, considers the total “enormous.” He says it shows that it is now standard practice for officers to use ALPR “as a surveillance tool” even when “officers have no reason to believe a driver was involved in any criminal activity.”

Using Palantir’s software, LAPD officers can see everywhere a car has been photographed in a given time period.

The LAPD has not said how many ALPR cameras it owns or has access to, although documents show that it shares images with cameras from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Long Beach, Glendale, and Burbank police, as well as with Burbank, LAX, and Van Nuys airports. It has also used images from civilian ALPR cameras, typically deployed in shopping malls, universities, and transit centers for security.

ALPR systems are now widely used by law enforcement in the US and around the world. Surveys collected by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2013 found that 93 percent of police departments in cities with 1 million or more people used ALPR. Even half the departments serving towns as small as 25,000 people have ALPR. One ALPR company, Vigilant Solutions, claims that it carries out over a billion license plate scans each year.

Such systems traditionally have been used by law enforcement to help locate stolen vehicles. But when ALPR data is stored for years and then integrated with analytical systems like Palantir, it becomes much more powerful—and potentially open to abuse.

According to a Palantir user guide for the LAPD disclosed to WIRED, detectives start by logging in with their police credentials. When the system launched in 2009, officers had to type in why they were searching. Many would just enter “investigation” or the numeric code for a crime, like “459” for burglary, according to a 2014 email to users from John Gaw, a sheriff’s department sergeant responsible for working with Palantir.

Gaw warned Palantir users to better justify requests for ALPR searches, lest the department attract more attention from civil liberties groups. “[We] are facing potential limitations on the use … of the ALPR database by the ACLU,” he wrote. “We may be challenged to … show we are … making sure every user has a valid reason.”

Officers misusing law enforcement databases for their own purposes is a perennial problem at the LAPD and elsewhere. Some officers weren’t happy about Gaw’s team auditing ALPR requests and questioning vague rationales. “Unfortunately they have been contacting every user that puts in an unacceptable search reason,” wrote another LASD sergeant, Peter Jackson.

Searching by Plate Number, or by Area

In its latest version that went live in May 2016, called ALPR 2.0 or TBird, Palantir’s ALPR system requires users to enter a specific case number, and to select a purpose for each search via a pulldown menu. However, some of the reasons are vague, such as “protect critical infrastructure” or “protect the public during events.”

“The broad language for categorizing searches suggests that no indication of criminality is required to make a query,” says the ACLU’s Bibring. “If that’s the case, it’s basically the Wild West for when officers can query millions of data points.” Neither Palantir nor the LAPD responded to multiple requests for comment on this story.

Once in the system, detectives have several options. If they have a full or partial plate number, they can search using that. The system will then display matching plates, and a map view showing every time each plate was captured by the ALPR system.

A Timeline button brings up a chart showing how many times a plate has been searched, while a Freq Analysis feature displays a table showing those hits by time of day, and day of the week. These can help detectives spot patterns, such as where a vehicle’s driver might live or work.

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Maritime Mobile Service Network Operators Assist Vessel with Ill Crew Member

Sailing Vessel Marie Elena

Amateur Radio operators associated with the Maritime Mobile Service Network (MMSN) played a significant part in summoning medical assistance on November 9 for a crew member suffering chest pains on board the 48-foot sailing vessel Marie Elena, some 300 miles east of Bermuda.

“The assistance we received from the ham radio operator[s] was crucial in helping us communicate with the vessel’s crew,” US Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Travis Unser said afterward. Unser was the search-and-rescue coordinator for the incident.

MMSN member Donald Plunkett, VA6FH, heard a call for medical assistance at 1650 UTC on the net’s 14.300 MHz frequency from Nick Cancro, KC2WRH, the captain of the Marie Elena.

Cancro reported that a crew member was experiencing severe chest pains and needed medical assistance. Fellow MMSN operator Fred Moore, W3ZU, of Inverness, Florida, had good propagation with the Marie Elena and contacted the vessel, linking it via a phone patch to the US Coast Guard Station in Norfolk, Virginia. The Coast Guard was able to connect the patient directly to medical personnel via the phone patch to ascertain symptoms and prescribe first aid measures prior to medical assistance arrival. Moore arranged with the Marie Elena to contact him at the bottom of the hour throughout the night and to call immediately if the patient’s condition worsened. The US Air Force also came on frequency at the Coast Guard’s request to evaluate the situation and see if it could assist.

Due to the sailboat’s distance offshore, the Coast Guard directed the captain to head toward Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The Coast Guard then redirected the cutter Spencer, underway near the Virginia-North Carolina border, toward the Marie Elena. The Spencer rendezvoused with the sailboat at about 1230 UTC on 11/10/18, launching a small boat crew and transporting the man aboard the cutter. A short time later, a helicopter crew was able to hoist the man aboard from the Spencer and transport him to a hospital in Norfolk. Moore was assisted by a relay station Mark Strothmann Sr., KC9YRX, in Wisconsin, who provided much-needed information throughout the incident. Additional MMSN members pitched in as well.

“This was a true team effort, and I am proud of the members of this organization who train for just this type of event. They performed in an exemplary fashion,” said MMSN Manager Jeff Savasta, KB4JKL.

The Coast Guard noted that the Marie Elena has activated a Personal Locator Beacon and an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), permitting rescue personnel to hone in on the vessel’s precise location.

Source: ARRL News. Photo from


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Woolsey Fire Containment Grows As Fire Crews Battle Strong Winds

Updated November 14, 2018

A home burned down by the Woolsey Fire sits on a hilltop overlooking the Santa Monica Mountains, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Agoura Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

MALIBU, CA – The deadly Woolsey Fire has burned 97,620 acres, destroyed 453 structures, threatened another 57,000, forced the evacuation of more than 265,000 people in Los Angeles and Ventura counties and is 40 percent contained as of Wednesday morning, as firefighters face another day of strong Santa Ana winds and gusts of up to 40 miles per hour. Full containment of the blaze is expected by Sunday.

Firefighters were working to contain a flareup that was reported Wednesday in the Point Mugu area in Ventura County, and significant progress was made in some areas of the firefight.

Roger Kelton, 67, wipes his tears while searching through the remains of his mother-in-law’s home burned down by the Woolsey Fire Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Agoura Hills, Calif. “We saw the pictures Friday of the house on fire,” said Kelton. “We knew it was gone but still haven’t had my good cry yet. I’ve been trying to be strong for my daughter, my wife and my mother-in-law.” (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby told the Board of Supervisors there are flames burning deep in the Malibu Canyon area that fire crews cannot access.

“We’re doing a lot of air drops but it’s not safe for our firefighters to go in there,” he said. “Our concern is that when the wind shifts (likely on Thursday) … that fire does not blow out of there and then creep over to the south side of Malibu or into Topanga Canyon. When it’s safe to let people come back home, we will.”

A meeting Tuesday night at Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall began with cheers for first responders, but was quickly followed by some residents walking out because they felt their concerns were not being addressed, KCAL9 reported.

“They were not prepared, the fire department was not prepared,” said 45-year Malibu resident Forrest Stuart told KCAL9. “My house was saved by my next door neighbor who is an 85-year-old retired, decorated fire chief. He and his wife are 85 and they stood there all night and knocked away embers that hit my house. I’m pretty angry about it.”

Evacuee Marybeth Massett told KCAL9: “My family is OK, we lost our home. It’s just sad, feelings of frustration are normal. I have the deepest respect for our first responders who do heroes work all the time and, unfortunately, they couldn’t be everywhere at once.”

The continuing danger prompted Los Angeles County officials to reissue a warning to residents in evacuated areas to stay away until conditions are deemed safe.

Malibu City Councilman Skylar Peak has asked people to refrain from attempting to get back into Malibu by boat.

The sheriff’s department has repeatedly tried to reassure residents that their homes would be safe from looters, with more than 600 deputies on 12- hour rotational shifts.

The northbound and southbound Ventura (101) Freeway from Valley Circle Boulevard remained open. Pacific Coast Highway remained closed to all traffic from the Ventura/Los Angeles County line to Sunset Boulevard.

Two people who died in the fire were found Friday inside a burned vehicle in a long driveway in the 33000 block of Mulholland Highway.

Some 3,592 firefighters were assigned to battle the blaze, while, 22 helicopters worked from above, officials said. A total of 619 engines, 48 water tenders, 23 bulldozers and 57 hand crews were sent into the battle, Cal Fire reported. Crews from other areas, including Orange County and Arizona, also sent firefighters and equipment to aid the battle.

Three firefighters have been injured battling the Woolsey Fire.

According to Cal Fire, more than a half-million gallons of fire retardant has been dropped already on the Woolsey Fire, along with 1.5 million gallons of water.

Melted trash bins stand in front of a home burned down by the Woolsey Fire Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Agoura Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Original article from by Emily Holland.  City News Service contributed to this post; All photos courtesy of AP Photo/Jae C. Hong


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Amateur Radio Volunteers at the Ready for California Fire Duty


Ham Radio operator Ron Runswick, WB6IAG lost his home in Paradise CA to the Camp Fire. This is the car he and his wife drove to escape the flames.

[Updated 2018 November 13 @ 1024 UTC] Amateur Radio volunteers have been active or are standing by on several fronts as wildfires continue to rage in large sections of California. 

Camp Fire

In Butte County, in Northern California, the Camp Fire, the state’s deadliest wildfire, triggered a call up of ARES members for communication support. A small wildfire that started in a mountainous area of Butte County quickly grew to some 20,000 acres, due to high winds and gusts of more than 50 MPH. Evacuations were ordered by the county, and eventually more than 25,000 people were evacuated. As multiple shelters opened to assist the evacuees, five Sacramento Valley ARESgroups were called out to support communication between the Red Cross Disaster Operations Center (DOC) and the shelters.

The uncontrolled wildfire eventually consumed the town of Paradise, and the town of 27,000 residents has been devastated. As of November 13, the Camp Fire covered some 125,000 acres, and more than 40 people had died, many while escaping the fires or trapped in their homes.  More than 7,600 structures have been destroyed. An additional 15,500 residences are in danger.

Utilizing mutual assistance, more than 20 ARES members from five ARES groups are supporting the shelters. ARES members have also been tasked by Red Cross to shadow Red Cross delivery vehicles to provide communication in the mountain areas to the shelters.

ARES communication at the shelters has been carried out using voice, Winlink, and email to pass shelter counts, and tactical messages between the shelter and the Red Cross Disaster Operations Center and Cal Office of Emergency Services.

The Red Cross is supporting ARES at the shelters with hot spots and backup radios.

Working 12-hour shifts, Sacramento Valley Section District Emergency Coordinator 3 Michael Joseph, KK6GZB, has been staffing the Red Cross radio station as net control for the DOC, passing messages and tracking ARES personnel. Sacramento ARES members have been pitching in as needed. Joseph also has been coordinating ARES deployments as needed. 

Visit the ARRL Sacramento Valley Section Facebook page or Twitter account for more information. — Thanks to Sacramento Valley Section Emergency Coordinator Greg Kruckewit, KG6SJT

Woolsey Fire

The Woolsey Fire that swept through the westernmost portion of Los Angeles County, including Malibu, and the easternmost area of Ventura County in the ARRL Santa Barbara Section, requiring the evacuation of more than 200,000 Los Angeles County residents — an unprecedented amount in recent decades. Evacuees included several celebrities, several of whom lost homes in the fire. Nearly 50 people have died in all fires.

“Nevertheless, governmental radio systems used by fire and sheriff held up well, even though cell phone and internet service went out in many fire areas because of burned utility poles,” Los Angeles Section Manager Diana Feinberg, AI6DF. “Evacuees went to areas where cell phone service was generally available.”

Feinberg said Los Angeles ARES (ARES LAX) has not been activated because no county hospitals are in the affected area and no hospital outside the fire zone was in danger of losing communication. She added, though, that a sizable team of ARES LAX operators organized by LAX-Northwest District Emergency Coordinator Roozy Moabery, W1EH, did extensive logistics work over the November 10 – 11 weekend at a major drop-off site in the San Fernando Valley for evacuee supplies. ARES team members worked with other volunteers to accept nearly 10 tons of pet food, plus thousands of boxes of items such as soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioner, razors, lotion, feminine products, and sunscreen, as well as baby food, formula, diapers, and wipes, towels and bedding, snacks, and non-perishable food items, Feinberg said.

On the air for the Woolsey Fire, both the Los Angeles County Disaster Communications Service (DCS) — Amateur Radio volunteers overseen by the Sheriff’s Department — and the City of Los Angeles Fire Department Auxiliary Communication Service (ACS) operated nets and monitored their respective frequencies. “The DCS group at Lost Hills Sheriff Station covers most of the Los Angeles County areas affected by the Woolsey Fire and communicated with organized amateurs in the cities of Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Hidden Hills, Malibu, Westlake Village, and unincorporated mountain areas when not affected by respective mandatory evacuation orders,” Feinberg said. “The City of Los Angeles’ ACS group was involved when the city’s West Hills neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley became the fire’s northeastern front, forcing about half the West Hills community to evacuate.”

Feinberg said ACS members have also been involved with delivering food and water supplies to LAFD firefighters and performing fire patrols. American Red Cross volunteers are reported to be using Amateur Radio in connection with some of their fire response activities, Feinberg reported. The Woolsey Fire covers nearly 100,000 acres and was reported 36% contained as of November 13.

ARES members in the Los Angeles and other ARRL California Sections will be heavily involved on Thursday, November 15, during the 2018 California Statewide Healthcare and Medical Exercise. ARES LAX plans to operate from most of the 73 hospitals in Los Angeles County that have emergency rooms, as well as at the county’s Medical Alert Center that coordinates hospital bed availability. — Thanks to Diana Feinberg, AI6DF 

Article published by ARRL on 1/13/2018


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Police Preparing for Big Protests as Trump Makes First California Visit as President

With President Trump heading to the Los Angeles area Tuesday for a high-dollar campaign fundraiser on his first White House visit to California, law enforcement will be ratcheting up in preparation for potential protests.

While details of the Trump visit remain clouded in secrecy, he is scheduled to attend an evening fundraiser for his reelection campaign when he visits California for the first time in his presidency and Los Angeles police and sheriff’s officials are ready for spontaneous protests. Earlier in the day, Trump will inspect prototypes for a border wall, a key component of his campaign platform of a tough line on immigration.

“We are prepared for anything,” said Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Horace Frank, who oversees the counter-terrorism and special operations bureau. Frank said while no permitted protests in the form of marches are planned, authorities do expect to see protesters and supporters out in numbers during a presidential visit.

At least one protest is planned in the Beverly Hills area between 4 and 8 p.m Tuesday by a Facebook group, Trump Not Welcome in LA. The LAPD is preparing for many more protests of various sizes on the Westside.

“I anticipate many more once his itinerary is known,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Dennis Kato, who oversees the department’s West Bureau.

Trump’s earlier visits to L.A. while he was a candidate did bring out demonstrators.

Some protests are also planned for the San Diego area.

The political group Union del Barrio’s Los Angeles chapter is organizing the Beverly Hills protest.

Ron Gochez, a political secretary with the chapter, said more than 1,000 people were following the Beverly Hills protest Facebook page even though he was still unclear about where the protest would take place.

“He cannot step foot in this state and not expect an organized response to denounce him,” Gochez said.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said as with all presidential visits his deputies will be involved in supporting the U.S. Secret Service and ensure public safety. McDonnell said so far there are no formal protests but he expects “more spontaneous social media drive” actions.

Police officials say they will enforce laws that require protesters to stay off the streets and private property and will keep supporters and protesters from engaging in physical confrontation. In the past, large immigration marches and anti-Trump protests have seen clashes between supporters of the president and his opponents.

Officers in the event of trouble will be ready to deploy to potential protest hot spots but will seek to keep a low profile unless needed, officials said.

While the fundraiser is described as in Beverly Hills, police officials there on Friday said the president is not scheduled to visit the city. Often areas in adjacent Los Angeles are described as Beverly Hills because they use a Beverly Hills postcode. Several key Trump fundraisers who actively participated in his presidential campaign live in those areas.

Donors will contribute up to $250,000 each to Trump’s campaign and various Republican National Committee accounts to attend the Tuesday evening event at an undisclosed location in Beverly Hills.

The fundraiser is being hosted by Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, national finance chairman Todd Ricketts and deputy national finance chairman Elliott Broidy.

Whether supporters or protesters see much of the presidential motorcade remains to be seen. Exactly how Trump plans to get to the fundraiser remains under wraps as is usual for the U.S. Secret Service. President Obama, who regularly made the trip to Hollywood fundraisers, came in for criticism for repeatedly causing traffic jams on the city’s Westside. On some occasions, that lead Obama to fly a helicopter into an open field nearer the venue.

Earlier in the day, Trump will inspect border wall prototypes in San Diego. There the county sheriff seeing the potential for clashes between supporters and opponents has had the county institute a ban on a possession of a variety of objects including, rocks, bottles and bats surrounding the area where the president is slated to visit Tuesday morning.

The border wall is among the most contentious issues that have seen the heavily Democratic California and its politicians repeatedly clash with the Republican president.

Source: LA Times


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NBC News Report Says Hams “Could Save Our Lives” in a Disaster


A team from NBC News’ digital news unit Left Field was in Hawaii to visit with some radio amateurs to produce a report when the false nuclear missile alert happened on January 13.

Left Field’s report points out how much we rely on cell phones and 21st-century technology…and what we would do if these suddenly were no longer available. Amateur Radio operators “are standing at the ready and may save us all,” NBC Left Field said in its report. The report, with Left Field’s Jacob Soboroff, runs 7:22.

“Ham radio is one of the ways you’d be able to hear what’s happening,” when conventional telecommunications systems fail, Soboroff told his viewers.

NBC News says its Left Field unit “is a new internationally minded video troupe that makes short, creative documentaries and features specially designed for social media and set-top boxes.”

Sources: ARRL, NBC News Left Field Youtube Disaster Preparedness Playlist

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Fake ‘Mayday’ Calls to Coast Guard Under Investigation, Public’s Help Sought

At least eight false Mayday calls since the start of the year have the U.S. Coast Guard’s Los Angeles/Long Beach command center concerned, and the public’s help was sought Thursday to find the man who’s been making them.

The false distress calls date back to Jan. 3, according to the Coast Guard, which reports that the male caller communicates “Mayday” repeatedly through VHF-FM radio transmissions.

“Coast Guard operations are inherently dangerous and our servicemembers face risks every time we launch for a search-and-rescue mission,” said Coast Guard Capt. Charlene Downey, the commander of the Los Angeles/Long Beach sector.

Willfully communicating a false distress message to the Coast Guard is a federal crime, punishable by up to six years in prison, a $250,000 fine, a $10,000 civil penalty and reimbursement to all the agencies for the costs incurred in responding to the false distress message, Downey said.

“The Coast Guard aims to promote safety and effectively manage our resources,” Downey said. “The risks posed by false distress calls must be stemmed and we ask anyone with information that may lead to the location of this person to contact us.”

Tipsters should call the Coast Guard at (310) 521-3801.

Below is a news story from KABC-TV regarding the false reports:


Sources: City News Service, KABC-TV


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How Amateur Radio Played a Role in the Hawaii EAS Emergency Response

In the minutes after the false missile EAS alert was delivered in Hawaii, there was a great deal of general confusion — a lack of communication, general perplexity about the next steps, and phone call after phone call that didn’t get through to the right recipients.

But one group, in particular, said it knew exactly what it felt it had to do. While an official retraction from emergency officials of the alert did not come until 38 minutes had elapsed, amateur radio operators were able to confirm within 13 minutes that the Hawaii EAS alert was false.

“The big thing is, when all else fails, we’re able to provide emergency communications as required,” said Mike Lisenco, a member of the board of directors for the Amateur Radio Relay League.

At a hearing on Jan. 25 called by the Senate Commerce Committee, Lisenco discussed the role that amateur radio operators played in responding to the Hawaii EAS alert response. He noted that amateur radio, as a distributed form of communications infrastructure, is easily adapted to changing emergency conditions in disaster response situations.

And in this case, amateur radio operators in Hawaii were well-prepared for the emergency event.

“Ironically, amateur radio members in Hawaii had just been drilling 20 hours before the actual false alarm, so everything was fresh on their minds,” Lisenco said during the hearing.

Rumors and stories began to circulate through various VHF and UHF repeaters about the alarm as part of the Hawaii State Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service. Amateur radio operators picked up a conversation from a Coast Guard vessel outside the area that was relaying news that the alert was false. The operators, taught to listen for a local siren that indicates a true emergency, realized that siren had not sounded.

The result was that amateur radio networks were able to disseminate validated cancellation information long before the cellular networks via WEA were able to do so, Lisenco said.

“Because they were able to disseminate that information freely, they were able to get word out right away [that the alert was false],” Lisenco said.

At the hearing, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) asked why amateur radios are considered valuable in a situation such as these.

“We’re not dependent on the [same] infrastructure to operate,” Lisenco said. “And because we understand how radio works, we’re able to adapt quickly to many situations.”

Sen. Wicker has been an advocate for amateur radio operators through sponsorship of the Amateur Radio Parity Act, which is designed to ease regulations surrounding installation of certain amateur radio infrastructure. The bill calls on the Federal Communications Commission to allow for reasonable accommodations for certain amateur radio antennas in regulated communities.

The use of amateur radio proved vital during Hurricane Katrina, Wicker’s office said, when amateur radio operators helped restore communications lines with FEMA, the Red Cross, and other disaster relief entities when the primary emergency response network was down.

“We have amateur operators both within and outside a disaster area,” Lisenco said. “That gives us a unique ability to disseminate information within a disaster zone that others don’t have.” During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, for example, amateur radio operators within the flood zones sent information to the outside to get first responders to where people needed help, he said.

Credit: Radioworld


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Signal Strength – It Is All Relative

By Rich Carlson, N9JIG

So what does Signal Strength really mean? Most scanners these days have a Signal Strength indicator, usually with up to 4 or 5 bars to indicate a strong signal. How are these calibrated? Is 4 bars twice as good as 2? Do I need a full-scale signal to hear my local action?

To answer these questions let’s look at how the scanner comes up with the signal strength indications. Basically, it is a representation of the RELATIVE strength of a given signal. The radio reads the voltage present within its circuitry when a strong signal would provide a higher voltage and translates that to the number of bars displayed. A weaker signal would be expected to produce a lower voltage and thus fewer bars.

The big thing to remember is that these meters are not calibrated so they are nothing more than a pretty good ideal if whether a signal is strong or weak. It does not mean that a certain indication (let’s say 3 bars) means a specific signal level. While one can expect that 4 bars is better than 3 (and it usually is) that doesn’t mean that the signal is 33% stronger.

What the signal strength indicates (it doesn’t measure…) is the strength of the signal at the antenna jack. It does not indicate voice quality. One can have a signal that indicates 4 or 5 bars but with a lousy voice quality and hear very little. Conversely, an indicated signal strength of just one bar could still present an excellent quality voice signal.

What is also important in using the signal strength indication is the noise floor. Noise Floor is the level of noise present when nothing else is detected. The noise floor is usually higher in city environments than rural ones due to the higher level of electronic equipment generating signals. This includes computers, Wi-Fi, broadcast stations and other transmitters etc. The noise floor is usually higher in homes than fields due to the same issues. Certain specific locations tend to have much higher noise floors than others. Gas stations are notorious for RF noise generated by gas pumps for some reason. Paging transmitters tend to be noisy as well.

So what then does the noise floor have to do with how many bars I get on my scanner? Well, with a high noise floor you have to have the squelch set higher to block the ambient signals. Some places might have a noise floor that generates 2 or 3 bars, that means anything you want to hear has to be stronger than that.

The signal strength indicator also responds to preamps and antenna issues. While a preamp increases signal strength it also increases the noise floor. Connect a better antenna and you should expect more bars. Be careful that you don’t overload the scanner, too much signal will cause more problems than a poor signal will.

Preamps work best in more rural areas that have a low noise floor but will overload scanners on strong signals, especially in high RF areas like cities.

One more note: You will often see a signal strength indication on a trunked system even when it is scanning without stopping. The indicated signal strength is that of the control data channel.

Credit: Rich Carlson from the Scanner Master Blog

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