Category Archives: ham radio

Indiana ham radio SKYWARN net changes name, scope

Allen County, Indiana SKYWARN net operations manual cover thumbnailThe amateur radio SKYWARN net based in Fort Wayne will undergo slight changes, effective Feb 1, 2017. Formerly known as the IMO SKYWARN Quadrant Two Net, it will now be referred to as the Allen County SKYWARN Net. The net will continue, however, to accept and relay reports from spotters outside Allen County, including stations in places like DeKalb and Defiance County, which were not officially part of the former quadrant net’s responsibility.

The de facto demise of the IMO SKYWARN organization led to the change. IMO SKYWARN’s fade from existence was symbolized by the recent disappearance of the organization’s website and further indicated by its board’s lack of activity for the past few years (a conference call in 2012 was the board’s most recent meeting).

IMO SKYWARN originally formed to implement an organized system to get reports from trained SKYWARN storm spotters to the Northern Indiana National Weather Service office via amateur radio. That system continues to exist. An amateur radio station at the NWS office (WX9IWX) can still simultaneously monitor four repeaters, including one in Fort Wayne, although recent difficulty staffing WX9IWX with volunteer hams has hampered the system. IMO SKYWARN also organized biennial advanced spotter training seminars in the past, but has not produced such an event since 2011.

Amateur radio continues to be an important resource to the NWS SKYWARN program as evidenced by a memorandum of understanding between the ARRL and the NWS. Spotter reports to many local ham radio nets, however, no longer travel all the way to the NWS via amateur radio. Instead, many local nets send their reports to the NWS via a private NWS internet chatroom known as NWSChat. In fact, our local net has used that method during several activations when WX9IWX was not on the air, including the August 24, 2016 tornado outbreak. Despite the popularity of NWSChat, the leadership of the Allen County SKYWARN Net intend for the net to remain a viable alternative in the event of internet failure, assuming WX9IWX can be staffed at such times.

Speaking of net leadership, it remains in the hands of the same people, with former IMO SKYWARN quadrant director Jay Farlow, W9LW, continuing the functional role of net manager, and the following experienced hams continuing as designated net control station (NCS) operators:

  • Rich, Andrew N9HRA
  • Chad Beach, W9GGA
  • Fred Gengnagel, KC9EZP
  • Steve Haxby, N9MEL
  • Bernie Holm, K9JDF
  • Brian Jenks, W9BGJ
  • Jim Moehring, KB9WWM, Allen County ARES Emergency Coordinator
  • Joel Tye, KB9RH
  • Woody Woodbury, KC9CGN

The net continues to seek additional NCS’s. Contact Farlow at the email address below for more information.

Other than the net name, the only change operators might notice is that the net repeater might enter “standby mode” less often. As a quadrant net, it entered standby mode for any severe thunderstorm watch or tornado watch that affected any of the 11 counties in its quadrant, if an NCS was available. NCS’s will continue to have discretion about when to enter standby mode, but revised net procedures will no longer require standby mode for watches that do not include Allen County. To repeat, however, the net will continue to accept reports from any station that can reach the net repeater, regardless of location. And spotter traffic from a nearby county may continue to prompt a directed net, even if severe weather isn’t threatening Allen County.

Anyone who’d like to see details of how the net will now operate may download an updated net operations manual from the FWRC website. Persons with questions about the net are encouraged to direct them to Farlow, w9lw@arrl.net.

Texas ARES official bans closed nets

North Texas ARRL section Twitter logoA high-level Texas official of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) has created a policy that bars ARES groups under his purview from prohibiting the participation of any licensed amateur radio operator in their ARES nets.

As this blog explained in an earlier post, ARES is a program of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national organization of ham radio operators. Regional, elected ARRL section managers appoint ARES leaders within their sections, including section emergency coordinators (SEC), who lead the program at a section level and district emergency coordinators (DEC), who lead it at a multi-county level.

Matthew Morris, K5ICR is SEC for the ARRL North Texas section, which is made up of dozens of counties, including Wichita County. As SEC, Morris has authority to create policy for all ARES organizations in his section.

When contacted by this blog via email, Morris wrote, “I’m not sure it was so much a revision of policy but just that we codified into policy what’s been a long-standing best practice for ARES.”

The newly codified policy includes two parts; a definitions section and the section below:

Section 1.02 Closed Nets Prohibited

(a) All ARES nets shall be open for participation by any licensed amateur. No net control station or ARES leadership acting in an official capacity shall prohibit the good faith participation of any licensed amateur.

(b) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the establishment of minimum reporting criteria by a net control station or ARES leadership as appropriate to the situation at hand, so long as these criteria are not established intentionally or knowingly to prevent the participation of an amateur or group of amateurs.

Morris promulgated the policy after an article in a Texas newspaper described the Wichita County ARES net shooing off an amateur radio operator who attempted to check into the group’s severe weather net. On an audio recording of the net, one can hear net controller Jerry R. Stanford, KD5INN tell Australian storm chaser Daniel Shaw, VK2FSRV, “I do not want to hear you transmit on this frequency. We have a closed net.”

In a subsequent email to this blog, Charlie Byars, the DEC responsible for Wichita County (who the newspaper article quoted), confirmed that the Wichita County ARES did not permit outsiders to participate in its net, except to transmit emergency reports. It accomplished this by declaring the W5US repeater — on which the net operates — to be closed, with the blessing of the repeater’s owners. A closed repeater is one that only stations authorized by the repeater owner may use.

The North Texas section’s new policy prohibits the practice of conducting an ARES net on a closed repeater. The SEC has no authority, however, over storm spotter nets that are not affiliated with the ARES.

This blog sent email April 19 to the trustee of the Wichita Falls repeater that the Wichita County storm spotters use to ask, “Will the W5US repeater comply during future severe weather nets and end its policy of becoming a closed repeater during such nets?” If the trustee responds, I’ll update this article accordingly.

It is interesting to note that one day after Morris issued the section’s new ARES net policy, the Facebook page of the Wichita County ARES changed. The page title changed to “Wichita County SKYWARN” and the profile picture changed from the ARES logo to the SKYWARN logo. That same day, Justin Reed, NV8Q reported on a storm chaser Web forum that “As of today the Wichita County ARES group has renamed themselves to Wichita County Skywarn in order to get around the ‘open net’ requirement. So nothing has really changed here.”

Today, this blog reached out again to Byars via email, who replied, “As far as I know we are still ARES, and will stay that way.” Later the same day, the group’s Facebook page changed again. Its title became “Wichita County ARES / Skywarn” and its profile picture became the the ARES and SKYWARN logos side-by-side.

This blog congratulates Morris on his prompt action to implement best practices in section policy and encourages all ARRL sections to enact similar policies, if they do not already exist.

The editor of this blog leads a SKYWARN ham radio net in Indiana. A future post will discuss how that net operates and why all licensed radio amateurs are welcome and encouraged to participate fully in it.