During the Wildfire of May 2016 in Fort McMurray the need for reliable HF communications became apparent. Al Parsons – VE6RFM started researching the possibility of using the 60m band to create reliable links between communities in Northern Alberta.
The 5 MHz channelized band is particularly well suited for NVIS communications in Northern Alberta’s less than ideal RF environment. Near Vertical Incident Skywave antennas are simple dipoles at relatively low heights, Using only ~90′ of antenna wire and mounted as low to the ground as 8′,it is possible to create an antenna that is: simple for one person to setup/tear-down, light weight, resistant to icing, and short enough to deploy in a parking lot or on top of an EOC’s roof.
NVIS antennas have an advantage over complex beams, or a dipole mounted high in a tower; that is, they cover a more localized area, instead of skipping over the “heads” of nearby communities.
Digital modes such as PSK 31, Olivia, & MT63 use less bandwidth than SSB voice, and are therefore more efficient RF-wise. Modes that use forward error correction may provide higher accuracy during the frequent thunderstorms of the prairies. Free software such as FLDIGI can provide clear peer – peer message transfers.
Testing, of any system or procedure, is very important. As amateur operators it is critical for us to practice our skills, and ensure that we know what modes or methods will work best in our local environment. What may work best in the mountains of BC, may not work well in the Aurora lit skies of Northern Canada. In the spirit of experiment, we need to shed the attitude of status quo and try new ways.
If you would like to help with this project please contact Al Parsons.
From Al Parsons:
Our initial testing of 60M band as a viable means of linking our remote locations to the larger centres in the province has led us to exploring the use of digital modes.For example, Sean – VE6SAR in Grimshaw, Matthew – VE6JI, portable in Bruderheim, and myself – VE6RFM, in Fort McMurray recently exchanged messages using PSK31 and Olivia at 5 watts and got 100% copy through an S9 noise level. Under the same conditions using SSB and 100 Watts PEP ERP, we were unable to communicate.The next step in the project is to set up a reverse beacon network here in the province. With this we can evaluate path reliability over 24 hr periods and though various solar conditions unattended.In parallel with this we will communicate with each other using NBEMS, Narrow Band Emergency Message System. This will allow us to learn, enhance, or maintain our message handling skills, using the appropriate message templates available to us in Flmsg software.Al Parsons – VE6RFM July 2016