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Equipping a CERT response trailer

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KD0TAZ

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#1
Ok I've got one for all you experts.. I belong to our county CERT team, and we are purchasing a new response trailer to replace the one that we currently have as it is too small. We have also applied for and expect to receive a decent grant to (among other things) buy new radios to replace the ancient/inadequate Motorola Talkabout FRS radios we currently use. Since I'm the only licensed ham and real tech nerd on the team they looked to me to come up with a workable radio solution. I have some ideas but there's some things I'm not sure about and want to be sure (and make sure I'm not missing anything) before I bring them my plan.

The idea has been floated to simply buy a few P25 radios and get a talkgroup on the statewide system (KSICS), but I honestly don't think this will be the most efficient use of the money because we would only be able to get five (there are over a dozen members on the team). We have also been deployed out of state before - which means the radios won't be able to hit KSICS towers, and if we are sent to an area in state where the KSICS tower has been damaged, we'd have the same issue.

That said, here's what I'm thinking of...

I propose we get a business band license for nationwide full-power initerant frequencies (since we never know where we will use them). I believe we are classified as government (we operate under FEMA and the county Emergency Management) so we should qualify for full exemption of fees.

I think the Motorola RDU4160D UHF radios would fit our needs (high power, water/dust IP, long battery life, digital readout for channel).

I also propose we install a repeater in the trailer to increase range if needed. I was looking at a 50W VS VXR-9000 with duplexer. The antenna would be on a 7-33' Geroh crank-up mast attached to the front of the trailer.

The trailer would have a bank of AGM deep cycle batteries to power everything (including lighting, flashlight/phone chargers, inverter, etc) in the event shore power and the generator were not available, and an RV-style power panel with DC converter/charger.

Now here's the questions I have..

First, there is also a 50W 2m/70cm mobile in the trailer, and its antenna will also be mounted on the crank-up mast (we may also get a P25 mobile to connect with emergency departments if funds allow). There will be a T-bar at the top to accommodate the multiple antennas, and I know about the proper separation. What I am concerned about is the feedlines. I intend to use LMR-400, but there will need to be a minimum of two, possibly three leads, and they will need to be able to accommodate the extendable mast. Will there be any cross interference running the lines exactly parallel to each other over the 60' or so I would need to make that coil? Also it has been a while since I ran mine, so I need to know if LMR-400 will hold a "coil" shape - so if I fabricate a "bowl" at the bottom, can I ziptie the leads together and make a coil that will follow the mast and keep itself organized? Or do I need to sleeve it in Nycoil to keep it neat? Should the leads be choked?

Any issues with flexing the cable in this installation?

I'm also thinking of putting 3-4 12V LED floodlights on the mast. Will there be any issue including the power cables in this coil?

Anyone have any opinions on the VXR-9000? Better alternatives in the same price range? It would have to be able to run directly from 12V, not just as a backup how like the 7000 works.

I think thats all I have right now but I may need more info later..

Thanks!
 
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#3
A couple of comments on the LMR-400 choice.

First off, it should not be used for full duplex operation (as in the coax between the repeater and the repeater antenna). The issue is that the shields are made up from different metals and this causes PIM (Passive Intermodulation -> What is Passive Intermodulation | PIM Distortion Tutorial | Radio-Electronics.Com <-). While PIM generally isn't an issue initially, as time goes on, the two metals will change structure and start making the repeater noisy or cause other issues. You don't need this kind of grief during critical operations when using the right feedline from the start can prevent it.

Second, LMR-400 has a solid center conductor and is not designed to be flexed often. Your repeated raising and lowering the mast will eventually cause it to break (or worse yet, just become weak and crack, causing intermittent issues). One easy solution for this would be to use the special "Ultra Flex" version that has a stranded center conductor and can flex more easily and for much longer without causing issues. Even if you select another type of coax (based on the PIM issue above for example) you should make sure that your selection will flex easy and often without issue (generally because it has a stranded, not a solid center conductor). The type of shield may also be important, depending on what your final coax selection is.

Be sure you explain to your provider exactly what you're trying to accomplish, especially the type of mast you will have so they can make a proper selection for you. It's also important that this provider has worked with this type of situation as well since many may not understand the extra issues with a mast that is raised and lowered as often as yours will be. If their experience with a "crank-up mast" is the typical ham solution you will not be well served since that is raised/lowered every few months to years, not every time it's used.
 
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#4
I'd ditch the crank up mast.
While they are nice and seem like a good solution, they are heavy. Putting a bunch of weight on the trailer tongue is going to change the dynamics of the towing, and may limit the vehicles you can tow it with.

I'd keep it simple. There are companies that make tripods with 20 foot crank up sections that would work well. This gives you more flexibility for set up. You could have a couple of these to help with antenna separation. Use some sandbags to help anchor them if it's windy, or guy lines and metal stakes. It also means you are not tied to the trailer for your system. It might make more sense to be able to put your repeater and antennas on top of a building. Trailers are handy, but if you base too much of your system off it, that can limit you. Try something like this, or larger: https://www.tessco.com/products/displayProductInfo.do?sku=439600

Racking your repeater in a fly away case is going to give you a lot of flexibility. An Anvil type case or Pelican rack case can hold the repeater with a small duplexer. A portable power source, either batteries or a portable generator would be a good option. http://www.pelican.com/us/en/rack-mount-cases/

Unless you actually need to talk to other agencies on the P25 system, or need to talk across the state, I'd say your money could be better invested. 800MHz P25 radio would limit what you could do with it. Investing in VHF UHF and maybe low band gear would let you utilize those radios for amateur use as well as Part 90 frequencies you are licensed for. Also, you could check with your sponsoring agency and see if they will give you access to local systems, VTAC, UTAC etc. It'd be a heck of a lot more flexible.

I'd say focus on the radio services you do legally have access to. Amateur, FRS, GMRS (get those guys licensed).
 
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#5
I'm just going to make some observations from what I've seen at IWCE and what not.

Best bang for the buck P25 subscriber I've seen so far (for this application) is from Simoco even though it is a dated model. Reason being, Simoco mobiles can be tied together to build a repeater. What makes this different from everyone else, Simoco's solution allows for serial communication between mobiles radios which allows them to pass P25 without affecting audio quality. This can be used to simply/easily create tie in's to a system though go/no-go tones from a trunk system will not be passed.

I've seen some interesting little "go" boxes that ride on the back of trailer hitches.

The Icom van at APCO was strung together using Icom gateways and a PBX with all dispatch operations running off of that PBX system.

Easy to config, low cost mesh routing may be convent but personally I'd avoid Hamnet as there may be a time when a secure link is needed to pass data and why bother with it when you can accomplish more (including access control) via unmodified off the shelf solutions from Mikrotik, Ubiquiti, Mimosa, Cambium, etc.

Computers with some form of dispatch software could be helpful (there are a few open-source solutions built for the application).

Focusing on what is needed/can be utilized is probably the most important thing to do first. Figure out in what ways local emergency management can assist as they are often willing to assist such projects (it's good press for them).

At IWCE there was a company who had an aluminum push-up mast which was secured by rolling over the support plate with a vehicle and parking it on it. It was also fairly easy to push up. Another tower seen was an inflatable tower (looked like a buoy).
 

I_am_Alpha1

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#6
You have much work in your future. No on the LMR-400. No on the crank up. No, you are not a government agency--"C" in CERT should explain this. Asking what is the best antenna on RR will start a riot--you will get 100 answers, most will be wrong. Starting to get the picture?

Any/All feedline needs to be stranded core so you can roll it up. Push up poles are nice--30' and 50'. Stick with Amateur radio--the equipment is much cheaper and has further reach compared to 800MHz and GMRS. A GP-6 on a 50' pushup pole using 2313 feedline will let you reach out and touch several repeaters near you. 2M, 70cm, and HF capabilities gives you plenty of options (as in 3 separate radios). Diplexers will let you share an antenna (i.e., 1 GP-6, 1 feedline, diplexer, jumper to 2 m, and jumper to 70cm). Lots of county EOCs around you have Amateur radio and Topeka has HF in theirs. Repeaters are another animal entirely and they take special training and expensive equipment to setup and maintain.

Put together a Technician and General class and get everyone their ticket. They can buy their own radios--people tend to abuse radios that they didn't pay for.

Forget to mention. Most important thing--KEEP IT SIMPLE. The more complex, the more failures, the harder to setup, the harder to maintain. Think plug n play.
 

W9BU

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#7
Do you need a repeater? How much area will your people be covering at any incident? If your people are deploying on foot from a central command post, a simplex VHF or UHF frequency with a base radio at the command post using a high-mounted antenna may work just fine.

As others have stated, keep it simple.
 

KR3LC

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#8
My county CERT uses Connect Systems CS710 DMR UHF handheld radios. Great bang for the buck. We're able to provide to all active members with a very limited budget.We paid around $220 each with high capacity battery, drop in charger and speaker mic.We also have licensed several simplex frequencies and a couple of repeater pairs too. We're still working on getting repeaters installed so I can't offer any opinions on that yet.
 
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#9
My county CERT uses Connect Systems CS710 DMR UHF handheld radios. Great bang for the buck. We're able to provide to all active members with a very limited budget.We paid around $220 each with high capacity battery, drop in charger and speaker mic.We also have licensed several simplex frequencies and a couple of repeater pairs too. We're still working on getting repeaters installed so I can't offer any opinions on that yet.


Best deal I've seen so far on DMR repeaters is direct through Simoco. Though I think you can get some lower costs on XPR8400s with Motorola you can not run true mixed mode nor can you link between a digital and analog repeater.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
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#10
I don't have anything against DMR, however:

In the spirit of interoperability, stick with an analog repeater.
DMR has it's place, and it's fine if you want to use it for your own INTERNAL communications.
But, you will find that DMR is not as common on the public safety side. While it is picking up steam on the amateur radio side, analog is still king.

Don't let technology ruin your capabilities.

If the repeater will handle more than one channel, program one for your frequency pair in DMR mode and one in Analog mode. Or, if the radios are capable of doing mixed mode, do that.

Interoperability isn't about throwing technology at an issue. It's using the lowest common denominator possible to ensure the largest number of responders can communicate.
 
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#11
While DHS-FEMA-CitizenCorps policy allows several types of sponsors for CERT groups, the normal sponsor is a government emergency operations agency of some type. THAT AGENCY normally will apply for a radio license, which allows them to be a legal entity with responsibility and control over the use of the radios. And, qualify for government exemptions.

The exact legal status of CERT teams and members varies from place to place and the courts have not yet begun to pin it down. Some CERT groups are 501(c)3 entities, while others are "volunteer" auxiliaries that sometimes also have 501(c)3 "shadow" corporations that fund and support them. Or, they affiliate with an existing organization to make the paperwork simpler.

There are no standards and no rules besides the intentionally loose ones from DHS-FEMA-CitizenCorps. So if the sponsor is the usual police/fire/emo run by a city or state government? That sponsoring agency, and not "the team" should be the legal entity applying for the license. A Part90 "public safety" OR business license would be suitable.

Good luck with trying to get a license for national frequencies, those tend to be full up once you get out of the boondocks. Yes, that can be a problem, and yes, CERT members need to start making some noise about getting 700MHz channels assigned for "CERT mutual aid" or "interoperations" use, because we've all seen what happens when agencies can speak to each other. But the FCC doesn't even have that topic on their to-do list. Yet.

You might consider getting a dedicated laptop (with serial port if needed) for "radio software" and putting the programming software/cables for your radios with it. Then when you are assigned to another venue, ask the incident commander what local agencies are available, and the odds are they will tell you that you can reprogram your radios to work under their license while you are working with them. With a cloning cable and your own software, doing it should take less time than the other arrival paperwork.

That could mean obtaining UHF and VHF radios, if you really wanted to be prepared.
 
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#12
Good luck with trying to get a license for national frequencies, those tend to be full up once you get out of the boondocks. Yes, that can be a problem, and yes, CERT members need to start making some noise about getting 700MHz channels assigned for "CERT mutual aid" or "interoperations" use, because we've all seen what happens when agencies can speak to each other. But the FCC doesn't even have that topic on their to-do list. Yet.
In many states 700MHz channels are already fully assigned. Does't mean they couldn't get access to a channel already assigned to an agency. There are also the 7-call and 7-tac channels.
If I was going to do this, I'd go after an 800MHz pair. As the 800MHz rebanding has happened and Sprint/Nextel have freed up channels, there are some frequencies that have recently been opened up for assignment. The benefit here is that every 700MHz radio I've seen will also cover the 800MHz band.
Also, 800MHz only radios are pretty cheap if they don't mind used. I've tossed out hundreds of 800MHz radios from my old SmartNet system that were still in serviceable shape.
 
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#13
That could mean obtaining UHF and VHF radios, if you really wanted to be prepared.
I'd agree with this. Part 90 VHF or UHF radios. Find out what the locals are using. You can legally program in amateur frequencies into those as your team gets their amateur licenses. Getting Part 90 and Part 95 radios will also give you legal access to GMRS for those that are licensed.

Analog VHF is probably about as "standard" as you can get. UHF may be a good option if other local teams or agencies are using those.

If your sponsoring agency will support you, there are all the VTAC, VCALL, etc. channels available to appropriate response agencies.
 

KK4JUG

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#14
Our jurisdiction has a 40' bus that is used as a mobile command post. It has a conference room in the rear with 3 flat screen TV capable of input from computers, Direct TV, the camera on the 40' pneumatic mast and the DVD recorder/players. There are 6 chairs at the conference table.

The bus has a bathroom and small galley (fridge, coffee maker, sink, storage).

The communications section has marine, aircraft, low band FM, programmable UHF & VHF and five 800 mHz radios. The 800 mHz radios have all of the city's talk groups programmed in. In addition, we have 2m, .70m and HF radios. Both communications officers have ham licenses. We have a Kenwood UHF repeater on board that goes with the 10 portables that can be issued out. We have an ACU-1000 hooked up to the 800 mHz, UHF, VHF, aircraft and marine radios;

We have a 5' satellite dish that gives us 8 phone lines and high-speed internet.
 
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#15
Going along with what McKenna said about keeping it simple, does your county have any analog stuff going on like DPW or whatever that you can use? One less hassle in that you don't need to worry about getting a license.
 

KK4JUG

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#16
Keeping it simple is the best idea. When I mentioned all the equipment in our command bus (#14 above), I failed to mention that we MOUs with several counties in both Georgia and Alabama and have traveled as far as Pearl River County, MS (from Columbus, GA). With the variety of things we've responded to (hurricanes, train wrecks, hazmat incidents, tornados, etc.), we try not to be surprised when we arrive on the scene.
 

KD0TAZ

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#17
Wow thanks for all the info, but I think we have a few wires crossed here.

First, the handhelds would be programmed with simplex frequencies and that would be the main mode of operation. The repeater would be for range extension on an if/as needed basis, not the "heart" of the system. The grant money is pretty much in the bank, we need to spend it (even with the plan I came up with, we still have to find more to spend it on), and the mobile repeater seems like a worthwhile tool to have. The VXR-9000 can also be used as a base when not in repeater mode (another reason I picked it).

There is no need to make the repeater portable. If it needs to move, it means the trailer needs to move.

Cheap P25 is not going to happen. Anything that goes on the KSICS system must be approved by the state and county, and the APX6500 is on the short list of what they said they will approve. Everything on the list is Motorola.

Using P25 as our own form of comms is already off the table. I already told them why it was a bad idea and a waste of money and they accept that. At the most we would have a single P25 in the trailer simply as a means to monitor and communicate with local public safety.

@I_am_Alpha1, your post seems to have a chip on its shoulder. Ham licensing is not a requirement for CERT, nor will we make it one, nor will we make anyone provide or buy their own equipment. Honestly, no offense, but that's just dumb. I have no problem organizing a class, and I know a couple VE's if people WANT to get their ticket, but it won't ever be a condition. Not only that but it's a pretty sure bet that any repeater local to a disaster area will already have plenty of traffic on it. Not only do the individual members not need to hear it (that's why the trailer has a ham radio, to relay relevant traffic to the team) but the people using the repeater don't need us clogging it up with our traffic. And on your comment about a repeater being a "different animal entirely", what "special training and expensive equipment" could possibly be required to unbox a pre-programmed VXR-9000 and connect the feedline and power cables? And I don't recall asking anything about which is the best antenna, so don't worry about a riot.

On that same note, I would never expect anyone to pay out of pocket for a GMRS license either. I didn't even renew mine when it expired, because that was during the height of the "going license-free" discussions. It's a waste of $65 per member (it was $85 when I got mine).

We operate under our county OEM. For example our new trailer purchase was purchased through OEM's budget. That is who the actual licensee would be.

I don't understand what all your issues are with a crank up mast... I'm not talking about the collapsible triangular truss towers, it's a series of nested pipes. The one I'm looking at (Geroh 10 KVL 6) only weighs 90lbs, so it's not really going to make that big of a difference in the tongue weight. It's not going to be operated constantly, We get deployed a few times a year. It will spend most of its life nestled comfortably in the ambulance bay. But when we do get deployed, we need to be up and running a fast as possible, and if we have to move, I can't think of any bigger waste of time than to have to tear down a mast, roll the cable, pack it up, then redeploy it at the next staging area. What are the problems that make you guys so hell-bent against them?

@Rred, I take it you have never been to Kansas.. The whole state is boondocks, lol. I highly doubt we will run into issues. When i said nationwide license, I meant as a catch-all so we didn't have to individually license initerant frequencies in each state. We have been to Missouri, Colorado, and Oklahoma. Eastern Colorado is very much like Western Kansas - lots and lots of nothing with a few towns here and there. Same with Northern Oklahoma. And when we go somewhere like Joplin, there isn't a whole lot of business being conducted anyway.

Laptops, cellular modems, and multiband cell boosters are already part of the grant budget.
 

teufler

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#18
a portable ham repeater, licensing may be a problem because of frequency interference as you move around the country. as for a mast, check with the local electrical utility. They have orange fiberglass poles that are used to change the circuit breakers or fuses in transformer. I have two, one is 48 feet and the other is in the low 30's feet. They are strong yet fairly easy to erect by one or two people. A simple bracket to the trailer, or attaching to fence post or small tree, Ks has a few of those, will support an omni antenna. They are quick to put up. Sometimes the electrical companies will donate a pole or two. From a net control perspective, a simplex net will require users to coordinate with net control for long range .Getting your volunteers licensed for ham radio would not take long. Technican, maybe two weeks, some have done it quicker.
 
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#19
Wow thanks for all the info, but I think we have a few wires crossed here.
Thanks for the clarification.
Nice you guys got a respectable grant for what you are doing.

A 90lb crank up mast would work. I figured you were looking at a much larger unit. 90lbs is easy enough to balance out by placing more weight behind the trailer axel. Totally manageable....
I still think there are better/cheaper options, but if it's what you guys are looking for, then go for it.

I agree with your statement on P25. Waste of money unless you have a specific need to talk to another agency and that's the only option.
There are enough mutual aid analog channels to choose from to cover interoperability. If local agencies don't have the interoperability channels programmed into their radios, then someone needs to poke the radio shop guys with a sharp stick.
 

sfd119

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#20
a portable ham repeater, licensing may be a problem because of frequency interference as you move around the country. as for a mast, check with the local electrical utility. They have orange fiberglass poles that are used to change the circuit breakers or fuses in transformer. I have two, one is 48 feet and the other is in the low 30's feet. They are strong yet fairly easy to erect by one or two people. A simple bracket to the trailer, or attaching to fence post or small tree, Ks has a few of those, will support an omni antenna. They are quick to put up. Sometimes the electrical companies will donate a pole or two. From a net control perspective, a simplex net will require users to coordinate with net control for long range .Getting your volunteers licensed for ham radio would not take long. Technican, maybe two weeks, some have done it quicker.
Did you not read the post right above you? Ham radio isn't the answer here.
 
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