Lesson Learned: Trust your planning

So this past weekend, I was off camping with my brothers, my cousin and a couple of friends. We were two hours north of Ottawa in an area which is poorly serviced for cell phone coverage. As one of my brothers is an expecting father (6 weeks) he asked if I could some how use my radio equipment to provide a communications link to “back home”.

I scrambled to get things sorted out which included:

  • locating the nearest repeater to our location (50km west of Mont-Laurier)
  • determining the frequency(ies) of the repeater input/output plus the CTCSS tones
  • establishing a communications plan with the appropriate operator(s)
Wouxun KG-UVD1P

Wouxun KG-UVD1P handheld radio

Our plan in-the-field was to use a 5W hand-held radio (Wouxun KG-UVD1P) with its rubber-resistor antenna. I had programmed the radio with the nearest repeaters plus the 2m calling frequency.

Some online research indicated that the expansive VE2REH repeater network had an IRLP-enabled node (2018) on Mont-Laurer, QC which was 50km to our east. I looked up the frequencies on a local amateur website and programmed the frequency and tones in the hand-held.

Digging a little deeper into the repeater details, I noticed that there were different values for the same machine. Not good.

  • VE2REH – Mont Laurier, QC – 147.105 +0.600 – 110.9/110.9 (in/out) {wrong info}
  • VE2REH – Mont Laurier, QC – 147.105 +0.600 – 103.5/131.8 (in/out) {this one works}

Wanting to be sure we had the best chance of hitting the repeater network, I programmed multiple values of the VE2REH network (plus all of the variants of the CTCSS codes) into the radio.

My second task was to develop a communications plan work-flow, starting with the trigger event (sister-in-law calling my parents). The primary plan was to have a licensed operator contact us using the Gatineau VE2REH repeater node (VE2REH – Gatineau, QC – 147.105 +0.600 – 110.9/110.9) which is linked via RF to the Mont-Laurier site.

I should have cleared my plans with the operators I had hastily chosen, however, time was not on my side as I had to  develop this entire plan in the span of only a couple of hours. Thankfully all of the operators contacted by email, whom include: Darin (VE3OIJ), Ernie (VE3EJJ) and Bob (VA3QV) graciously agreed to act as point-men for the communications operation. (Thanks & hats off to all of you!)

Should my parents be unable to contact the above operators, the emergency plan included having my parents pass the emergency traffic (as unlicensed individuals) themselves. As I drove to my parent’s house south east of Ottawa, I was periodically checking to see if the HT had the ability to hit the Gatineau VE2REH node.Luckily, the radio was able to trigger the repeater all the way from their house which gave us some assurance that our backup plan would work fine without needing to drive to the “last known range made good” location.

I managed to quickly train my mother in the use & operation of my second hand-held and provided a step-by-step guide so that anyone could use the radio from power-off all the way to passing the emergency traffic via the repeater network.

Later that same night (00:30UTC Jan 21st, 2012) we finally arrived on-site to be greeted with -31°C ambient temperatures and a pressing need to move to our camping location. A far-too-hasty radio check yielded a false negative. The repeater did not respond to my test transmission.

My plan was a failure.

Our primary plan was to use cell phones with the radio as a backup. It quickly looked like we would be operating with only a primary communication plan. I had also provided the local police contact information to my mother should we be unresponsive to any communique, and this was thought to be our disaster-level plan.

After a failed preliminary radio test, it was decided to abandon the radio plan entirely. This was perhaps a major mistake as you will read in a moment. The phone-call went out to my parents to let them know we would be unable to communicate via radio and that we would attempt to check-in using a cell phone on a regular basis.

As it turned out, I was using the “up-to-date” data provided by a local amateur radio website which was entirely wrong. I should have used the data which was last updated in 2008 (VE2REH – Mont Laurier, QC – 147.105 +0.600 – 103.5/131.8). The repeater triggered no problem when I tried the “old” memory setting. In our haste to get moving on Friday night, I did not try any other frequency or CTCSS settings as I had (wrongly) figured that being 50km from the repeater was just too much for the 5W output.

I was really excited to put my hobby to use in a real-life communication-dependent setting! It is just too bad that I mucked it up by rushing the field-implementation side of things. The good news is that I learned from this experience (and I hope that perhaps someone else might too)!

Hilights of this exercise:

  1. When communications are a priority, the most valuable tool is proper (adequate) research (ie. getting out to the spot of interest and trying the radio out)
  2. Delegate; being the only communications guy means that has to be my primary role where appropriate
  3. Stop, and trust your planning – had I done this, I would have been heard on the VE2REH repeater network and this would have been a great success
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One Response to Lesson Learned: Trust your planning

  1. Dear amateur friend,

    just found out your article on your blog. Sorry to hear that confusing information was out on the web. Unfortunately, we do not control all info, SLVRC and RAQI sends different infos that are wrong and we dont seem to be able to have them correct it. We are not partner with Repeaterbook and all our information is always updated… Thanks and 73’s.

    Martin PROULX VE2ZVL
    co-founder of the VE2REH network

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