Alert Services!

2019.10.24: a Calfire firefighter confronts a vortex created by the Kincade Fire.

Recently, Magdalena Valderrama Hurwitz sent out some information about local emergency alert services that I is useful to the community. I’m amplifying her email here with some additional info… ~Dav

Dear Neighbors,

October and November are peak fire months —the 2018 Camp Fire happened just last November— so please do pay attention to emergency alerts from sources like PG&E, announcements from local groups like CAVERN* as well as news from local newspapers, and everywhere else you get your news so that you can stay informed. In the meantime, with Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) looming over Lake County, a lot of you have been wondering about where to get the best emergency alerts.

Nixle

Many of you may already be signed up for alert texts (SMS) from the Nixle system. However, if you haven’t updated since last year when the notification went out, you are not getting much of what’s going on in Lake County. Check your old text messages to find and update your account, do a search for “nixle alert” online (DuckDuckGo.com does not track your searches!) or just visit the Nixle website for more information.

LakeCoAlerts

For the most useful local alerts, make sure you are signed up to receive LakeCoAlerts and weather alerts. Back in Fall 2018, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office became aware that some LakeCoAlerts subscribers have been receiving weather alerts in the early morning hours. The Sheriff’s Office has disabled the National Weather Service alerts feature from our LakeCoAlerts system because the Sheriff’s Office was not able to control the times the alerts went out from the National Weather Service system. The Sheriff’s Office encourages all Lake County residents to sign up for LakeCoAlerts by going to LakeSheriff.com. In the event of an emergency critical notifications will be sent out through the LakeCoAlerts system.

If you have any problems signing up with LakeCoAlerts, please contact Teresa Stewart at lakesheriff@lakecountyca.gov, or 707 263 3450. She can confirm if you are in the system.

PG&E Alerts

PG&E alerts are separate, even though PG&E works with the the County OES (Office of Emergency Services) to alert them ahead of the public. To sign up, go to:
https://www.pge.com/en_US/residential/outages/alerts/alerts.page
Be aware that PG&E website pages may be overwhelmed by traffic. Unfortunately this service is for PG&E account holders only, so if you live in any kind of institutional setting such as a retreat center or volunteer dormitory, work with your managers to stay on top of news. If you are off-grid, you may be able to get a neighbor with PG&E service to keep you informed.

National Weather Service

The National Weather Service at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) helps the public keep track of Fire Weather through zones. That information is one set of data that PG&E and others use to declare fire watches:
https://www.weather.gov/pimar/FireZones
For Lake County, our fire zone is 264.
Here’s a map.

CAVERN
Cobb Area Volunteer Emergency Radio Network

The CryptoRights Foundation (a local 501c3 led by Dav) and the CAC’s Communications Committee (chaired by Mel) are coordinating efforts to organize amateur GMRS and FRS radio operators all around the Cobb Mountain area into (Firewise-compatible) groups that can pass along extremely up-to-date information during an emergency.

CAVERN, which is a CryptoRights public benefit project you can donate support to, is working with the CAC CommsComm to start growing the numbers of both unlicensed FRS (Family Radio Service) and FCC-licensed GMRS radio operators (General Mobile Radio Service) who can access CAVERN radio repeaters (one now exists on Hoberg’s hill courtesy of Larry). CAVERN (Cobb Area Volunteer Emergency Radio Network) welcomes new members regardless of their experience (training is available on this website and through Mel and Dave). LCARS (Lake County Amateur Radio Society) is another good source for HAM radio information, in case you want to go deeper and get a more involved and expensive FCC license. Two-way radio can be the only way to communicate when celltowers and internet connections are down, and CAVERN can help you learn the protocols and be ready to talk to your neighbors and the larger community.

For the future, CryptoRights is developing a mesh radio network that will connect everyone’s smartphones on/around the mountains, even when line-of-sight is unavailable and even when celltowers and internet connectivity fails! For more info on their VERN project, which is part of their Harmless Little Project, get in touch with Dav directly (CAVERN is the prototype community).

NOTE: CAVERN’s Mel McMurrin is giving away several pre–programmed 2-Watt FRS radios as door prizes at the Cobb Resilient event on 19 October 2019. These radios come in pairs (so neighbors can each have one) and they have the various CAVERN channels already set up for you.

Subscribe to the (low-volume) CAVERN Announcements list for email updates on local emergency preparedness, disaster responses and community recovery efforts. Details on the Cobb Resilient Radio Giveaway will be sent out through this mailing list!

Other Community Options

Some local churches, community and neighborhood groups have established phone trees for their members. My own parish has already held a phone tree drill recently. Check around, and make sure you are connected. It’s important to have several layers of communication and information that you know you can rely on to be accurate because a rapid response can be critical to saving yourself. But remember: phone trees currently work only when the celltowers are not down!

_________________________________________________________
Magdalena Valderrama Hurwitz is the Firewise Communities® Community Regional Coordinator, Board member, South Lake Fire Safe Council, director of the Seigler Springs Community Redevelopment Association and a contributor to the CAVERN project.

CAVERN Channels

CAVERN’s preprogrammed Retevis RT 22 radios channels match the way most FRS/GMRS radios are programmed, but only for the first few channels. This is because the RT22 only has 16 channels and cannot transmit at the legally required 0.5 Watts for FRS channels 8-14 (so we left those out for now).

What this means in practical terms is that on CAVERN pre–programmed FRS radios (e.g. the “Retevis RT22”), Channels 1-7 correspond to most off-the-shelf FRS radios, HOWEVER: CAVERN’s Channels 8-16 are NOT programmed to the standard frequencies and tones.

This table below shows: pre-programmed CAVERN channel locations (in the first column); the corresponding normal “Standard” FRS and GMRS channel location for most non-CAVERN radios (i.e. the “factory settings”) and; additional CAVERN frequency & tone settings for radios (i.e. to help limit Main Repeater access to Cobb Area volunteers):

CAVERN ChStandard ChFreq/Tone (Info)
1Ch 1(Group 1 Boggs)
2Ch 2(Group 2 Cobb)
3Ch 3(Group 3 BottleRock)
4Ch 4(Group 4 Hobergs)
5Ch 5(Group 5 Seigler)
6Ch 6(Group 6 Hannah)
7Ch 7TBD (not used by CAVERN)
8Ch 15462.550 Megahertz
+ DCS: D071N
(CAVERN Repeater
/ Daily Talk
& Weekly Check-Ins)
9Ch 15462.550 Megahertz
+ CTCSS: 103.5 hertz (aka “tone #13”)
(CAVERN Emergency Alerts/Tests ONLY)
10-16Ch 16-22TBD (not used by CAVERN)

CAVERN Check-Ins: “How To”


About CAVERN Check-Ins

Anyone local to the Cobb Area who can hear the CAVERN radio network is welcome to check in. Our main Repeater is atop Hobergs Hill (overlooking the resort destroyed in the 2015 Valley Fire). The frequency is 462.550 Megahertz with a DCS tone of D071N.

It’s OK to be pseudonymous, but show up! You do NOT need a fancy guv’mint ‘Callsign’ or even one of the group-based CAVERN_IDs we issue. (At least not the first couple of times). You can join everyone by checking in with just your first name or even a “handle” (i.e. a nickname or nym). You will eventually receive a CAVERN_ID: use that for your own convenience and so we can find you in case of an emergency during which you urgently need assistance.

NOTE: “CAVERN” is a local network for the areas around the town of Cobb and Cobb Mountain, if you’re wondering why it’s the Cobb Area Volunteer Emergency Radio Network (thus: “CAVERN“). FYI, the nonprofit CryptoRights Foundation (CRF) is using constructive feedback from the World to create a knowledgebase of information for a generic Volunteer Emergency Radio Network website. That website will be a free resource (e.g. downloadable freeware) that any group or community can use to build it’s own VERN so everyone within range can communicate in emergencies that suddenly knock out other media. To support this research and development into public use of public airwaves for public safety, CRF plans to offer project merchandise, crowdfunding opportunities and commercial licenses: proceeds will benefit contributors to this important public benefit work. Please send small tax-deductible donations (stapled to really large ones? 😉 ) using the ‘Donate info in the sidebar to support this volunteer-driven nonprofit digital human rights R&D. Thank You!

We begin each weekly Check-In by testing our Emergency Alert channel. We do this, a few minutes before the main check-in starts, to make sure everyone is able to tune their radios to hear emergency alerts ONLY (if people want to, they can use the Emergency Alert channel to ignore daily patter on our main channel). Once we’ve given everyone a few minutes to confirm their ability to hear the Emergency Alert Channel (see the right-hand sidebar: we generally program these channels into peoples’ radios for them), we then proceed with the main Check-in, which is a roll call led by a Network Control person and organized by CAVERN groups in order*.

* We check in our Cobb Area Volunteer Emergency Radio Network operators starting from Group 1 through Group 6 and even to ‘Beyond’ the local area. Radio waves can propagate over very long distances. We have spoken to radio operators as far away as Signal Peak in the Sierra Nevada mountains. That’s 120+ miles east, using just a 5-Watt GMRS radio (and direct line-of-sight)!

CAVERN Groups 1—6
CAVERN Groups 1 through 6.

The CAVERN Directed Net

CAVERN is a Directed Network, meaning that, while any network session is in operation (usually for less than an hour), all communications are routed by a person who serves as “Network Control” (aka “NetCon“). Whoever is NetCon during the network session, that’s the person running the network, queueing people up in an orderly way so they don’t ‘step on’ each others’ transmissions (see Note #1). Basically, you don’t transmit until given the go-ahead, and if you need to interject anything, you first ask for permission as briefly as possible. To ask NetCon for permission to speak next, you use short phrases such as: “net control <your first name>” or “net control, comment…”. When NetCon says to go ahead, then you proceed with your “traffic” (i.e. transmission or communication).

To learn how we use the Directed Network protocol,
which is very practical in emergency situations, see:
Intro to Network Control“.

NOTES:
1. Leave breathing room on the Airwaves: after anyone speaks, everyone should allow a few beats so NetCon can queue the next speaker. Sometimes, it’s so someone can answer your question (other than NetCon).
2. In the world of FCC-licensed GMRS radio operators (which is a different world from the unlicensed Citizen’s Band radio, or “CB”, familiar to fans of the Smokey & The Bandit movies), we reserve the word “break” ONLY for extreme emergencies. You will probably never say “break” on the CAVERN network: if anyone does, it’s probably bad news for everyone (e.g. a wildfire or storm damage).
3. Comments (i.e. non-roll-call messages) should benefit all listeners on the network.
4. We make time for casual chats among members after we close the net and release the frequency for general traffic.


CAVERN Check-In Protocol

Check-Ins start with Group 1 (download the sample check-in script at the ‘Intro to Net Control‘ link in Note #1 above). When you hear NetCon call for your Group by its number: first listen for the Licensed GMRS radio operators in your group to check in (they often have a lower number and can hear more people with their higher-powered radios); then check in by the order of your CAVERN ID. If you’re #5 in your group, you’ll go, and #6 checks in after you, etc.

Say your first name plus your CAVERN ID (or GMRS callsign, if you have one) to check in. That’s really all there is to it! For example: “Betty at Seigler 87, checking in” or “Angelo, LMNO123, checking in”. If you don’t know your CAVERN ID or don’t have one yet, no problem: just use your first name or a “handle” (a nickname, like “Pink Panther”). We understand that some shy woodland creatures may want to remain pseudonymous or that some parents prefer their kids not to use their real names: that’s perfectly OK. The important thing is to use a persistent pseudonym to identify yourself so others can reach out to you reliably in an emergency.

If at first you do not succeed by immediately hearing acknowledgement from NetCon, just try checking in again. You can even check in later during another group’s time (anyone from the first few groups can check in late during any group’s slot or at the end).

You can also ask someone who you can hear and you can probably heat NetCon to “relay” your check-in for you. If you can hear a weak signal/distant station that NetCon does not seem to hear, during a gap you can say “net control, relay…” and, as soon as NetCon gives you the go-ahead, pass on the info you heard. (Expert Tip: listen with your radio’s “squelchoff, or very low, to hear weak stations.)

If you have a question during a check-in, just say “net control, question” and ask it when your turn comes (e.g. “how do I turn my squelch down?”). If it’s urgent, just say so. For more detailed questions, please send Network Control an email.


How To Relay Check Ins

Sometimes, people who are clearly audible to you cannot be heard by Network Control. In those cases, you can be the “relay” between them and the other people on CAVERN’s network. In fact, in a serious emergency, the ability to relay for neighbors can be a potential lifesaver for you or those near you. Happily, there’s an easy protocol for relaying signals. Here’s what a very quick, efficient relay can sound like:

Hannah 1: “NetCon, Relay…”
Net Control: “Hannah 1, go with your relay, Brett…”
Hannah 1: “Relay for Hannah 22, Margaret. That’s Margaret at Hannah 22.”
Net Control: “Copy, Brett. Margaret at Hannah 22 is checked in…”


How NOT to Check In

Hannah 13: “Achey-breaker-break. This is Hannah 13 aka Josh the Radio Dude, aka Whiskey Tangle Foxtail Doohickey 7-4 Niner. I’m hearing someone out there, but it’s pretty weak… might be Brenda, or Bob, or maybe Billy? I dunno… hey, I really like the new website, you guys! Anyway, go ahead and check in my dog Jasper, my pet iguana Tickles, my cockateel Snorton Buffalo Wings III… oh, and me, Josh the Radio Dude… (Awe-sooome!) ‘Kay… I’m gonna go have some lunch now. Well, this has been amazing fun for me, as usual. Back to you, Mr Networky Dude.”
Net Control: “Uh… Josh, your super-long transmission stepped on Brett’s urgent relay. Josh, hold your traffic until you are prompted for your turn by NetCon and please try not to exceed the transmission limit or you’ll send everyone in the network another high-pitched overtime alarm tone. Brett, please repeat your relay… go ahead, Brett…”

In the “not” example above, try replacing the word “relay” with the phrase “urgent wildfire alert!”. Can you understand why worried people under the imminent threat of a wildfire would not be that interested in your pets’ names or your lunch plans? Would your otherwise “awesome” sense of humor be appropriate in such a situation? Maybe you see why rehearsing network protocol is important…? Remember: we’re practicing for life-and-death situations that are guaranteed to happen someday. We all need to be ready to communicate what we know (or need to know) in the most professional way possible, especially when talking to emergency responders. Be like “Brett/Hannah 1” below. Short & Sweet!

2019 Kincade Fire glow
2019 Kincade Fire glow, just west of Cobb Mtn.

July 2019 original: Mel
Feb 2020 upgrade: Dav

Operating Your CAVERN Radios

CAVERN Network Control distributes these two inexpensive radios to our member operators with pre-programmed channels to make it easy for you to listen and join in.

1. CAVERN-Programmed RETEVIS RT22 Radio

Operating the CAVERN-programmed RETEVIS RT22 (starts at 3:30) This old video with bad audio will be replaced soon!
  • Tap “+/-” button to change the channel.
  • Ch.8 is the day-to-day chat and check-in channel for CAVERN.
  • Ch.9 is for emergency announcements and (siren) tests.
  • Hold down the “—” (minus sign) key until you hear an “on” prompt to scan all 16 channels. Hold again to turn “off.”
  • Press and hold down the “+” (plus sign) key until you hear static to “turn off squelch” and hear weak stations.
  • Keep your radio on 24/7 so you don’t miss emergencies and other alerts.
  • To maintain good battery life, periodically take your RT22 radio out of its charger for a few hours (keep it on!) instead of always leaving it plugged in (e.g. rotate 2+ radios on/off the charger).

2. CAVERN-Programmed BTech GMRS-V1 Radio

Until there is a full write-up here, please read Miklor.com’s easy-to-read guide. Note: guide says “All programming must be done in the Frequency Mode.” Not true: we list some exceptions, and a few helpful notes, below:

  • If you hold the “F” button down too long you will get a big surprise (and so will anyone listening!) Try to avoid doing that accidentally. (Read Miklor to find out!)
  • “M” button takes the squelch off (squelch suppresses noise but may also suppress weak signals)
  • Ch 15 “GMRS 15” bypasses the repeater. Good for talking to your local group.
  • Ch 000 is (or should be) “CF LNUE” which stands for CalFire Lake-Napa-Unit-East. That is the Cobb area’s CalFire dispatch center located in St. Helena. You can monitor this channel for initial Fire dispatch calls.
  • Ch 33 monitors CAVERN for Emergency-only transmissions BUT DOES NOT TRANSMIT.
  • To transmit an emergency alert: Ch 023 [MENU]1,3 [MENU] (display=”T-CTCS” prompt says “CTCSS”)1,0,3,5[MENU]=”confirm(ed)” (See video below)
  • [MENU] 41 SC-ADD adds or removes that channel from scan. Very handy if you have a noisy channel you’d rather skip!
  • Scan Button is the “*”. Prompt says “Scanning Begin”… (it sounds like “scanning beacon” due to the accent)
  • The “#” button locks the keys. Set the upper band to “000” and the lower band to “023” and you can safely put your radio in your pocket!).
CAVERN GMRS Operators listen up! Here’s how to program your radio for Emergency transmit.