Various mountaintop/tower cameras —with views over the Kincade and other fires— are accessible at: http://www.alertwildfire.org/northbay/
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
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.
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.
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 email@example.com, or 707 263 3450. She can confirm if you are in the system.
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:
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:
For Lake County, our fire zone is 264.
Here’s a map.
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.
State Inspector shuts down Mt Konocti Tower on Wright Peak.
“Saint Helena, this is Konocti Tower… out of service.”
2019.10.04 • I may never again get to say that… at the end of a long shift, after looking out over all of Lake County’s green and blue magnificence, to keep my fellow citizens safer from fires and other disasters. It is with concern for the safety of Lake County’s people, animals and natural splendor, that I must report sad news to you. Today, a CA State Inspector has shut down the Mt Konocti Fire Lookout Tower on nearby Wright Peak. Mark your calendars, friends. It might be a long wait. 🙁
The details will be available through the local Forest Fire Lookout Association (where I volunteer for shifts on the tower), but the preliminary information is that the Inspector locked us out —well before the end of Fire Season— for what he deemed to be unsafe conditions related the tower’s physical state (dry rot, weakened steel, cracking concrete). At first, I wondered if they were talking about me. 😉
Personally, as a volunteer lookout, I don’t mind an appropriate level of risk — if it saves lives and property. Sure the tower is old and worn (who isn’t?), but it’s not statistically likely to fall down until after fire season 2019. To add some perspective, I’m pretty sure the firefighters who go and actually put out the fires are willing to accept a similar class of risks (to a higher degree, of course) and for the same reasons.
As a community, we are suddenly less safe, but a few dozen volunteers will be safer, so… consider that logic. On the bright side, we could now become more dependent on one PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) Security Camera mounted by CalFire on the northeast corner of the tower. You can see the images here. As you will see, the difference between those PTZ cameras and human beings with brains and powerful binoculars is… significant. Peripheral vision, a human brain and way better magnification will beat a camera any day.
Now, we as a community must find a way to compensate for this loss. The tower closure could last somewhere between “a fairly long time” and “never coming back online”. We’ve been metaphorically poked in the eye with a stick and left half-blind as a community to eruptions of smoke, flames and human foibles all around Lake County and beyond. We need more than ever to focus our collective energy on keeping each other safe. That starts with talking to each other, as do many other solutions to what ails our society. Talk. Get to know people. Feel comfy calling them for help or going to help when they call. Learn the emergency protocols, like our “directed net”. Join a FireWise group (we have SIX all around Cobb!). Know where the places people talk about are located (yes, we need better maps on this website!).
So, if you’ve been sitting on the fence, waiting to see how this whole “volunteer emergency radio network” thing works out… well, it’s time now for you to step up, for your own safety and that of others too, including your loved ones and friendly neighbors. Get a radio and join us on the radio checks. There was talk of going back to one radio check per week, but now that Konocti Tower is going “out of service” indefinitely… I think we might go to three radio checks a week. Vigilance plus readiness equals life.
It’s easy to get involved and be part of the solution…
Mon 30 Sept 2019
KPFZ 88.1 FM (Lake County public radio)
CAVERN’s organizers were live on the air with radio host Ben Weiss on public radio station KPFZ, chatting about the CAVERN project and its roots, RF radio topics, organizing your community to be prepared for emergencies and the future convergence of software-defined radio (SDR) and terrestrial radio mesh networks, including the mothership VERN project’s development happening at a small nonprofit tech thinktank right here in Lake County.
Here’s a draft design for the first incarnation of the CAVERN Tee Shirt.
Have you got ideas for a good tee shirt design?
Please email me ideas! D [at] cavern.mobi
CRF wants to get a few of these printed up for people who are willing to help underwrite a prototype node at their place, so it would help to hear feedback. If you mention what size you want made for you, that helps too.
As soon as I can find a local tee shirt printing company and get their price per item, I’ll let everyone know the suggested donation (under $100, deductible) that will cover the limited-run Alpha Node shirts and the prototype components. CRF will cover more than half of the hardware costs.
CryptoRights (CAVERN’s sponsoring nonprofit) has a small development team working on the design for the prototype (alpha) hardware nodes that will (go up next year on rooftops and in attics) to form the mesh radio network we’re developing for 2020 and beyond.
Here’s a photo of the current (early alpha) prototype mesh node hardware we’re using to begin alpha testing in our satellite lab:
Pretty simple… so far! Three prototype nodes (see bottom photo) have been built for development and lab testing. Just buying the components for these first prototypes on AmazonSmile, the total is around $150 each, which is why we’re working on designs to get the per-unit cost way lower so anyone can easily afford one. The more nodes, the denser the mesh, and thus the better the mesh’s performance and reliability, resulting in a safer community from wildfires, big storms and other emergencies. CryptoRights is now gratefully accepting donations (see the right side of this page), applying for grants and planning a crowdfunding campaign to fund the manufacture of up to 100 test nodes so we can place them with volunteer operators around every side of the mountainous region centered on Cobb — which was selected partly on the basis of its challenging topography!
Also, we’ll soon start work on:
(4) 100% Off-Grid Operation (a big project goal) by adding a Solar Panel (or existing panel tie-in) and a compact Charger/Inverter (make yourself a ‘wikiname’ login at the Harmless Little Project and see “SoRad“).
(5) Weatherproof Enclosure: once the technology is ready for outside testing, it will have a weatherproof enclosure that can easily be mounted onto a roof, bolted to a tower or even screwed onto a deck rail or tree branch if that’s what you have handy. Yes,if you have a very large property, you could operate several nodes to connect (with enhanced privacy) to your family and nearby friends ‘behind’ the hills… and you’d be adding density to the mesh for everyone nearby as well.
For now, the (most basic) alpha nodes will just plug into your house’s 120V power (ideally, up high in your attic) and the Battery will keep the system operating in case of a power outage.
We should have more progress to report in October!
N.B.: If you are subscribed to the Announcement list, you’ll know as soon as we begin asking for the first few volunteer Alpha Node operators.
Come visit our CAVERN table at the Blackberry COBBler event on 24 August 2019. We may have FRS and GMRS radios, and possibly even CAVERN tee shirts available (for a tax-deductible donation to support the project).
CAVERN Radio Checks continue weekly on Wednesdays at 6:30PM all year around — and we’re also now doing a second weekly Radio Check on Saturdays at 1:00PM during fire season (which is roughly June through when the rains arrive around November). Thanks to Larry S, we have a good repeater high over Cobb where a lot of people can reach it by radio. Mel and I are hoping to expand this with two more repeaters once we solve the “tone problem”. If you are a radio nerd and can help us with that, please email me.
Meanwhile, we’re working on some prototypes of the first mesh network nodes. (see photo). They are magnificently crude, but we will be testing them in 2020. If you get a tee shirt, you’ll be signed up to help test a very early prototype of the mesh node.
The first three CAVERN mesh network node prototypes starting to talk to each other in our lead developer’s lab.
PS: get on our CAVERN Announcements list so you get the latest news!
GOTO — lists.CAVERN.mobi
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 the CAVERN-programmed “Retevis RT22” (FRS) radios, channels 1-7 correspond to most other off-the-shelf FRS radios, BUT channels 8-16 do not. Refer to this table:
|CAVERN RETEVIS RT22 FRS||Standard FRS/GMRS Channels|
|1 (Group 1 – Boggs)||1|
|2 (Group 2 – Cobb)||2|
|3 (Group 3 – Bottlerock)||3|
|4 (Group 4 – Hobergs)||4|
|5 (Group 5 – Seigler)||5|
|6 (Group 6 – Hannah)||6|
|7 (Group 7 – TBD)||7|
|8 (CAVERN Main/Talk)||15|
|9 (CAVERN Emergency Alerts)||15 (+ 103.5 hz tone AKA tone #13 )|
Not everyone wants to listen to a scanner or CAVERN throughout the day…and especially at night. Luckily CAVERN programmed radios can screen out the day–to-day chitchat on the frequency, so that you only hear alerts of local emergencies put out by fellow CAVERN volunteers.
To screen out chitchat set your CAVERN-programmed RETEVIS RT22 to channel 9, or (newer)BTECH GMRS V1 to channel 33. Additionally any FRS/GMRS radio that supports privacy tones can be set to channel 15 with a “privacy” or CTCSS receive tone of 103.5 Hz. Consult your manual or firstname.lastname@example.org. (Often tone #13 corresponds to 103.5 Hz.)
NOTE: We test the tone at the beginning of Net check-ins or when a Fire siren is tested BUT we conduct actual check-ins on non-emergency channels! (RT22 ch8, V1 ch 15 or 23, most FRS/GMRS radio ch.15 with NO privacy tone.) So reset your radio after test or you may not hear anything!
Should you need to announce an emergency, first listen and ask on the non-emergency channel if the network is already aware of the emergency.
If there is imminent danger to the some part of the Cobb area (as in a moving fire within 1-3 miles likely to require evacuation) put out an emergency alert with as much detail RETEVIS RT22 to Ch .9, or BTECH GMRS V1 to channel 15 or 23 with CTCSS 103.5 set on transmit. Additionally any FRS/GMRS radio that supports privacy tones can be set to channel 15 with a “privacy” or CTCSS tone corresponding to 103.5 Hz (often named tone #13).