The Cascadia Rising exercise will test the concept of Regional Coordination Centers in a limited fashion (just two counties playing). The Emergency Management Agencies (EMAs) have developed Regional Coordination Centers (RCCs) to augment the State EOC (SEOC) during a catastrophic disaster where the SEOC may not be fully functional. The RCCs are expected to be stood up for the period of time it takes the SEOC at Camp Murray to become capable of handling the demand. It could be two weeks or it could be longer. The kind and amount of radio traffic sent to/from the RCCs is not known at this time since the concept is new. It can be assumed that any traffic normally directed at Camp Murray, will now go to the RCC for those participating. For agencies not using RCCs for the exercise, there should be an effort to at least establish communications with the RCC to demonstrate that path can work.
Since these RCCs are located in Eastern Washington (out of the impact area), the typical VHF/UHF communications will have little value. Some alternatives are listed below and more details on these options will be provided as they're available. Note that none of this is mandated. All of this information is made available to provide suggestions and the details are to be worked out between each jurisdiction and their corresponding RCC.
HF voice is likely to be the primary mode of communication between the western jurisdictions and the RCCs. Intrastate (short distance) HF voice has some inherent limitations in that it requires large horizontally polarized antennas (to support an NVIS mode), a low noise floor, a general class or higher operator and an HF radio at both ends of the link. These are often not available at EOCs. One suggestion is to develop a "cloud" of HF operators near an EOC who can communicate locally via radio in the impacted area or even telephone at the RCC. These HF operators can handle the voice traffic and pass it along via another mode.
Suggested HF operating frequencies are listed below. Note that 60m has the additional virtue of being an NTIA primary frequency. This means it's possible to contact Federal resources (FEMA) directly on this band.
3.945 MHz LSB Spokane & Region 1
7.235 MHz LSB Spokane & Region 1
14.285 MHz USB Region 1 & 2 with CBCG (Spokane/Grant)
Winlink has the virtue of allowing a standard email to be sent. This requires no special equipment on the other end of the link. It also allows for a wider variety of stations to be used. There is no reason to contact the RCC stations directly because email can be sent into the system anywhere. Winlink stations in California, Nevada, Canada, etc. will all get the email to the destination. This allows for a broader range of antennas (verticals work well for this) and propagation conditions.
It does require that the RCCs and local jurisdictions develop an address book to be used during an event. More importantly, Winlink uses a "whitelist" feature to eliminate spam. This means only users on the whitelist can send standard email into the system. A user is added to the whitelist automatically when mail is sent from a Winlink address to a standard email address. This is clearly best done in advance of any incident where email communications will be required.
Washington State EMD is now welcoming real and exercise traffic at the addresses below.
W7EMD@winlink.org (General messaging to the Washington State EOC @ Camp Murray).
ISNAP@mil.wa.gov (For ISNAP Forms)
RFA@mil.wa.gov (For logistics messages)
The current Winlink client, RMS Express, supports both various PACTOR options and the WINMOR soundcard mode. There are newer options coming but these work fine now. There is also a forms feature built into the versions of RMS Express released since April 2015. This allows sending forms separately from data but still provides readable data if the form is unavailable. It is recommended to get the latest release of RMS express to get full functionality. Scott N7SS has written a brief Getting Started Guide for using RMS Express with forms.
Information on RMS Express HTML Message Forms is available in this presentation from Phil Sherrod of the Winlink Development Team and this document from Mike N6KZB. The two most common forms for Washington State will be the ICS-213 and ISNAP forms available below.
FLDigi over HF
FLDigi is software that provides a variety of modes that can be used over HF and VHF. Many of these modes are highly noise immune and it also includes a forms feature with FLMsg. The disadvantage is that it requires some coordination and a trained operator and equipment at both ends of the link. More information about FLDigi and FLMsg can be found at http://www.w1hkj.com/.
In addition to position reporting, APRS offers the ability to send short messages. These messages can also be directed to Winlink, email or text (SMS) users. It is a great tactical message solution. Although it is primarily sent over VHF to an Internet Gateway (igate), there is an HF solution on 30m as well. The VHF solution would require that some Internet still be available in the impacted area but an HF solution can use an igate anywhere. There is an Overview of APRS Messaging from Scott N7SS and you can learn more about the HF options from WA8LMF in his HF APRS Notes and discussion of simultaneous operation of APRS over PSK63.
Although Internet connectivity will be impacted during a large-scale event, the Internet was designed to be robust and there are always areas of connectivity. If one station within the footprint of a repeater can setup and Echolink node, then a remote RCC could simply connect via a local node, PC running the Echolink software or even a mobile phone running the app. This would allow the RCC to directly interact with regional partners over normal regional communications channels. It would require no communications plan changes to the local OPS1 nets and doesn't even require a radio at the RCC end of the link. It would only require communicating the node number of the RCC so they could connect. More information about Echolink can be found at http://www.echolink.org/.
DSTAR offers a number of remote connection options that are also Internet-based. Given the dozens of local DSTAR repeaters with gateways in the Puget Sound area, there is a high likelihood that at least one of them would be available to allow remote connections. DSTAR supports "reflectors" that are essentially conference bridges and the repeaters can be directly linked. Although the Western Washington reflector (034C) is likely to be impacted, arrangements can be made to host emergency traffic on any other reflector. This would allow the remaining gateway connected systems to link to the reflector to form a wide area system that could be reach from Eastern Washington. Alternatively, these individual systems could remain unconnected to handle more local traffic.
DSTAR Access could be via radio in the impacted area. The RCC end could either link a local DSTAR system to the repeater, assuming one was available or they could use a USB dongle device like the ThumbDV from NW Digital Radio to connect via an Internet connected laptop or PC. It is also possible to use a satellite Internet connection from the impacted area to connect to a remote repeater or reflector. The half duplex and low bitrate nature of the DSTAR connections is ideally suited for the high latency, limited bandwidth of a satellite system.
Don't forget these invaluable tools even though they aren't ham radio. One thing that is often not done is to collect all the phone numbers for these and share them in advance. Even if a phone is working, it's useless without the number. Remember portable devices only work when exposed to a clear view of the sky. This often makes them unreachable when calling inbound. You'll also need the appropriate phone numbers to call in the RCCs.