“You have to start with digital modes somewhere,” according to Joe Speroni, AH0A, when discussing the Simulated Emergency Test (SET) 2019 using Winlink at the Amateur Radio Contest station KH6YY.
“We have a long way to go” but we are making inroads, and inroads they have made. A group of amateur radio operators have developed a robust Winlink system in the Hawaiian Islands to help cover communications in a natural disaster.
You can think of Winlink as an “Amateur Radio gmail system” for operators to send and receive email using radio instead of Internet. It is well known for its role in emergency and disaster relief communications, providing its users emails with attachments, pictures, position reporting, weather and information bulletins. The system is built, operated and administered entirely by licensed volunteers. It has a proven track record for emergencies. As recently as 2017, Winlink was extensively used in the aftermath of the high-impact hurricane season in the Caribbean, after the earthquake in Mexico and the recent September 2019 Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.
Used by the sailing community for offshore long-range communications to stay in contact with family and friends, Winlink has proven its reliability and is relatively inexpensive. Winlink software is free but you do need some hardware to use it. Some items needed are an amateur radio license, a radio, a computer, external soundcard and an amateur radio to send and receive messages.
With the Hawaiian Islands being one of the most isolated populated locations in the world, it seems prudent to have a robust communications infrastructure that can be used with or without power and with or without the Internet. Hawai’i is the most isolated center of population in the world, at 2,390 miles from California and 3,850 miles from Japan. It might not feel like you are isolated when you’re standing in the middle of a crowded Waikiki beach, but pretty much everything is DX.
This year for the ARRL Simulated Emergency Test, Hawai’i used the opportunity to test Winlink radio messaging to the mainland using the Radio Station KH6YY located on O’ahu. It is one of the premier amateur radio contesting stations in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Its location in Hawai’i provides a commanding propagation path over expansive saltwater.
KH6YY has eight antennas (most up on 90 ft towers) and nine stations that all switch through a control box. The station was configured to receive traffic on 7100 kHz (dial frequency) in Pactor, Winmor, ARDOP and VARA modes. The four-element 40-meter beam was pointed toward Hilo. Simulating a loss of Internet, messages received were passed to a second 20-meter gateway on 14100.5 kHz and forwarded to a mainland gateway having Internet access.
More information about the station can be found at http://KH6YY.net
Users could send messages in on 40-meters and the messages would be automatically forwarded on 20-meters to the mainland. Most went to gateways in Mexico and Texas for forwarding to the Internet. One user mentioned they got email conformation back that their message was received within minutes. The Winlink activity map for the day of the SET documents Hawaii hams use of this new digital mode.
The Baja Radio Club XE2BNC in Mexico that handled the mainland link gave a thumbs up on the event. See http://tinyurl.com/yxgfjtk2 for details.
Overall, some lessons were learned in the use of Winlink technology. We were fortunate to have participation from all Hawaiian Islands.