The Amateur Amateur: A Whole Bunch of Site Visits
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
Barnes-Jewish Hospital roof
Barnes-Jewish Hospital roof
Steve sorting out the Red Cross radio room
Does it still work? Is it connected to an antenna?
BHC transceiver in a personal office
BHC antenna mast, and oh, look! There's an Amateur Radio antenna!
Looking at the thirteen-year
history of our St. Louis Metro ARES group, it feels like we've gone from
standing still to blazing along at a hundred miles an hour. The workload, on
the other hand, seems to have gone from zero to infinity.
The man who shoulders most of that
burden is Steve Wooten, KC0QMU. He's the EC (Emergency Coordinator) for our
group. I'm his number two guy (or would that be Number One? No, that's Star
Trek), so whatever tumbles from his broad shoulders usually lands on mine.
I'm the Assistant Emergency Coordinator - Operations.
I put in a lot of hours every week
working on ARES stuff. I'm retired now, but it's a lot like having a full time
job. What amazes me, though, is that Steve, who does have a full time
job, does at least fifty times as much work on ARES than I do. I don't know how
he does it. I strongly suspect that he divides the work among a secret army of
Steve-clones, or perhaps he operates in a separate dimension consisting of
128-hour days. There's no other explanation.
Let me give you the rundown on the
last few weeks.
Monday the 11th
Steve and I visited Barnes-Jewish
Hospital and the adjacent Washington University School of Medicine. The two organizations
had recently built a joint Emergency Operation Center, complete with an
attached communications room. We were given a tour of the new facility, and
shown the brand new Amateur Radio gear that had been installed in it. It was
all very impressive, and I was gratified that they were taking the role of
Amateur Radio seriously.
Since the EOC was now functional
and had all-new equipment, the hospital felt that it no longer needed the ham
gear located on the 17th floor of its main building. They said that
they would donate it to our ARES group. All we had to do was disconnect and
haul it all away. Well, we did that. But, it turned out that they also
meant we could have the Amateur Radio antennas located on the roof of the
Umm, okay. I wasn't particularly
happy about it, but I followed Steve and our hospital contact up to the roof.
Don't get me wrong. I wasn't afraid of heights. It's just that at my age, my
knees, hips, and so forth don't take kindly to steep stairs and ladders.
But, I made it. We looked around,
determined that one dual-band antenna was still up and a second had toppled.
There was still a usable HF antenna, and also remnants of one that had broken.
We made a list of what we'd like and what could be scrapped and gave it to our
Happily, someone at the hospital
would retrieve it all for us. Also, I would be able to go home and take some
Aleve for my aching joints.
Friday the 15th
We visited the local chapter of the
American Red Cross. Our MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) with them is
relatively new, and the Director of Disaster Services has asked us to help
revamp the chapter's old radio room. Unfortunately, it had become something of
a storage room, with piles and piles of obsolete radio equipment (and, frankly,
junk) lying all over the place. Our task was to sort and catalog everything for
proper disposal. We also had a secondary task, which was to see what kind of
shape the chapter's old Amateur Radio equipment was in.
We spent hours segregating
hand-held radios, mobile radios, speakers, and everything else imaginable into
boxes, and when we were finished, it didn't seem as though we had made a dent
in the piles of detritus. Maybe next time we should rent a backhoe before
We did, however, get a chance to check
out the Amateur Radio equipment. There were two 2 meter transceivers, one
dual-band transceiver, one HF transceiver, and two TNCs (Terminal Node
Controllers). The dual-band radio was the only thing that didn't qualify as
"ancient", and fortunately, it still worked. The antenna situation was a bit of
a mystery, as the coaxial cables ran through parts of the building that we
couldn't access, and then up a huge tower with numerous antennas on it. As the
dual-band transceiver seemed to hit local repeaters okay, we assumed that there
must be a dual band ham antenna somewhere up there.
The HF antenna was the big
question. The coax plugged into the HF rig was labeled "Dipole", but those come
in many shapes and sizes. Squinting up at the tower, there was nothing we could
specifically identify as an HF antenna. But, having been forewarned
about the situation by Steve, I had brought
along a SWR (Standing Wave Ratio) meter. I plugged the coax into my meter and
ran through the bands. The readings were pretty good for the higher frequencies
and Yuch! for the lower frequencies. That's most unfortunate, as the
Missouri-wide HF emergency frequencies are down in the Yuch! bands.
So, there was a HF antenna
somewhere, but it was pretty much useless for our needs.
It was a lot of sweaty work, but at
least we learned a few things.
Monday the 25th
One of our ARES team's earliest
served agencies (clients) was the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center. They had
actually acquired Amateur Radio equipment (radios, coaxial cable, an antenna)
when they had signed a MOU with us. At the time, however, they were in the
midst of constructing new buildings on their campus, and it was uncertain where
the administrative offices would be. Now, some years later, they contacted us
to let us know that they had settled into their permanent location. They
had dug up the Amateur Radio equipment,
and apparently even had the antenna installed. They wanted us to check it out.
Well, we've had some bad luck with
served agencies installing equipment, including antennas, in random and often
inappropriate places. So, it was with some small amount of trepidation that
Steve and I went out to see what had been done.
The BHC campus is huge. It covers a
lot of acreage, has roads leading hither and yon, and virtually all of the
buildings that had been there during our first visit were gone. Naturally, we
made a few wrong turns. As we were driving around, though, I kept noticing a
nice tall Rohn antenna mast in the distance.
"Boy, wouldn't it be nice if that were
on this property and we could stick the ham antenna on it?" I exclaimed.
As we approached the new
administration building, it became obvious that the mast was on the BHC
property... and right next to the admin building itself!
We parked and walked toward the
mast, trying to figure out what it was for.
"That sure looks like a Diamond
X-300A dual-band Amateur antenna," Steve said, gazing up.
For once, fortune had smiled on us.
The mast hadn't been erected specifically for the ham antenna, but the X-300A
held a nice, prominent place on it.
Once inside the building, we found
the dual-band transceiver. The good news was it was the same model as those
that had been installed in most of the area hospitals. Just about any of our
operators would be able to use it without spending a lot of time poring over
the manual. The bad news was that it was located in someone's office.
We were told that this was only
temporary, just to make sure the radio didn't "walk away" when no one was
looking. Once they had determined where they would put their emergency command
center, they would move the radio close to that. We agreed that would be a good
idea, and suggested obtaining a lockable cabinet for the radio. That seemed to
work well for some of our other served agencies.
Still Monday the 25th
Feeling that it had been a
successful visit (and had required no physical labor), we started talking about
the difficulties my wife Nancy (N0NJ) had encountered at one of the local
hospitals (see my previous column, "Big Trouble in
Deadzone"). There were problems with both of the Amateur Radios at
that location. We suspected that the antennas might have issues.
"We aren't that far away," Steve
said. "Do you want to swing by there?"
"Sure," I said. I figured that we'd
take a quick drive around the hospital's main building to see if we could
locate the Amateur Radio antennas. We thought we knew where they were,
but I was no longer sure.
We arrived at the hospital and
drove around it, but couldn't really tell anything from ground level.
"Let's go up to the room where they
keep the radios," I suggested.
I didn't intend to intrude, as the
radios were kept in a frequently-used conference room. All I wanted to do was
to get it straight in my head in which part of the hospital the room was
located. We believed that it was on the west side of the building. Mentally
tracing the corridors in my head, though, I'd concluded that the conference
room must be on the north side. If that were the case, maybe the antennas we'd
seen on the west side weren't, in fact, the Amateur antennas.
So, we went in, rode the elevator
up to the second floor, and went to the conference room.
My mental calculations had been
wrong. It was on the west side of the building, not the north side.
"There's no one in the conference
room," I noted.
"I want to look out the window,"
He did, but the view was blocked by
various obstacles. We couldn't see any antennas.
Steve stuck his head into the
adjacent nurse's office.
"Is there a window on the floor
above this one?" he asked.
The nurse replied that there was no
access to the third floor, but there was a window on the fourth floor.
So, we made our way up to floor
number four, went to the west side, and found the right window. We saw the
antennas! Moreover, they weren't at the same level as the conference room, but
sitting atop it. They appeared to be intact, as did all of the coaxial cable
that we could see, but one thing disturbed me.
The coaxial cable for both Amateur
Radio antennas ran snugly against the lightning grounding cable.
Wow. One good surge through that
grounding cable and the coax is going to melt, I thought.
And, I suspect, that may be exactly
"Steve, my SWR meter is sitting out
in your car. Do you mind if I test these cables?" I asked.
Steve shrugged and said sure.
Five minutes later, I had confirmed
that the SWR on each antenna system was in the Yuch!-range.
So, what was supposed to have been
a quick drive-by turned into a major search-and-analyze project. But, at least
now we had positively identified the antenna systems as the culprits.
Thursday the 28th
Steve and I met at a local park to
figure out where to put everyone during our upcoming Simulated Emergency Test
Okay, I'm sure you've got the point
by now. We're busy guys. For my part, I also attended ARES meetings, ran weekly
nets, and made updates to our membership database and Website.
As for Steve, I'm sure he kept his
Twilight Zone clone army very busy.