The Amateur Amateur: Wake Me Before the Disaster Starts
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Oh boy, I was in trouble now. My credibility was at stake.
April 28, 2004
Even if you don't
live in the Midwest, you've probably heard that we have tornadoes
here. But you might not know that we also have earthquakes. There was
a monster of a quake near New Madrid (pronounced New MAD-rid),
Missouri back in 1811, and it changed the course of the Mississippi
River. People around here have been talking about that one ever since.
The portable power station. Note the Anderson Powerpole connectors
Some say that the
next "big one" is overdue. Since earthquakes tend not to
post schedules, I don't really know. I will agree, however, that
there probably will be another "big one" in this area
sooner or later.
are a fact of life here, the Central United States Earthquake
was formed. Its primary mission is to help mitigate the effects of
quakes in the region.
Among its various
activities CUSEC holds periodic earthquake drills. They held one in
March 2004, and I was asked by a local ARES official to participate.
Reading the plan for the drill I found that several nets would be
operating on the 40 and 75-meter bands and that all operators were to
use emergency power only.
I figured I could handle the assignment. I had HF gear and I had a neat little
gizmo called a "portable power station." Basically it's a
carrying case with a 12-V sealed lead acid battery in it. It has a
few bells and whistles such as convenience plugs and circuitry to
prevent overcharging. If I ran my HF transceiver at about 5 W, the
portable power station should be able to handle the task.
The drill was to
take place on a Sunday afternoon. On Saturday evening I went down to
my basement shack to make a couple of quick-connect plugs (using
Anderson Powerpoles) so that I could easily switch my HF transceiver
from transformer power to battery power. It didn't take very
long--except when I tested the new plugs, I found that the battery in
my portable power station was dead
Oh boy, I was in
trouble now. I'd promised the ARES official that I was up for the
job. My credibility was at stake. It was too late in the evening to
go hunting for a fresh battery, so I'd have to wait until the next
The Big Battery: Do not use unless brain is functioning properly.
On Sunday morning
I drove to a nearby battery specialty store only to find it closed. A
sign on the door said that it would open at noon. Desperate (the
drill started at 2 PM) I stopped at a hardware store and picked up
two 6-V lantern batteries. I figured that if I connected them in
series they might just have enough juice to power my transceiver.
Nope, they didn't.
It looked like my
last hope was to get back to the battery store as soon as it opened.
Circumstances, however, prevented me from making that trip until 1:30
PM, just 30 minutes before the drill was to begin. The store was
open, thankfully, and it did have the replacement battery I needed.
And since I was there, I bought another, much bigger battery for more
My wife Nancy was with me. She carried the replacement battery to our car,
complaining about how heavy it was. I couldn't answer her because I
was lugging the bigger battery, which seemed to weigh as much as the
anchor of the Titanic
. Talking was not an option. Even
breathing was difficult. I dropped it into the back seat of my car
(there is still a dent) and jumped into the driver's seat.
As we headed for
home Nancy chuckled, "Of course in a real
be sure to give you advanced notice so that you could pop out for
Yeah, yeah, I
thought. I'd give you a clever retort if I could just catch my
We got home at
1:45 PM. I just barely had time to get everything ready and be on the
air for the earthquake drill. First, though, I wanted to check the
replacement battery. I didn't know for sure that it was charged. If
it wasn't, then the whole trip to the battery store was for nothing.
I hastily took a reading with my voltmeter. The needle didn't move.
Phooey. The battery must be flat.
The Little Meter That Could: It took a cooking and kept
But wait. What's
that smell? Why was the basement filling with smoke? Looking around I
determined that my voltmeter was the source of the smoke and stench
and I had clearly just fried it. This earthquake drill was turning
into a real
disaster, for me, anyway.
I put my
smoldering voltmeter on the floor, well away from anything flammable,
and started installing the replacement battery in the portable power
station. The battery obviously did
have a charge, and in my
haste I had used the voltmeter improperly. Naturally the new battery
didn't want to go in and naturally I couldn't get the case closed.
The whole project seemed to be spiraling out of control.
I did manage to get my station up and running by 2:05 PM. Judging by the
polite-but-tense conversation going on between the controllers from
two conflicting nets I wasn't the only one having problems. But
plenty already has been written about the earthquake drill of March
2004, so I won't go over it all again. By 3:30 PM it became obvious
that the net was in chaos, and I never was able to check in. I shut
off my transceiver.
Sighing, I looked around the basement and started surveying the damage. It
wasn't as bad as I had feared. It took only a few minutes of patient
work to get the replacement battery properly
installed in the
portable power station. And a careful examination of my smoked
voltmeter showed that it still worked.
designer had allowed for the possibility that someone like me would
connect things wrong and had built in a bypass circuit, just in case.
(Whoever you are, thank you!)
Even though I had
not checked in, the experience had not been for naught. I learned
that I should check all of my equipment well in advance
planned event. In addition, I need to slow down and think carefully
before attaching anything to a power source.
As for the bigger battery, I'm afraid to touch the thing.
note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant,
Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name
-- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a
rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His
wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related
Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail
© 2004 American Radio Relay League