The Amateur Amateur: Never-Going-to-Happen Deployment Kit
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
My ARES apparel, before the ARRL came out with an official version
I wanted to get involved with emergency communications almost from the
moment I got my first Amateur Radio license. It was sort of
inevitable, as the license class I attended was held in the St. Louis
County Emergency Operations Center and taught by an employee of the
County Office of Emergency Management. And indeed, within a short
period of time I had two impressive certificates issued by the
County. One stated that I was part of the County's Skywarn program
and the other indicating that I was a County RACES operator (Radio
Amateur Civil Emergency Service).
Sadly, those certificates didn't mean much. The organizations existed only
on paper, with no structure other than a small group of operators who
took weather reports during storms. I was disappointed, as it seemed
unlikely that this particular RACES group was every going to do
anything. In the unlikely event that it was ever activated, there was
no call-out mechanism, no command structure, and worst of all,
absolutely no training.
And that's all we had in St. Louis County for a long time.
It was years before a viable ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) team
was organized in the County, a several more years before it was taken
Going back to those first years, there were very few of us on the team, and
even fewer who had actual emcomm experience. What we mostly had was
hope, and an eagerness to learn. Regrettably, the one person on the
team who'd had some experience was primarily focused on being an
Important Person, and wasn't a very good teacher. It was quite
fortunate that the ARRL had just come out with its Amateur Radio
Emergency Communication Course, Levels I, II, and III (EC-001,
EC-002, and EC-003 respectively). So, at least we had some
guidance. (EC-001, now vastly improved, is still available as the
Introduction to Emergency Communication course).
I have waxed eloquent about the progress of our ARES team in past
columns (in particular, see Three
(or Four) Words About ARES),
and I don't propose to repeat it all here. What I want to talk about
this time is my early efforts to prepare myself, primarily by
Well, right off the bat, if you're an emergency communicator, you have
emergency communicator apparel,
right? I went through the catalogs, both printed and online, and
found a nice blue ARES baseball cap and a blue ARES jacket. Wow, now
I at least looked
Looking quasi-official wasn't enough, of course. The EC-001 course and other
sources told me what kind of gear
I would also need.
My "power bag".. too heavy to move
Oh my. It was a lot of stuff. At the low end, it seemed like I would
need to outfit myself with a ton of camping gear. At the high end I
would have to become a survivalist. Could I really handle all this?
My hobby was Amateur Radio, not becoming Davy Crockett. Would I even
have time to man a radio if I was busy skinning a bear?
I never fully resolved that dilemma, but I did get a start on
collecting some outdoorsy stuff. I got perhaps half of the basic
paraphernalia recommended to put into a go bag. My wife contributed
a combination carabiner, mini-compass, and tiny flashlight. (For
years I thought it was a combination carabiner and tire gauge. With
powers of observation like that, I clearly don't belong in the
wilderness.) I remembered to put in a whistle, a candle, and
waterproof matches. That should give me a few minutes of light, after
which I could whistle in the dark.
I put together a personal hygiene kit, consisting of things like those
tiny tubes of toothpaste that your dentist always gives you, and a
bar of soap. If I'm lucky, the soap has since disintegrated into a
pile of glop. If I'm unlucky, it has devolved into nitroglycerin.
I had Wet Wipes, a hand-crank radio, and numerous different types of
flashlights, mostly from Eddie Bauer (more gifts from my wife). In
fact, just about any “handy” tool sold by Eddie Bauer or
Sharper Image can still be found somewhere in one of my bags.
I guess my most ambitious never-going-to-happen deployment items would
be two inflatable mattresses, complete with air pump. I still have
them somewhere in my basement, covered with years of dust.
I never got around to packing water or food, unless you count a few
packages of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) of dubious origin. Even when
they were first given to me, I seriously doubted that I would ever
try consuming them. So I guess I would starve out in the field,
unless toothpaste has some nutritional value.
I suppose that if I were to camp out in my backyard all this stuff
would suffice, as long as I could go inside periodically to use the
bathroom or raid the refrigerator.
Okay, if there is a call-out and the destination is the field, like a
field, I should be honest and confess that I'm not able to respond.
Which is not to say that I couldn't respond to any
call-out. I've operated from hospitals, fire stations, a health
department, and various park shelters. I do have some
useful gear and have used much of it.
The ammo box containing my field radio, my tool bag, and some lights that will never be used in the field
Probably the most aggravating field item I've used is my pop-up canopy. I've
set it up in a couple of parking lots, and in weather where I really
shelter. It's just that the beast has a mind of its own, and usually
takes two to four people to get it up or take it down in a reasonable
amount of time. Getting it all stuffed back into its carrying case is
pretty much problematic. The canopy can, however, double as a wind
sail, as long as you don't care where it takes you.
One of the more puzzling things in my deployment collection is my
accumulation of antenna masts. I have far more than I need. I vaguely
remember buying all that the local Radio Shack stores had (their
computer inventory never agreed with what they actually had in stock)
and then buying even more from other hams. I don't know why. I
eventually gave a number of them to my friend Ron, KD0SML, but I
still have enough to support two or three antennas out in the field.
I only have one
field antenna, though, and no other hardware to hold up more masts.
Why I went on a mast-buying binge still remains a mystery to me.
I have several more deployment bags with items that have proved useful.
I occasionally move the contents around, and, of course, have certain
favorite items (just like Dr. Who always keeps his sonic screwdriver
handy). My most ambitious bag is what I called the “power bag”,
as I intended to keep all power-related items in it. It has
RIGrunners, a DC to AC inverter, all manner of fuses, Powerpoles and
a crimping tool, power adapters, meters, zip-cord, and of course,
duct tape. Somehow it kept accumulating more and more “just in
case” items, and I can no longer lift it off the shelf.
Honestly. If I want to take it on a deployment, I would first have to
go through it and remove items I'm not likely to need.
I have an ammo box for my field radio, of course, and a few more bags.
The most used bag contains my tools. Don't ask me why I chose a tool
bag instead of a tool box, bags just happen to be what were running
through my mind at the time. This particular bag has been with me on
every field exercise and every trip up onto my roof. We've had many
I do have other never-going-to-happen deployment items, such assorted
lights and such. There are even a few bag that I haven't looked at in
years and whose contents I can't even imagine. I suppose that I could
open them up and see what's in them. It could be something cool,
something I always wanted and forgot that I already had.
On the other hand, it could be more MREs, simmering in a stew of
I think I'll pass.
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