The Radio Amateurs' Emergency Network

Eastbourne and Wealden RAYNET

Current Operational Status
No Current Incidents

Next Scheduled Event
Sat 17 Feb 2018
Training Day - Basic Skills
APRS Report 2010
This is a summary of APRS-related activities carried out by Eastbourne & Wealden RAYNET Group during 2010.

1 Digipeater
Saturday 13 February was a bitterly cold day but it also marked an accomplishment by E&W Raynet that had been in the pipeline for several years. On this day the E&W APRS digipeater (MB7UEW) was installed at Heathfield Fire Station and put into operation. It has operated continuously since that day and has filled a large gap in the coverage of the APRS network in southeast England. In addition to favourable comments on the UK APRS Forum we received good publicity in Raynet News and RadCom.
2 Training
On 17 April the Group held a training day at Hailsham Fire Station and the installation of APRS trackers was one of the topics covered.
3 Events
The Group used APRS in four events during 2010.
3.1 Eastbourne Half Marathon
Our first event of the year was the Eastbourne Half Marathon, held on 7 March. The use of APRS for this event was much the same as it had been in 2009: we placed trackers in four motor vehicles and on the bicycle used by the sweeper. There was an initial problem with poor reception of position reports by the RCU. This was traced to a defective cable and when it was replaced reception improved. Position reports from the lead vehicle were sporadic, for reasons that remain unclear, but the other vehicles reported as expected. A digipeater located at Checkpoint 3 made a major contribution to the reporting of the position of the sweeper’s bike. The new digipeater at Heathfield made its first contribution to APRS event traffic.
3.2 PhotoPlod
On 5-6 June the Group supported the PhotoPlod long-distance walk. This was the first time that we had used APRS for this event. On paper this looks like a simple exercise: we were only tracking one motor vehicle and one pedestrian sweeper. But because of the length of the route and the challenging terrain it was not so simple. In order to maintain reasonable tracking of the sweeper we deployed four digipeaters. Of these, three proved to be ineffective, later found to have resulted from faults in the antennas. The fourth digipeater, located at Firle Beacon, did perform effectively and consequently there was a reasonable track of the sweeper up to the time this digipeater was stood down.
3.3 Hailsham Carnival
The Hailsham Carnival parade, held on 19 June, was a simple exercise from an APRS perspective. Only two vehicles – lead and tail – were tracked by the RCU and there were no significant problems encountered. As would be expected, a very large percentage of packets were repeated by MB7UEW.
3.4 Beachy Head Marathon
The 2010 Beachy Head Marathon was held on 23 October. This is our largest event each year, with seven vehicles and two sweeper teams being tracked with APRS. Two digipeaters were deployed but one failed to operate properly. The other event digipeater and MB7UEW contributed to excellent tracking of the vehicles and better sweeper tracking than in 2009.
4 Operation Snow Watch
Until Wednesday 1 December all of our APRS activities had been tests, training and planned events. But on that date, and for a couple of days following we had the opportunity to deploy APRS in an actual emergency operation. Operation Snow Watch involved several Group vehicles and two of these were equipped with APRS trackers. Network control was rotated among four different operators but all of them were able to track the vehicles by observing APRS.FI. Tracking was very consistent and accurate, to the point that G4KAR was able to detect when I called at a petrol station. Tracking was greatly enhanced by the MB7UEW digipeater and we owe our gratitude to G7JVN at St Leonards, whose iGate routed our position reports to the internet service. Tracking the vehicles was important to the network controllers, but, at least in my case, I felt very reassured in knowing that my position was being tracked, in the event that I slid off into a ditch.
5 Summary
It was a better year for APRS than 2009 was but still not perfect. On the positive side, MB7UEW demonstrated its value in our event-related APRS operation and in one actual emergency, as well as being a general asset to the APRS network in our area. On the other hand, the poor performance of several digipeaters deployed specifically for events is a concern, as was the failure of a number of components such as cables and antenna mounts. Tracking of pedestrian sweepers still leaves something to be desired, though there is probably a limit to how well 5 Watt trackers with minimal antennas can be tracked over the difficult terrain of many of the events. The training session held in April, together with the improved level of experience, helped to make the pre-event installations proceed more smoothly.
6 Proposed Activities for 2011
We should plan to provide APRS support for the 2011 editions of the four events mentioned above. If the Lewes-Newhaven Raft Race happens in 2011 (currently it is in doubt) then we should run a pilot test by equipping the safety boat and possibly one or two contestant rafts with APRS trackers. If the organisers of the BHF 1066 Walk should decide they need our assistance in 2011 we might try tracking their sweeper – this will present another terrain-related challenge.
On the technical side, we must solve the digipeater problems experienced in this year’s events. Better reliability engineering and testing procedures need to be introduced to prevent simple failures from causing major difficulties with operations. A new digipeater strategy should be agreed and tested, primarily to improve the tracking of sweepers. And we should implement one or more iGates so that we don’t have to rely on a non-member to get our tracks onto the internet.
Organisationally, we should establish an APRS sub-group to address the issues raised above. This sub-group should include any member with an interest in APRS, not just those who have had some experience of this technology. This group will provide a forum for discussion of strategy and tactics but will also broaden our base of knowledge and experience relating to APRS.

Bob Clinton G0BUX
4 December 2010
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