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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Outdoors With Ham Radio

Get Out Of The Shack And Discover New Opportunities

In this nice summer weather it becomes harder to sit inside at a radio when the sun, blue skies, birds, and blossoming trees, shrubs and flowers are beckoning outside. Fortunately, the outdoors and ham radio make a superb combination, thanks to today’s miniaturized and power-saving technology.

VHF/UHF FM handhelds (HTs) often provide the most available way of taking ham radio outdoors. An HT with a decent whip antenna (something rather better than the usual rubber ducky), an external microphone, and an ear bud can be used for “pedestrian mobile” radio, bringing the old expression “walkie-talkie” to life. (Try this for your next check-ins to the Tuesday night SARC and SEPARS nets!) Alternatively, and with appropriate precautions to avoid collisions and other nasty mishaps, an HT and whip antenna can be secured to a bicycle for “bicycle mobile” radio, perhaps making use of VOX operation with a suitably compact one-sided headset.

A suitable clamp can fasten a whip antenna to a park bench for portable, rather than mobile, operation, allowing the less energetic but peripatetic ham to enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, and sights and smells of spring in a local park, taken one bench at a time, moving from location to location as fancy dictates.

Even more fun for some of us, at least, is the opportunity to work some HF DX contacts while walking along the beach, following the example of Peter Parker VK3YE (see Peter’s website at or his YouTube channel for some videos of beach pedestrian mobile HF SSB operation using his “Wadetenna”).  HF pedestrian mobile operation makes use of highly compact and light-weight yet high performance QRP (low power, typically 4-5 Watts) transceivers such as the popular Yaesu FT-817 or the highly regarded Elecraft KX3. Even smaller and less expensive (but often lower power and definitely less flexible) rigs are available for pure CW operators.

For even more outdoors adventure, the physically fit ham can take part in the Summits on the Air (SOTA, program. SOTA operation is possible with either HF (and modest antennas) or VHF (with lightweight portable beam antennas) radios, and is a superb way to combine mountain hiking (or even technical climbing) with ham radio.
For hams not yet sufficiently fit to climb mountains, the Islands on the Air (IOTA, program offers a fun and challenging alternative for HF operations at picturesque locations on coastal islands.

Mt. Seymour, within an hour's drive of Vancouver

More information is available on all of these outdoor activities on the internet by using search terms taken from the above descriptions. All are suitable for either solo or group activities, as your personality dictates.  If you are interested in outdoor radio operations, whether VHF/UHF or HF, but would like more information, contact the club, either at the end of any Tuesday night SARC net, or via email using our email If you are ready to try it but are reluctant to go solo, let us know and we’ll put you on a list to see if we can partner up some members.

If enough members would like to take part in joint outdoor radio activities, an Outdoor Radio special interest group (similar to the groups for Contesting, Satellite, and CW groups) could be organized under the SARC umbrella to coordinate partnering and possibly group outings. 

Hoping to work you outdoors, 73

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Simple Touch 'Code' Keyer

An Inexpensive Circuit With An IC And A Few Parts

Imagine tapping the table to generate Morse Code! This simple code practice oscillator is for those who want to practice Morse Code in a different way, without the Morse key. It can be also used as a touch operated door bell.

The popular timer IC555 is wired as astable multi-vibrator. The frequency (tone) can be changed by varying the 100 K variable resistor between pin 7 and 6 of timer IC555. The volume can be changed by varying the 10 K variable resistor and the sensitivity of touch plate can be controlled by adjusting the 1 K Ohms preset at pin 4 of IC555.

The touch plate is connected to the base of transistor BC147B. In this circuit the length of wire between the base of the transistor and the touch plate is not critical. Typical is a 9 cm wire and a 3 x 6 cm 3mm thick aluminum plate. The addition of a relay or additional circuitry could key your transceiver.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

National Parks On The Air - Fort Langley, BC


Historic Fort Langley

The Fort Langley National Historic Site (FLNHS) helped make history earlier this summer – for the very first time, amateur radio sent out a call from the Parks Canada location.

For the entire 2019 year, amateur radio groups have been invited to set up in parks all across the country to send broadcasts around the world and make contact with other operators.

NPOTA Fort Langley, BC

The initiative, Canadian National Parks On the Air, is the brainchild of a small group of Ham radio operators from Halifax that wanted to help spread the country’s beauty and get people connecting.  With the support of Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) and Parks Canada, the communications experiment launched in January of this year.

Surrey Amateur Radio Communications is sponsoring the local event and supplying operating equipment and our 110 foot portable tower. We invite local and visiting Amateurs to come and operate from this National Historic Site. Fort Langley is located at 23433 Mavis Avenue, Fort Langley, B.C. Google Maps link

The program is described in the current issue of The Canadian Amateur (TCA) magazine:

Read the entire article in the Aldergrove Star newspaper:

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Station Grounding?

It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times …

John VA7XB
With apologies to Charles Dickens, I will start by saying that the Radio Society of Great Britain’s BERU (British Empire) CW contest represents one of the “best of times” in my opinion – strictly for British Commonwealth countries and a new experience for me.  It’s Thursday and I’m getting prepared for the BERU a couple days ahead of time, so the first order of business is to get the new and improved N1MM+ Logger loaded up and configured.  I read the instructions carefully and all goes smoothly.  This software has many new features but has a similar look and feel to the old one, so the transition is quite easy.  Next thing is to bring up the BERU contest file and revise the macros so they fit for this contest.  Done, now let’s try it out.  Here’s where we get to the “worst of times” part.

Thursday evening and I see 7QAA (Malawi) on the cluster for 20m, so this is a good opportunity to give N1MM+ a pre-contest workout.  His signal is strong and he’s working split – let’s see if I can bust the pileup.  The amp is on and tuned so I point the beam to 46 deg and call him. I hit the F4 macro to send my callsign about 2 kHz up from his transmitting frequency.  

All goes as planned the first few times then suddenly everything freezes up.  Repeated pressing of the F4 key with the mouse has the same result – nothing is entered and nothing is sent.  Cripes, I’m glad he didn’t call me back for the exchange.  A few more tries but success appears random.  An hour or so of experimenting with various things makes no difference…there is a problem here and it’s going to have to be resolved before I can make headway.  After a while I give up trying to break the 7QAA pileup as nothing is going right for me, and call it a night.  I wonder if the problem has something to do with the new N1MM+ installation, so will plan to use N1MM Classic in the contest until I can get this sorted out.    

It is 8 am on Saturday and 20 m is starting to open to Europe.  As I turn the computer on, it emits some audible groans and immediately crashes.  On an attempted reboot, the PC automatically goes into “repair” mode and after 15 minutes grinding away, comes back to life, apparently OK after having completed a system restore in the process.  Back to the contest.   I’m on N1MM Classic now. Having succeeded in calling and being heard by a G3, I then hit F2 for the exchange.  Dang, the computer freezes up again.  So I try the mouse instead – same thing.  Then I try the CW paddle to make the exchange manually but it doesn’t respond either. What the heck is going on here?  By this time the G3 Headquarters station (bonus points!) has given up on me and I’m getting perturbed.  This fiasco continues spasmodically for some time until eventually I switch to 15 m.  Now things seem OK again and I log some good Qs.  And so it is with 10 m – no problems for the next couple of hours.  

Later in the day, I’m back to 20m and the gremlin returns.  So is the problem the hardware, the software, the computer or what?  And why only on 20 m? I check the settings on the Microham and N1MM, cable connections, reboot etc and these things all seem normal. It eventually occurs to me that maybe this is an RFI issue, as I’m running 750 watts and have made some cabling changes in recent weeks.  So I round up all the ferrite cores I can lay my hands on and lock them on the computer cables for another try.  This time, things start to hum so it looks like this may be the solution.  

Later in the day the high bands dry up and I decide to QRT for good, after 6 hours off and on.  Despite the frustrations I did log a few satisfying Qs to reduce my torment: VU3KPL and VU2PTT (India), ZS1EL (South Africa), 9J2BO (Zambia), V5/G3TXF (Namibia-2 bands), C5/M1KTA (the Gambia).  93 Qs in all – nothing to boast about and it could have been a lot better without the RFI. 

But, wait, it’s not over yet.  Now it’s a week later and time for the BARTG RTTY contest.  I turn on the system and quickly find the 20 m gremlin is still with me.  So Sheldon and I stick to 15 m for the first day.  Later I am thinking that maybe I have ground loops, as not all the critical gear is connected to a common ground.  I fix that and change out my keyboard as an extra measure of precaution.  A quick test shows that 20 m “seems” OK now, but the bands have dried up (a recent Coronal mass ejection) and there are no further contacts to be made.  So further testing will have to await another opportunity.

Hey, I just thought of something…the ground for my shack is about ¼ wavelength long at 20 m so would that be  affecting the equipment?  I’ll have to experiment with that.  Somehow I think the “worst of times” are not yet over.

~ John VA7XB

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Amateur Radio 'Elmers'


Gerund or present participle: mentoring
1.    advise or train (someone, especially a younger colleague)
Bill VE7XS

There is a lot of talk today, particularly in business, about the value of mentoring.  More experienced, and typically older individuals in a field providing support and direction to help less experienced, and usually, younger individuals.  This can be valuable to both parties, and also benefits the organizations that they belong to.

Let’s take this into our Amateur Radio world.  I’ve heard comments for longer than I have been licensed, that the exam requirements are being ‘dumbed down’.  Many courses have been shortened, some now being under two days – a single weekend and you can be licensed  as an Amateur Radio Operator.  What we are finding is that you might be licensed, but you may also know absolutely nothing about how to be a Ham.

I’ve been fortunate to have a station that has a very low noise floor, decent antennas, and we ‘get out’ well.  Myself and a few others with equipment there, have had a great time helping others improve their operating skills, polish their “pileup busting” techniques, and become a lot more comfortable with handling their own pileups in a contest.  These individuals who we have helped have become better operators, and we are better people because we helped them in their quest.

It is a pleasure to see a new Ham grow their skills – week over week – and start to be much more comfortable working the world on HF.   For some, it started out simple. They don’t have HF equipment in their home, or are recently licensed and want to grow their skill sets.  A few visits to the shack, a lot of listening to other operators, and then the encouragement and support as they take the mike and start to work DX – catch the nuances of the other operator, responding automatically to the DX station coming back with “the Echo 7 station, again, again” and they respond quickly and clearly giving their call and putting the contact in the log.  Awesome!

It takes practice, and patience and the willingness for both parties to keep trying to improve.  There will be setbacks – laugh them off, talk over what happened (or didn’t) and practice how the QSO should have gone.  Provide support, a positive environment and the occasional high five as your guest operator bags a good one, or works a great run during a contest.

Finally, remember that we all benefit from mentoring.  Our hobby is broad and there are many aspects that we may not have explored yet.  If you plan on trying something new, look around for someone who is doing it already, and see if they can help get you started or are willing to help you improve your skills.

We can all learn something from each other.  Keep an open mind, listen and learn – teach when you can, and remember, it is a good day when you learn something new. 

~ Bill VE7XS

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Norm's Ramblings

Thoughts on my first exposure to Ham Radio:

I had just graduated from high school, and was heading for higher education at UBC, and one of the early events at that campus was the annual drive for new memberships at the various clubs that exist at that locale… everything from Public Speaking courses, to Decorative Basket Weaving!

As I went around, talking to the various promoters of their clubs, I came across the UBC Ham Radio Club…  I had always liked to play around with electrons of some type, and the idea of getting into the club piqued my interest.    I was advised that there was a course being offered on the Theory of Radio, and classes were available in learning the International Morse Code (a requirement, in those days, to get one’s ham licence).
Within a few weeks, I found myself constantly being drawn to the Ham Shack (rather than spending time at the University Library…  where I should have been studying!), but I found the Theory of Ham Radio drawing my every free moment.   That is, until the results of the Mid-Term exams came out…  just before the Christmas recess.

My dad, a high school teacher, brought it forcibly to my attention that something had to be done about my marks…  and my first dalliance with radio had to come to an end.    However, that first infection with ham radio had taken its toll: over subsequent years, I started to build various HeathKits… first a multi-meter, and even many years later of building the venerable HW-101 transceiver.

I recall vividly spending many evening hours with the smell of solder wafting through my nostrils…  my wife being a registered nurse, worked a lot of shift work…  and my constant companion was the enjoyment of making marks on the kitchen counter with a hot soldering pencil.  By that time, I had made friends with a local ham (Mike Heritage, now a Silent Key) was my mentor (or, more correctly, my “Elmer” who encouraged me with my affliction of Ham Radio).

Still, I was not On the Air, and decades passed before I decided to attempt to write the multiple-question Industry of Canada ‘test of proficiency’ exam.    By this time, my late wife was fighting a battle with her cancers, and at the time of one her many surgeries, I had booked myself to write the exam, but suddenly she was in for more surgery, and the first of that month suddenly presented itself unexpectedly…  I decided the evening before that I should write the exam…  just to get the ‘feel’ of the exam...  it didn’t matter to me whether I passed it or not… 

But being former College Boy, I had some insight into how to handle a multiple-question exam, and I found myself leaving my fellow candidates in just over half hour, much to the surprise my fellow would-be-hams.  To my great surprise, the examiner placed the ‘stencil’ over my answers and seemed to be noting my answers…  suddenly looking up at me and asking me if I had $12 in my pocket.    My response was, “I thought the examination was free…”,  to which he remarked, “… well, you’ve just passed the exam…”  

I quickly dug into my wallet and found the necessary funds, and received the call sign VE7IIT, which I have to this day.   

Since the original contact with Ham Radio 1948, many times I found myself purchasing magazines that had the theme of Radio…  everything from “Popular Science” to Hugo Gernsback’s “Modern Electronics”…  occasionally even to purchasing the annual copy of “Radio Amateur’s Handbook”, as my funds would allow (I can recall it rising to a whopping $8.00 a copy !).   In 1942, the Handbook  was available from the ARRL for $1.00 (postpaid $1.50, outside of Continental U.S.A.). 

The big names in radio technology in the early days included, National, Hallicrafters, Hammarlund, Eimac, most of which are now just memories.  Hams, in the 40’s and 50’s were largely solder enthusiasts, but if a ham built his own transceiver, it had to be examined by a federally-appointed inspector before  turning on a key.

At U.B.C. Ham Club, we were running largely war-surplus 250 watts of AM radio transmission equipment that was crystal-controlled frequency…  a few hams had graduated to VFO control at that time, but were required to be as stable as a crystal.   The transmitter stood as tall as a home refrigerator, including the power supply.   The transmitting tubes were as large as a milk bottle, and one could put one’s hand the transmitter to fondle the tubes (also war-surplus, available for a few pennies on the dollar).

I recall being able to hear a few local (Vancouver-based) hams on the 2-meter band…  these were the true edge-of-Space experimenters, in 1948!   Side-band reception was that funny Donald Duck sounding voice on a few of the bands, again using home-brew equipment.  It was an un-written law at the Club to leave the transmitter turned ‘on’ to allow the crystals to stabilize to the frequency that we were transmitting.   

And, yeah…  by utilizing the Club call… in those days VE7ACS, every novice, student, and unlicenced enthusiast used the transmitter.  We had a sked with a university club down in Texas, and we also hopped over to Australia, as the winter ‘skip’ came alive.
These are but a few of the early memories of my early days ‘in the shack’… 

~ Norm VE7IIT

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Ham Radio's Patron Saint


A Polish priest, Father Maximilian was fascinated by mass media in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He established large printing plants in Poland and Japan for his Franciscan Order publications. When he was on a mission to Japan (as well as China and India), he got acquainted with broadcasting and amateur-radio stations. That medium could reach those who were unable to read in those years.

Upon arrival back in Poland, he applied for a broadcasting license.  The radio was a strategic medium in the 1930’s and only the Polish Radio (1925) and a military radio station were permitted to broadcast. Besides, the amateur radio movement was thriving in Poland; clubs were already established in Lvov, Warsaw, Poznan, Kraków, Lodz and other cities.

He is the only canonized saint to have held an amateur radio license 

Father Maximilian was permitted to broadcast test transmissions close to the 40m amateur radio band in 1938. His interest in amateur radio has been confirmed by quotations from his writings. He chose the SP3RN callsign for his test transmissions (spelt in Polish: Stacja Polska 3 Radio Niepokalanów).
Father Maximilian was murdered in the German Nazi Auschwitz Concentration Camp after he had volunteered his life for the life of another inmate, randomly selected for execution.

Beatified by Pope Paul VI on 17.10.1971. Canonized as St. Maximilian Apostle of Consecration to Mary and declared Martyr of Charity by Pope John Paul II on 10.10.1982.

Considered a Patron of journalists, families, prisoners, the pro-life movement and the chemically addicted and Patron Saint of amateur radio operators.

January 8th is the birthday of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe (SP3RN),  To mark the date of the Anniversary of the Radio Niepo-kalanów founded by St. Maximilian, several special event stations operate from Poland and Italy.

A Polish and an Italian Award is awarded for working the special event and other associated stations.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


Anagrams You Can Relate To

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

SEPAR: Surrey Emergency Program Amateur Radio History

Part 4

Boxes to functioning portable communications kits; this was no small project and involved many hours of design, assembly and testing.  As mentioned in Part 3, many hours went into a design that would meet the needs of the City of Surrey (CoS) and now we needed a mock-up, then a prototype and finally the finished product.  

Plans were to use a team approach to work our way through these steps. But in the end the construction of the kits was taken on by John Brodie, VA7XB using his own newly constructed workshop.1  We carried on with the Sunday morning meetings at John’s shop each week, where we discussed the construction as it progressed.  Needless to say there were many details to work out and many hours went into the first kit.  Construction of kits two and three went more quickly as the first kit had been completely debugged before starting the others. John’s experience and training proved to be invaluable when problems arose, and as result, we have one of the best emergency communications kits around.

Once the kits were completed and tested we received many positive comments from both the City and other amateur radio groups, which prompted us to consider articles for RAC and ARRL.  The construction, testing and commissioning were fresh in our minds and John, VA7XB, offered to act as scribe and produce articles for RAC and ARRL.  With input from the SEPAR team John produced an outstanding article for RAC which was then picked up by ARRL.  ARRL even paid us a fee for the use of our article, great stuff. 

Our emergency communications kits were now becoming known in the amateur radio world and we started to receive requests for design and construction information, and we were anxious to make this information available. After some discussion it was decided to produce a CD with full construction details including high resolution images and schematics, this would be a professional product so let’s ask a nominal $20. for the CD, and it went over big.  We still have this information available if anyone is interested.
We continued to grow in terms of recognition and ARRL published our kits in the ARRL Handbook

An excellent video was produced showing the contents and assembly of the grab and go kits, you can view this at  It has over 10,000 views!

SEPAR Obtains Society Status On July 3rd 2009

Without a doubt the reason for SEPAR to become a society was provide an opportunity to obtain funding in order to continue to expand and improve our ability to provide emergency communications for the City of Surrey.  The grab and go kits were the center piece of SEPAR’s emergency communications strength but we needed to update the radio room at the EOC, amongst other things.  The plan for the radio room was to duplicate the equipment in the grab and go kits and provide a fixed amateur radio emergency communications station that could serve the needs of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), for the City of Surrey.

In order to equip the radio room we needed new radios, antennas, computers and Terminal Network Controllers and new workstations.  The City agreed to provide the workstations and cabinets and SEPAR undertook the responsibility of providing the equipment.  Our plan was to develop a budget and apply to BC Lotteries for funding for the new equipment.  And, while we were at it we wanted new emergency communications vests so that our members would be easily identified at exercises and community events.  Since becoming a registered society SEPAR now had an executive team that, due to a wealth of experience, put together an application for funding to BC Lotteries.  We were successful and now we could purchase the needed equipment and move forward with upgrading the radio room at the EOC and purchase high quality vests for our members.

The City very quickly had the cabinets made and installed and with the help of Bill Slaughter at Burnaby Radio and Icom Canada the equipment was purchased.  Installing the radios was time consuming, but with dedicated volunteers the installation went well.  

However, there was a major problem with the antenna installations. The existing, not functioning, antennas were mounted on tripods sitting on the roof of Fire Hall number one, and we could not make use of any of them.  Dan Barnscher, the Emergency Planner, wanted the antennas to be neatly and permanently installed and they had to be clear of the roof surface as the firemen use the roof for training purposes. 

After investigating possible locations for two dual band, two tri-band and one HF antenna a location on the west wall of the building was approved.  We now needed mounting hardware that we could attach to the vertical wall, we needed mounts and masts. After some checking with local tower company’s we were able to acquire, free of charge, the large brackets needed for mounting the antenna masts.  We purchased, at a discounted price, the schedule 40 and 80 aluminum mast material from a company in Langley. We had the material now how to get it attached to the building. Surrey Fire gave us the green light to do the work on the building ourselves and our volunteers quickly rose to the challenge.  In particular Kjeld VE7GP, who had been in the construction business before retiring, offered to oversee the installation of the antenna mounting hardware.  We had several volunteers to drill holes, hold pipes, tighten bolts, and the job was completed in 3 days.

~Fred VE7IO
SEPAR Coordinator

Note: 1The credit for the concept, selection of gear and proper functioning of the grab & go kits rightly goes to other members of the team, who supplied the brain-power: Bill VE7XS, Fred VE7IO and Drew VA7DRW.  Though I did the actual physical construction, this was very much a team effort and it would be a discredit to the others if I did not say so. 

~ John VA7XB

Thursday, July 4, 2019

RAC Bulletin: Two Metres Re-Allocation?

An Important Message

Radio Amateurs of Canada has received several requests for more information in response to reports on some websites and discussions on email lists of a proposal to reallocate 144 MHz -146MHz from the Amateur Radio Service to the Aeronautical Mobile Service.  The following has been prepared by Bryan Rawlings VE3QN RAC’s representative at the World Radio Conference and the domestic and International meetings leading up to that meeting. 

Glenn MacDonell
Radio Amateurs of Canada

Two Metres: Re-Allocation?

There is concern – understandably – in the amateur community over a French proposal to re-allocate 144 – 146 MHz to the aeronautical navigation service to accommodate the growing number of aircraft employing new navigation tracking and communication aids.

Here is a brief summary of what and where this proposal is…
The French administration have proposed a new primary allocation to the aeronautical mobile service in 144 to 146 MHz which is the entirety of the amateur two-metre band in ITU Region 1 (Europe, the Mid-East and Africa). Their proposal was most recently considered at a meeting in Prague of a subcommittee of the Conseil Europeen des Postes et Radiocommunication (CEPT). The CEPT comprises 48 European states.

What is under consideration specifically is that an agenda item to this effect be included for the World Radiocommunication Conference tentatively planned for 2023. The WRC-23 agenda will be decided at the conclusion of the next WRC which begins October 28th in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

The International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) was present as an observer at the Prague meeting and energetically opposed the French proposal. In the event, only Germany among the delegates opposed the French proposal. The issue will now be taken up at a higher level CEPT meeting in August. Belgium has apparently joined Germany in opposition. Should the number of administrations opposing the French proposal reach eight the proposal will fail to move forward. The IARU and European amateurs are now actively seeking the support of other administrations to oppose the French proposal.

Formally, the proposal is not on the agenda of any other regional groups preparing for WRC-19. RAC has made known to our regulator that we support the IARU’s opposition to the French proposal and its actions to defend amateur radio’s worldwide primary allocation and that we would oppose any similar proposal for re-allocation in Region 2 (the Americas). The Comisión Interamericana de Telecomunicaciones (CITEL) of the Organization of American States will meet in Ottawa in mid-August. The IARU will again be an observer and RAC will be represented in the Canadian delegation.

This issue is a clear illustration of the importance of amateurs and their national associations being vigilant and taking part in the regional and international regulatory conferences which can determine the fate of our most-cherished amateur bands. For a more-complete description of these processes read the article “The Importance of Showing Up” in the May-June 2019 issue of The Canadian Amateur.

Bryan Rawlings  VE3QN

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

More About The Surrey Emergency Program Amateur Radio

Part 3

It is 2007 and SEPAR is about to take a new direction, we had a new Emergency Planner and the requirements of the City Of Surrey changed. In this installment we will look at the new direction for emergency communications and the changes needed for SEPAR to meet these new requirements.  We had a lot of work to do.

Having just been appointed to the position of SEPAR Coordinator I needed to find out what the city expected of our amateur radio volunteers and how we would meet their needs. 
To begin with, I reviewed that past organizational structure, looked at what we had in place with regards to radios and how many volunteers we had to work with. 

Understanding these assets would allow me to meet with the new planner and Fire Chief and be able to work towards the City’s emergency communications needs.
The organizational structure, as outlined in previous articles, consisted of single VHF radios and antennas installed in schools, which were designated as reception centers.  These were fixed installations and some were in need of repair, mostly antenna work.  

There was a radio room at fire hall number one, the Surrey EOC. The radio room was mainly for storage of portable gear, however, there were antennas on the roof which I thought could be used, this was incorrect.  The question, should we rebuild the schools sites, upgrade the radio room or start new, what did the City need?

In the first meeting with Dan Barnscher, the Emergency Planner, and Len Garis, the Fire Chief, I quickly discovered that the new direction for amateur radio emergency communications would require radio portability for reception centers.  In order to meet these needs the fixed school installations needed to be decommissioned and new portable kits had to be put together in order to meet the City’s plan to use recreation centers as reception centers.  Len Garis wanted flexibility, in setting up reception centers and on site communications. There would be more changes to SEPAR but in the spring of 2007 we needed to get to work on portable communications kits.

In order to get the ball rolling we needed a plan and financing, both being rather tall orders considering we had exactly zero in both categories.  How much would we need, who would lead the design and development of the portable kits, how much radio capacity should the kits have... all these were immediate questions.

Well, without financing we could not move forward so I approached Surrey Fire and the City for funding.  How much would we need?  I will get into the numbers later in this article but for now I will just say that both Surrey Fire and the City gave us the green light to go ahead with the design and construction of three grab and go kits.

OK, we had the money, now we needed a kit design.  The Coquitlam amateur radio emergency group had built several portable kits so I arranged for Ian Procyk to come to a meeting with Dan Barnscher and the SEPAR volunteers to demonstrate the Coquitlam kits.  It was a big success with the City immediately wanting the same communications ability.  We had the money, now we had a basic design goal, now we needed the human resources to get started.

The time frame was around January 2007 and we needed a team leader to lead the due diligence on developing the communications kit.  Bill Gipps, VE7XS, stepped up and he called meetings of the SEPAR volunteers through, February and March to tap into the experience of our radio amateurs.
The first steps were to build a consensus of what the objectives would be.  A subgroup was formed with some of the volunteers and many emails back and forth kept everyone on the same page.  In addition to the emails coffee meetings were held at MacDonald’s and at John Brodie’s VA7XB on Sunday mornings, all this before kit construction began.  There were literally dozens of meetings focused on building a consensus of what we were trying to achieve.

There were presentations made at the SEPAR general meetings and to the Surrey Fire management.  Ideas were put forth, discussed and explored.  Surrey Fire had a keen interest in the development of the grab and go kits as they were expensive and had to meet their requirements. We worked mostly with subgroups, vetting designs to come up with design considerations.  Some of the considerations were, how many hours of run time, protection of radios that were not connected to an antenna and how could we separate the workstations for practical operation.  Many hours went into these discussions with white boards being used to compile the information. At round table meetings we discussed options, solutions to problems others had experienced and at the end of the design process we were very happy with the outcome and ultimately the kits themselves.

In the next article we will get into the actual construction and commissioning of the three portable kits.  We will look at the response from other emergency groups, PEP, ARRL and RAC to the design and operation of the SEPAR communications kits. 

~Fred VE7IO
SEPAR Coordinator

Friday, June 28, 2019

The History of SEPAR

Part 2

The first installment in the history of SEPAR began in 1994 and covered the years through to 1997; this month will cover the period from 1997 to 2006.  The first article covered the setup of the SEPAR volunteer organization, the installation of amateur radios in the schools (receptions centers) and the management of the area teams.

In 1997, the first coordinator for SEPAR, Ken Boles, moved from SEPAR to take a position with the Provincial Emergency Program (PEP) and James Longley, VE7JMS, was appointed by the Surrey Emergency Planner to the position of SEPAR Coordinator.  James was very active with Surrey Fire as a volunteer fire fighter and was well suited to carry on the work which began in 1994.  James was an amateur radio operator, he had knowledge of the workings of Surrey Fire and he had been involved with PEP, so with this background James was well suited to take SEPAR to the next level.  As it turned out, the next level in the progress of SEPAR was not easily achieved.

In 1998 SEP decided to relocate the school radios from the gymnasium area to the administrative offices in a number of the schools.  This required removing and re-installing cables and radios into new secure enclosures located in the school offices, all of which was done by volunteers. The only school that did not have the radio station relocated was Queen Elizabeth Sr. Secondary in Whalley. This was due to an earlier removal before school construction. All schools were completed in 1996 or 1997, with Semiahmoo being completed on July 3, 1996. The school that later received a change was Whalley area’s Queen Elizabeth Sr. Secondary. The equipment was removed from this school and stored at Hall One storage lockup on September 1997 due to school construction work and the need to protect it from any damage. The plan for this equipment was a future installation at L.A. Matheson Secondary. This may have been in part because large turnover of Emergency Planners within the Surrey Emergency Program (SEP).

James had his work cut out for him but fortunately for him he had the support of Jim Hurrell, VE7HUR, who became James’s right hand man.  Jim was the SEPAR volunteer who, “got things done”. As Jim explains, “James would decide on the projects and I would make it happen”, and it worked well.

Despite the many volunteer hours put in by James and Jim, SEPAR did not expand or move forward during the years between 1997 and 2000.  Many proposals were made to the city, in which SEPAR would plan to improve existing installations, add new communications equipment and provide for improved training, however none were completed.  This may have been due, in part, because during that period of time there were six (yes six) different Emergency Planners.  The six planners, during James’s term as SEPAR Coordinator were, Jim Bale, Len Garis, Stefan Gherghinoiv, Jim MacDonald, Natalia Skapski and Tom Lewis.

From the beginning SEPAR had a seat at the quarterly ESS meetings.  These meetings, which are still going on, provided an opportunity for all players in SEP to exchange experiences and keep an accurate record of key people within the volunteer organizations. The current schedule for ESS meetings is bi-annual but the benefits of the meetings are still extremely valuable. The role of SEPAR within ESS has always been to provide communications between reception centers and the EOC.  In the early days the reception centers had their own radio installations but due to a change of policy within SEP the radio stations are now portable kits. 

In the years 1996, 1997 and 1999 SEPAR had a display booth at the Safety Fairs Fire Combat Challenge.  The booth consisted of static displays of SEPAR activities with an active demonstration of HF, VHF and UHF using SEPAR radios and antennas from the EOC package. This required a lot of time and hard work on the part of many SEPAR volunteers. It was considered good EOC setup practice, as a large earthquake may have required setup in tents under similar conditions. While some members operated the station, others gave out information on the role of amateur radio communications during an emergency.  It seems these Fairs ended around 1999.  It may be that Canada Day and CN Family day now provide the venue for displaying emergency preparedness within Surrey.  SEPAR has been a participant in both these events since 2007.

In addition to the Safety Fairs SEPAR put on demonstrations along with Surrey Fire and ESS in malls and the ice arena within Surrey.  They set up 2 or 3 radio stations as a display.
SEPAR made presentations to Delta and Langley emergency programs. During these presentations the Delta Emergency Planner Robin Gardiner complimented SEPAR on their work within Surrey.

Jocelyne Colbert, SEP Executive Assistant, was a key person in the Surrey Emergency Program.  Jocelyne kept track of many volunteer organizations including SEPAR.  To become a SEPAR member you had to register with the City, have an RCMP background check and it was desirable for you to hold a valid amateur radio licence.  The entire SEPAR roster had only one or two unlicensed members and was kept up to date by Jocelyne. 

One of Jocelyne’s tasks was to organize the annual Volunteer appreciation dinner in the fall of each year. At these dinners awards were handed out for long service, outstanding contributions and leadership roles. Over the years there were many SEPAR volunteers who received awards at these dinners.

During James’s term as SEPAR Coordinator he managed the SEPAR volunteers in an exercise named “Thunderbird”. This exercise covered the South West Region and Vancouver Island and was a two day event. Ken Boles, the previous SEPAR Coordinator, was then “Provincial Regional Amateur Radio Coordinator” and also had a role in this wide area exercise.  During this exercise the office we now know as the PREOC was the Provincial Field Response Center (PFRC) and located in an old building at the Green Timbers site.  

The Radio Room at hall number 1 came into being in 1998 and slowly added antennas, radios and operating positions.  However, as previously stated, it was difficult to complete plans for improvements so the room largely sat incomplete.

Things were moving forward with PEP and it was decided in 2005 to move the then PFRC to a new facility renaming it to the Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Center. It would still be located on the Green Timbers property.  At this point James was Coordinator for SEPAR, a volunteer firefighter and station manager for the new PREOC facility as well as his role with Surrey Search and Rescue.  Moving into the new PREOC facility, selecting equipment for the new radio station and getting it all up and running was, in itself, a full time job.  James decided to step down as SEPAR coordinator in order to spend as much time on the PREOC project as possible.  I was approached by James and Jim Hurrell and asked if I would take on the SEPAR Coordinator position and I accepted.  My name was then put forward to the Emergency Planner, Tom Lewis, and finding me acceptable appointed me to the position. This was the summer of 2006. 

Having accepted the position I needed to quickly get myself up to speed on the SEPAR operation.  I needed to make contact with the SEPAR volunteers, meet with the Emergency Planner and find out what Surrey expected of the radio amateur emergency volunteer communicator. 

Next installment I will continue on, with the construction of the grab and go kits, the radio room renovation, BCWARN and the many exercises and events that followed. And what happened to the radio that were removed from the schools?  You may be interested in knowing that we made very good use of them and they are still available for emergency communications.

~Fred VE7IO
Retired SEPAR Coordinator

SEPAR produced a promotional video in 2015. You can view it at 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Surrey Emergency Program Amateur Radio

The 'Other' Surrey Amateur Radio Communications Group

SEPAR has been serving the City of Surrey for the past 20 years and it all began in 1994, when the Provincial government legislated that every municipality must have an emergency plan.  In Surrey, that was the beginning of the Surrey Emergency Program.  At the request of the City, amateur radio was included in the plan, as it is today.  

Some radio amateurs, who had been part of the Provincial Emergency Program, assembled and formalized the relationship with the Surrey Emergency Program and the organization became known as the Surrey Emergency Program Amateur Radio, SEPAR.

Ken Boles, VE7FYB, who had been actively working with the Provincial Emergency Program, PEP, took on the role of the first SEPAR Coordinator.  His team was Doug Barry (VE7WLF), Ken Clarke (VE7EZV now VE7BC) and Mike (VE7IDD).

The Surrey Emergency Program (SEP) designated six reception centres, located in schools, and gave SEPAR the task of installing amateur radio equipment at these locations.  The reception centre schools were located around the city in the south, north, west and east.  The Surrey Emergency Program required SEPAR to provide communication from the schools to the EOC located at Fire Hall Number One, 132nd Street at 88th Avenue.

The schools selected for reception centres were: Pacific Academy (Fraser Heights), North Surrey Senior Secondary (Guildford), Queen Elizabeth Senior Secondary (Whalley), Tamanawis Senior Secondary (Newton), Lord Tweedsmuir Senior Secondary (Cloverdale) and, Semiahmoo Senior Secondary (White Rock)

Funding was obtained from the city, and equipment was purchased for an EOC and six reception centers.

Amateur radio station call-signs were secured for each reception center, and EOC.

  • Portable EOC-VE7MOV
  • Guildford Reception Center-VE7AEJ
  • Whalley   Reception Center-VE7ADV
  • Cloverdale Reception Center-VE7ADR
  • Newton Reception Center-VE7ADQ
  • South Surrey Reception Center-VE7ADF
  • Fraser Heights Reception Center-VE7ADH

It should be noted that when the radios were first installed at the schools (reception centres) portability of personal calls was not allowed.  If you were using your own call in any location other than the address that was on your license you had to sign “portable”.  Therefore, each of the reception centres, the mobile unit and the radio room at the EOC required an amateur radio call so they could operate legally. 

The calls which were obtained by the founding members are still very much in use today by SEPAR members.

Due to insurance requirements, professional installers, were hired by the city to install one equipment box, antenna and, coax cable at each school per SEPAR request. A technical committee of SEPAR members, created the design and layout for a power supply/radio to be attached to each box lid! This would allow for easy unlock and deployment! A key to each site’s storage box was made available.

The EOC radio equipment was packed in several large metal boxes, and stored at Fire Hall One for portability to other possible EOC sites.
Several large mail-outs and many phone hours were spent on membership drives. This was followed by large member meetings to organize SEPAR structure. The result of these many hours of volunteer time was a volunteer organization that numbered close to 100 SEPAR members.

To allow an effective callout structure, members were assigned to the reception center closest to their address. A Captain and at least one co-captain were assigned to each areas reception center. Each reception center’s radio and antenna were VHF/UHF with on board filters for eliminating interference from other equipment. 

A program involving a Surrey Fire Department pager network was setup and key people were provided with pagers. The pagers were Motorola spirit, GE and Shinwa. They were setup on the fire department frequency. The page system was run from Hall #1, thus allowing Surrey Emergency Program to contact amateur radio operators direct, if the phone system was down. Also, since the Fire Department frequency was easy to receive on VHF, all Surrey SEPAR members could turn on scanners and 2 meter rigs, and hear a callout for SEPAR. It was considered that if an issue big enough to take the phone system out occurred, most available hams would have mobile, handheld, or battery operated base stations and listen in for instructions. This worked well, however, there were some gotchas.  Batteries had to be kept charged, the pager had to be with the person at all times while in Surrey and the pager size of the day was rather large. The program was in effect for many years.

SEPAR held a weekly net on Tuesdays. The net control operator was Mike Brolich, VE7IDD, who had a very good station set up with excellent coverage on VHF.  The net ran on a simplex frequency of 146.550, the same as we use today for net control.  It was not uncommon to have more than 20 check-ins.  The purpose of the net was to improve and sharpen communications ability, and as a way to increase member participation.  

Testing of the EOC package occurred during flood watch callouts and Safety Fair setups. Each reception center setup, was put to the test during a system wide exercise. This exercise required Fraser Heights, Pacific Academy reception center to act as EOC and net control using 146.550 simplex. It was very successful as all stations could reach EOC and net control. 

In the next chapter, in our look back at SEPAR, we will look at how the reception centres functioned, why SEP wanted to change the locations of the reception centres and what replaced them. 

Our portable kits have been written up in QST, TCA  and have had a place in the respected ARRL Handbook.  Our kits have been used in a number of training exercises, past field day events and public demonstrations.  The kits are a complete station and, because of the foresight of the SEPAR team, are still on the leading edge of communications technology.

Over the years we have had many inquiries into the construction of the kits and now it looks like the YouTube video is popular as well, as it has surpassed 10,000 views.

~Fred VE7IO
Former SEPAR Coordinator


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