By Roy L Hales
Cortes Community radio’s new tower does not look impressive. It only rises thirty feet or so above the station, but with its installation CKTZ leads Northern Vancouver Island’s emergency communications network.
CKTZ Leads Northern Vancouver Island’s Emergency Communications
If there is a major earthquake, or disaster of a similar scope, it will most likely take out the region’s electrical and telecommunication systems. Isolated settlements like Cortes could be virtually cut off from the rest of British Columbia for weeks.
The packet VHF system and associated tower installed at CKTZ is part of an emergency communication system that will link us to the world. This system is already ready in parts of Southern Vancouver Island and being installed in the Lower Mainland.
CKTZ has one of the first packet systems in Northern Vancouver Island and is the only packet system going into one of the region’s radio stations.
The Key People Behind This
This mornings interview is with Barry and Amanda Glickman, two of the three key people behind this project.
Shaun Koopman, Protective Services Coordinator for the Strathcona Regional District, recently married and was not available for comment.
The Glickmans are scientists, whose careers “led into disaster/emergency sort of things.” Barry’s background is genetics. He studied nuclear accidents, and later HIV issues, in a number of countries. Amanda worked in environmental toxicology, investigating chemical based incidents. They met in a University of Victoria lab and later “went off sailing.”
“When we moved to Cortes Island, it was so funny, the real estate agent kept saying ‘You don’t want this place, it is off grid.’ And we kept having to explain to him, ‘You don’t understand. We’ve lived on an offshore sailboat for ten years and we don’t have to worry about dragging at night. We’re used to being off grid. The difference now is that the only way we are going to sink is if we had some kind of weird earthquake ,” said Amanda.
Barry added, “When we came back to land and came back to Canada, and chose to live on Cortes it was obvious to us that communications was a weak link in the [area’s] emergency planning. When you are offshore, on a sailboat … you use short wave radio to speak with other people and sailors and just keep in touch. You get accustomed to using radio for communications. It wasn’t a big step for us to think radio when we thought about communications in the region here.”
They signed up for an emergency communications course, only to find themselves entrusted with teaching it.
Two years ago, Shaun Koopman became the Strathcona Regional District’s [SRD] Protective Services Coordinator.
Amanda explained, “Shaun was very keen. He was familiar with the usage of amateur radio in Haiti, during the disasters there.”
Meanwhile Barry became one of CKTZ’s Directors. This led to the station’s signing a memorandum of understanding with the Strathcona Regional District, last August.
Error Free Transmission
According to Barry, who is currently CKTZ’s Vice President and, together with his wife Amanda, represents the district on the Mid-Island Emergency Radio Coordination Team: “We wanted CKTZ to be able to broadcast information to the community, that was reliable in an emergency. They have to be able to receive that information. It can’t be gossip, that doesn’t help. So what has happened is the SRD set up a situation where they can more effectively tell the community what is going on. What we’ve done at the station is install the digital system that allows messages to be sent to the station and then they can be read.
“There is no error in transmission or need for interpretation. They get essentially an email, a fax, and so it provides a way of communicating with the community … we call it error free. There may be human errors, but the transmission is not ‘What, what, what did you say?’ It is a piece of paper with words written on it.”
Connecting To The World
“we have to train people to deal with the equipment, but we’re now connected to the whole world in terms of receiving accurate information in terms of receiving accurate information for the community.”
The Glickmans are running two training classes for volunteers.
There is no cost for the three hour course designed to help people assist with the Winlink Express communications program. They will essentially act as secretaries, transcribing messages for the ham radio operators authorized to operate the equipment. The Glickmans hope that between 7 and 10 people will attend.
There may be a minimal cost, around $30, for the three-month-long amateur radio course this fall.
“The costs are associated with the material that needs to be given out. We usually put it in the form of a USB stick, but many people do not have computers. Printing costs are the most expensive and that is what the bulk of the cost is. We also have to bring over an examiner. We have a local examiner in Campbell River and, obviously, it costs for him to take the ferry across,” says Amanda.
Barry added that, “The SRD or other groups have often covered those expenses. That will depend on how many people are interested.”
The Island Trunk System
The course also opens up the world of VHF voice communications to would-be participants.
“You don’t need to make a big investment to play the game and have a radio you can call out on or be called to … We have a class; people pass the exam; they get a (ham radio) license and for $50 or less they can have a hand held amateur radio that with the island trunk system you can talk all the way north [to the top of the island]; all the way south,” said Barry
Amanda explained, “This is voice, we are talking about VHF voice. A bunch of very creative amateur radio operators on Vancouver Island established something called the Island Trunk system … [It consists of] a series of repeaters. When you are talking on VHF radio, it is line of sight. It doesn’t go very far, but if you want to go further you can set up a repeater on a high point on a mountain and all of a sudden it will take your message, your voice, and rebroadcasts it over a larger range … You can take a bunch of these repeaters and you can connect them, you can trunk them. This enables us to speak to someone down in Salt Spring Island all the way up to someone in Port McNeil. All of a sudden it is this extended range.”
The Strathcona Regional District’s Plan
Over coffee at her home, Amanda explained the plan to set up an email-like emergency text communications system within our area.
“The plan for the Strathcona Regional District packet system starts with the relationship we have with Comox because they have control over Mount Washington and Mount Washington is an ideal location for us to put a VHF packet node because it has a very large footprint. It will cover Comox and pretty well cover the entire of Strathcona Regional District’s east side – all the way up to Sayward. Unfortunately, we can’t get out as far as Gold River or Tahsis because of the mountains. (Those areas will pretty much be restricted to high frequency Pactor, which is a different system.) ”
“We will also have: the Strathcona Regional District office, which is the office of our emergency coordinator [Shaun Koopman], so he’ll be able to from that area; The emergency operating centre, in Campbell River, which is the area we need to coordinate with and Quadra also needs to coordinate with; Campbell River will probably also have Kantronics packet systems in the reception centres, group lodging facilities, because it allows them to coordinate with the emergency operating centre.”
“Here on Cortes Island: we will have one in our departmental operating centre, which will be the Manson Fire Hall; we will have a system in CKTZ for receiving important information to be broadcast from the Strathcona Regional District; at this moment we have a node that is being installed at hour home in Gorge harbour; we have our sailboat, which is actually set up as a complete emergency communications system mobile unit.”
If We Had An Incident Now
“I’d like to clarify … what has been installed at the radio station, with the help of a lot of people: there is a vertical antenna maybe 30 or 40 feet tall1 He later emailed me ] to receive the signal from Campbell River and it goes to VHF radio and a Kantronics TNC modem. That means that the messages that come from Campbell River can be handled in a digital format and dumped to a computer which, when printed, gives you what essentially looks like an email with the critical information in a error corrected accurate, manner. It is a very powerful way of receiving emergency information, error free,” said Barry.
Amanda added, “Right now if we would have an incident, because we have that system in place, we can make something happen to receive information. …. We have to have a couple more people trained on it. We are working on a manual … to operate that system. If we were to happen right now because of the flexibility and adaptability of the system … so, for example, the boat is fully set up. We have a portable node right now, here. So if Shaun [Koopman] can’t make a direct shot to CKTZ, which he probably can’t, we can find a place to get a direct shot and we can also use the boat as a node, as a mobile node and put her someplace so we can get the information until we can get whatever it is we need to set up.”
Top photo credit: The new tower at CKTZ – Roy L Hales photo
About the author: Roy L Hales is the President of Cortes Community Radio.
Click here to access the Campbell River Mirror’s coverage of how the packet system is being adopted by the mid Vancouver island region.