This document is designed to promote the development of a comprehensive plan for providing digital communications support for served agencies using a variety of methodologies. This is a rough draft and is being produced as a collaborative document in the interest of furthering dialogue. Input into the plan is encouraged but sacred cows may be summarily slaughtered.


Currently the situation at the local level in Georgia is not conducive to reliable communications on a statewide basis using amateur radio digital modes. The key problems are threefold.

  1. There exists no comprehensive document to provide a philosophical foundation for designing reliable digital communications links from local areas to the state and national level with the exception of the NTS system. The existing ad hoc situation is akin to the Tower of Babel and inhibits rather than enhances communications between various agencies and areas. (It is hoped that this document can serve as a starting point towards rectifying this lack.)

  2. In many areas of the state VHF packet radio networks are poorly maintained or non existent due largely to a lack of use. While there are some SEDAN nodes that are still operational they are seldom reliable enough to provide a viable statewide communications tool. APRS is a more viable network in the northern part of the state but is inadequate below the Fall Line. However, APRS is not useful for message traffic and should not be used for this purpose. APRS is useful as an adjunct to VHF/UHF and HF voice nets by providing a near real-time tactical picture of an event.

  3. HF modes are only available to a limited subset of hams with general or higher class licenses. Hopefully this may change soon. Getting the changes proposed by ARRL implemented should be a top priority for senior state level ARES managers. There are currently a fair number of very active ARES hams across the state that lack HF privileges despite taking a very active role in emergency communications. Given the simple fact that Morse Code is seldom used as the only available means of communication in an emergency it is detrimental to the goal of emergency communications to exclude otherwise qualified operators.

One other problem bears mentioning early in this discussion and that is the role that the Internet should play in emergency communications. There are two primary schools of thought on this issue.

  • The Internet is a useful tool but it is not "Ham Radio" and therefore should not play any role at all. Furthermore, the Internet is just as prone to fail as any other infrastructure.
  • The Internet is simply another tool in the toolbox and should be incorporated into the plan at all levels. While failure is a possibility the potential benefits outweigh the risks. Those risks that exist are manageable through redundancy and alternative modes.
  • This document will adhere to the second of these viewpoints in the belief that the primary duty of emergency communicators is to get the message through by any means available.

Current Status of Digital Communications in Georgia:

On the VHF/UHF front there basically two systems worth looking at and one with future potential. These three systems are:

  • APRS

APRS is a more viable network in the northern part of the state but is inadequate below the Fall Line. Since APRS uses UI (Unconnected Information frames) there is no guarantee of delivery. While data is sent in a broadcast manner to all monitoring stations there is no mechanism for reporting failure in the delivery of data to a specific station. Therefore APRS is totally unsuited for long haul or NTS style message traffic. However, APRS is a viable means for the dissemination of information in a one to many model such as the issuing of weather bulletins. APRS is also useful in the tracking of assets in a SAR type environment or during the deployment of damage assessment teams.

While there are some SEDAN nodes that are still operational the overall system is seldom reliable enough to provide a viable state wide communications tool. There also exists a serious problem with the lack of user friendly software for accessing packet networks. ( This may be partially alleviated by Stan Edwards WA4DYD's Emergency Service Packet Client) However, there is still a need for VHF packet radio to be made more relevant and accessible for general ham use.

PSK31 and other weak signal HF modes may offer some potential for use in poor band conditions but with the lack of error correction may be little better than SSB or CW.

One other potentially useful tool is the classic packet BBS. With its capability to centralize message handling it can function as a hub for traffic between shelters and EOC's. If long haul forwarding is disabled a local Packet BBS can be very functional even at 1200 baud. The BBS could also function as a repository for emergency operations planning documents that can be fetched as needed by end users. It can also stretch limited resources by allowing messages to be stored for stations that are out of range or off the air. These stations can then fetch their messages at a later time. This could be an important asset in a long duration event when operators are in need of sleep time.

As noted earlier this document is designed to stimulate a dialog. Use the contact page on the toolbar at the left to send me your commnets.