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FEMA & Open Communication Systems ~ by Dr. Frank Brickle
Friday, September 16 2005 @ 11:21 AM EDT

Recently PJ published an article about how closed standards are hobbling FEMA in its rescue and recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. I want to amplify that story by telling you a true tale about the conflict between open and closed communications systems as they effect FEMA operations, and how their people on the ground, the real responders, are affected by closed systems, and their awareness of the need for open alternatives.

True story:

Last May I was at the Dayton Hamvention -- that's the biggest annual gathering for amateur radio operators in North America -- and one afternoon a guy came up to me and said, "I'm from the US Government, and I'm here to help you!"

He was already shaking my hand, so it was pretty awkward when I immediately tried to back away from him. (Remember, this *is* a true story.)

He laughed, and said, "No, really, I'm from FEMA..." and started talking.

The reason I was in Dayton was, first, I'm a ham (AB2KT), and second, I was there along with my friend Bob McGwier (N4HY), both of us as volunteer authors of a body of program code that implements a Software Defined Radio (SDR), to be found at That code is the software heart of a commercial radio which was being featured at the Hamvention.

There are other software radios -- what that means, I'll get to in a second -- but the SDR-1000 is the first radio of its kind in a number of ways, not the least of which is that *all* the software is GPL and freely downloadable, much of which was written by unpaid volunteers like us. It also happens to be a very fine two-way radio indeed, one of the best currently available.

Now, what is Software Defined Radio? The concept is truly simple and thus easily missed. When we say Radio, we're really talking about any sort of wireless communications, one-way or two-way. The Software Defined part simply means that most of the radio functions are carried out not by circuits and components like resistors and transistors, but instead by program code. This is not such a radical idea. Anybody who's lived through the transition from vinyl records to compact discs has first-hand experience with the same kind of replacement of hardware by software. What it means to you is also simple. It's like substituting a computer for a typewriter. You gain a vast range of new capability because what it does, it does through program code, not physical parts. A Software Defined Radio can easily be many different kinds of radio, often several different types at once.

Our project is different from most other SDRs in that the programs are meant to run on a desktop computer. Your computer, plus some additional hardware in front of it. Most other SDRs embed their program code in dedicated devices, usually DSP chips, and closed up operating environments. This defeats much of the advantage of SDRs. (It also suppresses many of the fears that conventional manufacturers harbor about future SDRs.) Our project, however, runs on conventional OSes -- Linux, Windows, soon the BSDs and OSX -- so it's open to the four winds of modification and extension.

Now, back to Dayton. What the FEMA guy was telling me was this.

They, along with the three other major operational agencies under the Department of Homeland Security, rely on shortwave radios for two-way communications in the field. In other words, they use HF -- HF standing for "High Frequency," as opposed to, say, VHF, for "Very High Frequency" -- for many of their tactical communications needs. That's pretty common, since HF, done right, performs better than other bands in rough or mountainous terrain. The military and many relief organizations worldwide use it extensively.

The agencies' tactical communications rely on voice and digital data both: they regularly pass critical time-sensitive email and documents over these channels. It's important to realize that the *outer* protocols for these systems are all MIL/FED standards, adhered to worldwide for the most part. But everything else is proprietary.

All of the DHS operational agencies were worried. Owing to their different legacies and procurement processes, they all had their own distinct communications systems. The systems had all been developed and manufactured by large government contractors, and they were all closed in the tightest possible senses, both hardware and software. The systems were incompatible with one another. The software they used for handling email and documents was buggy and inadequate, and it ran on obsolete versions of Windows. It was virtually impossible to coordinate the user ends of the machines on a LAN. The vendors were completely unresponsive.

What's more, there were technological advances they'd desperately like to exploit, but couldn't, because of vendor lock-in. For example, using a technique called diversity reception, it would be possible to achieve much higher data rates over their HF channels under adverse conditions. But it was questionable whether their various systems could be rigged to use the small selection of components available to them for that purpose.

In short, the operational agencies under DHS understood their needs were not being met by their existing systems, and there was no way to remedy the situation since their systems were closed. There was also no expectation of a fix from the vendors. They realized that what they needed was open systems, now and in the future.

The only system on the horizon that might possibly fill the bill was ours. Because most of the radio is in software, it could be customized and made interoperable across agencies. Because most of the software runs not on dedicated hardware like DSP chips, but on general-purpose desktop computers running Linux, it would be easier to customize and to integrate into more expansive networking facilities off the shelf. And all of the software is GPL.

So, was there something that could be done? Not so much to help us, but to help them?

Let me stress that there is a fair amount of excellent SDR software around. Probably the most conspicuous is the gnuradio project, which is also GPL, as the name would imply. Gnuradio is a first-rate piece of work, and its leaders, Eric Blossom and Matt Ettus, are worthy of the highest respect both for the quality of their work and their tireless devotion to promoting the cause of software radio. However, gnuradio is not really designed to be embodied as-is in a production system. Their goals and ours were considerably different. From the start, we intended to have a compact, portable SDR core that could comfortably be embedded in any number of different hardware environments.

In the event, we agreed to pursue the matter further, and have been doing so. Unfortunately events have a way of overtaking good intentions. I do not know first-hand whether the problems we talked about had a certifiably negative impact on rescue and relief efforts in the Gulf Coast. I do know that the policy of seeking open systems, from hardware down through the most elemental software, has the potential for tremendous improvements in efficiency, when situations like New Orleans arise again.

The general issue of Software Defined Radio, its connection to open systems and protocols, and its potential threat to conventional telecommunications providers and manufacturers, is a large topic, one which deserves more attention from the general community concerned with FOSS development. But the larger picture is a story for another time. For now, it's enough to note that the people on the ground, the ones actually responsible for anticipating and preparing for emergencies, want their systems open, merely to be able to do their jobs.

Frank Brickle describes himself as a longtime Groklaw camp follower. He's a composer with a day job. The day job involves work in the strange area where computers, radios, and cryptology intersect; for a sample of this, a product of close collaboration with mathematician Robert McGwier, see the DttSP project. DttSP is an open source project started by Dr. Frank Brickle and Dr. Robert McGwier of the DTTS Microwave Society to provide code to be used in various DSP projects with an emphasis on Software Defined and Cognitive Radio. You can hear some recent musical work -- an opera for puppets, "The Creation of the World" based on the Townley Mystery Plays -- at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City on December 22.


FEMA & Open Communication Systems ~ by Dr. Frank Brickle | 236 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections here
Authored by: The Cornishman on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 11:34 AM EDT
Where PJ can find them all in one place

(c) assigned to PJ

[ Reply to This | # ]

OT: Off Topic Here
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 11:44 AM EDT

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off topic items- Here
Authored by: lightsail on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 11:47 AM EDT
What's new that would be of interest to Groklaw'r?

[ Reply to This | # ]

It's scary...
Authored by: bap on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 11:49 AM EDT
I find it a bit scary that amateurs are better equipped and have a better understanding of something as critical as radio communications than professionals who rely on it do.

This reminds me of a conversation my dad had a long time ago. He is also a ham, although he hasn't been active for 10+ years, but back in the mid-to-late 80's he was heavily involved with the local ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League) group in Stamford, CT. The state ran a big mock disaster drill one year and used ham volunteers as a backup form of communication. At one point my dad was in an elevator with somebody high up the chain in the fire department. The firefighter stated that while in the elevator he could hardly reach anybody outside the building with his radio. My dad, on the other hand, with his 2-meter handheld (using a repeater in the middle of the city) could easily reach other hams over 10 miles away. How can rescue, law enforcement, etc. have such sub-par equipment when hobbyists can fair so much better?

The systems had all been developed and manufactured by large government contractors, and they were all closed in the tightest possible senses, both hardware and software.

This frustrates me more than it surprises me, especially given all the orginazational changes to the government since 9/11. I would have hoped that the Department of Homeland Security would have moved to adopt standards for all the organizations (like FEMA) that are part of DHS. At least some branches of the government recognized it long ago and started dealing with it to some extent before 9/11. I'm a volunteer in the US Coast Guard Auxiliary and for a while in the 90's was on its national staff doing research for internet-based distance education. Back when I first joined, the entire USCG used a proprietary computer system called Standard Workstation 2. Every USCG station had these workstations so no matter what station you went to everything was 100% identical. A contractor had apparently convinced them early on that this proprietary system was the best way to go, but as time went on it just meant they were locked into a non-standard enviornment. A few years back they finally finsihed a complete upgrade to Standard Workstation 3, which is based entirely on Windows NT instead of a completely proprietary system. (Don't blast them on using NT as a standard - you'd have to know what SW2 was like to understand how big an improvement this was)

[ Reply to This | # ]

FEMA & Open Communication Systems ~ by Dr. Frank Brickle
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 12:03 PM EDT
Having used various Gov't supplied radios, I can attest to some of the problems each type has. Some days you could talk to people in Kentucky while you couldn't talk to someone 5 miles away. Some days you could not control a remote site due to interference on the freq from powerlines. And because I live in Florida, the sat radio/phone didn't work due to the cloud cover. Only thing that seemed to always work were the microwave links and that was only because they had 2 routes out of each site.

Even the WHCA has had the same troubles in the past and had to bounce signals by way of Panama to talk to someone in California from the Northeast. And it only gets worse when you are in a city that has tall buildings.


not logged in.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Simple compatibility
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 12:13 PM EDT
The simplest form of compatibility is voice. Yet, even for standard SSB HF comms, there has been a vacuum of cooperation between agencies.

Every agency goes in and sets up their own comm nets and nobody talks to anyone else. Why? Well, first off, every agency has its own needs, logistical and otherwise, and has little time to deal with others. Second, What channels to use, and for what purposes? Are there MOUs to permit agencies to use each other's frequencies? How about NTIA compliance (did you realize that most mil HF radios, at 1 PPM, are not fully NTIA complaint for use on FEMA and other agency channels?)?

I could go on and on, but the point is that the same issues of top level management that affect the overall operation affect radio ops. Then, going into each organization, let me tell you the bureaucracy does not stop, but gets more intense. For example, one organization that I am a member of is the Civil Air Patrol. Trying to make any kind of improvement (such as securing emergency backup power) is an incredible fight, with threats of getting kicked out of the organization at every step of the way. CAP frequencies are now a big secret (as if frequency counters don't exist) and everything is dealt with on a "channel" basis. Tell me how that will foster interagency communications? I am also a member of MARS, which consist of radio amateurs who volunteer to help in emergency situations (and more) by passing messages, making phone patches, etc. But, despite a large number of members being at the ready, on the nets, and fully capable of doing their work, there are few if any stations in the disaster area to talk to. Why? MARS members are the general public, which is not allowed in, and other agencies aren't cooperating due to the above issues.

Technology marches on, however. Us techies may not be able to solve these bureaucracy problems but we are building the technology base to be ready if the top level issues are resolved. Besides the SDR projects, there are efforts to improve HF modem waveforms, both closed and open source. There is a fantastic effort by Army MARS to improve ALE and FS-1052 protocols which is showing tremendous progress. At this point, the performance is well beyond what original DoD contractors achieved, and guess what? The development costs have been infintessimal compared to those sweetheart deals won by lobbyists. Again, this is a top level management problem, not a technical one. It is virtually impossible to unseat entrenched large political donors (regardless of the party they donate to).

When the management problems are addressed, the technology will be there.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Regulatory problems - a new approach needed?
Authored by: tiger99 on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 12:14 PM EDT
Great article, and I will be looking at the project code later, to see how it works, being an inquisitive engineer.

I don't want to seem negative, but the very biggest problem of software defined radio is that it is usually possible, by changing the code, to make it do things thet are illegal in most countries, i.e. using frequencies, power levels or modulation methods that are not in accordance with local laws.

This even applies to some wireless LAN cards etc, which is one of the reasons why documentation is sometimes withheld from FOSS developers. Now in these cases the power level is quite low, and the probabliity of being a real nuisance over a large area is minimal. But with serious communications equipment a lot of unitended damage can be caused, for example both air traffic control and railway signalling can be disrupted.

Now there has to be a way forward, acceptable internationally, but it needs to be addressed by those in authority, to make it happen. It might be a case where a specially adapted GPL (so you can do all the usual things but must not, ever, change certain bits) might be needed, and/or hardware may need to have specific constraints built in. But the fact is that software-controlled and/or implemented radio is here to stay, and means need to be provided to ensure that it can flourish in the regulatory environment, without allowing mis-operation that is either a nuisance to others, or dangerous.

In the UK the regulations are generally (but not always) far tighter than in the US, sometimes needlessly so. But what is done needs to be universally acceptable, because both software and inexpensive hardware tend to find their way to every part of the world. For example there has been a proliferation of cheap 49MHz walkie-talkie sets for many years, maybe 90% are illegal in the UK, and of that 90%, maybe only half or less actually will cause interference to others. But some of them are legal in parts of Europe, where a UK CB radio, made to a higher standard, is not.

The spectrum is finite and needs to be managed carefully, but that should not stand in the way of progress.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Disruptive Technologies
Authored by: OmniGeek on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 12:18 PM EDT
I'm a Ham operator and an EE, and I've followed the Software Defined Radio (SDR)
projects with great interest. Combined with Open Source, this is very definitely
a Disruptive Technology, in that it has the potential to radically change the
way several kinds of radio communications (especially emergency-response) work.

Your average conventional hand-held radio, whether Amateur service or
business-band or emergency-response system, can ONLY operate on a few limited
freqencies in one frequency band (or at most two to three Amateur bands, for
more recent Ham sets). If you're a police user on a VHF radio, forget about
communicating with a National Guard unit on an HF band.

A software-defined radio can be operated on ANY frequency within the
capabilities of its hardware design; with a moderate amount of hardware (smaller
than a shoebox), such a radio can be made to operate on any or all frequency
bands used by anyone you care to talk with. Since this is all
software-controlled, the right user interface software makes it possible to
operate on any of those bands RIGHT NOW, by pressing the right button. Moreover,
you can operate in any mode (AM or FM analog voice, digitized voice, video
transmission, Internet connectivity, or even WiFi) for which you have an
appropriate driver. Police need to talk to Red Cross radio volunteers need to
talk to National Guard need to talk to the ambulance dispatcher? All possible in
real time with one box. And you can upgrade it at any time to add new features
without buying any new hardware.

In short, a software-defined radio can be essentially UNIVERSAL when the right
software is available. (Don't think of an SDR as just a fancy walkie-talkie, and
of no interest to you; think of it as a cellphone/wireless networking
hub/weather satellite receiver/GPS unit/all-band, all-mode walkie-talkie with a
built-in computer. This is where Open Source becomes critical, as you'll all
have figured out already. All the important features of Open Source (and many of
the same battles over open-vs-closed electronic content and) apply to the SDR

The protean nature of the SDR provides amazing opportunities and troubling
social side-effects in one package, and is bound to make some profound changes
to how radio communication is managed. That's what makes it a Disruptive
Technology. It is already beginning to change the way radio happens.

Maximizing the benefits of SDRs (think of something way more universal than a
cell phone) while avoiding the worst pitfalls (think of the chaotic cacaphony of
the effectively-unlicensed, heavily abused and essentially unusable Citizens'
Band radio service, and remember that SDRs are Open Source and can be
*universal*;) is going to be an important issue in the next few years. This is
definitely a subject of ongoing relevance and interest to the Groklaw community.

My strength is as the strength of ten men, for I am wired to the eyeballs on

[ Reply to This | # ]

FEMA & Open Communication Systems ~ by Dr. Frank Brickle
Authored by: SwedishChef on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 12:53 PM EDT
A decade or so ago I was a member of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES)
in the Puget Sound area. We would drill with FEMA and State people using our own
equipment (hand held, mobile and portable) as well as equipment we had installed
at local hospitals and other locations. Operators would go with search teams and
keep communications lines open to medical teams, police agencies, etc. We even
had portable repeaters we could park in areas likely to improve communications.

My last outing with this group was a disaster simulation near Everett,
Washington. The director of the drill arrived with freshly charged cell phones
and handed them to all the team leaders. They didn't need ham radio operators
any more.

Of course they would have to keep those telephone numbers handy for everyone and
because no one else could listen in they would often not know about a problem
(or a solution) someone else was describing.

But I always wondered how they would know, just before a real disaster, when it
was time to charge all those cell phones up.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Guest Author Kudos Here
Authored by: belzecue on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 01:00 PM EDT
... a bit late in the postings, but regardless...

Thanks, Frank. Thought provoking, and timely of course. We can only hope that
FEMA works quickly to fix the glaring problems exposed by Katrina. Your system
would be a wonderful first step along that path.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Tactical message model
Authored by: chrism on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 02:22 PM EDT
I am curious what sort of messages emergency response teams send to each other
when they are in the field.

I imagine it mostly consists of voice messages between members of a unit and
their commander, and a fewer number between commanders. I can't imagine it in
much detail, however.

If the hand-held could handle text messaging and had a GPS unit integrated, it
would become possible for agents to send their observations back to a server
where analysts in an office could match reqeusts with resources.

I am further guessing that the agencies that have elaborate systems to do this
figure the less the public knows about how such things are done, the better.
They would fear that widespread detailed knowledge would enable sabotuers to
develop ways to throw a wrench in their system.

And yet, from reading the stories of what worked and what didn't during the
relief effort, systems like Craigslist, which weren't even designed with
emergency relief in mind, would up being priceless while the expensive
communications arrangements that were made with full access to tactical details
were useless. There was nothing worth sabotaging.

I think it is time time government tried involving the public at large,
particularly the open source community, in developing usuable communications
systems. There are vast pools of (for now anyway) interested talent willing to
contribute, if we can push the vendors away from the trough long enough to get
something started.

Here's hoping.

Chris Marshall

[ Reply to This | # ]

FEMA & Open Communication Systems ~ by Dr. Frank Brickle
Authored by: Mikie on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 02:55 PM EDT
It must be remembered that in the past govt. agencies required communications
systems that were closed off and unique to themselves. What police dept. wanted
to hear fire traffic, what state police agency wanted to hear local chatter. If
cross communications were required, phone calls to the other agency would

Although, this was a 'known' issue and did cause some "minor" issues,
it wasn't until 9/11 that the real impact became fully understood.

[ Reply to This | # ]

True Storey - G'ment workers know
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 03:53 PM EDT
Someone I know and respect worked for the DOD a decade or so back. The
department was looking for ways to increase efficiency and get more work done
because of budget pressure. The department decided to migrate from the command
and control management structure to a team based structure. All the managers
were asked to make a list of the people they wanted on their teams to work on
their projects. When the data was compiled, my friend was selected for seven
teams. The sad part was that 70% of the workforce was not selected for any
team. The concept was scrapped.

There really are folk who work for the government that want to do a good job.
There are also those that have learned to cut red tape, lengthwise.

-- Alma

[ Reply to This | # ]

An account of issues encountered by the Austin, Texas response team...
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 04:43 PM EDT
A ustin medics in New Orleans say disorganization, lack of communication hindered response

Members of the Austin response team say they experienced other problems. Rescuers in boats plucking people from rooftops had no way to talk directly to helicopter pilots to tell them where to pick up evacuees. Initially, Austin medics also had no way of talking to state police to ask them to clear blocked roads for ambulances.

At one point, Bergh said, he and other frustrated Austin officials drove to a Federal Emergency Management Agency command post on the outskirts of New Orleans and offered to link themselves to the agency's communication system.

Bergh and two other high-ranking Austin emergency workers said federal officials refused to surrender their frequencies, citing security.

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Frequencies - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 04:46 PM EDT
    • Frequencies - Authored by: rusty0101 on Saturday, September 17 2005 @ 12:53 AM EDT
      • Frequencies - Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, September 17 2005 @ 09:32 AM EDT
Forget Open Source Radio - How about Open Government?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 04:43 PM EDT
Start applying Open Source principles of organization, robustness, peer review
to our government.

The waste right now is unimanagible.

A recent study showed that most people worldwide do not trust their governments
and that academics should have more say in how things are run.

What kind of system could Open Source gurus dream up? Think of Windows as the
present form of government. SURELY we can do better!!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Lawmakers push responder spectrum law
Authored by: _Arthur on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 06:48 PM EDT
Make sure your tinfoil hat is set:

Lawmakers push responder spectrum law

"In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers
Thursday vowed a new push for legislation freeing up part of the broadcast
spectrum for the nation`s firefighters, paramedics and police, a move they
said was long overdue."

Then the earlier article :
Digital TV changeover suggested for 2009
"Millions of American television sets that receive only analog
over-the-air broadcasts could go dark if not upgraded by Jan. 1, 2009
The committee is readying legislation expected this year that would require
all American televisions to run on digital signals by the end of 2008.
That would free up the analog, or 700 MHz, spectrum for other uses such as
broadband services and communications for emergency workers."

With a touching plea from Senator McCain:
"The bombings last week in London reinforced the immediate need for this
spectrum," McCain said, noting that Scotland Yard had to "borrow
spectrum" in order to meet its needs.


Is the will to allocating more spectrum to emergency services genuine, or is
this just a pretext for say, cell phone companies to grab that juicy
spectrum ??

This ties very well with the other plan for DRM content: force all TV sets to
be mandatorily Digital _only_, (this will free spectrum for
"the children", I mean emergency services). The fact that the new
(mandatory too) Digital standard will enforce encrypted decoding (DRM) from
within the digital monitor is mere happenstance. Broadcasted or cable movies
and shows will no longer be recordable....


[ Reply to This | # ]

Scary but true
Authored by: snorpus on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 07:03 PM EDT
And it's been true for a long time.

In the early 1900s, it was thought that to send signals a great distance, you needed to use long wavelengths (low frequencies). To keep the amateurs out of the commercial stations hair, the hams were banished to "200 Meters and Down" (frequencies higher than 1.5MHz). It didn't take long for the amateurs to make the short waves work better (transmit further, with less power) than the commercial longwave stations.

In the 1950s, Gen. Curtis LeMay convinced the Air Force to switch from AM (Amplitude Modulation) to SSB (Single SideBand) by doing a side-by-side comparison using a borrowed amateur station.

During the Viet Nam War, the standard military HF radio transceiver was the Collins KWM-2, a top-of-the-line amateur rig.

Today, a ham can buy an all mode transceiver covering all frequencies from 1.8 to 174 MHz, 100W output power, for $1500. A VHF high-band FM transceiver with 75W costs under $200.

73/88 de KQ3T ---
Montani Semper Liberi
Comments Licensed:

[ Reply to This | # ]

FEMA & Open Communication Systems ~ by Dr. Frank Brickle
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 07:39 PM EDT
What works best in these worst-case disasters is plain old conventional
point-to-point two-way radio. Communications devices that rely on centralized
infratructure (e.g., cell phones, "Nextel PTT", repeaters, IP radios,
etc.) fail when there supporting equipment wash out to sea... Communications
failed in Florida the same way exactly a year ago. Nice to have lots of
technology to play with during normal operations, but everyone needs to
coordinate and maintain emergency equipment & resources when something like
this happens again. Hams are ideal for this because most all use and maintain
this kind of equipment (local communications using portable and mobile
transceivers in the 144 MHz & 440 MHz bands) and well as HF (long distance
communications in the 1.8 to 20 MHz bands).

[ Reply to This | # ]

Is OpenSource SDR still possible?
Authored by: rharvey46 on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 08:43 PM EDT
Althought this software has its home in Linux, I was wondering if it also exists
for Windows and (perhaps) other operating systems or environments. I am
wondering this especially in regards to the existing FEMA hardware and software
for Radio (and other current implementors). Would it be possible - using the
same PC (without replacing the OS), to use the OpenSource implementation
legally? From what I understand, GPL software could be installed even on the
proprietary operating system. Perhaps, the software could run under cygwin ?
Would there be an opportunity to implement OpenSource SDR on a practically
hardware-only solution (I.e. a shoe-box sized PC) at low cost - using Linux or
another OS as a basis - or even without an OS?
Could there be implementations that are more portable, perhaps in Java or other
cross-platform languages?

Another concern I have is - would the software really be legal - from the
standpoint of Bandwidth, Frequency licensing etc.

It is not a case of not liking / considering Linux as far as I am concerned, but
I do have a concern that Federal (and State) agencies may not have that option -
or it would be considered improper for various (mostly political) reasons - for
example the (invalid) SCO lawsuit which does/may block other options. I can not
imagine Redmond switching its FEMA / WAEMA (?) implmentation to Linux for
example without repercussions.

To me, it appears that Open Standards may be more important here than Open
Source - unfortunately, the current 'standard' is to have neither.

[ Reply to This | # ]

FEMA & Open Communication Systems ~ by Dr. Frank Brickle
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 16 2005 @ 11:42 PM EDT
Amazing - just dam amazing

Is there anything that Linux can't be used for.

I know I can't think of one.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Is SDR possible? Yes!!!!
Authored by: paivakil on Saturday, September 17 2005 @ 02:18 AM EDT
The GNU project already has software based radio. It will be using simple inexpensive, commonly available hardware.
Two links:-
GNU Radio
Explorin g GNU Radio.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Authored by: ray08 on Saturday, September 17 2005 @ 11:22 AM EDT
I worked for ITT Aerospace 10 years ago on the Army SINCGARS radio as a Test
Engineer. For the Army, it worked very well and still does to this day. It has
greatly exceeded all the system requirements. And that's fine, if you're in the
Army and want to talk with the Army. Until only recently, however, the Army
could not talk to the Air Force (or Navy) without going thru their command
centers. The Air Force now has SINCGARS too, except it is UHF/VHF. (The Army is
VHF only). And if they wish to talk to each other on a secured channel, they had
beeter have a battle plan to "sync" the radios. Unsecured channels are
open to any radio within range. As of now, I know of several companies making
UHF/VHF SINCGARS radios: Rockwell/Collins, ITT, and Raytheon. How well they
interoperate, I do not know. BTW, SINCGARS is an acronym (of course, it's
military). It means Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System.

Now, how is SINCGARS going to communicate with FEMA, CG, Red Cross, etc?! And
here's a (not so) funny thing: ITT was trying desparately to get civilian
authorities to use a less secure form of SINCGARS! The only way that could be a
good thing is every govt agency used it, thereby becoming a defacto standard. We
all know how that would work out.

Caldera is toast! And Groklaw is the toaster! (with toast level set to BURN)

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Product Reviews
Authored by: snorpus on Saturday, September 17 2005 @ 11:51 AM EDT
The FlexRadio Systems SDR-1000 HF+VHF transceiver was reviewed in the April 2005 issue of QST magazine, and coincidentally, a follow-up review is in the current (October) issue of QST.

73/88 de KQ3T ---
Montani Semper Liberi
Comments Licensed:

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FEMA & Open Communication Systems ~ by Dr. Frank Brickle
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, September 17 2005 @ 01:42 PM EDT
This article brings up a good point: there is more at stake than
interoperability. Even in the desktop computer realm, there are raster image
formats (e.g. PNG, GIF, JPEG), vector images (Illustrator, SVG), file system
formats (NTFS, FAT, ISO, Joliet), file compression (ZIP, RAR, TAR with GZIP),
encryption, etc.

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Communication problems
Authored by: Jadeclaw on Saturday, September 17 2005 @ 02:19 PM EDT
are nearly the smallest problems the FEMA has.
The bigger problems:
An amazing amount of pure incompetence,
corruption up to the highest level,
avengelist and dominionist dominated politics
and screw-ups galore.
Which is documented here.
(With links to the source, of course.)


Best regards

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  • Communication problems - Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, September 17 2005 @ 05:14 PM EDT
    • Problem is - Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, September 18 2005 @ 07:59 AM EDT
Not Quite True
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, September 17 2005 @ 08:01 PM EDT
Your quote of "The only system on the horizon that might possibly fill the
bill was ours. " is NOT quite true. There are several systems that allow
each unique radio type and band that the Gov't folks use to talk to each other.
Raytheon makes one that I know about personally, and there are others. And yes
it is software driven but it's not open source. The system is not widely
deployed as it is brand new on the market but it DOES exist so your statement is
not quite true. In fact the DHS/FEMA were the target customers as well as large
cities. There other types of these cross-channel systems that are used by the
military on Command and Control aircraft such as the Joint Stars. If you had
said only OPEN SOURCE or GPL system then you would be more correct.

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Learn from the internet
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, September 17 2005 @ 10:46 PM EDT
As we all know, the internet has its origin in a military system designed to be
very robust.

After 9-11, the only reliable communication was e-mail. The government could
still communicate using their Blackberries.

You can have as much or as little security as you want. You can do person to
person or you can do a message board. You can do text or voip.

This would be a really good time for the Pentagon to pump some money into
developing an RF standard. Then all emergency services should have to convert
to that standard over the next ten years. Billions of people can communicate
using the internet but the police can't talk to the fire department. Give me a

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FEMA & Open Communication Systems ~ by Dr. Frank Brickle
Authored by: MplsBrian on Monday, September 19 2005 @ 03:39 PM EDT

Congress is waking up. Here's an op-ed piece from today's Washington Post. Senators McCain & Lieberman are working with two Representatives to get things started for improving communications for the next disaster. 05091801256.html

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Embarassingly behind-the-times hams
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, September 20 2005 @ 11:11 PM EDT
Here's details about that first software-controlled HF transceiver for hams:
100 Watt PEP HF, 500mW 6m Software Defined Transceiver. The transciever is fully assembled and tested. Includes parallel control cable.
Why are they driving this newly designed $1375 transceiver off a parallel port and thus through dreadfully thick cables that can't be very long? It's been 15 years since I gladly abandoned parallel ports. Sigh, since computers came along, innovation by amateur radio operators (and I'm one) has had this weird quirk. Guys working on ham gadgets seem to have stopped their technological education a decade or more in the past, perhaps when they retired. They seem to assume that most hams get their computers by driving around neighborhoods looking for what people have put on their front lawn with a "free computer" sign attached. They rarely adopt a technology before everyone else has abandoned it. From the hobby that pioneered SSB and moonbounce, that's sad.

Why did they spend large sums developing this hardware, but link it to the outside through clumsy, archaic protocols? Hasn't anyone told these guys that the much, much better USB replaced parallel and serial ports over five years ago?

It's like looking at a brand new car and finding it has a 6-volt, tube-radio with a vibrator installed.

--Too embarassed to leave my name.

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FEMA & Open Communication Systems ~ by Dr. Frank Brickle
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 23 2005 @ 10:48 AM EDT
It seems the author and Sen. John McCain have two different takes on the communication problem that surfaced in New Orleans. The senator apparently wrote an op-ed, which he subsequently pimped to the major news channels, defining the FEMA communication problem as the result of the networks failing to turn over the analog spectrum after having received the HD spectrum. When questioned by a reporter, amazingly, McCain had no explanation as to why the analog spectrum hadn't been surrendered to the government yet. He full well knows that doing that would render every analog television out there obsolete overnight. This would cause an uproar even larger than the uproar over New Orleans response. But instead, when questioned over this, he played dumb.

So it looks like there is going to be more pressure at the FCC for faster transition to HD television, so that McCain can use the FEMA/New Orleans excuse to get government hands on the analog spectrum, doing the bidding of their masters, the MPAA/RIAA.

My question to the author is, did the lack of analog spectrum cause the failure of communications in New Orleans? Or is it possible that the problem would be the same or worse, considering that if any repeaters are required for closed systems on the communication devices used on the surrendered analog spectrum, and those repeaters are damaged as most certainly radio repeaters were damaged for police and other emergency systems as reported for existing radio systems in New Orleans?

Was/is/will communications problems attributable to damaged/destroyed repeaters, can this be alleviated by television analog spectrum which will just as likely require repeaters as well? Did FEMA communications fail in New Orleans because we didn't transition to HD TV as fast as the MPAA would like so they could implement their broadcast flags in televisions, set-top cable company boxes and tivos?

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