The Pacific amateur radio club recently added a new element to its repeater installation on Signal Hill, one that extends the reach of Franklin County emergency services.

The Pacific Meramec Valley Amateur Radio Club (PMVARC) was formed as a digital radio club, using the D-Star system.

The club recently added a tri-band antenna on the tower to accommodate packet radio, a system that uses messages rather than voice. A Raspberry Pi and terminal node controller (TNC) to receive, store and transmit packet messages also were installed.

Packet radio is the default system for SEMA and most emergency operations centers (EOCs) in the area. The radio/computer sends packets of information using radio frequencies (RF), just like a computer does on the Internet.

“Those packets are self-correcting so if any information is corrupted during transmission the system will ask for a retransmission,” explained Tom Usher, kdøkqq, who assisted with the Pacific installation.

The new Signal Hill installation will be coupled with Winlink, a radio/internet system, that allows local traffic to be moved from hams onto the global Internet and back again.

“It is the backbone for the communications system when all else fails,” Usher said.

Packet radio is a key element of emergency messaging because it can send typed messages such as Word or Excel documents that can be transmitted directly to the receiver or stored on a bulletin board (BBS) to be retransmitted.

“It’s effective for complicated messages during an emergency,” Usher said.

The installation was made possible with help from other hams in the area, according to Bob Masson, PMVARC founder.

“Hams in the region wanted the packet system on Signal Hill because it can be reached from Sullivan to St. Louis and from Illinois to Jefferson City,” Masson said. “If any of those communities have emergency hams, they can reach EOCs throughout the area through the Signal Hill packet node.”

At 863 feet above sea level, Signal Hill is one of the highest spots in the area. The offset antenna was placed on the PMVARC tower at 49 feet.

Craig Brune, nømfd, climbed the Signal Hill tower to install the antenna for the packet system.

Usher, John Cooney køjfc and Patrick Kelley, kdøyyh, installed and tested the new system, with assistance from Peter Brisbine nømth, assistant emergency coordinator for digital operations and training with St. Louis Metro ARES/RACES.

Paul Chambers, Franklin County ARES, formerly operated the nøbbd-5 node from his residence in Washington. To improve coverage, Chambers reassigned the node to the PMVARC for installation on Signal Hill.

“Through the Pacific site we can reach Jefferson City, which is where we would be sending messages in an emergency,” Chambers said. “Packet is a great system because it’s self-correcting. And the coverage from Signal Hill is great. By reaching Jefferson City, we can probably get out to Kansas City.”

Brisbine agreed.

“The new site in Pacific has some amazing coverage,” Brisbine said. “I’m actually able to hear it from my driveway at home (in St. Louis).

“With direct connections between the St. Louis BBS and Pacific (Signal Hill) BBS, message forwarding will be much more efficient between the two locations,” he added. “It also provides Franklin County with a direct path to the node at the St. Louis County EOC.”

Once the new packet system receives Winlink (global radio email) approval, the local fire departments and hospitals also will be able to access the new node directly which would give them access to Winlink mail as well.

Brown Dog Network provided the ISP address and Internet access for the system.

“With the St. Louis EOC node, the Carondelet node in St. Louis City and Metropolitan St. Louis County (MSTLCO), nodes able to reach each other via RF, it will provide much needed paths to multiple Internet service providers (ISPs) in case of localized Internet failure,” Brisbine said.

Usher, Cooney and other local hams have been busy testing the Signal Hill packet system with their equipment and plan to hold training sessions for any hams who want to begin using packet radio.

Call sign of the PMVARC node is kdøzea-5 with the alias Nike. Call sign for the Pacific BBS is kdøzea-1 with the alias ZEABBS.