[aprssig] Multi control station situational awareness - How's this supposed to work?

Greg D ko6th.greg at gmail.com
Mon Dec 2 18:22:56 EST 2019

Hi Bob,

The recent planned power outages here in California have several members
of our club wondering what the right solution is for coordinating
information from multiple Net Control stations.  I expect APRS is the
right foundational tool for the job, but am unsure how to apply it.  Can
you give us some guidance?  Especially, how should we handle information
that is not tied to a location (map), and how do we search for answers
to requests?

Usually, Net Control is a centralized role.  Single operator at a single
location, or if multiple operators working in shifts, there's still a
single log or database for information.  Higher-end solutions exist with
commercial software support, but that's overkill for our needs and

The challenge is that we have had several wide-spread power outages in
the area.  Folks are without power for a day upwards to nearly a week,
with some having no access to city utilities.  Many (now) have
generators, but those need fuel.  Some run short of other essentials. 
My own power was restored after the first outage just as the ice I had
set aside in the fridge was about done.  Others were not so lucky. 
Critically, Internet access was either totally out, or spotty at best. 
Cable-based Internet went out totally, cellular was spotty.  Evidence at
my house was that the cell system only lasted about 2 hours before
failing.  I did have a land-line analog phone that worked, but have no
idea what I'd do with it other than make phone calls.  The modem and
dial-up account are long gone.

Our ham club decided to run an informal information-sharing net, taking
check-ins reporting on where the outages were, what stores were open,
shortages found, requests for supplies, and offers to provide the same. 
During the first outage, that was handled mostly by one person, using
pencil and paper for record keeping.  I added my support during the
second outage, and while the needs were fewer (folks were better
prepared after the first one), it became clear that having a split data
record between the various net control stations could be problematic. 
So, we're looking for a solution which will be effective across multiple
Net Control stations, and ideally without the need for Internet access,
even at the periphery.  Fortunately, there's no serious emergency, and
no "served agencies" to include in the plan.

If we could count on the Internet, a simple Google Sheets file would be
perfect.  Multiple authors, real-time updates, shared access,
persistence.  It provides the model of what we're trying to achieve with
the radio links.  The "situational awareness" aspect of APRS suggests
that it would make for a good foundation for a shared-view of the
"situation".  Stores open and closed, locations of fuel available and
unavailable, etc. in theory can be handled with Objects.  But three
problems.  Some locations (especially stores) have multiple reports.  Do
we create multiple objects at the same location?  That could get messy. 
Some reports are location-vague, for example, a report of power out for
an entire part of town; do we "pin" it to the location of the person
reporting and explain it in the object text?.  The "all clear" call, for
example, was for the entire county.  Where to put them?  And finally,
how to find the most recent information, given that there is no time
context for the map view.  One would be forced to scan the map, clicking
on objects looking for the information requested, and likely becoming
frustrating and ineffective over time.  It's also a bit tedious to
create and manage an object.

During the last outage, I experimented a bit with the use of a Bulletin
packet.  Some simple formatting could be used to indicate the category
of information included, or one could use the bulletin number as a
category indicator.  It was nice that the bulletin was received by a
member's HT without any preparation, but the broadcast nature of
bulletins would perhaps be a bit annoying for those who don't
particularly care about this topic.

One of the thoughts was that an APRS application that focused more on
category-oriented text instead of map-based pins would be effective, but
we are not aware of any that provide this sort of view.  Given the lack
of Internet access, the app would need to be running 24x7 in order to
provide data persistence, unless the text information is repeated
periodically as it is with traditional objects.  For something like this
to work, would any of the existing packet formats be appropriate, or
would we need to create something new?

What is the right solution for this sort of situation?


Greg  KO6TH

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