Savannah National Wildlife Refuge Controlled Burn

The Savannah Coastal National Wildlife Refuge is conducting a 190 acre controlled burn today. Earlier this afternoon I heard the Savannah NWR Complex repeater system become active with coordination traffic so I drove across the Savannah River to the NWR to do some scanning and searching with the radios.  The two Savannah NWR Complex repeaters within range – 172.450 (Skidaway, NAC 68F) and 172.650 (Onslow (NAC 455) were being used for coordination and communications between the refuge and the Savannah office.  168.200, Tac 2, was being used at the refuge for communication between the personnel doing the burn.  The burn was creating quite a bit of smoke that was drifting north and the plume was visible for quite a distance.  The traffic between the portable radios of the personnel doing the burn (something I never would have heard from home) was interesting to listen to as they first did a test burn then began igniting fires in various parts of the area based on how the fire was progressing.

Controlled burn at Savannah Coastal NWR
Controlled burn at Savannah Coastal NWR
Controlled Burn at Savannah Coastal NWR
Controlled Burn at Savannah Coastal NWR
USFWS equipment and personnel working the fire at the end of the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive off of SC Hwy 170.
USFWS equipment working the fire at the end of the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive off of SC Hwy 170.
USFWS staff, the tractor operator and firefighter discussing this corner of the fire.
USFWS staff, the tractor operator and firefighter discussing this corner of the fire.
USFWS Fire Apparatus
USFWS Fire Apparatus

As far as the wildlife portion of the NWR visit goes, there weren’t a lot of alligators to be seen, but there were plenty of turtles out sunning themselves in the warm weather today.  I also saw a lot of wood ducks, which you don’t get to see very often.  There were probably more alligators out than what I saw but the water levels are up covering the canal banks, so I think they may have been sunning on some of the small interior islands.  Viewing along the end of the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive will be easier this year; much of the vegetation and scrub brush that was obscuring the canal has been not just cut back but cut down.

One of the few alligators I did see today.  You can't tell from this side, but...
One of the few alligators I did see today. You can’t tell from this side, but…
He just caught lunch.  Today's menu: duck or some sort of other waterfowl (hard to tell from the belly).
He just caught lunch. Today’s menu: duck or some sort of other waterfowl (hard to tell from the belly).

Note:  My camera battery ran out this afternoon, so all of these photos were taken by the camera on my new cellphone, a Samsung Galaxy SIII.  The picture quality seems good up until 3x zoom, when you use between 3x-4x zoon like the two alligator photos things get pixelated.

On the way back home from the refuge, I got to listen to some great air combat training communications from F-15s and F/A-18s training offshore.  F-15s from the Florida Air National Guard 125th FW at Jacksonville and F/A-18Ds from VMFA(AW)-533 at MCAS Beaufort were operating on 293.600 and 316.300:

293.600  –   NORAD Discrete; FANG 0# wkg HUNTRESS
316.300  –    NORAD Discrete; SNAKE 0#, COIL 01, RATTLER 01, HAWK 81-83 wkg HUNTRESS
343.000  –   125 FW Aux 8; FANG, SNAKE, COIL, RATTLER, HAWK common

All in all it turned out to be a good trip on the wildlife watching side and the radio side.  The unseasonably warm temperatures accounted for more alligator and turtle sightings than you’d usually get in mid January and the radio activity was pretty good for a Monday, which are typically a bit slow compared to Tuesday – Friday.

Coast Guard Helicopter on NET Channel Using Digital Voice

Location: Savannah

This evening, I was listening to Coast Guard 6545 (MH-65C, Savannah) as it conducted hoist training with 25′ boat 25732 in the Savannah River. 25732 requested that 6545 go to NET 113 (163.1375). 6545 then came up on NET 113, calling initially in analog voice before switching to digital voice.

This is the first time I’ve heard one of the Savannah MH-65s on the NET Channels and the first time I’ve heard one using Digital Voice. I’m guessing it is being done with a radio separate from the one used for Marine VHF because while they were using NET 113, they were also able to hear and to respond to Station Tybee on Marine VHF Ch. 21.

Mac McCormick III, KF4LMT

Monitoring the US Coast Guard – Sector Charleston and Station Tybee Transition to the RESCUE 21 System

This article was originally published in the September issue of “Groundwaves,” the newsletter of the Coastal Amateur Radio Soceity.
US Coast Guard Sector Charleston and its subordinate unit US Coast Guard Station Tybee cover the Savannah area. The Sector Charleston area is in the process of transitioning their communications to the Coast Guard’s new Rescue 21 communications system. This raises two questions: what is Rescue 21 and what does this mean for the radio hobbyist? There are many hams that have programmed the Marine VHF frequencies into their 2-Meter radios to monitor the Coast Guard and knowing where to listen for the Coast Guard could enhance the capability of the ARES operator. First, we’ll learn a little bit about the Rescue 21 system and then we’ll explore what will change for the hobbyist that listens to the Coast Guard.What is Rescue 21? Rescue 21 is the Coast Guard’s advanced direction-finding communications system. It is replacing the National Distress Response System which has been in service since the 1970’s. It provides an expanded frequency capacity which improves interoperability with other Department of Homeland Security agencies as well as other federal, state, and local agencies. This includes the capacity for using P25 digital technology and encryption capability in addition to the current Marine VHF frequencies.. The system will also allow the simultaneous monitoring of multiple VHF channels, enhanced clarity, and support of Digital Selective Calling (a system for transmitting GPS enabled distress messages). It will also close gaps in coastal coverage areas. Rescue 21 also incorporates an integrated direction finding system. Another interesting feature of the Rescue 21 System is that it provides portable, deployable towers and equipment for the restoration of communications in the aftermath of disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, and Ike. This will quickly allow the Coast Guard to re-establish their communications both within the agency, with other agencies, and with the public during an emergency or post-disaster.

A map of Rescue 21 coverage: Green areas indicate locations in which Rescue 21 is operational; the dots indicate tower locations and the circles indicate tower coverage. The blue areas indicate future Rescue 21 locations. (Diagram from the General Dynamics C4 Systems website)

A diagram of how the Rescue 21 system works utilizing multiple tower sites, and portable towers and equipment. Note the Disaster Recovery System (the deployable towers and equipment mentioned above) on the left hand side of the diagram.

What does this mean for the radio hobbyist? At this point, based on my monitoring experience, it means three things (Note that following applies to communications involving USCG Station Tybee and the MH-65s from USCG Air Station Savannah):

1. You will hear less on the Marine VHF frequencies. Station Tybee has been communicating with its surface assets on federal VHF frequencies that are used by the Rescue 21 system. Some communications with USCG surface assets are still on Marine VHF Ch. 21 (157.050 MHz) and currently all communications with USCG Auxiliary assets and aviation assets remain on Marine VHF frequencies. A list of these frequencies will follow at the end of this article.
2. You will hear an increased amount of P25 digital voice communications with the Rescue 21 system. You will also hear an increased amount of encrypted traffic. Almost all of the transmission I’ve heard from Station Tybee on their new operating channel have been digital encrypted. On the other hand, almost all of the transmissions from the surface assets have been digital in the clear.
3. Because the Rescue 21 system uses both frequencies in the Federal VHF range and digital voice technology, you may have to get some new radio equipment if you want to listen to the Coast Guard. Not all scanners will receive the Federal VHF frequency range (16# – 17# MHz) and many will not receive the P25 digital voice mode. Almost all VHF/UHF Amateur Radio equipment is not P25 digital capable (I believe that Alinco makes some that are capable and it should be noted that the Icom D-Star protocol and P25 are not compatible). Radios like the Radio Shack Pro-96, Pro-106, Pro-197, Uniden BC396 and BC996, and GRE PR-500 and PR-600 are radios that can monitor the unencrypted digital transmissions.

In addition to the common Marine VHF frequencies that are used by the US Coast Guard, you will need to monitor some new frequencies for the Rescue 21 system. Station Tybee has been utilizing Net 113 as the operating channel in recent weeks. The channels are designated with NET 1# and 1## numbers. The frequencies are identical for each 1#/1## combination; the two digit designator indicates analog voice use and the three digit number created by the addition of a one at the beginning indicates digital voice use.

Rescue 21 “NET” Channels
NET 01/101 – 139.9750
NET 02/102 – 140.4750
NET 03/103 – 140.7250
NET 04/104 – 141.6125
NET 05/105 – 150.7250
NET 06/106 – 141.5500
NET 07/107 – 150.3000
NET 08/108 – 162.0500
NET 09/109 – 162.1250
NET 10/110 – 162.2500
NET 11/111 – 162.3250
NET 12/112 – 163.0500
NET 13/113 – 163.1375
NET 14/114 – 164.3000
NET 15/115 – 164.3125
NET 16/116 – 164.5500
NET 17/117 – 164.5625
NET 18/118 – 164.9000
NET 19/119 – 164.9125
NET 20/120 – 165.2625
NET 21/121 – 165.3125
NET 22/122 – 165.3250
NET 23/123 – 165.3375
NET 24/124 – 166.1875
NET 25/125 – 167.9000
NET 26/126 – 168.8625
NET 27/127 – 171.2375
NET 28/128 – 172.3125

One of Rescue 21’s calling cards is Interoperability. This is achieved through the addition of two more sets of frequencies: the VHF Federal Law Enforcement interoperability channels and the VHF Incident Response channels. Both sets are common interoperability frequencies that other federal, state, and local agencies have access to. The Law Enforcement frequencies are designated with “LE” and the Incident Response frequencies are designated with “IR.” LE-1 through LE-5 are duplex channels, LE Alpha and LE-6 through LE-9 are simplex channels. IR-1 through IR-4 are duplex channels, IR-5 through IR-9 are simplex channels (You can look them up in the NIFOG, link below for input frequencies). Station Tybee has been heard using LE-A in recent months.

VHF Law Enforcement (LE)
LE-A – 167.0875 (simplex)

LE-1 – 167.0875

LE-2 – 167.2500

LE-3 – 167.7500

LE-4 – 168.1125

LE-5 – 168.4625

LE-6 – 167.2500 (simplex)

LE-7 – 167.7500 (simplex)

LE-8 – 168.1125 (simplex)

LE-9 – 168.4625 (simplex)
VHF Incident Response (IR)

IR-1 – 170.0125

IR-2 – 170.4125

IR-3 – 170.6875

IR-4 – 173.0375

IR-5 – 169.5375 (simplex) – Calling

IR-6 – 170.0125 (simplex)

IR-7 – 170.4125 (simplex)

IR-8 – 170.6875 (simplex)

IR-9 – 173.0375 (simplex)

Sources:
General Dynamics C4 Systems Website
http://www.gdc4s.com/content/detail.cfm?item=816a4a1c-1316-4879-adff-430e9f7972fa

The Monitoring Times “MT Fed Files” Blog by Chris Parris
http://mt-fedfiles.blogspot.com/2009_05_31_archive.html

USCG Rescue 21 Website and Rescue 21 Fact Sheet
http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg9/rescue21/
http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg9/programs/pdf/r21factsheet.pdf

US Department of Homeland Security National Interoperability Field Operations Guide (NIFOG)
http://www.dhhs.state.nc.us/dhsr/EMS/pdf/NIFOG.pdf

Loggerhead Turtle Research Communications

Most nights lately, the Savannah NWR Complex Skidaway Repeater on 172.450 (P25 Digital) has been active with loggerhead turtle researchers working on Wassaw Island at the Wassaw Island NWR. You can hear them passing turtle counts, turtle movements, and information about nests.

Mac McCormick III, KF4LMT
kf4lmt@comcast.net

Road Trip Report: Fort Frederica National Monument and Kingsland, GA

Earlier today I took a trip to St. Simon’s Island to visit the Fort Frederica National Monument. After visiting Fort Frederica, I went down to Kingsland, GA to try listening to the Department of Defense (DOD) Southeast Regional TRS (a 380-400 Mhz P25 system). While I was at Fort Frederica, I put my BC 396 into Close Call mode in an attempt to find any frequencies the Park Service might be using there. Close Call found nothing, but it appears that the park does use VHF, as there was a VHF quarterwave on top of a park vehicle in the parking lot.

Along the way I did some mobile Public Safety, Federal, and Military monitoring. This report covers the part of the trip outside of the immediate Savannah area (Chatham and Bryan counties). As usual, I didn’t monitor very much law enforcement activity.

Military Aviation
BLADE 23/24 (F/A-18A+, VMFA-115) were up on SEALORD’s North Primary 284.500 checking in with SEALORD and pushed to W-157 Discrete frequency 385.300 for air combat training. They were using 225.675 for air-to-air, which very well might be their new Tac 2 frequency. 225.675 was first noted in use while the BLADEs were at Avon Park last week; usage there and since the returned to Beaufort seem to indicate that it has replaced 320.200 as their Tac 2 frequency.

CD 1## flights (T-45, VT-7) were working with an unknown aircraft carrier for carrier landing training. They were on SEALORD’s South Primary frequency 267.500 and were working each other and unknown station on 233.750 (referred to as Button 15). They mentioned a Button 1, but I was driving and couldn’t run a search while driving.

US Coast Guard
There was activity from Sector Charleston’s area on Marine VHF Ch. 21, 157.050 and from Sector Jacksonville on Marine VHF Ch. 23, 157.150. On 157.050, Sector Charleston was in communication with USCGC Tarpon and COAST GUARD 41354 was in communication with Station Brunswick.

Liberty County Public Safety
As usual, Liberty County Fire Dispatch on 154.205 (PL 136.5) and Liberty County EMS Dispatch on 155.160 (PL 103.500) were active. I never can get over how good the signal from that 154.205 repeater is and how good it’s coverage area is.

FLETC TRS
The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center VHF TRS was pretty much quiet this morning except for occasional radio traffic from Security on TG 64000. For more information on the FLETC System, check the out the system profile on RadioReference.

Glynn County Public Safety
Glynn County Fire Department and Brunswick Fire Departments were very active this morning. The Glynn County FD 1 talkgroup (TG 2000) and Brunswick FD 1 talkgroup (TG 1488) were busy along with 154.385, which was simulcasting dispatches from the Glynn County FD 1 talkgroup. The SEGRMC 1 talkgroup (TG 2960) was active throughout the morning with Ambulance to ER traffic. For more info on the Glynn County TRS, check out the system profile on RadioReference.

Camden County Public Safety
Camden County Fire/EMS Dispatch on 155.880 (PL 118.800) was active with a few dispatches, but the Fire/EMS side of things seemed to be pretty quiet in Camden County this morning.

When I came down the offramp from I-95 southbound to Exit 3 in Kingsland, I was jolted by the sight of what I thought was a Savannah Chatham Metropolitan PD car sitting in the grass at the bottom of the ramp. As I came closer, however I noticed that the car was Kingsland PD car. It was practically identical to an SCMPD car except the lettering (identical in font) read Kingsland Police Department instead of Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department. Otherwise, the striping and lettering style was identical.

Kings Bay NSB TRS
As expected on a weekend, the Kings Bay NSB TRS was pretty quiet except for the Police and Fire Department. I was able to monitor an interesting incident that arose from someone attempting to grill (yes, a food grill…) in one of the bathrooms of a barracks building. Police 1 (TG 368) was busy with 2## and 4## units working 200 (Dispatch) and Fire 1 (TG 1104) was busy with ENGINE # and PORTABLE #. For more info on the Kings Bay NSB TRS, check out the system profile on RadioReference.

DOD Southeastern Region TRS
The main reason I went down to Kingsland after visiting Fort Frederica was to see if there was any activity on the DOD Southeastern Region TRS site at Kings Bay. 386.275 was active with a 9600 baud control channel, but I never heard any talkgroup activity on it. All of the Kings Bay activity I heard was on the Kings Bay TRS. For more info on this system, including the other sites, check out the system profile on RadioReference.

Mac McCormick, KF4LMT
kf4lmt@comcast.net