March 07, 2015

NBEMS connects Hams in Emergencies

Software for emergencies
Emergencies breed chaos. Planning helps to minimize it. Let's face it, chaos and confusion will always be a part of emergencies, but knowing what tools to will use and being familiar with how they work can go along way to reducing the stress and urgency of responding to sudden situations. Recently, at a club meeting, I was giving a brief overview of how we might respond in an upcoming emergency drill. One of the hams in the room admitted, my overview when right over his head. I'm certain he wasn't alone. Now is the best time to learn.

So when an emergency happens, what tools will you use? Part of the joy of ham radio is the fact that it is such a varied and diverse hobby. There are dozens of modes, hundreds of radios, and an infinite number of frequencies to use. How will anyone ever communicate with anyone else?  That's where NBEMS steps in.

The Narrow Band Emergency Messaging System (or NBEMS) is a suite of software that connects hams in emergency situations. It provides a single set of programs and operating concepts that can unify a group of hams. NBEMS is based upon the idea of keeping the things cheap, using simple,
open source software (as much as possible), not having to depend upon infrastructure and be able to work on and any radio and any computer (even an Android phone!). Additionally, NBEMS should be enjoyable, since people will be more likely to get familiar with the NBEMS if it is fun to use between drills and disasters.

The backbone of NBEMS is Fldigi, along with Flmsg and Flamp. These are used to create form-based messages and pass them from one station to the next. Other components, like Winlink or FSQCall may also be used to compliment the NBEMS core software.

The ARRL has a couple of excellent presentations (in PDF format) that covers NBEMS in great detail. Any ham who has an interest in emergency communications (and really, we all should) can learn more by viewing these presentations and then simply downloading the software and trying it out!