Amateur Radio and Situational Awareness

I am becoming more and more intrigued by Crisis Mapping and how Amateur Radio and Non-Amateur Radio Crowdsourcing may contribute to overcoming disasters.

Just came across this article:

and then went on to look at MapMill and signed up.

Now - how about porting that idea to data received by Amateur Radio Operators...?


  1. We already have it. It's called APRS. The problem is that most operators do not use APRS to its full or intended potential.

    APRS is not supposed to be just for position tracking. It's supposed to be a way to provide tactical information to an entire area of operations (AO). The information could include locations of certain operators but also locations of hospitals, EOCS, command posts; weather reports; and tactical data, such as a locations of major road closures, etc. It can also be sued to send important messages to the entire AO.

    Unfortunately, too many hams use it just to report position and maybe send some basic test messages and others over beacon, so we end up with stationary objects being beaconed every two minutes going to long digipeater paths. We end up with information from outside the AO coming in through mulit-hop digital paths.

    I've discussed with some other hams the idea of using something like UI View, Google Maps or Depiction mapping software to generate maps that combine social networking data (crowdsourcing) with APRS and governmnet GIS data. Each "layer" should be able to be turned on or off, depending on the viewer's need at the time. It would be basically like the Google crisis map but on steroids and with data from from APRS I-Gates.

    The hardest part is that it is infrastructure dependent, which would be problematic during a major crisis. APRS digipeaters can resolve that, but the volume of data needed to generate a "super map" would overcrowd the APRS frequency, causing packets to collide and rendering much of the data unreadable.

  2. Hi Teak,

    Thanks for your thoughts! The conceptional "problem" that I have with APRS is that it is essentially VHF/UHF based (implying dependency on repeaters) as I have read that the packet based APRS protocol (which does seem to have some HF gateways) is supposedly suboptimal on HF in various ways, biggest problem as I understand is the lossy transmission resulting in limited data volume which can be transmitted on a given channel. http://vk3.aprs.net.au/aprs_on_hf.htm I have the impression that is very usable for an individual off the beaten track, but not for any large scale high volume deployment as mentioned by you as well.

    Let's however go along with the assumption that APRS does have the bandwidth available to carry a lot of traffic. What does the non- APRS savvy (or equipped) HAM do who receives data from a crisis area? Who does he/she relay it to, under the assumption that that HAM on the receiving end has full infrastructure in place? I think that is the limitation of APRS. Don't get me wrong, I truly love the APRS functionality of my VX-8R, but when I have no gateway or digipeater within reach, I have to make do with HF voice, CW or data (if I have appropriate digital equipment with me). You could argue that having digital equipment with me would allow me to send APRS data as well, however with the caveats as above.

    But, I see that you have had similar thoughts as well!

    After reading this article:
    I thought that there could be a "universal" gateway into which all data that is received by HAMs, could be fed in to, also APRS data. Google (and apparently also other data providers) request data format to be ATOM, RSS or CAP http://www.google.org/crisisresponse/resources.html based in order to make it universally usable. Why go through the expenditure of purchasing the Depiction software when you just want to enter some data? As an EOC or high end user who actually has to use that data, the Depiction software is undoubtedly a more than useful tool.

    How about we brainstorm on how a universal HAM gateway could be construction?

    73 Marcus