Packet Radio
Back With A New Purpose

In an emergency, voice communications is great for short tactical messages, but it becomes painfully slow when moving larger amounts of information such as lists of names or supplies. In the 1980s, Amateurs were rapidly developing and deploying a technology that would be suitable for moving large amounts of text information, they called it Packet Radio.

Packet radio is almost dead in normal Amateur use, but it is making its way into emergency communications, driven by two realities which limit the ability of amateur radio to provide effective communications in an emergency;

  1. Limited throughput of voice
  2. Limited availability of resources (Amateurs)

The original packet enthusiasts correctly pointed out that packet could move information far more efficiently than voice. However like most amateur technology, it was available for use in an emergency, but there was limited design consideration for emergency communications. While packet radio use declined due to its limited backbone speed and the rise of the Internet, setting up a 1200 baud data link from a shelter and sending information as text messages is still impressive, even today.

The Emergency Measures Radio Group is establishing a project to investigate, design and implement a dedicated packet radio network to provide communications between key emergency centres in Ottawa. There will be a set of fixed locations such as the City's Emergency Operations Centre, the Ottawa Red Cross and the EMRG communications centre, plus a set of portable stations that can be set up as shelters or other temporary sites.

The emergency packet network will be open to all amateurs when not in use by EMRG, but the design will be driven by the need to establish a dedicated packet network to provide emergency communications in Ottawa. The number of nodes will be limited, but there will be a gateway connection to allow traffic to or from neighbouring ARES groups in an emergency.

Some preliminary investigation and equipment collecting has been done, but there is a need for more equipment and people to make this happen. One node software solution that has promise is called FlexNet. This is a German software solution, which is currently in widespread use in the Eastern US. The one issue is that the Nodes require a true TAPR-2 compatible TNC such as the AEA PK-80, PacComm TNC-200, Tiny-2, Spirit or MFJ 1270 series. If anyone has a TAPR-2 TNC they would like to donate to this project, it would be greatly appreciated. Any TNC, including Kantronics and Timewave, can be deployed at the end user stations.

There will be a planning meeting in early April, so if you want to learn more, provide some feedback or donate some equipment, please watch the EMRG web site (, or send an e-mail to Peter Gamble More information about this project is available on the EMRG web site under the Packet Radio section;