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Passaic County Fair 2015

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Passaic County Fair 2015

AREDN at the Passaic County Fair 2015


J. Gordon Beattie, Jr., W2TTT



Our group of RACES/ARES operators has supported the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department’s mission of helping improve security at the annual County Fair by taking on an evolving set of communications support functions over a period of many years.  These missions began as straightforward, “eyes and ears/communicate” task and then grew to provide communications support for the CERT, county employees and Fair Committee staff over an Amateur Radio tactical net on the County-owned 440mhz repeater system.   Over the years, the role of Amateur Radio operators has grown to include running a tactical net on public safety channels, management of  a UHF radio cache for professional and volunteer components including the Sheriff’s officers, county employees, CERT, Search and Rescue, and other agencies such as the Prosecutor’s Office. 

In the last few years we have expanded our “eyes and ears” mission by managing public safety cameras over the wireless Internet and Amateur Radio cameras over Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network (AREDN) systems and support of the general Information Technology and network requirements on the Fair site.

Fair Management Complex

In order to manage the various operational and support functions of the Fair in a smooth manner, the diverse assets and leadership staff for each key management component have been arranged into a joint Fair Management Complex.  This complex consisted of the Sheriff’s Field Communications vehicle (FIELDCOM), a trailer for the County Fair management staff, a CERT trailer divided into CERT and communications technical operations areas, and a stand-alone communications tower trailer that also provided space for tools and spare equipment storage.  These assets were placed in a secure “quad” formation allowing for easy physical access by authorized personnel and in-person coordination when it was required. 
A wide variety of communications means were supported from the Sheriff’s FIELDCOM and CERT vehicles including POTS, cellular voice, cellular data and video, AREDN VOIP, data and video, net control operators for tactical nets on Amateur Radio and Public Safety bands, situational awareness video, weather radar monitoring and supplementary weather information provided from off-site by George Sabbi, KC2GLG.  The team also provided an on-site backup Amateur Radio repeater, Ethernet and telephone cabling, and even made up removable LED light kits for about a dozen staff golf carts.
Cabling was installed among the Fair Management Complex vehicles for Ethernet and phones and terminated in the FIELDCOM patch panels.  In FIELDCOM we had a POTS to cellular gateway to provide “landline” phones in each vehicle and computers to monitor the public safety cameras over the Verizon 3G data card embedded in a router.  These systems supported three public safety camera platforms placed at entrances and other areas determined by the Unified Command to be security-sensitive.  We then added an additional set of cameras supported over an AREDN system for additional safety and situational awareness capabilities throughout the fair grounds.


Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network

In the Fair Management Complex, we deployed a pair of Ubiquiti AREDN nodes on 2.4 GHz (channel -2 @ 5 MHz) and 918 MHz (@ 5 MHz).  These were mounted on the top of the W2TTT communications tower trailer to reach out to outlying parking lots.  Each of these Ubiquiti nodes were wired to an AREDN switch in FIELDCOM. We also deployed and connected a Linksys WRT54GS node on 2.4 GHz (channel 3, @20 MHz) to support remote cameras in key areas such as the main pedestrian entrance and bus stop.  This node also provided high speed wireless access to the Internet for the communications staff via an AT&T Wireless 4G/LTE access card provided by Gordon Beattie, W2TTT.  This also enabled connectivity for the “Mesh Tunnel” that we used to allow Joe Ayers, AE6XE of the AREDN development team in California to “peek” into our network and give Mark Herson, N2MH a hand with configuration tuning.  This assistance was supported by Voice Over IP (VOIP) phones that were used by Joe and Mark.  These three nodes were all wired on DtD links through a Netgear GS108E “managed” switch in FIELDCOM.  This switch enabled us to connect additional computers to manage the network and observe the cameras throughout the Fair on an integrated network. 

Remote Deployment

Our network included Verizon Wireless for the public safety cameras in two areas, but was significantly augmented by the Amateur Radio video cameras operating on the AREDN mesh network system. 
Dave Henninger, N3UXK built a very useful communications trailer on which he built a four camera video server that was linked on 918 MHz from Parking Lot A.  Two of the four cameras were deployed on wired feeds from a separate tripod focused on Lot B.  His server was fed by inexpensive standard video cameras whose images were packaged by the server and fed back to FIELDCOM every few seconds as a single four image frame.  This gave us great views of these lots and the pedestrian traffic around those areas with low network overhead.  The RF path was supported by a pair of M9 Loco Nanostations.  The path between FIELDCOM and Lot A has a steep downhill grade and a lot of tree foliage.  When we did our pre-fair testing, the path worked well.  Then on the day before the Fair, we could not make it work due to path losses introduced by all the tents and vehicles on the fair grounds.  Oddly enough, we were able to make it work by bouncing a signal off the ground with a tower that was tilted half-way up!  Needless to say, that was unacceptable, so we opted to add another ten foot length of mast to the top of the tower, solving the issue!  Throughout the Fair, the link was very good and provided stable video.
Our next site was Parking Lot D which had its own challenges.  The path between Lot D and FIELDCOM features solid ground rising about 20 feet into the Fresnel zone of the 2.4 GHz antenna pattern and is topped by fifty or sixty feet of foliage, yet we were able to run a solid stream most of the time.   The Ubiquiti M2 Nanostation was supported by a Ubiquiti camera streaming full-motion video at 30 frames per second.    Every little while we did experience a network outage for a few seconds, but the recovery was always automatic and did not require manual intervention.  Finally, we decided to try to improve coverage by putting in a relay node with another camera along the path between Lot D and FIELDCOM and that worked 100%.
As a way to see if we could improve the connectivity from these lots, we deployed an M9 and an M2 back to back at a high spot called the “Crow’s Nest” at the north end of the fair grounds.  While it did provide some extra connectivity, it did not help improve coverage to the existing remote camera sites.  The OLSR traffic management scheme did not flow traffic through these nodes, but because it involved an extra hop.  In the future, we might consider methods to fix route selection to optimize traffic flow. 
Our last two AREDN nodes were Ubiquiti AirGrid 20s on 2.4 GHz (Channel 3 @ 20 MHz bandwidth).  Each supported a FOSCAM camera with a VGA quality video stream at 30 frames per second.  They were placed several hundred feet apart on opposite sides of a pedestrian entry/bus stop area.  They backed each other up by providing an alternative view into the unobstructed area behind the buses.  These cameras have exceptional IR capabilities which proved useful as day turned into night, and as buses and other vehicles blocked light sources.  The AirGrids themselves allowed us to deal with reflections and associated path degradation due to the tents, vehicles and rides of the Fair and to provide solid video service.

Next Steps

Next year, we plan to expand the deployment of AREDN system nodes on the fair grounds to make connectivity more solid, while enhancing the available bandwidth for additional Amateur Radio video platforms.  We also plan to add recording capabilities for these platforms.
We  also plan to leverage this demonstration of AREDN’s capabilities to allow us to deploy nodes in permanent sites around the county and adjacent areas in an expanding AREDN network. 
Because of the unexpected propagation characteristics of the 918 MHz and 2.4 GHz, channel -2 AREDN nodes, we plan to test paths between our homes and other more easily accessible sites to see if a viable RF network can be built without as much dependence on significantly elevated sites. 
Our capabilities will continue to expand as many technical elements built or enhanced for the Fair will be used for other events in the next twelve months.  As we continue to evolve, we expect that these advanced capabilities will become more reliable and more rapidly deployable.


The volunteer operation to support the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department was the brain-child of Lt. Mike Hoeft, K2MPH.  His superiors and fellow Sheriff’s Officers, including Cmdr. Rob Scott, KD2ION have graciously embraced, led and instructed the Amateur Radio Operators who have volunteered their time and talent in support of the Sheriff’s Department as if we were one of their own.  The amount of operational discretion allowed the Amateur Radio Operators was phenomenal and is based on years of joint operations and the trust that those experiences afford.

    Amateur Radio Emergency Data Networks are a hit with Public Safety Officials
“The members of the ARES/RACES group here in Passaic County have always demonstrated a high level of professionalism and technical skill.  The Passaic County Fair is one of the high-profile events that the group supports each year. The location, Garret Mountain Reservation, poses some logistical challenges that have been successfully overcome through the collaboration of law enforcement professionals and these dedicated volunteers.  As a member of the Unified Command for this event, it is relieving to know that highly-technical tasks, like establishing temporary wireless networks in places where no permanent infrastructure exists, can be accomplished in support of the public safety mission at the Fair and similar events.  This is a ‘can-do’ team that is always leaning forward, looking at technologies like AREDN to support our operations, and I am glad to have them as a resource I can always depend on”
Lt. Michael Hoeft K2MPH – Passaic County Sheriff’s Office
Passaic County Fair Unified Command Member and County RACES Officer


This is a highly tuned team that has deployed in a variety of training and real-life operational environments.  It takes planning, but also flexibility to overcome the glitches that present themselves.  Both the technologies employed and those who deployed or depended on them displayed those characteristics and made for a smooth professional operation.  I would like to thank all the members of the Amateur Radio community who participated before, during and after (Oh yes, there was an “after” which we will discuss at another time.) for all their efforts in making this event a success and a model for future operations.

K5DLQ's picture
Excellent article Gordon!

Excellent article Gordon!

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