The HEARS network is made up of twenty UHF & VHF repeaters across three states. A large portion of the network was initially funded by grants to improve interoperable communications.
In building the HEARS network, we built a system that is reliable, redundant and easily maintained. We chose proven commercial equipment that was familiar and simple to work on, if necessary. The system is component based, in that if one part fails, the whole repeater system doesn’t have to be replaced – only the failed part, if it cannot be repaired. The NC repeaters have been on the air for over seven years and we have only seen one failure, a link radio receiver went bad. Pretty remarkable for a large amateur radio link system. Through regular preventative maintenance we’ve been able to identify a few issues that we know would have cost us $ if not resolved early. Overall, we’ve been very fortunate.
The majority of the VA repeaters of HEARS were initially funded by the Near Southwest Preparedness Alliance (NSPA). The NSPA is a coalition to support healthcare infrastructure in Southwestern VA with disaster preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation resources. Recently NSPA provided funding to overhaul several of the VA repeater sites, replacing aging equipment that is way beyond end-of-life. Over the next several months, the Warm Springs, Peaks Knob, Dismal Peak, Tinker Mountain & Poor Mountain sites will see improvements. Two new sites near Martinsville & Farmville will also be added to the network.
We are often asked “What does it take to put up a repeater?” There are two “costs”. There is the obvious initial capital financial cost, and then there are the significant man-hours involved and the incidental and recurring costs to maintain a repeater.
The equipment for every site varies depending on site requirements, but a typical repeater system consists of the following components.
- Power Supply
- Power Amplifier
- Multi-port repeater controller
- Link Radio
- Link Antenna
- Repeater Antenna
- Coax, jumpers, connectors
- RF attenuators/filters
- Labor to climb tower
Depending on the site and the funding for the site, some parts are donated, some are purchased used and some are purchased brand new.
Typical cost of a HEARS repeater system install: $4,000 – $12,000.
Many hours are spent planning the system. This includes site visits, repeater system & link path study and analysis, phone calls, meetings and site procurement work.
Then the repeater equipment is procured. Once all the equipment has arrived, 20-40 hours are spent building the repeater system. This includes preparation of equipment and parts, designing, programming, assembling, racking, testing, soldering, alignment, breaking – then fixing something, testing again and troubleshooting.
Once the repeater system is ready, it’s time to install it. Honestly, one of the biggest hurdles is finding a hole in everyone’s busy schedule to plan a site visit. Once a plan is in place, we just pray for good weather!
Sometimes all the repeater system parts fit in one vehicle. With equipment plus 2-3 people, a second or third vehicle is sometimes needed. Along with the repeater equipment, other items must be transported to the site such as tools and test equipment. Most site visits require 2-6 hours round-trip travel time. Most site visits consist of a 6-16 hour day with travel time. Fuel cost to visit sites, for both initial installation and maintenance trips adds up quickly.
We have managed for almost 10 years to keep site operating costs (recurring costs) out of the picture, but that is no longer the case. Recently one of the site owners of a wide-area coverage HEARS repeater has asked for a small monthly lease fee to help cover the electric bill. We don’t want to lose a site in the HEARS network, especially one with wide-area coverage. By the same token, a few individuals can’t afford to shoulder all the costs to keep a 20+ repeater system operating.
This is where we are asking for some help.
For many years we have covered the incidental costs associated with maintaining HEARS by simply paying them out-of-pocket. This includes, but is not limited to, fuel to travel to sites for installation & maintenance, website domain & hosting costs and incidental repairs and improvements to the equipment and sometimes the site.
We have set up a PayPal account to accept donations. Any donation is completely voluntary – there is still no membership fee or dues to utilize the HEARS network. If you’re able to help out now, in the future, or both it will be appreciated. All funds collected will strictly be used to maintain the HEARS network beginning July 1, 2016.
If you wish to donate but don’t have PayPal, simply send an email to email@example.com and we will give you the address to mail your donation.
Thanks for taking the time to read. We hope everyone appreciates the hard work and what goes into having a linked repeater network. We also hope everyone will consider donating regularly to ensure it remains on the air.
–The HEARS Team