Right after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, DC there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about dirty bomb attacks. The idea was bad actors would get their hands on some radioactive material, mix it with conventional explosives. This would cause panic and people to flee, potentially in large numbers. Having reliable ways to get messages out to other areas, such as Duluth, MN (120 miles away) was key. (500,000 people on the way in cars- prepare cots). My experience with the passing of voice relay messages was that it works but was not time critical.
I was talking to K0LAV who did some work with packet radio (AX.25) and decided on a unique frequency (145.67 MHz) back in the peak days (1980s) of AX.25 and BBS systems. BBS to BBS mail forwarding worked, but bogged down with large file attachments. The pounding away for hours of a large file on a 1200bps radio link made a strong impression on me.
I put up station on 145.670 MHz, using a Kantronics Terminal Node Controller (TNC). I heard a few stations nearby and a mystery one, MNCCC7. After some digging around, MNCCC7 was from Askov, just south of Duluth. It was heard a few times a day, most days at my modest home station. An idea was born- if we added more powerful, commercial grade nodes, say 30 miles apart we could build a wide area network that was semi reliable.
The idea took off and we ended up with a meeting with the Minnesota Department of Health. The big need – to reach remote, outstate public health offices. The MDH person was not impressed by our 1917 era radiogram form by the way. The packet idea took off, and we ended up buying a former AT&T microwave site in Little Falls, MN which was on a hill blocking packet signals from St Cloud to Brainerd. The MDH sent me to give a poster presentation with them at the Public Health Preparedness Summit in 2007 in Washington, DC. There was discussion of vaccine distribution, and we had a signed MOU.
Here is a map of the current system. Minneapolis has three powerful core nodes on commercial sites with emergency power- MAPLE, MPLSMN and MPLSDN. At least one has been online 100% of the time since 2005. Some trivia- the network was used for the Superbowl. We plan to keep it running as long as there is some use. It uses commercial sites, unmodified Kantronics TNCs- (KPC-3s and KAMs) and radios with transmit timeout timers. We do not allow BBS to BBS traffic forwarding on 145.67, (it acts like a denial of service attack- flooding of packets) but you can access a BBS. There is a smaller backup backbone on 145.01. Duluth has some 9600 bps activity.
We have some 145.67>145.01 dual port stations, such as MNWBL. There are plans to add more VARA on the same nodes/routes/sites (145.07) and even mesh. The route to Rochester is close to done. A goal is a route to Fargo for flooding support. The MSP>Duluth and MSP>Brainerd routes are solid. There are regular discussions of a mesh route to Rochester to support the Mayo Clinic. We own the needed sites.