Enough About Winlink Already!

The most important task that amateur Radio operators could be asked to perform in an emergency is … to send emails?

The amateur radio emergency preppers have circled their wagons around a technology called Winlink. This proprietary collection of software facilitates sending emails over radio. Those who live in the Winlink bubble have made sending emails the #1 priority in an emergency. But why? And what is an email anyway?

There are three components to an email: the metadata (headers: “from”, “to”, “subject” etc), the message body and attachments. The attachments in this context are often ICS (Incident Command System) forms. The attachments are the important part. The rest of the email is just the plain brown envelope. Outside the bubble the ICS forms can be sent in several different ways that do not involve email. But using email has become so ingrained in everyday life that bubble dwellers have maybe never sought to question it.

Okay, Winlink is a nice little program that is fun to use when the Sun is shining and the World is at peace. But is it really the “be all and end all” of emergency comms? Some advocates seem to think so.

It’s A Knockout!
In a real world major emergency Winlink would be as much use as a pocket knife in a gunfight. Its major flaw is that it depends on infrastructure that is quite likely to be unavailable. A true major emergency is a situation like a major loss of the power grid. It can be caused by unknown, trivial causes. All power to the entire northeast of the North American continent was knocked out for days just a few years ago. US and Canadian authorities engaged in finger pointing exercises and nobody wanted to accept responsibility. The damage was extensive and protracted.

A heavy ice storm knocked out power to the Province of Quebec when major trunk line pylons collapsed under the weight of the ice. It took weeks to restore power to large sections of the province.

Catch A Falling Star
“Scientists say” (a favourite expression of the media; used to convey an indisputable air of authority) we are overdue for another Carrington Event (“Carrington Event”? Google it). The last time it happened was in 1859 and it disrupted telegraph circuits (the Victorian equivalent of today’s Internet). If it happened again the World would come to a complete standstill. Power would stop. The Internet would be toast. Satellite communications would be non-existent; satellites would even fall out of orbit. Yes, literally, that was the fate of several satellites in the Starlink constellation during a relatively minor solar storm quite recently.

Never mind, say the cheerleaders for Winlink. “We can send emails by radio to somewhere where there is still available Internet”. Where? The Land of Far, Far Away? Beyond the Earth? Remember, satellites will have fallen out of the sky already and the Space Station would be a smoking ruin.

Current Trends
An extended global power outage automatically means no Internet, ergo no email. It might not even be caused by a major natural disaster (unless we count politicians as a major natural disaster – that’s plausible). Our political leaders are scoring brownie points by tilting at windmills in their attempts to “save the planet” with noble “net zero” ambitions. Everything is moving to electricity – even though there are no plans to dramatically increase reliable base load generating capacity to meet the massively increased demand from recharging electric cars and electrically powered home heating and cooking.

Discharging Your Duty to the Grid
Some countries are already looking at planned outages to deal with the electricity supply imbalance. New smart meters will allow the grid to suck power back out of your electric car batteries when the grid is overwhelmed by demand. Good luck with powering up your laptop or charging your smartphone.

Here Comes The Sun
If that massive ball of nuclear fusion a measly 93 million miles away doesn’t fry our civilization by hurling multi-megaton coronal mass ejections at us, our untimely demise as a civilization may be brought on by a massive cyber attack here on Earth. Nuclear wars are so final. Much better to cripple your victim nation by taking out their power grid by disabling the computers that run it. It is more than probable that there would be reciprocal action and that would bring about Mutually Assured Destruction of anything powered by electricity.

Sticks and Stones
However it happens, the apocalyptic demise of global power grids, accompanied by total failure of satellite communications and a big adios to the internet will drag our society back to the technology of pre-industrial times. Albert Einstein once famously said: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”. In conflicts of the early 20th Century two person teams were used to send telegraph signals from the battlefield. One team member was the telegrapher while the second team member used a hand-cranked generator to power the equipment. Forget Winlink, welcome to the technology of our imminent future.

4 thoughts on “Enough About Winlink Already!

  1. I disagree. Winlink is awesome and the odds the ENTIRE world will have no power is pretty slim to none. If Winlink RMS’s are fried thru some EMP event (nucular) or Carrington event, the odds are your modern radios will be the same unless you have them stored in a Farady cage. If your usual RMS is gone, you can always connect to another RMS. From Edmonton Alberta, I have connected to a Mexican RMS. I’m sure I can DX a RMS in Europe. If no RMS’s are around, you can do Peer-to-Peer to another Winlink station. I can go on and on. The big thing is using digital modes, you can send info faster, more reliable than thru voice and the ICS forms which Winlink provides prompt you for that pertinent info. Mike’s 2 pennies. 73 VE6HMG


    1. Thanks for the feedback Mike. I agree that Winlink is a very good system but there are alternatives like NBEMS that are non-proprietary, can also be used to send ICS forms and work with any operating system. I have used both Winlink and NBEMS. I admit that Winlink seems to be more popular.


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