Many Emergency Communications teams make use of the Winlink radio e-mail system to provide a backup, radio-based, e-mail system. Winlink can exchange messages to and from other amateur radio stations (call signs) and also with regular Internet e-mail addresses. A U/VHF radio, along with an attached TNC or soundcard interface, computer, and the Winlink Express client software (additional software is required for sound card interface operation), provide us with access to the amateur radio “last mile” connection to a Winlink Radio Message Server (RMS) gateway station. The Winlink system is normally a client/server system, similar to a regular Internet POP/SMTP e-mail system. Winlink RMS gateway stations connect to a Common Message Server (CMS) via the Internet to exchange messages with users. If the Internet fails at the RMS gateway station, the connection to the CMS can be rerouted via HF radio, or messages may be stored locally until the Internet connection is restored (this local storage function is not available on all RMS gateway stations). The state and county EOC’s and most city EOC’s have access to the Winlink system. Winlink Express is also capable of peer-to-peer connections with other local users for message transfer when an RMS Gateway station is not available.
Since the connection to the RMS gateway station is established over RF, the operator must select the correct call sign for the RMS gateway station and the correct operating frequency. This is different than a typical Internet e-mail system where the server connection is always the same. There are several RMS gateway stations in the Puget Sound, using different call signs, and on different frequencies. This provides redundancy during a disaster. If no RMS gateway station is available, a direct peer-to-peer connection can be used. This type of connection should be coordinated on a voice channel to ensure the connection settings are correct and the receiving station is ready.
Winlink Express can be installed on a personal computer, configured for your call sign, and configured to use an Internet connection (telnet) to transfer messages. There is no cost for the software (though donations are encouraged), which can be downloaded from the links below. EMCOMM members are encouraged to do this to gain more experience with these programs. EMCOMM members are also encouraged to obtain the necessary equipment to augment their personal Winlink stations to include radio capability.
Winlink Express also supports message templates to format message content, and also HTML (Web) forms which allow the use of detailed standardized forms that can be completed and attached to a message for delivery. These forms can then be displayed and printed at the receiving end.
Winlink was a highly discussed topic at the 2019 Comm Academy. Presentations from Scott Currie can be found here: