The Siren Board

Discussion of Outdoor Warning Systems
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 21, 2019 5:57 pm 
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Real Name: Jacob Green
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Hi all, Jacob here.

I know I'm not here too often (I promise to change that,) but as a licensed amateur radio operator and a siren enthusiast for over ten years, I feel that this needs to be addressed. (Mods: if there is a post of this sort that already exists, or feel that this post doesn't belong on the board, please let me know.)

Many of us are excited when we head out with our gear and radios to go out and film a siren test. Many systems across the country use two-tone activation, DTMF, digital modes such as PSK31, FSK and so on. The flaw in this is that people can receive these tones over a scanner and replicate them to trigger the system.

It's easier than EM directors think when they're setting up the system in their municipality for someone to activate the system with malicious intent; but there are ways that it can also be prevented.

The recent situations in DeSoto and Lancaster, Texas, along with what seems to be a myriad of other false activations, or "hacktivations," are prime examples of this. Here are some thoughts that I've put down on paper over the past couple of years on this topic. Since this has come to be a fairly popular topic for discussion on the Facebook page, this should help clarify what could be done.

I am aware that Lancaster and DeSoto have taken their systems offline indefinitely due to the false activations, which I find rather outrageous, but it is after all their decision. I think that it is a tragedy that these activations have led EM directors to this point.

As a licensed amateur radio operator, I know that there are a few ways to make activation protocol more secure. This may sound like gibberish to most, but someone may find this useful. Both of these would require the EM office to make significant changes to their radio equipment (which I know would be out of the question.)

First and most importantly, some systems have their frequencies listed on sites like Radio Reference - which is where I believe the individuals who caused a majority of these activations retrieved their information. I personally feel that this information should not be available for public access for this exact reason. Frequencies for the system in Dallas County are listed on RadioReference - which is where DeSoto and Lancaster reside.

The sub-audible tone/ CTCSS tone (Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System) on an FM transmission's carrier acts as a password of sorts. If this tone is not present on a transmitted carrier, the receiver will ignore it. CTCSS is used on repeaters across the nation to avoid harmful interference, and lets the repeater act as if it is in "closed channel" operation. This could be applied to warning siren systems also; think about it this way - If a system's receivers have a carrier squelch tone set to only accept that carrier of the transmitter, this would likely assist in keeping malicious activations to a minimum. I also feel that this would be the most effective method.

Operate on a higher frequency. Most, if not all systems in the US are now radio controlled, and operate in the VHF Business band (155MHz) or UHF Commercial band (470MHz.) Many scanners can receive in this range, and it is easy to find a transmitter and antenna to fit this bill. Business band transceivers are readily available for purchase to anyone - this is something that we simply can't help. However, it is more difficult for someone to find a scanner or transceiver that operates in the 1.2GHz range. I am aware that it would save money to operate on the 155/470 bands, but this would be another way to prevent malicious activations.

The FCC has recently taken action on this as well, however they are looking at man-made harmful interference as a whole. The FCC has issued a ban on the sale of transceivers that are not Part 90 certified. Part 90 of the FCC rules states that any transceiver cannot transmit outside of the allocated US Band Plan from the factory; which many of the Baofeng radios can do out of the box. The Baofeng UV5R and UV5R v2+ are prime examples; they can transmit on any frequency on which they can receive (136-174MHz and 400-520MHz.) It is possible to even transmit in the NOAA VHF Broadcast band, and send out false warning messages. These radios may seem harmless, but coupled with a high-gain antenna at a high altitude, the damage that these radios can do is catastrophic.

My point in this is folks, let's be very careful with what we do. It is fantastic if you want to include activation tones in your videos, in fact I am not against it.

However, do not show your scanner in the video or include the frequency on which the system operates in the video description. It is important that you keep that information to yourself if you happen to find it.

Please, please, please be sure to be careful with what you know.

Thanks for taking the time to read, I hope this helps in clarifying a few things.

Cheers!

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ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT MALICIOUS ACTIVATIONS


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 21, 2019 8:53 pm 
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Real Name: Marco P
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Thank you for this wonderful post.
It's been said time and time again, but still things like this happen.

What a shame, that Lancaster and desoto had to take their systems offline indefinitely because of this. that someone wanted to jeopardize their towns safety to play a prank

Human beings are very self centered sometimes.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 22, 2019 5:23 am 
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Real Name: Ethan B
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Yeah, it just makes me sick that the hackers want to play some kind of joke it's not funny at all it is serious and it causes panic and confusion and leads to many bad things. I have removed the tones from my videos I only had a few siren videos with tones I removed them when I found out about the Dallas siren hack in 2017 but when I do use a scanner to listen for siren tones I make sure to cut them out of the video. I hope these hackers come to their senses and realize what they did was wrong and because of the hackers, the sirens aren't able to warn of any severe weather anymore which Is bad. I am hoping the security in siren activation gets more secure.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 22, 2019 11:32 am 
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Real Name: Kurt
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CanadianTbolt1003 wrote: *
. I am hoping the security in siren activation gets more secure.
This is why my municipality uses a trunked frequency for siren activation, as we use a custom FS Commander computer based activation system programmed to use DTMF tones instead of the typical AFSK which is more secure...not sure why my town did this, but I’m sure they have their reasons for it as it’s a custom software reprogram they have to do to change it.

Which means that when I install four refurbed ACA Allertors here later this year, I have to have FFS come out and fit FCTBD’s on them... and I’d have to anyways because the only controls the township im getting them from is providing to us is the old motor starters...which is gonna be a pain to figure out but thankfully the two way FC’s are built to just activate and control a siren with all the existing controls being a motor starter.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 22, 2019 11:43 am 
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I agree with everything in the PSA, but i'm still going to include tones in my videos, but with background noise or sound effects placed over them, or extremely quiet. I think it's nice to have them in a video, to show what sort of a system the county/city/district has, but they should be kept to a dull roar in videos. Off-Camera, however, it's always nice to listen to all the different tones, hence my signature.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 22, 2019 4:32 pm 
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[url]https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/h ... ?amp=y[url]

Welp another system bites the dust due to hacking. They're not just deactivating the sirens but they're actually going to remove the sirens and depend on phones and radios. :(

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 22, 2019 5:44 pm 
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BBoi00 wrote: *
[url]https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/h ... ?amp=y[url]

Welp another system bites the dust due to hacking. They're not just deactivating the sirens but they're actually going to remove the sirens and depend on phones and radios. :(
Man that sucks, i wonder why the hackers want to hack into the siren system, there's no point for it.

also what are they gonna do with the sirens are they moving them to other towns?


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2019 3:49 am 
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Real Name: Kurt
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I will point out that their reporting was rife with errors. As a fellow journalist myself, this makes me cringe to be honest.
Quote:
The system dates back to the 1950s and while the cost of an upgrade is still being determined, it is expected to cost "well in excess of" $100,000, according to officials.

Given the age, complexity, and significant shortfalls of this archaic system, it is not prudent to continue to invest in a system that was created before the advent of modern communication,” the city’s release states. “When these systems were relied upon, 24 hour weather and news channels did not exist.
I've highlighted several of the errors. They'll be pretty clear to any siren enthusiast as well.

Using vocabulary like "archaic" is simply a wrong term to use here. "Archaic" is an adjective which means "very old or old-fashioned". If I'm not mistaken, most of Harvard's system is (or I suppose I could start using the past tense of was here now) comprised of Whelens. Their Whelens can't be any older than at least 2006 or newer, given that they have mostly newer Vortexes and an OmniAlert. They have a couple ACA Screamers, but even those can't be any older than the 80's, and while I guess that was a long time ago, it's not long enough to invoke the use of such vocabulary. Just use "old", it sounds good enough. Readers want facts, not a story that has been "beefed up" with added vocabulary to invoke a desired effect, that's placing a bias on the journalism done here, which is just wrong.

"The system dates back to the 1950s." This is again the result of someone not doing their homework here. None of the equipment in Harvard is even that old, so don't even get me started on that one...heck, it wasn't till 1970 that Whelen started making outdoor sirens. We have a few very old sirens around here, some of which are from the 1920's; now those would be best described as antiquated (they don't even use radios for the most part), one system still uses timers and the other is manually activated.

And lastly, 24 hour news updates DID exist... back in the day they even broadcast weather bulletins (while terribly inaccurate for the most part). Although I'll give them the 24 hour weather part, the people were there monitoring the weather, but nobody was there to actually broadcast it overnight.

A little off topic here, but those errors really make me cringe for some reason. Even my reporting is much more on-point and better than that, and every article I write goes through several rounds of editing and fact-checking to make sure everything is accurate before publication.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2019 7:14 pm 
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Real Name: Alexis Trinquet
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I feared that this would happen, I heard loads of stories about these "hacks" happening... I wonder if giving up land-line was truly a good idea..... If no solution is found, then we're right headed into problems in the upcoming future.


WindowsWhistler2419 wrote: *
BBoi00 wrote: *
[url]https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/h ... ?amp=y[url]

Welp another system bites the dust due to hacking. They're not just deactivating the sirens but they're actually going to remove the sirens and depend on phones and radios. :(
Man that sucks, i wonder why the hackers want to hack into the siren system, there's no point for it.

also what are they gonna do with the sirens are they moving them to other towns?
Most likely they'll end up at the scrapper :(

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2019 2:00 am 
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Real Name: Connor Fink
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Darley Champion wrote: *
I feared that this would happen, I heard loads of stories about these "hacks" happening... I wonder if giving up land-line was truly a good idea..... If no solution is found, then we're right headed into problems in the upcoming future.


WindowsWhistler2419 wrote: *
BBoi00 wrote: *
[url]https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/h ... ?amp=y[url]

Welp another system bites the dust due to hacking. They're not just deactivating the sirens but they're actually going to remove the sirens and depend on phones and radios. :(
Man that sucks, i wonder why the hackers want to hack into the siren system, there's no point for it.

also what are they gonna do with the sirens are they moving them to other towns?
Most likely they'll end up at the scrapper :(
I may need some proof about this, but some of my folks saw this live in NBC 5, and there was a snippet that said one unit may be put into a museum!

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