Digital Communications


The Winlink Global Email®️ system is the primary digital communications tool used by Pinellas ACS/ARES® during all activation events. The following description of the Winlink Global Email®️ system is provided on the Winlink website. The Winlink computer program is maintained by the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation, Inc.

“…A network of amateur radio and authorized government-licensed stations that provides worldwide radio email using radio pathways where the internet is not present. The system is built, operated and administered entirely by licensed [Amateur Radio] volunteers. It supports email with attachments, position reporting, weather and information bulletins, and is well-known for its role in interoperable emergency and disaster relief communications. It is capable of operating completely without the internet–automatically–using smart-network radio relays. Licensed Winlink operators/stations use both amateur radio and government radio frequencies worldwide.”

During an activation event or exercise, a Winlink digital net will be established to support the exchange of information between the Pinellas County EOC, evacuation shelters, hospitals, and any location where a high volume of message traffic is anticipated. Several key features are listed below.

  • Support for both VHF and HF communications
  • Support for Packet, VARA, ARDOP, Pactor, and Iridium protocols
  • Create, send, and receive message using built-in NIMS ICS forms
  • Import, send, and receive photographs
  • Exchanges messages addressed to/from Amateur Radio Call Signs, Tactical, and external email addresses (e.g., gmail, yahoo, etc.)


VARA Chat is a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) text messaging and file transfer program developed by Jose Alberto Nieto Ros, EA5HVK. It works in conjunction with the VARA HF and VARA FM software modems on HF and VHF/UHF respectively.


The Automatic Packet Reporting System™ (APRS) is used to report position data from ACS/ARES® units in the field, real-time weather information from amateur radio weather stations, and bulletins of interest to the community. APRS also supports a text messaging capability between APRS enabled units. Computer software, such as APRSIS32, can be used to display this information on a map of the region.

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