Excellent EmComm tips from St. Louis Metro ARES/RACES

ARES LogoThe St. Louis (Mo.) ARES/RACES organization published some excellent tips for ham radio operators who are involved in emergency communications and/or public service events. You can read the entire thing on their website and below are a few of my favorites, with some of my own comments.

Things to avoid saying on the air, Number 1

“Okay, I’ll do it. But it’s not actually my job. The guy who’s supposed to do that is always away from the table doing something else.” The other operator doesn’t want to hear any of that and it ties up the frequency. Make a note of your complaints in your log and bring them up at the debriefing, but keep them off the air.

From Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

This is so true. An addition problem caused by such transmissions is the damage to ham radio’s image caused when representatives of served agencies and/or members of the general public overhear such comments through the radios of nearby operators. Even though we are amateur radio operators, we must always behave professionally on the air, especially when involved in public service.

The value of tactical call signs

Tactical call signs such as “Shelter 5”, “Net Control”, and “EOC” are descriptive and give immediate information. They can be very useful during planned events and during emergencies. Do not, however, forget to include your FCC call sign at ten minutes intervals and at the end of each contact.

From Various experienced operators

Just a bit of clarification here: During a public service event or emergency communications operation, a contact, QSO or (as the FCC Part 97.119  puts it) “communication” that lasts more than 10 minutes should be exceedingly rare! This means that if your FCC call sign is the last thing you say at the end of your last transmission during each contact , you should almost never have to worry about the 10-minute rule.

Never alter a message

Do not alter a message, even to correct a typographical error. What you think is right may actually be wrong. Moreover, any change you make might subtly alter the meaning of the message. Send or write it exactly as you receive it.

From Introduction to Emergency Communication course book

During public safety events, EmComm exercises and even NTS traffic nets, I’ve been amazed at how often I’ve heard this advice ignored. Even when relaying tactical messages (“Shelter one needs more cots”) verbatim transmissions are essential.

As a continuation of that thought, it’s equally important for radio operators to refrain from attempting to interpret messages. In other words, If the other operator requests clarification, I should not tell him what I think the served agency representative meant. I should instead relay the request for clarification to the representative and then relay his or her response.


  • Keep it brief
    Air time is precious, especially when there are numerous operators on the same frequency. Refrain from overexplaining things, engaging in personal greetings and chats, and anything else that might prevent important traffic from getting through.

    From Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

  • Are you following procedures?
    Operating procedures are developed from many hours of examining what went wrong during disasters. Familiarize yourself with the procedures and practice them in exercises. Arriving at a disaster scene and trying to freestyle it will only cause problems.

    From Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

These two tips reminded me of an operating procedure that many operators on EmComm nets don’t seem to know (based on what I hear): During a directed net, the only thing you need to say when calling the net control station (NCS) is your own call sign, once.

“Net Control, this is Aid Station Bravo” uses about twice as much air time as “Aid Station Bravo.”

During a directed net, we are not usually permitted to call anyone without first calling the NCS. The NCS operator knows this. Therefore, if I transmit my call sign and nothing else, the NCS will assume I’m calling him!

Likewise, a sharp NCS operator will answer such a call by transmitting only the call sign of the station that just called, not his own call sign! It should sound like this:

Aid station: “Aid Station Bravo”

NCS: “Aid Station Bravo.”

Aid station: “I have traffic for Logistics.”

NCS: “Logistics.”

Logistics: “Logistics.”

NCS: “Call Aid Station Bravo for traffic.”

Logistics: “Aid Station Bravo, Logistics.”  (here, both call signs are appropriate, but notice the absence of the unnecessary “this is” before “Logistics.”)

I hope you find these thoughts helpful. I welcome you to add your comments, using the link above (below the post title) and to share a link to this post using the convenient buttons below.


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