Category Archives: emergency communications

ARRL HQ: No guidance on closed ARES nets

ARRL logoA staff member of the American Radio Relay League, the United States’ largest organization of amateur (ham) radio operators, says he is not aware of any “ARRL guidance to restrict participation in a net.”

Sean Kutzko, KX9X, media and public relations manager, responded April 23 to an inquiry this blog made of the League’s emergency preparedness manager April 12. I asked the questions below after learning of a newspaper article about a Texas Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) net turning away a licensed amateur. ARES is a program of the ARRL.

  • Does the ARRL provide guidance to its ARES leaders regarding the restriction of participation in ARES nets (i.e. the operation of “closed” nets during which only certain amateurs are permitted to transmit)?
  • If so, what guidance does the ARRL provide on this matter?
  • Under what circumstances (if any) should a local ARES net be closed to all outsiders?
  • What legal authority (if any) does an ARES net control station have to bar any licensed amateur from checking in and/or participating?
  • By barring certain amateurs from participating, does an ARES net risk interfering with a licensed amateur’s ability to transmit an emergency message in violation of 97.101(c)?

Below is the verbatim response from the League’s PR guy:

“One of the cardinal rules of all facets of Amateur Radio is “listen, listen, listen.” If Amateurs can provide data of _legitimate_ value to a weather net that is responding to a weather situation, they should be able to do so.  That said, if an Amateur has nothing to contribute to such a net, the Amateur should remain silent to allow legitimate traffic to be passed.

“I’m not of aware of any ARRL guidance to restrict participation in a net. Amateurs should listen to the net control station for guidance on what information is needed, and remain silent if they cannot provide information that fulfills the requested need. Net control stations should listen to the request being made of participating stations, as bona fide emergency traffic takes priority and can come from anyone.”

Texas ARES official bans closed nets

North Texas ARRL section Twitter logoA high-level Texas official of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) has created a policy that bars ARES groups under his purview from prohibiting the participation of any licensed amateur radio operator in their ARES nets.

As this blog explained in an earlier post, ARES is a program of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national organization of ham radio operators. Regional, elected ARRL section managers appoint ARES leaders within their sections, including section emergency coordinators (SEC), who lead the program at a section level and district emergency coordinators (DEC), who lead it at a multi-county level.

Matthew Morris, K5ICR is SEC for the ARRL North Texas section, which is made up of dozens of counties, including Wichita County. As SEC, Morris has authority to create policy for all ARES organizations in his section.

When contacted by this blog via email, Morris wrote, “I’m not sure it was so much a revision of policy but just that we codified into policy what’s been a long-standing best practice for ARES.”

The newly codified policy includes two parts; a definitions section and the section below:

Section 1.02 Closed Nets Prohibited

(a) All ARES nets shall be open for participation by any licensed amateur. No net control station or ARES leadership acting in an official capacity shall prohibit the good faith participation of any licensed amateur.

(b) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the establishment of minimum reporting criteria by a net control station or ARES leadership as appropriate to the situation at hand, so long as these criteria are not established intentionally or knowingly to prevent the participation of an amateur or group of amateurs.

Morris promulgated the policy after an article in a Texas newspaper described the Wichita County ARES net shooing off an amateur radio operator who attempted to check into the group’s severe weather net. On an audio recording of the net, one can hear net controller Jerry R. Stanford, KD5INN tell Australian storm chaser Daniel Shaw, VK2FSRV, “I do not want to hear you transmit on this frequency. We have a closed net.”

In a subsequent email to this blog, Charlie Byars, the DEC responsible for Wichita County (who the newspaper article quoted), confirmed that the Wichita County ARES did not permit outsiders to participate in its net, except to transmit emergency reports. It accomplished this by declaring the W5US repeater — on which the net operates — to be closed, with the blessing of the repeater’s owners. A closed repeater is one that only stations authorized by the repeater owner may use.

The North Texas section’s new policy prohibits the practice of conducting an ARES net on a closed repeater. The SEC has no authority, however, over storm spotter nets that are not affiliated with the ARES.

This blog sent email April 19 to the trustee of the Wichita Falls repeater that the Wichita County storm spotters use to ask, “Will the W5US repeater comply during future severe weather nets and end its policy of becoming a closed repeater during such nets?” If the trustee responds, I’ll update this article accordingly.

It is interesting to note that one day after Morris issued the section’s new ARES net policy, the Facebook page of the Wichita County ARES changed. The page title changed to “Wichita County SKYWARN” and the profile picture changed from the ARES logo to the SKYWARN logo. That same day, Justin Reed, NV8Q reported on a storm chaser Web forum that “As of today the Wichita County ARES group has renamed themselves to Wichita County Skywarn in order to get around the ‘open net’ requirement. So nothing has really changed here.”

Today, this blog reached out again to Byars via email, who replied, “As far as I know we are still ARES, and will stay that way.” Later the same day, the group’s Facebook page changed again. Its title became “Wichita County ARES / Skywarn” and its profile picture became the the ARES and SKYWARN logos side-by-side.

This blog congratulates Morris on his prompt action to implement best practices in section policy and encourages all ARRL sections to enact similar policies, if they do not already exist.

The editor of this blog leads a SKYWARN ham radio net in Indiana. A future post will discuss how that net operates and why all licensed radio amateurs are welcome and encouraged to participate fully in it.

Audio: Texas ARES NCS rejects Australian storm chaser

Yaesu FT-8900 dual-band amateur radio transceiver tuned to 146.94 MHz and 147.255 MHzIn an earlier blog post, I reported that the owners of a Texas ham radio repeater prohibit use of the system by licensed amateur radio operators who are not members of the local Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) group when an ARES storm spotter net is in session.

My blog post was based on a newspaper article about the net shooing off a ham who wanted to check in.

Below is an audio clip of an exchange between Australian storm chaser Daniel Shaw, VK2FSRV and net control station operator Jerry R. Stanford, KD5INN. Listen and decide for yourself what you think of this exchange. I welcome your comments, especially regarding whether your local SKYWARN net prohibits check-ins by outsiders and why or why not.

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.