- Save some resources for the next shift
The adrenaline will be pumping during the initial deployment, but if it's an extended emergency, manage your resources carefully. Do not use up your batteries all at once, and do not send all of your people right away.
- Two operators at every station
Experience has shown that emergency stations work best if there are at least two operators on duty at all times. One should stay completely focused on the radio traffic. The other should assist and also "run interference" for the first operator. At the very least, the second operator should keep the area quiet. The two operators should periodically switch positions.
- Plan for a windy day
If you have to set up your field station outside, you almost certainly will have to contend with the wind. It will affect your ability to hear and may even get into your microphone and make your transmissions difficult to understand. It will also scatter any loose papers you have at your station. Think about how you can address these issues before your next deployment.
- Generator spikes
If you plan to connect your communications equipment to one of the low-cost generators that are now being sold seemingly everywhere, you may get an erratic supply of electricity. Worse yet, your equipment could be damaged by power spikes. If you have to use a generator of lesser quality (remember, you get what you pay for), put a line conditioner between it and your radio equipment.
- Warm ideas for your jump-kit
With the change of seasons, check the contents of your go-bag. In the Fall, put in some gloves and disposable hand warmers to keep your fingers nimble, so that you can adjust your radio in the cold. Foot warmers wouldn't be a bad idea either. In the Spring, consider water bottles, sunscreen, bug repellant.
- Plain language is best
Plain language is best, especially during an emergency. Q-signals and jargon aren't understood by everyone. Some police departments are even dropping 10-codes in favor of plain language.
- Anyone can be a mentor
You can help a new person, no matter how much or how little you know. Newcomers always have questions, but are often reluctant to ask them. If you see someone new at a meeting go over and introduce yourself. Break the ice and make him or her feel welcome. A little friendliness can go a long, long way.
- UHF as well as VHF
We are used to most ARES activities taking place on the 2 meter band, but this is misleading! If you do not have any 70 centimeter equipment, consider purchasing a mobile or hand-held transceiver for that band, or better yet - a dual band radio.
- Have a backup
Experts in preparedness tell us that we need to have three ways to do everything. We may never achieve that goal, but we can at least have spare pens and pencils, extra batteries, and more than one flashlight. Once you have spares of the easy stuff, you might consider adding such things as backup antennas and transceivers.
- Consider upgrading your license
Your day-to-day activities in the amateur radio hobby may not require a higher level license, but what about when disaster strikes? The additional privileges and the knowledge that you gain while obtaining them could serve you well during an emergency.
- Battery charging log
Are you unsure of when you last charged some of your batteries? We suggest that you number each battery and keep a log, just a simple piece of paper, at your battery charging station. If you charge your batteries on the fly, such as in your car, then just put a sticker on the battery and write the charging date on the sticker.
- Kilo, not Kilowatt
A thorough search of the available literature shows that the ITU phonetic word for the letter K is Kilo, and that Kilo is not an abbreviation of Kilowatt. A number of net control operators have complained that they instinctively write down KW when they hear Kilowatt on the air. If you were trained to say Kilowatt, we regret the inconvenience, but please retrain yourself to say Kilo.
- Make a checklist
You'll never be able to remember everything you will need to take during a deployment, so it would be a good idea to make up a checklist. The checklist will also help insure that you retrieve all of your equipment once the emergency is over.
- Know what tools you will need
You cannot anticipate every tool that you may need, but a good start would be to figure out which tools you need to assemble and disassemble your field station. Make sure that your Jump Kit includes all of them.
- Mark your trip hazards
Your field station may have a number of trip hazards, such as your feedline, guy wires, tent pegs, and tripod legs. Be sure to mark them in bright colors, or alternatively, wrap them with brightly colored warning tape.
- Things to leave off the air, Number 3
Consider the following exchange: Station 1 - "Does anyone know where the EC is?" Station 2 - "It's pretty close to noon. He might have gone to lunch." The operator at Station 2 is just speculating, but his statement may be taken as accurate. Leave the guesswork off the air and only transmit information you know to be factual.
- Battery Safety Tip #1
Avoid a short circuit. Always use the terminal cap (if provided) to cover the positive battery terminal, or better yet, house your battery in a protective plastic case to keep any conductive material from falling across the terminals.
- Take care of your coax
When securing from a disaster scene, don't just throw everything in a box and leave. In particular, take time to wipe off your coaxial cable. Spray a little Armor All on it to help protect it and keep it supple.
- Don't forget the message forms
When going to a disaster scene, don't forget to take along some standard ARRL message forms. The agency managing the disaster may not have a form of its own, and you almost certainly will be asked to send some formal messages.
- Generator maintenance
Over time, gasoline additives can come out of solution, and some of those additives are harmful to engine components. If you do not plan to use your generator for a while, be sure to drain the gasoline, especially from the carburetor.
- Keep an AM-FM radio handy
Prolonged power outages show the value of a simple battery powered AM-FM radio. It could be your only source of important news and announcements. Also be sure to have spare batteries on hand.
- Generator safety
When running a gasoline powered generator, do not place it indoors or in any location where the exhaust could be drawn inside. People at emergency shelters have ended up in emergency rooms with carbon monoxide poisoning because of poorly placed generators.
- Grab a tiger by the tail
A Tiger Tail can extend the range of your handheld radio. Just attach a quarter wavelength to the outer collar of the BNC connector on your HT antenna.
- A cool idea for summer deployment
Juice pouches and cartons (for example Capri Sun drink pouches or Minute Maid juice boxes) are great for keeping a lunch cool during the summer. Toss a couple in the back of the freezer and you'll be set if you need to put together a meal for an emergency deployment.
- Before you go, check the forecast
Before you deploy, be sure to check the weather forecast. Knowing what the weather conditions are going to be will help you decide what to take with you.
- Teach and learn
Teach others what you know about emergency communications. Friendly suggestions will be received better than forceful instructions or quotes from a rule book. Also, don't be above learning from others. Even the newest beginner can teach you something you didn't know.
- It may be a field station but it still needs to be grounded
Lightning is just one potential hazard. At the scene of a disaster there will likely be all manner of hastily assembled electrical and electronic equipment. The possibility of interference or shock is very real.
- Where will you and your field station sit?
When assembling your field station, do not forget that it has to sit on something, and so do you. A simple fold-up table and chair will suffice. Do not assume that there will be convenient tables and seating at the disaster site.
- Things to leave off the air, Number 2
Consider the following on-air statement. "You wouldn't believe what a shambles it is here. It's really disorganized. The guy in charge doesn't know what he's doing." This should never have been transmitted. First, it needlessly tied up the frequency. Second, it may have been heard by the media, which would undoubtedly use it. And third, it underminded the authority of the person in charge. Keep personal comments and opinions off the air.
- Take your ID with you
If you are responding to a disaster scene, you'll find that the first thing you're going to need is identification. Be sure to take your driver's license and ARES ID card with you. It would also be a good idea to have a copy of your amateur radio license.
- The value of tactical call signs
Tactical call signs such as "Shelter 2", "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.
- Moist wipes - the duct tape of personal hygiene
Imagine that you've just finished setting up your antenna in a particularly filthy environment. Or that you've just helped get the generator going. Or that you've just eaten a power bar and your hands are all sticky. Now you have to operate your station. Do you really want to get gunk all over your equipment? Suppose you have to take a message? What will IT look like once you've had your dirty hands all over it? Operators who have worked long missions will tell you that having moist wipes in your bag is as important as having duct tape.
- Talk slower
The biggest cause of errors during voice communications is one of the operators talking too fast. The receiving operator either misunderstands or misses parts of the message.
- Slow-charge your batteries
We've heard the term "fast and easy" so often that we've come to believe that's the best way to do things. It's not necessarily true, and it's certainly not true when it comes to charging your batteries. Fast chargers heat up your batteries and considerably shorten their lifespans. Ultimately, it is cheaper and more efficient to have several batteries on hand and rotate them through a slow charger.
- Problems with generators
You may want to think twice before connecting your communications equipment to a power generator. Some generators may be poorly regulated and provide an erratic supply of electricity, or worse, power spikes. If you have reliable and adequate battery power, you might consider using that instead.
- Listen to the Net Controller's instructions
One of the most common mistakes on regular nets is that operators assume that they know what the Net Controller is going to say. They miss the Net Controller's instructions and wind up giving inappropriate responses. This can be calamitous in an emergency situation. One way to develop the habit of paying attention is to write down the key elements of what the Net Controller is saying. You might be surprised to find that it's not always the same thing.
- Things to leave off 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.
- Respond to the question asked
The Net Controller asks, "Do you need a break?". The operator at the other end replies, "We've got two other guys here, but one of them is running a message over to Post Five and the other one doesn't really know how to run this rig, and it's my own equipment and it's really expensive. And besides, the Captain told me to let him know the minute someone answers his request and I'm not sure I trust this other guy to handle that." You'll notice that the operator did everything except answer the question. Focus on the question asked, or the statement made, and respond to it directly.
- Learn the proper way to send numbers
Read each numeral individually. For example, say two three four rather than two hundred thirty four. Ennunciate each numeral. Always say zero and never say oh. Pronounce nine as niner.
- Mobile over hand-held
A hand-held transceiver is certainly a lot easier to transport, but ultimately a mobile transceiver is better for field operation. It has more power and can handle continuous usage a lot better than a hand-held radio can.
- 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.
- There is no privacy on the air
We are not allowed to use codes or encrypt data on the amateur bands to obscure the meaning of a message. Make sure that your served agency understands that if they ask you to send patient information or other information of a personal nature.
- Get some rest
Some operators feel that they have to do it all themselves, either because there is no backup or because they believe that they're more competent than the backup. If you try to operate non-stop, hour after hour, you're going to start making mistakes. It is better to turn over the station to someone else, or even turn it off for a while, than to wear yourself out and let your performance degrade.
- Have something handy for your throat
Everyone who talks on the air has experienced a moment when he or she suddenly could not talk. It may have been due to a dry throat, a cough, congestion, or a number of other things. For extended sessions at the radio, have something to soothe your throat on hand. It could be a drink or something as simple as cough drops. Please note that if you do keep liquids nearby they should be in spill-proof containers.
- Do not use VOX
VOX stands for voice activated transmitter. VOX devices are handy gadgets, but should not be used in an emergency setting. Ambient noise might activate the transmitter and tie up the frequency. Also, you do not want your casual comments to go out over the air.
- What about your pets?
Have you included your pets in your emergency preparations plan? If not, please check www.fema.gov/kids/pets.htm. The site is designed to appeal to children, but the information is valuable to all pet owners.
- What if it rains?
The weather will never cooperate with you. Make sure that your equipment is sufficiently protected from the elements. Just covering it with a bit of plastic while you run from your car to the communications tent may not be enough. If you trip and drop your bundle in the mud, will your equipment still work? It will have a much better chance of surviving if it's in a waterproof, or at least, water-resistant, case.
- You are your own safety officer
When setting up or operating a station of any size, the very first thing on your mind should be, is it safe? Am I going to irradiate anyone with RF energy? Could my battery spill acid? Can it fall on anyone's foot? Have I created an electrical hazard? Could anyone trip over my feedline or get poked in the eye by my antenna? The safety of your station is your responsibility. Make sure that it cannot harm you or anyone else.
- Take the FEMA courses
FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides a number of free courses over the Internet. The information in several of these courses is very useful to emergency communicators. See the TCARES Training Recommendations page for a list of FEMA courses that we recommend.
- Try running a net
You may be the first amateur radio operator available during an emergency. This would make you the Net Control operator, even if only for a short period of time. To help prepare yourself for this possibility you should try running a local net at least once. Tippecanoe County ARES will be happy to give you that opportunity, and will give you all the assistance you need.
- It may be a dirty assignment but don't show up looking like a slob
You can be the smartest amateur radio operator in the world, but if you show up at a served agency dressed in a slovenly fashion, you will leave them with a very poor impression of yourself and of ham radio in general.
- Is your portable mast secure?
Is your portable mast secure or will the wind blow it over? You can put additional weight on the base or spike it to the ground, or you can put guy wires on the mast itself or fasten it to something secure.
- Time to check your go-bag
Just as the arrival of Daylight Savings Time is a reminder to check the batteries in your smoke detector, the arrival of Field Day should remind you to go through your go-bag and check the perishables. Don't stop with the food and water. Remember the toothpaste, anti-perspirant, medicines, and anything else that might dry out or go bad. While you're at it, check the batteries stored in your bag.
- Are those batteries REALLY charged?
Before you head off to handle an emergency, be sure that those batteries that you THINK are charged really are.
- Wilderness Protocol
The Wilderness Protocol was developed to facilitate communications between hams while hiking or backpacking, but has since become useful anywhere that repeater coverage is sparse. From 7 AM local time to 10 PM, amateur radio operators in such areas are asked to monitor the simplex calling channel 146.52 MHz for five minutes every hour. Monitoring times would be from 7:00 to 7:05, 8:00 to 8:05, and so forth until 10:05 PM. Using this protocol, hams wishing or needing to make contact know which times they are most likely to receive a response. In addition to the primary frequency of 146.52 MHz, the secondary frequencies of 52.525 MHz, 223.5 MHz, 446.0 MHz, and 1294.5 MHz may be monitored.
- Check that emergency gear
One problem almost every emergency communications operator encounters is finding that some part of his gear doesn't work. It usually happens at the worst possible time. It may be dead batteries, a non-functional piece of equipment, consumables that have gone bad, or just something that didn't work quite the way the operator thought it would. Pick a date and mark it on your calendar. The weekend before Field Day or before the yearly Simulated Emergency Test would be good. Go through your emergency gear AND your regular equipment and make sure that everything is up to date and works as you expect it to.
- Why exercises are important
Every exercise that we hold exposes new flaws in plans, preparations, and readiness. So why hold them at all? The first reason is to find and correct those flaws. They can never be entirely eliminated, but the more of them that we identify and correct ahead of time, the fewer we will have to worry about when disaster strikes. The second reason is to acclimate the emergency communications operators to the unexpected. Operators who have participated in lots of exercises become accustomed to failures and surprises. They tend to adapt to the unexpected more quickly and are less likely to panic than operators who have never participated in exercises.
- Accuracy is crucial
Richard Palm, K1CE, is the editor of the ARES E-Letter. He recently wrote: "A few weeks ago, I handled a radiogram on one of the local VHF nets routed via a major HF net in the Northern Florida section. The message had a simple preamble, address, text, and signature, and yet it was garbled significantly from the original. If there is one thing that we must do right (as) ARES operators, it is to send a message accurately. It is more important than timeliness, or any other feature of message-handling. Take the time to send it right. We hang our hats on that."
- No Q-signals, please
Q-signals are very useful if you are sending Morse code, but often lead to confusion when used verbally. The idea that "everyone knows" certain Q-signals is a fallacy. Do not use them on voice channels during emergency communications.
- Organization is vital
Picture a random group of volunteers trying to handle a communications emergency. They don't know each other, have different ideas about what should be done, and half of them want to be in charge. The result is chaos. This is why training alone is not enough. There has to be an organized structure from which to work. That is the purpose of ARES.
- Consider getting a GMRS license
The General Mobile Radio Service, or GMRS band is often used by CERT and REACT teams. It might be useful to have a GMRS license to expand your interoperablility options. There is a fee to obtain a license, but there is no exam.
- I get it, I get it! Why do I have to keep on training?
It has been said that in a crisis you don't rise to the occasion, you fall to your level of training. Frequent training and practice will help you to do your job automatically, and you'll be less likely to be overwhelmed when you arrive at the scene of a disaster.
- Can you connect?
We have recommended keeping a variety of power adaptors on hand, but to maximize your chances of being able to make a smooth and quick connection you should put Anderson Powerpoles on the power cables of all of your 12 volt devices. These have become the de facto standard power connectors for most ARES groups.
- Can you continue to operate if the power goes out?
Recent storms have caused power disruptions all over the area. If your home were affected, would you be able to stay on the air? Would you have sufficient lighting (other than hand-held flashlights) to be able to write down important messages?
- Write it down
Keeping a proper log is an important part of ANY station operation, but it is absolutely essential for an emergency station. You cannot rely on your memory alone, especially in the stressful environment of a disaster scene. Things may be happening fast, but you should still make the effort to log your messages and significant events.
- Take the AREC Course
The ARRL's Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Course Level I contains almost all of the basic information you'll need to become an effective emergency communicator. If you are unable to take the course itself you should still get the book and study it. Obtaining the knowledge is much more important than obtaining the certificate.
- Half of communicating is listening
Don't be so focussed on what you want to say that you don't listen to what the other fellow is saying. Listening for, and hearing a message, then understanding it, and properly responding to it are vital to effective emergency communications.
- Volunteer to work at public events
Working at events such as the Soapbox Derby and bike rides gives you valuable field experience. You learn how to work within a team structure and what it's like to serve another organization. You'll probably also get a taste of the unexpected.
- Learn to handle formal traffic
It's not as difficult as you might think, and there's a very good chance that you'll need to know how to do it during a deployment. Information about message handling can be found in the Training section of our web site.
- Debrief after every activity
Schedule a timely debriefing after the emergency is over. You will want to know what the group did well and what areas could use improvement. You will also want to confirm that there are no issues still awaiting resolution. It is also a good idea to perform debriefings after training exercises.
- Stay up to date
Policies and information change. Knowledge gets stale. What you learned about emergency communications may become obsolete. We recommend that every few years you obtain the latest version of the ARECC manual and go through it carefully. A little refresher study couldn't hurt even if not much has changed.
- Keep a copy of the operating manual with your field transceiver
Your field radio may do something unexpected. You may need to use one of its special features. Your relief operator may not be familiar with how it works. There are dozens of reasons for keeping a copy of your field transceiver's operating manual nearby, preferably in a waterproof wrapper.
- How close are you to the antenna?
You want your signals to reach other emergency operators, not irradiate YOU. This is especially true if you have boosted your power. Make sure your antenna is a safe distance away from your operating location and that its emissions are not directed at you.
- Push - THEN Talk
Pause for a second after keying up your transmitter. It may be slower to react than you realize.
- Don't forget the duct tape!
Duct tape is a wonderful product that comes in handy during a disaster. (From every "go-bag" list ever written.)
- Alfa Romeo Echo Sierra
Use standard International Telecommunications Union phonetics (Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliett, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee, Zulu)
- Don't become one of the casualties
Part of your preparations should be making sure that you're fit enough to work in less than ideal conditions. You won't need to be in perfect shape, but you'll at least want to be able to get through a shift without becoming ill. Regular moderate exercise will help you develop the stamina you'll need to be an effective emergency communicator.
- Have three power sources available
If you are going to use a hand held transceiver, figure that the NiCad battery will eventually give out and you won't have any way to recharge it. Many new hand held transceivers have optional packs that hold alkaline batteries. It would be a good idea to have one of those (and fresh batteries, of course) in your jump kit. And since those batteries could also fail, also take a gel cell battery. Don't forget to take along the appropriate adaptor so you can plug in your hand held unit.
- Mark your equipment
Be sure that every piece of your equipment is marked with at least your call sign. After the emergency, you'll want any property you left behind to find its way back to you.
- Your family comes first
Make sure to take care of your family's needs before responding to a deployment. You should develop a preparedness plan for them as well as for yourself. If your family is going to need you, don't leave.
- Have a variety of power adaptors handy
You never know what kind of power source is going to be available at a disaster scene. Have a variety of power adaptors ready. Cigarette lighter plugs would be a good idea, as well as simple alligator clips to clamp onto a battery.
- It's going to be noisy, so have a set of headphones
It's always a good idea to have a set of headphones around, but it may be an absolute necessity in an emergency. You may be placed in an area where other operators are working on different bands, you may be out in the open, or you may even be in the middle of a noisy shelter. A headset should be a vital part your equipment. You can't communicate if you can't hear.
- It doesn't always have to be amateur radio
Your primary job during a disaster will be communications. If the resources are available, it may be more efficient to use a telephone, a fax machine, or even email. It doesn't always have to be amateur radio.
- Sometimes a digital mode is best
Some messages contain long lists of supplies, or details where accuracy is important. Voice transmission can introduce errors and tie up the net for a long time. For these types of messages you should consider using a digital mode.
- You brought your radio to the emergency, but will you be able to power it?
Antenna connectors are fairly generic, but what about power connections? ARES groups around the country use Anderson Powerpoles as the standard power connector on their equipment.
- What do you do if the repeater goes down during an emergency?
Turn off the "repeater offset" (+/-) feature on your receiver and work directly on the repeater's output frequency.
- What is 'Emergency' and what is 'Priority' traffic?
Messages are prioritized as follows:
Emergency - A message having life-or-death urgency.
Priority - An important time-critical message.
Welfare - An inquiry as to the health and welfare of an individual in a disaster area, or a message from a disaster victim to friends and family.
Routine - Any message not meeting the requirements for a higher precedence.
- Long Tone Zero
Long Tone Zero, sometimes called LiTZ, is a method of notifying anyone listening that you have an emergency or priority situation. If you have an urgent need to make contact and no one has responded to your voice calls, try the following procedure. While pressing your transmit key, also press and hold the zero button on your transceiver for a minimum of three seconds. This will send a unique DTMF signal over the air. It's exactly the same tone you hear on your telephone when you press its zero button. Alert ham radio operators will know what it means, and even some repeaters have been programmed to respond to it.
- How well do you understand radio?
You diminish your effectiveness as an emergency communicator if you don't really understand how radio works. If you are unable to reach anyone from your assigned post it would help to know why. Raising your antenna a few more feet will likely work better than trying to increase your power. We encourage you to continue to educate yourself about radio.
- Even a CB radio can be useful
Many truck drivers have Citizens Band transceivers in their vehicles. Upon arriving at the scene they may try calling for instructions on CB channel 19. If you have a CB radio with you, you may be the only emergency communications operator able to respond to them.