Conducting and Participating in Emergency Nets

I'm sure that many of you will breathe a sigh of relief when I tell you that the introduction and discussion of the use of prowords has been completed. I encourage each of you, however, to occasionally review our list of prowords and, to the extent possible, use them in your day to day amateur communications. When emergency communications are required, the prowords that have been discussed on this net and in this training series are indispensable and can dramatically improve communications efficiency.

Today, we are going to talk about conducting and participating in SATERN emergency networks. Ideally, every member of SATERN should be capable of and trained to operate as a SATERN NCS. That's the purpose of this training program. Not everyone, however, can act as NCS at the same time. An NCS can appoint one or two stations as alternate NCS's, and the primary NCS can appoint some net members to specific duties. What those duties entail will depend in large part on the type and scope of disaster that has been responsible for the activation of the ECOM net. Our response will be tailored to the situation, but, in any event, as a group, we will remain flexible to the needs of the affected area. Our response can be easily expanded or contracted to account for heavy or light traffic volume.

If the disaster situation is such that an overwhelming volume of traffic is anticipated to come out of the affected area, a variety of options are available to the SATERN system. Amateur radio may well provide the only reliable communications either into or out of the disaster scene. Traffic coming out of the affected area always, ALWAYS, takes precedence over inbound health and welfare inquiries. In fact, inbound health and welfare inquiries are, as a rule, not accepted for several days after the disaster has occurred since there is usually no infrastructure to handle the messages.

Voice nets provide the backbone of emergency communications but are not always the best choice for handling large volumes of traffic, such as might be generated following a large calamity in a populated area. We may have to consider setting up ancillary voice nets and/or digital HF radio systems to handle the message traffic. The primary SATERN net, in such circumstances, would be considered the Command and Control Net. Other nets, either voice or digital, would be considered to be Tactical nets, formed to meet a specific need. As many Tactical nets may be established as are required by the circumstances.

In cases where Tactical nets are utilized, the Command and Control NCS needs some manner by which to communicate with the Tactical networks. The Command and Control NCS can appoint LIAISON stations. A LIAISON station is someone who will, until otherwise directed, remain on the Command and Control network frequency. When information or message traffic needs to be moved from the Command and Control net to a Tactical net, the LIAISON station is dispatched to the Tactical net where he or she establishes communications and relays the information. Upon completion of the communications with the Tactical network, the LIAISON station returns to and notifies the Command and Control net NCS that he or she has returned and that the mission has been accomplished.

The Tactical NCS is still responsible to report to the the Command and Control NCS. For that reason, each Tactical NCS should appoint one or more LIAISON stations so that information can be easily and efficiently moved between the networks.

If digital operations are anticipated and routes or outlets for message traffic have been established, the Command and Control NCS or the Tactical NCS, depending on the nature of the incident and traffic volume, may appoint a DIGITAL STATION. This individual is someone who has HF digital as well as voice communications capabilities. When stations check into the net with message traffic that may best be delivered by digital means, the NCS should direct the relay of the message traffic by voice to the DIGITAL STATION. The DIGITAL STATION is then responsible to relay the traffic by digital means to it's destination or another station for additional relay. If the traffic load is heavy enough to warrant the appointment of a second DIGITAL STATION, it's probably a good idea to establish a Tactical net and move the traffic off of the Command and Control network's frequency entirely.

And, certainly, if the opportunity arrives, we should make every effort to utilize wired communications. Art Evans, KA9KLZ, and I discussed just this topic a few months ago. Art said it best when he stated "During an emergency, use any means at your disposal to move the traffic..." FAX machines, email, web pages, computer bulletin boards - they all can be utilized to good advantage during emergency communications operations. The smart emergency communicator is the guy or gal that makes the most effective use of the resources at hand. Just because the Internet does not rely on radio waves for point to point communications does not mean that we should ignore it. As you will recall, during the Hurricane Mitch operation, Quent, WA4BZY, was able to set up an Internet based email system to handle health and welfare traffic from and to Central America. Quent's system worked like a charm and was of incalculable service to SATERN as well as the many friends and family members of Central American hurricane victims.

Who should check into a SATERN emergency net? Only stations that have emergency traffic or communications directly related to the post-disaster relief efforts should actually check into the net. As a rule, during the first few days of the disaster operation, the only traffic that will be accepted by the net will be message traffic originating from the disaster site. Health and welfare inquiries directed to the disaster scene will either be shunted off to another net, the Internet, or, simply refused until such time as the operators in the affected area are able to accept such messages. So, stations without emergency traffic should not check into the net. They should, instead, monitor the net's operation and be ready to accept traffic destined for their area. Additionally, stations not directly involved in the net's disaster communications can provide an invaluable service by acting as relay stations during times of difficult propagation. Relay stations and all other stations not directly involved in the net's operation, however, should not transmit unless either invited or directed to do so by the NCS. Actually, there are three simple rules to follow with regard to how to conduct your operations in an emergency network: Listen, Listen and, Listen.

That's it for this week's lesson. To recap, the NCS of a SATERN emergency communications network can direct the establishment of tactical networks to handle overflow traffic of traffic that is inappropriate to handle on the primary, Command and Control SATERN net. Each tactical net and the command and control net should have Liaison stations capable of moving information between the nets. Heavy traffic flow can be shunted off to digital operations if the resources are available for such operations. In that case, digital stations can be appointed to move message traffic between the voice and digital networks. Finally, we talked about who should check into an emergency network. Only stations that have emergency traffic should actually check into the network. All other stations should listen, transmitting only if invited or directed to do so by the NCS.