More Prowords


A First Look At Directed Net Operations

This is session two of the SATERN Emergency Communicator training program. Session One was held last week and is available in written form from the SATERN Chicago web site.

Speaking of last week's net session, I have a couple of points to make. First, I received an email from one net member who quoted the ARRL's Net Directory publication to me noting that (and I'm paraphrasing here) the use of the ICAO phonetic alphabet should be minimized during net operations. That may be true for casual amateur nets and for local two meter and UHF operations. For HF emergency networks where, in many cases, stations from outside the United States are participating, the use of the International phonetic alphabet is an absolute must. Even if no foreign stations are participating in the net, if you're involved in any type of emergency net, you cannot afford to make a mistake of misunderstanding. I strongly encourage, therefore, the use of the International phonetic alphabet during ECOM operations.

Another email I received was from an angry member who claimed that I told folks during last week's net session (and in my written comments) to end their transmissions with the phrase "OVER AND OUT" and, further accused me of watching too much television. Neither accusation could be further from the truth. The complaining individual misunderstood what I wrote and what I presented on the air. The rules of English grammar allow me to speak these two words, "OVER" and "OUT" in the same sentence without using them in the same phrase. The phrase "OVER AND OUT" is best left to Broderick Crawford in the old TV series Highway Patrol episodes. I neither encourage nor train communicators to use both words together.

This week, we're going to push forward, pick up some additional prowords and take a first look at directed net operations. You will recall that during last week's session, you were introduced to the prowords "OVER" and "OUT." These words indicate to the other party with whom you are communicating whether additional communications with their station is desired or expected. "OVER" at the end of a transmission indicates that more is to follow. "OUT," in essence, 'hangs up the phone' on that communication. If you need the other station or, if you're the NCS, a group of stations to stand by while you accomplish other tasks, use the proword "WAIT." There are two applications of the use of the proword "WAIT." If you anticipate a very brief delay in continuing communications with a station, simply say the proword "WAIT," or "WAIT, OVER." Examples of the proper use of the "WAIT" AND "WAIT, OVER" include the delay that might be encounted if you were required to pick up a pencil from the desk or floor, turn the page in a logbook, flip on a light, change the display on your computer monitor, etc. These delays would all be brief - in the range of a few seconds. If, however, you anticipate a more extensive delay, issue the prowords "WAIT, OUT." This tells the other station or stations that you anticipate being unavailable for a period of time in excess of just a few seconds. By using "WAIT, OUT," you have, temporarily suspended communications with the station or stations and, in order to talk with them again, you must, again, initiate communications. The business of the net can and should continue while you take care of the business that has resulted in your absence. As do many other hams, I have a radio shack equipped with a telephone. Actually, my shack has two of them - and, one or the other has been known to ring during net operations. If I am in the process of sending or receiving traffic when the telephone rings, I use the prowords, "WAIT, OUT" to end my transmission. This allows the net to continue operations without me. When I've concluded my telephone business, I let the NCS know that I'm back and ready to continue with net operations.

Earlier in this session, I alluded to the necessity of the use of the International phonetic alphabet. One of the chief uses of this communications tool is to spell words and character groups on voice nets in a manner that is easily understood. Many English words sound alike but have entirely different meanings. The word "to," as spoken, for example, can mean the result of adding one plus one, can mean also, or can mean an intended destination, as in "I'm going to town." Another word that can easily be misunderstood when spoken is "here." "Here" can be a place or it can be the act of receiving auditory information. The proper meaning becomes apparent if the word is spelled out. Uncommon words and proper names can also be easily misunderstood or misspelled. For those reasons, when we communicate these rascals of the English language, we need to spell them out.

The three steps for communicating words that need to be spelled out are simple:

1. Say the word.

2. Spell the word phonetically.

3. Say the word, again.

Here's how to do it on the air. The phrase we need to communicate is: "I am en route to your location with two antennas" I would transmit the following:


Of course, during times of poor communications, such as with heavy interference or high atmospheric levels, many words may need to be spelled out - even those that under ordinary circumstances would be easily understood.

Of course, not all words can be easily pronounced. My last name, for example, if you've taken the time to look me up in a database, is not a common name. I can almost guarantee that of 100 people, all 100 will mispronounce my name on the first try. When we encounter words that we cannot pronounce or are unsure of the proper pronunciation, we spell them out by saying the prowords "I SPELL" and then phonetically spelling the word. My last name, for example, would be communicated as without the attempt to pronounce it, as follows:


Occasionally, we'll run across groups of letters that do not form a word - acronyms, for example, fall into this category. We treat them the same as we would an unpronounceable word. Say "I SPELL" and phonetically spell out the word.

Numerals are communicated using another proword: "FIGURES." When we need to communicate a number, we precede the number with this proword. For example, my zip code is "FIGURES" 62812. Or, the SATERN net meets on FIGURES 14.265 Mhz.

Groups of combined letters and numerals form special cases. If the group begins with a letter, use the proword "I SPELL." even though there are numbers in the group. Ham callsigns are a good example of this. "I SPELL" WHISKEY WHISKEY NINE ECHO," for example. Or, "I SPELL KILO NINE SIERRA TANGO PAPA."

If the mixed group begins with a number, use the proword "FIGURES." For example, the final tube in my amplifier is a "FIGURES 6146 BRAVO."

Finally, there is one additional special case...lineage designators. Some examples, Robert Thorn, III, or Henry IV. Roman numerals are used for this purpose. The proper proword to use to precede these designators is "FIGURES ROMAN." For example, "HENRY FIGURES ROMAN FOUR."

Let's take a break from the prowords for a bit and talk about directed net operations. A directed net, as used in this training program, is a network that is strictly controlled the the net control station (NCS). The NCS is the boss. During the course of his or her tenure as NCS, he or she is the final authority on what happens during that net session. There is no appeal. The purpose of holding directed nets as opposed to informatl nets is to pass the maximum amount of traffic or information in the least amount of time. During the course of a directed net, no station may transmit unless that station has requested and been granted permission to do so. Think of the NCS as being a virtual traffic cop standing in the middle of a very busy city intersection. The NCS directs the flow of information from station to station just as our virtual cop directs cars and trucks from one place to another. If the directions of our virtual traffic cop or our NCS are not followed, collisions and confusion will result.

The NCS should identify the network at least once every ten minutes, just to meet the FCC's identification regulations. At that time, he or she should also ask for additional stations to join the net and ask if there are any stations with business for the net. Ideally, the net should be identified and an invitation extended for others to transmit more often - say, once every five minutes or so...but, as long as the 10 minute rule is followed, we are at least keeping our NCS legal. When stations check into the net, they should indicate if they have traffic for the net. The NCS will copy the precedence and destinations of the message traffic and manage the distribution of the messages according to precedence. If you are already checked into the net, have listed no traffic, but need to communicate something to the NCS or another net member, the appropriate time to let the NCS know is during one of the 'any stations with business' call ups. The only time anyone should break into an emergency net is when that station holds traffic of a higher precedence than that which the net is currently handling.

Managing and participating in emergency net operations is a demanding chore. In order to keep up with the net's activities, participants should devote full attention to the net. If other demands are being made on the operators' time and attention, that is, for example, 2 meter operations or frequent telephone calls, family matters, etc., those stations should check out of the net until they are able to devote full attention to the ECOM net's operations. To do less is to reduce the efficiency of the ECOM net. When you check into an ECOM net, the NCS assumes that you are paying attention to what's going on. If he or she needs you to perform some net function and you don't answer or have to ask for a repeat of the request, you've not helped the net at all. In fact, you've only impeded the smooth flow of information.

So, this week we've picked up some new prowords: "WAIT," "WAIT, OUT," "I SPELL," and "FIGURES." We also took a first look at how directed nets are supposed to operate. Next week, we'll learn some additional prowords and talk more about directed net operations. As always, I can be reached by email at [email protected] or by US Mail at my callbook address.