Idaho Amateur Radio
Emergency Service

This page provides useful operating tips for the ARES operator. These operating tips will help you to help make ARES operations execute smoothly and efficiently.

In order to be most effective, operators should integrate these operating tips into their daily radio operating techniques to the extent possible. Doing so will make these procedures automatic, and you will not need to think about changing procedure should your participation in an ARES event be required.

This page will be updated with additional sub-topics as they become available. Please check this page to see if changes, additions or corrections have occurred.

21 Jan 2016 Initial posting of Operating Notes to the Idaho ARES web-site.

Table Of Contents
Listening - The Most Important Operator Skill

Listening is the most important skill in radio operating. It is a skill that allows us to ensure that a transmitting station is heard, and also allows us to avoid introducing interference.

Most of us operate a transceiver, a radio with a built-in transmitter, receiver and transmit/receive antenna switch that is controlled by a push-to-talk switch. By nature, a transceiver operates in a half-duplex mode where you can talk or listen at any given time, but cannot simultaneously talk and listen at the same time. This means that we cannot interact as we do with face-to-face conversation, where unencumbered interjection and interruption are possible. Half-duplex operation requires that any interjection or interruption occur in a manner that is synchronized with the conversation.

If you are operating on a repeater, synchronizing an interruption to the conversation requires listening to the squelch decay noise of the repeater receiver to determine when a station has completed transmission. When a station stops transmitting, the repeater transmitter will remain keyed for a short period of time (usually from one to three seconds), and you can hear a short burst of noise as the repeater receiver squelch circuit charges a capacitor to mute, or squelch the noise. When the repeater transmitter drops, you will also hear this same kind of noise burst as your own receiver squelch circuit charges a capacitor to mute, or squelch the noise at your own receiver. The time period from the first noise burst to the second noise burst defines the repeater squelch tail. Any interjection or interruption (i.e. breaking into the conversation) should occur during the squelch tail, as delimited by the two noise bursts. Do not wait for the repeater transmitter to drop as your transmission will likely be simultaneous to a participant already in the conversation. All stations already participating should wait until the termination of the squelch tail, as indicated by the second noise burst, before initiating transmission. If a station initiates transmission during the squelch tail, all other stations should listen and wait for the squelch tail to drop before the next station in turn, or the station to which the interjection is directed, responds to the transmission.

This protocol essentially defines a listening protocol that best ensures against simultaneous transmission and reduces interference on the repeater.

Checking Into a NET While Introducing Minimal Interference

When operating on a Directed NET, and when the NET Control Station (NCS), not calling stations from a roster of participating stations, asks for check-ins, adherence to the following procedure will help NET operations by reducing the amount of interference generated by simultaneous transmissions from two or more stations.

  1. Listen and wait for the NET Control Station to request that stations check-in. Listen carefully for this request as there may be geographical limitations to the request. If the request from the NET Control Station includes criteria that excludes your station, do not initiate transmission and continue to listen.
  2. Pause and listen, proceed to step 3.
  3. If a station was heard, proceed to step 4.
    If no station was heard, proceed to step 5.
  4. Wait until the transmitting station completes their transmission and return to step 3.
  5. Key your transmitter and proceed to step 6.
  6. Speak THIS IS and proceed to step 7.
  7. Un-key your transmitter and proceed to step 8.
  8. Listen to determine if another station is transmitting.
  9. If you hear another station transmitting, proceed to step 10.
    If you do not hear another station not transmitting, proceed to step 11.
  10. Listen and wait for the transmitting station to complete their transmission and then return to step 5.
  11. Key your transmitter and proceed to step 12.
  12. Speak your call-sign and proceed to step 13.
  13. Unkey your transmitter and proceed to step 14.
  14. Listen for further instructions from the NET Control Station.

The purpose of this procedure is to allow each station to determine if they are transmitting simultaneously to one or more other stations and to stop transmitting in favor of yielding to the other station in the interest of reducing interference. The benefit is that this allows the NET Control Station to more easily identify the stations checking in and will greatly reduce the number of requests that the NET Control Station needs to make to complete the check-in process, and allows the NET to progress more efficiently.

A decision tree that depicts this process is shown below.

The NET Control Station will pause to allow for check-in stations to identify themselves. You can help alleviate interference by not attempting to be the first station to check-in, but rather, attempt to be the last station to check-in.

Note that this procedure further builds on the principle of the importance of listening.

Simplex Operations

Simplex operations are an important resource for ARES operations. Simplex requires a different set of procedures than repeater operations.

With repeater operation, we experience mostly full-quieting signals, and are often able to operate with a tight squelch setting. With simplex operations, we must be able to interact with both strong and weak signals. The following set of recommended practices are intended to allow NET operations to obtain the highest level of success possible when simple operations are required:

With simplex operation, a strong signal will capture a receiver when a weak signal is being transmitted simultaneously. It is important to realize that your station may not be hearing the weak station, and as such, the frequency may actually be in use. A focus on listening and ensuring that you enable weak signals to participate in NET operations.

Bandwidth Utilization

We often hear the word bandwidth associated with how much spectrum is being occupied by a signal. In this case, bandwidth refers to the amount of traffic that can be handled in a given period of time.

Any NET has a fixed upper limit of the quantity of traffic that can be handled. Improper operating practices can degrade this upper limit, through the act of consuming too much time, resulting in reduce NET effectiveness and reduced NET capability.

The following operating practices are intended to prevent operations from degrading NET operations by avoiding excessive bandwidth consumption:

In essence, the poor use of time is the enemy of effective NET operations. The poor use of time can destroy the effectiveness of the NET. Poor operating practices by a single station can usually be absorbed without significant impact to NET operations. However, when several stations use poor operating practices, the ability of the NET to absorb the impact is diminished and the NET can become inefficient. All operators should adopt operating practices that allow the NET to operate efficiently. NET Control Stations should be familiar with proper operating practices, and, if necessary, use their authority, as the NET Control Station operator, to enforce proper operating practices by exercising control over the NET and conveying proper instructions to participating NET operators.

The following examples illustrate a NET that consumes minimal bandwidth and a NET that consumes excessive bandwith. For both NETs, the NET preamble instructed participants to indicate traffic status first and power source second.

EXAMPLE: A directed NET where a roster based roll-call can be completed in a minimum amount of time when plain language (i.e. no phonetics) are used by the NET Control Station and the responding station simply responds by speaking their call sign in plain-language and states, in plain language, other required response information in the order stipulated in instructions received from the NET Control Station during the NET preamble.

The following exchange demonstrates an efficient roster based roll-call, where only plain language is used:

K7QRM: K7QRM, no traffic, emergency power
NCS: K7QRM, roger, K7QRP
K7QRP: K7QRP, no traffic, commercial power
NCS: K7QRP, roger, K7QRV
  (K7QRV was not present and did not respond)
W7QRZ: W7QRZ, with traffic, commercial power
NCS: W7QRZ, roger

The following exchange demonstrates a NET that collects the same information as the above example, but requires significantly higher bandwidth, including bandwidth consumption associated with a participating station providing information in an order that is not in alignment with the order described in the NET preamble:

K7QRM: This is KILO-7-QUEBEC-RADIO-MIKE in Marsing, I have no traffic for the NET and I am running on emergency power from home tonight
K7QRP: This is KILO-7-QUEBEC-RADIO-PAPA. My name is George, GOLF-ECHO-OSCAR-ROMEO-GOLF-ECHO and I am located in BUMMERVILLE. I am running on commercial power and have no traffic for the NET
NCS: KILO-7-QUEBEC-RADIO-PAPA, are you running on emergency or commercial power?
K7QRP: This is KILO-7-QUEBEC-RADIO-PAPA, I am running on commercial power.
NCS: KILO-7-QUEBEC-RADIO-PAPA, roger-roger-roger, copy you running on emergency or commercial power. BREAK. KILO-7-QUEBEC-RADIO-VICTOR.
  (K7QRV was not present and did not respond)
W7QRZ: WHISKEY-7-QUEBEC-RADIO-ZULU, with traffic for the NET tonight and I am running on commercial power
NCS: WHISKEY-7-QUEBEC-RADIO-ZULU, roger-roger-roger

Lets dissect this second example to see what attributes of the exchange impacted the performance of NET operations.

  • The overuse of phonetics results in significantly higher bandwidth consumption. A timed reading of example 1 and example 2 shows example 2 requiring over twice the amount of time as example 1, even though both NET formats exchange the exact same information.
  • The initial response by K7QRP provides information that was not requested in the NET preamble, and for information that was requested in the preamble, the order of information given did not match the order of information in the preamble. The information that was given but not requested consumed unnecessary bandwidth. The information that was given out of order forced the NET control station to move off of the ordered check-list, causing the NET control station to miss the information that was given second (i.e. traffic status), which should have been given first, and resulted in the NET control station having to request clarification, which consumed additional bandwidth.
  • Virtually all the exchanges use unnecessary language. For example, less bandwidth is consumed by stating traffic or no traffic to indicate traffic status rather than stating I have traffic for the NET tonight or I have no traffic for the NET tonight.
  • The NET Control Station states roger redundantly, resulting in unnecessary bandwidth utilization.

Time, or bandwidth utilization, is the enemy of NET efficiency. Excessive use of time reduces the amount of traffic that can be passed in a given period of time. All participating stations should develop the skills of using time efficiently and adhering exactly to the instructions provided in the NET preamble in the interest of enabling more traffic to be handled in a given time period.

Having presented the goals of adherence to instructions and time management, their are situations where, for the purpose of training, the NET encourages the over-use of phonetics in order to build operator skills. In these cases, the NET preamble should explain the goal of the NET and provide specific instructions to encourage the use of phonetics.

Resource Conservation - Yours & Others

Emergency Communications often involves the use of alternate power sources. This may include use of resources that may not be immediately renewable. This can include generators that are dependent upon fuel, batteries that are dependent upon a charging source, and even solar panels that may be ineffective when sun light is not available. In order to conserve these critical resources so that they are available to support the handling of critical traffic, these resources should not be drawn down by handling non-critical, or non-germain traffic.

Transmitting always draws down these consumables at a faster rate than receiving. Battery life will be reduced by use of the transmitter. An HF station that is powered by a generator will see the generator load increase during transmit periods, resulting in the generator increasing power to handle the increased load and further resulting in increased fuel consumption.

Under emergency communications conditions, please do not engage participating stations in idle or curious conversation that is not directly relevant to supporting that station in handling traffic directly related to situation that has created emergency communications conditions. Causing the EMCOMM station to draw down resources may result in an inability to communicate at a later time, when communications is absolutely critical to life, safety or property.

The time to satisfy your curiosity is after the emergency event has passed, not during the emergency event.

The Importance of Plain Language

Because of Amateur Radio's close relationship to Emergency Communications and Public Service communications, it is vital that Amateur Radio operators are understood by those agencies and organizations that they serve. The day to day operating habits that we establish will prevail in NET operations, Emergency Communications or Public Service communications. The use of anything other than plain language serves only to cause a break-down in communications.

Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Incident Command System processes and procedures mandate that Plain Language be used in order to avoid confusion. Jargon, Slang, and Lingo are to be avoided. The following should be avoided and discouraged:

For example, the word Handle is regularly used in the Citizens Band service to refer to an alias. The use of the word Handle to describe a given name is non-sensical, and is equivalent to saying my name is my alias. It is far better, and proper to say my name is Bob rather than saying my handle is Bob or the personal is Bob.

The use of the phrase got a copy? is also prevalent on Citizens Band radio. But what does it mean? Does it mean: Is anyone on frequency that can give me a signal report? Or, does it mean: Is there anyone on frequency that can render assistance? Or, does it mean: Is anyone on frequency? The phrase has been used in all three contexts but both the meaning and the urgency of the request are ambiguous.

In another example, and especially for those Amateur Radio operators that participate as radio operators in other services (e.g. MARS, USCG AUXILIARY HF CONTINGENCY COMMUNICATIONS, IDAHO SECURE NET, etc.) are well advised to avoid the use of Q-SIGNALS. Use SWITCHING in lieu of QSY, or other plain language descriptions in place of other Q-SIGNALS.

Without exception, it is always better to say what you mean using plain language. For example, if a signal report is desired, simply key the transmitter and ask: Is there anyone on frequency that can give me a signal report? Similarly, if assistance is needed, simply key the radio and make a general request for the type of assistance required, such as: Is there anyone on frequency who can call Idaho State Police to report a vehicle off the road? Clarity of expression will get you what you need.

The reason that adopting Plain Language is important to our normal day to day Amateur Radio operations is that our day-to-day operations are a form of training, and in an emergency, we fall back on our training. If operators get in the habit of using plain language, they will find that they can seamlessly integrate into the Incident Command System environment, and into other radio services.

NET Structure

There are many types of NETs. The following table provides a summary of several common types of NETs. It should be noted that NETs are not confined to these definitions. A NET always has a goal, and the processes and procedures for the NET are adopted specifically to fulfil the NET goal. This may include additional procedures that are not covered here, or even the combining of several types of NETs into a single hybrid-NET.

READINESS NET: The purpose of a Readiness NET is to confirm the availability and operational status of participating stations. The Readiness NET is usually structured to achieve this goal while consuming the minimum amount of time possible. A Readiness NET often has a roster based structured roll-call, but may alternatively be structured to use a general check-in by defining sub-groups that spread the check-in of NET participants over multiple individual NET calls that reduce interference. A Readiness NET may be as simple as calling a station from the roster in plain language, the called station responds with their call sign in plain language, and the NET Control Station then moves to the next station on the roster. Other variations may be employed to achieve additional goals beyond just that of determining readiness. The structure of the Readiness NET is defined within the NET script, and conveyed to participants during the NET preamble.
TRAINING NET: A training NET has a primary purpose of instructing NET participants in processes and procedures. The NET is structured to provide instruction on the process or procedure, and then provides a venue for participating stations to perform the process or procedure. Once all participants have received the instruction portion of the training NET, subsequent instances of the training NET may omit the instruction and simply concentrate on performing the process or procedure.
EXERCISE NET: This NET is nearly identical to the Training NET. However, no instruction will be provided. This NET will attempt to simulate a specific scenario, and participating stations are expected to adopt all procedures appropriate to the exercise. Such an exercise may handle simulated traffic between served agencies and over amateur radio. The scenario may include full field deployment or may be served from home. Any full deployment should include organizational procedures relative to that deployment (DO NOT SELF DEPLOY TO THE FIELD).
EMERGENCY NET: This NET is put in place to address a real scenario. Well in advance of such an event, emergency communications plans should be in place. Any need for service will be passed from served agencies through the organization chain of command. Organization supervisor positions will determine which portions of the emergency communications plan need to be activated, determine appropriate staff to deploy, generate a call-out as appropriate, and deploy station operators as appropriate. All will be conducted under the Incident Command System (ICS). STATION OPERATORS ARE NOT TO SELF DEPLOY TO AN INCIDENT.

A NET should have a NET script, which is used by the NET Control Station to provide instructions to participants and to ensure that the NET flows in an orderly manner towards fulfilling the goals of the NET. The NET script may include the following items:

Again, these NET types and definitions are recommendations only. The NET administrator will determine the goal for the NET and establish processes and procedures that fulfill the goals of the NET. The purpose, process and procedures for the NET should be communicated to all NET participants during the NET preamble. Information contained within the NET preamble takes precedence over the NET definitions found here.