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Author Topic: Emcomm where do I go from here????  (Read 4450 times)
K5WCF
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« on: May 07, 2012, 11:14:43 AM »

Am I the only one who is concerned about the many emcomm options that are currently available to hams? First which group to go with ARES, RACES, CERTS, ect... and each one has their own messaging, and protocols and procedures, and even specific equipment. Do I need 2 meter, repeater or simplex, HF, winlink, pactor, winmor, or what, and how long before some other standard comes along and changes what's required. With ARES it's pretty much sign up and you're good to go, RACES and CERTS you need all of those FEMA certifications on line if you can stand to take them, and after all of that who's to say how the local municipalities handle an emergency. I personally feel someone needs to stream line this into a consistant, reliable and easily obtainable set of rules and equipment, that is in line with what local and state govt's are doing. I really guess my question here is if they all are a means to the same end then why not pick one and go with it across the board. We all agree that emcomm is very important but if we are all on different pages when the time comes, what good will we really be doing.

Just my thoughts, lets hear what you think.

William K5WCF 
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WB6BYU
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« Reply #1 on: May 07, 2012, 08:07:49 PM »

Actually there is no real reason why they all can't work together.  Each role is part
of the whole:  ARES provides an overall organization; RACES is what authorizes us to
continue operating in support of public agencies if communications are otherwise
shut down, CERT provides support for the general community.

Often the organization in a particular area depends on past history: often someone
in the wrong position with the wrong skillset (lacking people skills, perhaps) will cause
a rift, tempers fly, and groups splinter.  Some important person decides one group is
unreliable, and another group forms to fill the void.  You end up with multiple groups
with what appears to be a common goal working at cross-purposes to each other.

The Oregon model is that each County has an ARES group under the state-wide
leadership.  Those groups report to the Emergency Manager in each county in case of
an actual emergency response.  (That makes them RACES, if they are registered to
do so.)  Not all counties follow this approach:  some have a RACES group but no ARES,
and at least one has an "Auxillary Communications Service" that includes ARES members,
other hams, REACT, and other members that supports the County.  Is the system perfect?
No, because some personalities still cause problems, and some people haven't forgiven
a particular group for some decision made decades ago.  But the State has recognized
the value and accomplishments of amateur radio (based on our performance in a real
emergency), and provided equipment to link county EOCs in case communications are lost.

Different states / localities have other organizational structures.  There really isn't a lot
of consistency across the country.  Some groups run well, some are mired in conflicts
or turf battles and provide limited capability.  In some cases the served agencies have
had enough bad experiences with volunteer organizations that they don't want to have
anything to do with them.


The ideal Emergency Communications group is open to all hams, though it may have some
requirements for participation.  The FEMA classes are required for anyone supporting the
county in an emergency because they need to understand the organizational structure
(ICS) within which they are operating.  Communications equipment varies with each
organization and what communications they need to provide:  while we use 2m and 440
as our primary channels, we also have digital networks and train using HF when needed.
That doesn't mean every member needs all this equipment, however:  any station usually
requires 2 or more operators, and only one of them needs to bring the equipment.  (Our
team also has equipment set up at various locations that all operators are trained to use.)
An effective group also has a clear understanding of who their served agencies are, and
their specific requirements for participating personnel, who they need to communicate
with, and the forms and procedures they use.  And ideally they train with those agencies
regularly:  one of the basic concepts of emergency response is that you don't want to
be trying anything new in an emergency.  You try the new things during trainings and
work the bugs out, so they go smoothly during an actual emergency.

An effective organization also provides trainings and helps to develop their new members.
Emergency response isn't simply a matter of getting on the same repeater we always use
and yacking with our friends:  we regularly train on passing messages, using the group
equipment, setting up portable stations and antenna supports, and other skills that may
be required.  It requires a time commitment:  we expect members to put in 8 hours a
month in various activities (nets, meetings, trainings, equipment maintenance and repair,
exercise planning, etc.)


If you have several local emergency communications groups, visit them all and see what
they are like.  Are they vibrant and active?  Or is it more about wearing a special patch
on their hat or vest when they sit around and complain?  Do they have a clear concept
of their mission and what agencies or organizations they serve?  Choose the one that
provides the best support for new members, works regularly with served agencies, and
holds some sort of standards that it expects its members to meet.  And if a significant
part of the meeting is spent complaining about how bad some other group is, then you're
in the wrong place.  That's more important than the name of the group.

One of the important steps that the local ARES group took was to provide more
differentiation between the emergency response group and the local radio club.  Yes, many
hams are members of both, and the groups participate together in activities such as
Field Day.  But an Emergency Response group shouldn't be primarily a social
organization:  it needs to be focused on training and preparing to provide services in
an emergency.
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K5WCF
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« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2012, 09:01:44 PM »

Very well put thanks for your input. As I was reading your post though I felt myself bogged down once again in the many facets of emcomm. I personally think the FEMA courses and the CERTS program are some of the best options as far as consistant training, however I am concerned about actual execution and more so on the part of the local municipalities than on the amateur operators. I agree these should all work hand in hand, but I worry that somethings may not be consistent from group to group. I would really like to hear some examples of real world instances and exactly how well each group's training came in to play, and were there issues that arose from one group to the next and if so what were they. This is something I really don't seem to hear much about is when implemented how well do the different emcomm groups mesh, and what are the problems if any.

William K5WCF 
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K1CJS
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« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2012, 03:55:25 AM »

I know that this won't be of much help, but I feel that I have to point out that that is why many of us have given up on organized emcomm participation--the sandbox doesn't seem to be big enough to allow all the official emcomm operations, let alone ham radio.
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K5WCF
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Posts: 25




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« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2012, 08:05:50 AM »

K1CJS,
 Your post is exactly why I started this discussion. I expect that many including you and myself, feel this way concerning emcomm. With so many options, and modes, and requirements, the average person is likely to say nevermind because it's so difficult to keep up with who, when, where, and how when it comes time to operate. This is why I think between the ham community, the ARRL, and the federal govt. we should be able to meet somewhere in the middle and cut down on all the confusion. This might also be the reason for the federal govt. putting out it's recent survey concerning emcomm. (you think)

Thanks for the post,

William K5WCF
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WB6BYU
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Posts: 13233




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« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2012, 08:49:42 AM »

Quote from: K1CJS
...the sandbox doesn't seem to be big enough to allow all the official emcomm operations...


Actually I think the problem is that the sandbox isn't big enough to allow all the egos that
get in the way of a common response.  What's the phrase, something like

Quote

It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit.


Emergency response isn't about being important, it is about serving others.  Often it seems
that too many people lose track of this concept.
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AI8P
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Posts: 118




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« Reply #6 on: May 08, 2012, 10:21:11 AM »

How are Emergency Response and Education alike?

ANS:  both vary significantly throughout the nation and "local control" is a fundamental principle for both.

All emergencies are local - they start local,  they may involve state or national resources if they are large enough, and then they are local again when FEMA departs. 

Each state/county/city/township/etc is generally empowered to handle things differently.   In Ohio, the county is the basic unit for Emergency Response.   Adjoining counties have completely different procedures, requirements and responses.    Thus has it ever been, thus shall it ever be.

Hams are the tail and the local Emergency Response structure is the dog.   We are disorganized and uneven because we have to support a wide variety of "official" Emergency response authorities.

As much as I would like ARES to have a top-down set of uniform requirements and procedures, this is impossible, because they have to mesh with the wildly varying local structure.

your mileage may vary

Dennis
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LA9XSA
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Posts: 376




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« Reply #7 on: May 08, 2012, 11:17:37 AM »

With so many options, and modes, and requirements, the average person is likely to say nevermind because it's so difficult to keep up with who, when, where, and how when it comes time to operate.
Well here's the thing - you can only be one place at the time. In case of a communications emergency, you go to the assigned place where you trained, and help the served agency with communications.

You don't need to worry about the equipment and modes used by some other group on the other side of the country, as long as you both know how to get messages sent up to the state, regional and national level nets that might be in operation. As far as I know, Winlink, SSB and CW are the preferred modes in the ARRL-sponsored National Traffic Service, but NBEMS is also emerging and the ARRL has pages about it.

This is why I think between the ham community, the ARRL, and the federal govt. we should be able to meet somewhere in the middle and cut down on all the confusion. This might also be the reason for the federal govt. putting out it's recent survey concerning emcomm. (you think)
The ICS provides the basis for the content of messages. The ARRL-sponsored National Traffic System provides the infrastructure for passing traffic on the regional and national level. But if the emergency is local - as most are - you won't need the regional and national level and you'll just be passing traffic between county officials, using amateurs from your own emcomm group.

Some standardization is needed, when different levels have to work together, but you don't want to standardize too much how you do the radio technical stuff on the local level. Terrain, agency needs, atmospheric conditions, etc. are different - and technology moves forward. New, better modes emerge. New equipment becomes available. The art of radio progresses.
« Last Edit: May 08, 2012, 11:23:03 AM by LA9XSA » Logged
K5WCF
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Posts: 25




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« Reply #8 on: May 08, 2012, 12:04:25 PM »

Ok, I am starting to see all of this a bit clearer, so I guess the next question would be what is the next logical step to make into emcomm operations? Which of the groups we are discussing would be the best option when it comes time to start training. which one will provide a group with the most well rounded experience, and training so that when the times come we are an asset and not a liability?

and again thanks for the post
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LA9XSA
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Posts: 376




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« Reply #9 on: May 09, 2012, 02:03:32 AM »

Well here's the point where you'll have to do as WB6BYU suggested and check out the groups which are in your area. It might be an ARES/RACES group, SATERN, Red Cross, CERT, or what have you.
This is what I would want personally: Whatever the group, it should be one where
1: you feel welcome
2: which trains regularly (public service events like bike rides or parades are good, but at least once each year they should also train as part of a wider emergency exercise with their served agency - be that the county, Salvation Army or the Red Cross), and
3: sets some standards for its participants - for example requires its members to participate in a certain number of exercises, and pass certain tests.

I've heard a few people bemoan that last requirement as being "elitist", but in order to be an asset and not a liability you need to be up to speed not just with the art of radio, but also the changing needs, requirements and procedures of your served agencies.

If there aren't any local emcomm groups you want to join, you can look into becoming a traffic handler in the National Traffic System, or becoming a weather spotter in the Skywarn system.

Finally, I've heard ARRL emergency coordinators emphasize that if you're an emcomm amateur you should get on the air for fun too - and not leave your radio dead between exercises or emergencies. The whole point of having amateur volunteers is for their operator skill and technical skills, and the ability to improvise, and you can only keep those skills current by getting on the air.
« Last Edit: May 09, 2012, 02:09:26 AM by LA9XSA » Logged
K1CJS
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Posts: 6034




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« Reply #10 on: May 09, 2012, 05:03:08 AM »

Actually I think the problem is that the sandbox isn't big enough to allow all the egos that
get in the way of a common response.  What's the phrase, something like

Quote

It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit.


Emergency response isn't about being important, it is about serving others.  Often it seems
that too many people lose track of this concept.


You are so right!  However, I've found that the ego also gets in the way of the person who doesn't care or want any of the recognition either.  These people are there to help, but the old adage of "too many chiefs and not enough indians" almost always holds true.  The 'indians' who are there have a next to impossible time trying to conform to the directions of the many 'chiefs' who want to be the HIGH chief.
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LA9XSA
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« Reply #11 on: May 09, 2012, 06:37:48 AM »

Well part of the reason for the ICS is to avoid that sort of thing (too many chiefs) in an emergency. One person is in charge, and tasks are clearly delegated to section chiefs (if the incident response is large enough to need them). You can have a situation where full time unionized police officers take orders from a volunteer firefighter, because (s)he was first on the scene and knows the situation best, until such time that the incident commander can be relieved of incident command.*

So if there's any consolation if you come up against egos, it's been at least as bad among some of the professionals, leading to less effective emergency response and maybe lives lost - hence why they needed the ICS.

*sidenote: Many militiaries have similar regulations, where a junior officer most familiar with the situation, or with more experience in tactical operations, is put in charge of officers who technically outrank him or her; on vessels, vehicles and craft the captain, driver or pilot also is in charge of safety and might overrule senior officers' orders in some situations.
« Last Edit: May 09, 2012, 06:42:02 AM by LA9XSA » Logged
WB6BYU
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« Reply #12 on: May 09, 2012, 03:13:23 PM »

Quote from: LA9XSA

Finally, I've heard ARRL emergency coordinators emphasize that if you're an emcomm amateur you should get on the air for fun too - and not leave your radio dead between exercises or emergencies. The whole point of having amateur volunteers is for their operator skill and technical skills, and the ability to improvise, and you can only keep those skills current by getting on the air.



Quite right.  I've seen it proved time and time again:

If you don't use it regularly, it won't work in an emergency.

That applies to skills, equipment, procedures, battery packs, vehicles, the relationship between a
volunteer communications group and their served agency, etc.
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