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Author Topic: NCS is easy!(?)  (Read 1101 times)
W0IPL
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« on: March 19, 2005, 07:35:35 AM »

We have a local EC that has taken a stand that being an NCS is easy.
He says that he wants everyone to be ready to work the NCS position
during an emergency (something about always having an NCS available).

Based on what little experience I have, I disagree. I believe that good
NCS operators are not that plentiful. The reason is fairly simple. Many
people do not have the interest or disposition to handle a stressful
assignment.

While anyone can be taught to read a script for the weekly net it takes
someone with a real drive to succeed to be able to handle unscripted
and sometimes emergency situations. The other side of that coin is that
just drive does not an NCS make. I believe that we have all seen at
least one person that has so much drive that when NCS volunteers are
solicited, that person is second in line only if they were at the far
end of the room when the request went out. Yet with literally years of
training, that same person still cannot run an adequate net.
I liken it to teaching a pig to sing or a gorilla to fly. While not
beyond the realm of possibility, it does seem quite unlikely.

Is there any way to clearly define that something that actually produces
a good NCS? I think we have all seen voluminous lists of the
characteristics we see in people that are good NCS operators but does
that actually define what makes a good NCS?

While we are on the subject, what defines a "good" net? The standard
reply is any net that didn't get someone hurt and handled the traffic
is a good net. That's like saying that any landing you can walk away
from is a good landing. I think there are better definitions.

C Ya
 Pat
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W5HTW
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« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2005, 05:28:14 PM »

Just a short comment or two.

I think the people most capable of handling a net during the stress of an emergency are frequently not hams.  Nor should they be.  These are the people operating the city, county or state emergency dispatch systems.  

The come in different colors, of course, some more efficient than others.  They undergo formal, paid, training, as professionals, not amateurs.  They become certified dispatchers.  

I note that those in the cities are the most efficient. They are terse, wasting no words at all, clear in enunciation, concise in directions given, and capable of tracking several police cars on a chase or roadblock.

The rural ones tend to be a bit more rambling, a bit more long-winded.  Part of that may be due to the lack of good rural addresses.  So they have to resort to things like, "Go to the big red barn at the corner of the crossroads near the bicycle store, and turn right, then look for a blue house on the left, possibly the third or fourth house.  It may have a green Ford in the driveway."   In the city, the dispatcher says, "Three-Adam-fourteen, see the lady at 14 Green Court."  

Can we hams adapt that kind of brevity and terseness, with precision, to our operations?  Perhaps on local VHF nets, but it may be more difficult on HF nets.  And should we do that?  

In any case, if one compares the typical police/emergency dispatch, with the typical ham radio net, there is a major difference.  This could be why your EC says a ham net is easy.  He is comparing it to the police dispatcher who is keeping track of eight or more police cars heading toward a scene, along with fire and ambulance crews, possibly a helicopter or two, and doing so with a good degree of skill, in a highly expedient manner.  By nature of the fact we are a hobby that does public service, not a service that happens to perform as a hobby, we are more windy!

Just some thoughts that hit me, reading your post.  Ham radio is fun.  Police/emergency dispatch is never meant to be fun.  We have to approach the two with very different attitudes.   Perhaps you can convince your EC of that.  

NCS in ham radio does run into emergencies.  Monitor the Maritime Mobile Service Net and you'll find probably an average of one per week.  And sometimes, I have to admit, it is a bit disruptive.  But much of the time the MMSN does a reasonably good job, considering it is run by amateurs, not professionals.  A good thought to keep in mind.

Ed
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WA4MJF
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« Reply #2 on: March 19, 2005, 05:46:50 PM »

Well, I think being a NCS is easy
because I've done it for years.  For
the new guy/gal, it can be intimidating.

That is why folks who aspire to be a NCS
should practice when there aren't emergency
comms going on.

I'm not a big "script" guy, I have my way
of doing things and others have their way
of dong things.  The non-variables are handling
messages in order of their precidence keeping your
cool,  knowing who is in the the net and
where they are, keeping your cool, using proper
prowords and phonetics, keeping you cool,
know how to reach the supervisors should something
out of the ordinary happen and oh yeh,
keeping your cool.

73 de Ronnie
OBS/OES NC ARES*/RACES District 7

*ARES is a registered service mark of
the American Radio Relay League, Inc
and is used with permission.

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KG4ZAR
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« Reply #3 on: March 19, 2005, 10:21:39 PM »

Pat I think your EC has a good point in everyone being trained as a NCS. After all, if no one else is available you may be the difference between life or death someday. That being said, I find few people that are good NCS ops on the VHF nets in a real situation. I am not a "professional" dispatcher, but I do communications for Search and Rescue and I find it easy to handle up to 10 teams in the field,along with logistics,transport and other support comm. It comes naturally for me but I know a lot of folks that just are not comfortable with it. Then again, I'm not as good on the weekly nets as others are. Time and experience come into play there I think. Plus the fact that when the s%#& hits the fan is when my system kicks into autopilot and I get into the groove.
 My recomendation is to train and practice as NCS as best as you can just in case. Hopefully you will never need it in a real incident but at least you could run things until someone came in to relieve you.
Larry
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K2GW
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« Reply #4 on: March 20, 2005, 08:09:27 AM »

>>Can we hams adapt that kind of brevity and terseness, with precision, to our operations? Perhaps on local VHF nets, but it may be more difficult on HF nets. And should we do that?

Yes. My personal preference is for brief, to the point communications so that the frequency is kept clear for emergencies or that weak station. Chit-chat is for other times. It's the NCS's job to set the tone for that. And that's done by being calm and thinking about what you're going to say and taking a deep breath BEFORE you push the mike switch.

Some one mentioned public safety dispatchers in major cities as good examples. I agree and have an even better one. Air Traffic Controllers (especially Approach) in busy Terminal Control Areas. Better yet, military air traffic contollers. It's amazing how much information can be conveyed in two seconds with a "Wilco Out".

In the Air Force, every second you hold the mike button down is a second for a bad guy to DF you. So brevity is always emphasized. I got used to the style.

73

Gary, K2GW

 
       
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N2IK
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« Reply #5 on: March 20, 2005, 06:29:37 PM »

I applaud the EC for developing NCS stations so that he has backup in depth. It is too easy to always go with your few regulars. You will also develop  respect for what it takes to do a good job as NCS in a stressed busy situation. Starting as an NCS on local traffic nets and then small public service nets followed by larger events like marathons is a good model to prepare those with interest in becoming NCS stations. I think traffic handling experience improves your ability to copy correctly and you learn to listen. Those with the aptitude and interest will rise to the top with training and experience. I have seen many times that trained experienced seemingly not the best operators often rise to the challenge when placed in a situation. Don't confuse style and smoothness with the ability to control a net and to handle a busy net with critical traffic. Poise and the ability to listen and think are important. In a busy net with a lot going on, it is better to have two NCS working together. You need a lot more NCS's to do this and it is only by developing them that you will have them.

Being NCS is easy for some and hard for others. It is a skill that can be learned with practice. I think it is an important arrow in the quiver of those who want to be active and useful in Em Comm.

73 de Walt N2IK
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KG2V
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« Reply #6 on: March 21, 2005, 06:21:56 AM »

I think you EC has a point in training people to be NCS, and it also gives people who will NOT NORMALLY be NCS a bit of insight into what it's like to be behind the mike

I've done NCS - and prefer NOT to.  I've seen ECs who hog that role for themselves.  Me?  I have 2-3 guys that I KNOW can do it (one is ex-military Net Control), and 90+% of the time, at events/call outs, THEY are going to get the nod.

That said, I think it requires 3 main things to be a GOOD NCS 1)Temperment, 2)Brains and 3)Training to USE those brains and the temperment

When I say "brains" - some people don't get the idea of what the net control is supposed to do, and how to do it
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KE4SKY
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« Reply #7 on: March 21, 2005, 09:53:26 AM »

I agree with the local EC that people should be exposed to NCS duties in a less stressful training environment and gradually increase their involvement as they gain experience and confidence.

For new comers having a "script" is useful as a job aide.  However, on a traffic net or tactical net you must also understand procedures and policies and some activations require more flexibility than a canned script offers.

It is useful to pair up a new NCS operator with someone more experienced as a mentor.  It is also helpful to have a collection of standard operating guides which cover common situations.  Ours are available at http://www.varaces.org/sog-index.php
and are a place to start, if your organization doesn't have any of their own.

The NCS of an operations net shouldn't operate from an incident command post or EOC, but instead from somewhere removed from the action which is less stressful. Having previously prepared a good set of operating references and "desktop procedures" makes the job of NCS or operator at an ICP alot easier.  In ICP or EOC assignments we usually deploy pairs of operators, with one serving as the primary operator, while the other serves as the logger and message runner.  Different EOC procedures vary, but the G275 EOC Management and Operations Course from FEMA provides a good overview.

We developed a condensed verion of the essentials for readio amateurs from this course which are available at:

http://www.varaces.org/races-adv/Ops12handout.pdf

But overall, experience is the best teacher.  There is no substitute for stepping up to the plate, but some prior planning, training, and mentoring are essential for new comers, if you ever want them to try it again.  The experience IS challenging, but very satisfying and rewarding if approached correctly.

Start with baby steps, the weekly net on a repeater.
Then learn how to prioritize and handle stations with formal written traffic.  

The Northern Virginia Traffic Net meets daily for this exact training purpose.  The web site www.nvtn.org has all the procedures, etc. to "clone" a training net on your local repeater to get this rolling.  After some experience on such a net, takiung traffic to a section NTS net isn't so imtimidating.  
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W7STS
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« Reply #8 on: March 22, 2005, 02:54:16 AM »

I think that the time to look for Net Ops is when you need them the least, so I applaud the efforts work people through the position in advance.  Any experience gives a new person perspective that most likely is helpful.

I don't think that everyone is a good NCS operator.  I have worked easy nets, intense nets, actual emergency nets, and many public service nets, and I feel the number of hams that have the ability to manage an intense net is relatively few, and they are groomed not born.  The grooming comes from being on both ends of a well run net, and from having the opportunity to be the person in charge of an intense net.

In Maricopa County, Arizona, we are blessed with few actual disasters, but we are very active in Public Service and some of our nets are extremely intense and do involve operations where public safety is in our hands.  We provide communications to several events each year where participant injuries happen in remote areas and the hams become the conduit for EMS personnel.  We have procedures as I am sure most areas do, that define the types of communications that can be passed during priority and emergency conditions, and expect our net operators to maintain good net discipline during these times.

Our Public Service events are "Disaster by Appointment (Ron Reynolds N7WTF) and we utilize these nets to keep our rank and file as well as our Net Operators sharp.  I read that Hams shouldn't be in the position to manage those kinds of nets, and I am in total disagreement on that point.  In our group, we have professional dispatch personnel as well as extremely talented people with a tremendous amount of experience.  What better service to the community can we do than providing qualified people when disaster strikes?  We have an active training program, we are extremely active in public service providing more than 2500 person/hours per year of community service and we stand by to provide emergency communications as required for the community.  Be proactive in grooming Net Control operators, you may need them with little or no warning.

Rick Aldom
W7STS - AZ Section Emergency Coordinator
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STEVEANDANN
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« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2005, 07:20:08 AM »

This may sound terse and very insensitive, but i have witnessed & monitored more than one major wild fire with red cross responce in so cal & monitored You guys on 2m r.a.c.e.s.
I have noticed that a lot of the guys running Your net control & helping just simply seem to be to old.
 What i am saying is they have hearing problems and always seem to get confused when multiple questions and units are calling in for instructions/directions etc...This is not so much an age issue as it is a compitancy/fitness issue. It was very hard to follow as many of these communications were drawn out to the point when i let a few non radio people listen into a san diego emergancy communication net durring a large fire a few years ago they litteraly thought it was a comidy skit.
sorry this is just what i and others noticed.


I personaly would never hand over control of an emergancy network to someone who cannot think fast and act fast, someone who does not have a good short & long term memmory recall and never hand over emergancy net control to someone who is not intimate with the local terain streets roads etc..

Im not trying to be criticle of people who take there personal time and money and invest in helping durring an emergancy i am trying to be honest & helpful from an objective observers point of view
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W0AVV
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« Reply #10 on: March 31, 2005, 11:29:08 AM »

Pat, Et.Al.

Interesting topic and my opinion is it goes both ways. In terms of most ARES/RACES nets, many of them don't require a lot of skill but for some odd reason most people get substatially more intimidated by an event.

 I have worked in the public sector in dispatch and as a NCS for a varitable pelethera of ham radio events and there is a huge difference. There is a huge difference in just the "TYPES" of nets that we hold, even during an event. NCS is not for everyone. I agree with the concept of exposing operators to NCS duties in some capacity, if for no other reason because it allows them to experience what others they may criticize have to go thru, with other ops. It's a lofty and noble goal to have every op, qualified as a net controller, all be it in my view, unrealistic. In all of the ARES/RACES groups I have been exposed to, there are always some who make much better worker bees than NCS'.

 In many cases I have seen personally, no matter how much time you spend with some ops, they will never be net control material. First they must have an earnest desire to be a net control, many simply do NOT! Yes they can read the script, but become flustered when they actually have to listen and respond with some degree of accuracy. These same people, though sometimes very willing to do whatever, can't or won't settle themselves down to LISTEN and then respond. They hear only what they want to hear and respond as if that were the traffic. As we all know, it does not work!

If it were up to me, and as you all know, its not (probably thankfully) there would be a lot more elmering going on in the realm of NCS by what one of our net managers refers to as the "Pros". Expand the ranks of quality NCS, but just plan on it not including the entire membership of any group. Recruting and training takes a fair amount of time to produce a quality product. Perhaps a lot more realistic goal for EC's and Net Managers to consider.

As a last note, there are many who have performed remarkably as NCS for years, but who now are tiring. If efforts are not made to bring many more NCS' up from the ranks, this hobby will be hurting even more than we see now and not that far off in the future. Many areas of the country are already feeling that crunch. Unfortunately mediocrity seems to be acceptable to many managers, for which there is a price.

That's my two bits worth.

73 all,

Randy, W0AVV

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