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Author Topic: NCS problem or EC problem?  (Read 2339 times)

Posts: 410


« on: April 05, 2005, 12:13:34 PM »

From W7STS in the "NCS is easy!(?) thread:
"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."

EXCELLENT point! The real question derives from that statement in "Where
do we groom NCS' from?" While I can understand that many would like to
have each person experience NCS from the microphone end, I cannot believe
that we actually have enough ECs - with the time or knowledge - to do
that grooming yet we need all of those skills more than anything else.

The other side of the coin is how many of our nets are actually
"well run"? I contend FAR fewer than we would like.
- - - - -
GEE! Where have we heard all this before?!
- - - - -

Our real problem is that many of our ECs, are ECs, because they didn't
sit down fast enough at the meeting looking for volunteers to be EC
or worse yet, are there on an ego trip.

How then do we train the trainers? Many of the people with those skills
we really need, have just given up and gone away. Most of those have only
just so much tolerance for the pain in the rear involved in bucking the
"good ole boyz".

How much of this is from the dumbing down of Amateur Radio? I don't
know. I am sure that memorizing 800 or 1K facts and starting to learn CW
to get your Extra does not help. With that there is no knowledge nor
real experience, thus no incentive to improve nor tradition to uphold.

I believe that our real problem is that VERY few are willing to make a
real commitment in time and energy and the few that do are often stifled
by those that "decline" to take respondsibility for their own actions.

Pat, W0IPL
Grinch of the day ;-)

Posts: 2008

« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2005, 01:33:19 PM »

I think the 'dumbing down' idea is an excuse! There is more emphasis on public service now that there ever was, but the percentage of hams actually interested is probably about the same as in past years.

PS takes time and committment. Many younger hams simply don't have the time, what with family and job and all, to make a significant committment on a regular basis.

As for NCS stations, try targeting hams who are MARS members. NCS training is a required component of MARS membership and MARS nets are, by and large, run in a VERY disciplined manner with a minimum of crap and confusion. On a MARS net, the NSC is IN CHARGE and all members understand that. Even when the NCS is wrong, he's right unless the State MARS Director, or the Net Operations Assistant (I have held both positions) countermands him. And in those cases, THEY better be right! And for those hams who only operate on repeaters, running an HF net covering an entire state or a multi-state area is far more difficult than the 100 percent armchair copy of most local repeater-run ARES nets. Smiley

Also, MARS members are required to have participation hours on nets. For example, I put in about 45-60 hours a month on HF MARS nets, both state-wide and regional. While my average is a little higher than the average it is not atypical by any means.


Proudly serving those who serve

Posts: 28


« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2005, 08:56:47 AM »

Where do you find good NCS operators?  We look at new hams who participate in Public Service events.  During these events we look for people who demonstrate an understanding of high volume/ intensity directed nets, the ability to listen to the traffic on the nets, and who seem cool when under stress.  Additionally, I look for potential NCS operators during any other HIGH VOLUME nets such as actual severe weather SkyWarn nets, or actual emergency nets.  I confess that I personally place more emphases on tactical nets than pure traffic nets, and the reason is a traffic net is generally slower paced.  Our tactical nets require the participants to follow the traffic as in many cases the answer to their issues has just been passed and a sharp participant won't have to take up valuable bandwidth to research the issue.  As far as ECs being good NCS operators, I am not sure being an EC is a qualification for NCS.  An EC is a person who has the ability to formulate communications plans; he/she ideally recruits new members, and acts as a liaison to local community emergency planners.  I know some EC's that are decent NCS op's, and I know others that aren't as skilled in managing a fast paced tactical net.  That's not to imply that these people aren't extremely useful to the organization, because without their ability to develop & coordinate resources, where would we be??

I saw a note about how many well run nets there are.  We are proud of the quality of the support we provide and I can only invite you to visit sunny Arizona during one of our nearly 30 events a year that we support to assess our performance yourself.  Some events are slower paced, but others will run your batteries dead in about 4 hours even if you never transmit (the repeaters get a real workout).  We assume whatever levels of support the host agency requests, from virtually handling all the day of event logistics, to simply finding lost kids or family members.  In an event like the MS150 (150 mile two day bike ride), we will have about 100 hams participating for about 30-40 hours in a 48 hour event.  Those events are challenging because not only are the HIGH VOLUME, HIGH STRESS, but many of the participants haven’t had the sleep they need, and frequently the sleep they get is on a floor in a classroom with 10 other people.  Other events may only require a handful of hams for support, and the biggest challenge is in staying awake!  

We don’t currently have a formal NCS class; however we are actively developing one, and hope to have it out this summer.  Our method of training potential NCS operators has been to invite candidates to participate on lower stress events as NCS operator with an experienced NCS as a backup/mentor.  In this way, we can see if the candidate will freeze up, or rise to the occasion.  We find that people that want to participate as NCS operators usually need to work several slower paced events, before they have the confidence to work the bigger ones.  Some prefer working the smaller and less stressful events, and others crave the challenge.  We do have an eight hour class that we teach several times a year, and it covers not only net protocols, but personal and event safety.  We want the people that participate to be safe when they support bike rides and to not be a hazard to the event participants.  This class includes lectures on RF propagation, battery care and feeding, as well as role playing and an actual scripted net exercise.  This has been a very successful training program for the Maricopa County Emergency Communications Group.

You have probably noticed the focus on Public Service.  In Arizona we are blessed with nearly no emergency activations.  In the more rural counties we get 1 or 2 real activations a year.  In Maricopa county (the Phoenix metro area) we have nearly NO activations, so the only meaningful way to develop and maintain our skills is through public service events.  Planning communications support for an event requires the same attention to detail that is required to develop communications support for an actual emergency.  We probably get more planning experience than many areas which only have a focus on EMCOMM.  As the saying goes, “any port in a storm”.

Rick Aldom – W7STS – Arizona Section Emergency Coordinator

Posts: 29

« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2005, 09:03:40 AM »

I'm lucky - one of my AECs is an ex-military net controler.  He makes a good net control, and has drummed it into the rest of us.  I have one other military radioman in my group too.

Posts: 1045


« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2005, 12:43:48 PM »


I you have hit the nail squarely on the head. Here  you seldom hear an EC or DEC check into a section or region NTS net.  Too few of the OES do either. Fellows who do NTS are a different breed of cat than those involved in ARES or RACES.

In some sections NTS is mostly an HF activity, so  uncoded techs have no means to learn proper NTS procedure from an expert.  We are lucky in the Baltimore-Washington area that there are several VHF training nets which meet on wide area coverage 2 meter repeaters.  Liaisons from section or region HF nets check in daily to pass formal traffic directed to the local area, and instruct aspiring NCS in net procedures, including generating reports normally expected by the League of an NTS net.  

The best example of an NTS training net I have heard anywhere in the country is the Baltimore Traffic Net. The Northern Virginia Traffic Net was cloned directly from the BTN model.  The BTN and NVTN have trained many NCS and skilled traffic handlers which have gone on to become regulars on the HF nets.

While ARES members are comfortable handling informal tactical traffic for the MS walk or a marathon, this is a far cry from the kind of resource status, damage assessment, or shelter traffic which is needed during a real emergency.

Training materials such as:

... are a start, but there is no substitute for actually getting on the air and doing it.

The DEC and EC and their OES need to set an example.
If they aren't active on the air and don't generate local traffic for training purposes they aren't doing their job!  The SEC should replace them. Not always easy to do, but position descriptions which establish the expectation are a start.  Anybody who would like examples can contact me.

Posts: 828

« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2005, 08:23:56 PM »

<How much of this is from the dumbing down of Amateur Radio?>
 Considering that the amateur exams never tested actual net operator skills, probably none. There are, after all, other radio services and types and there are some fine operators on them.

 I would say net operators are "born and THEN groomed" because there are some people who simply were born without the knack for it, despite whatever otherfine skills they may have.

 Training and practice can and should certainly help...but there are always going to be some people who can't figure out that you press the button THEN talk. Or worse.<G> Doesn't mean they aren't skilled or valuable people...there are many important skill sets and "net operator" is just one.

Posts: 1

« Reply #6 on: April 26, 2005, 03:28:01 PM »

Hello all, I do agree with the thought that NCS and EC's are two completely different creatures. EC's do not have to be good NCS operators. NCS operators do not have to participate in emergency comms. I was told about three years ago that if a good EC does his job right, then in the event of an activation, he or she does not even have to get on the air. Think about this! The EC's job is to "Coordinate" the activities of the ARES group. If the EC schedules net controls and manning for any and all requested sites, why would they really have to go on the air? NCS stations involved with the NTS ( National Traffic System) may or may not ever have to pass true emergency traffic. Here in the Baltimore area the two groups overlap quite a bit and work well together. In a perfect world, All ARES stations would be proficient NCS stations and all NCS ops would be ARES members. We do not live in a perfect world! Having said all that, let me qualify it by saying that I am now, and have been, the EC for Baltimore City/County for over 2 years now. I have scheduled 72 hours of continuous coverage for the ARC during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. My job as a storm patroller for the local utility kept me on 12 hour shifts and prevented me from doing more than monitoring and checking in briefly. I routinely travel from site to site during our ARES drills, not having an active station. My job is over before the event starts! On the other hand, up until recently, I have served for about 2 years as the regular Friday night NCS for the Baltimore Traffic Net as well as a liasion from the Third Region net to the Maryland Emergency Phone Net to the BTN. I only gave up these tasks recently due to a new job with a high learning curve and some medical issues. One of the most glaring issues that I experienced on the HF nets was the "Old Timers"  Some of these folks mean well and have been doing the nets regularly for quite some time. There are a few of these ops that could not CORRECTLY pass a piece of formal traffic if their life depended on it! Years of repeating the same mistakes does not account for experience! If this offends anyone out there, then I suggest you really listen to a net and then try to figure out how to convince these guys to do it the right way! If a new ham correctly learns 80% of what he is taught, he will be 80 percent effective! If the same ham is only taught traffic handling 80% correctly, then he, at best, is only functioning at a 60% level! We are truely blessed in the Baltimore area to have a local op who has literally written the book on traffic handling! "father Al" as we call him, W3YVQ has probably forgotten more about traffic procedures than I will ever know. I have about eight of my ARES guys,out of 25 that could pick up a net on a moments notice and run it professionally. Others are starting into the traffic process. Keep in mind that these are MY OPINIONS from experience. I have not made any of this up and do not expect everyone to agree. As for the dumbing down of Amateur Radio. When you have people walk into a testing station green and walk out an Extra class Operator, what do you expect! I say there should be at 1 year between class advancement to learn "Radio Etiquette"! 73 All
In His service,
Jim Cundiff KB3GFC
ARES EC Baltimore City/County  

Posts: 28


« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2005, 08:51:17 AM »

<<While ARES members are comfortable handling informal tactical traffic for the MS walk or a marathon, this is a far cry from the kind of resource status, damage assessment, or shelter traffic which is needed during a real emergency.>>

I sense a perception that public service events are small scale events that are a flash in the pan.  Here in Arizona, I have found the opposite to be true.  Many events we do are multi-day events.  Usually they involve days of preparation by Ham event coordinators.  In many of our events, we utilize 25 or more hams.  The MS 150 has used more than 100 hams.  In just about any given month, we have more public service hours than all the EMCOMM hours the State has in a year (summer months excepted).  

On a skills management side, we have hams that are EMTs, firefighters, police officers, professionals and some who have retired.  Event Coordinators and net controllers have to know the skills of the teams they are managing to be effective.  Some of this comes from the event coordinator (or EC in the EMCOMM side) by assigning people to tasks they can handle.  We can assume that a Med unit is either an EMT or a shadow ham paired to an EMT.  Our "safety" units have skills and equipment that other units may not have.  Recognizing the capabilities of the tactical call sign is something that all net controllers should be able to do.  In our system, we use standard tactical signs to help net controllers know what the capabilities of the station are.  The COMM plan and preparation for events is as detailed as most EMCOMM plans are, complete with formal logging forms, and contingency plans for system failures.

I have always found passing formal written traffic to be far easier than passing tactical traffic.  In my Navy days aboard subs, I had to pass tactical traffic on the sound powered phone circuits during maneuvering.  As easy as it sounds, it's actually quiet difficult to repeat with accuracy a paragraph barked out by the skipper, and then listen to the reply and repeat it back accurately.  

Having a script seems in my mind to make communications that much easier, all you have to do is enunciate and speak slowly enough that another operator can scribble with accuracy.

Maybe because we are in a hot environment, or maybe we are unlucky, but we seem to have a need for escalation of the net to a priority or emergency status generally once per event.  In several cases, traffic of a true life saving nature followed.  Our tactical nets frequently involve REAL EMERGENCY TRAFFIC.  Some involve air-evacs, some involve ground transport, and others turn out to be casual trips to the ER for a two hour wait for a doctor.  Having knowledge of routes, location of critical assets such as BLS and ALS medical teams, being able to quickly calculate ETAs is something that is developed over time, and is a critical part of Situational Awareness which every net controller should have.

While formal traffic nets are important, don't discount the tactical variety of traffic passing.  For the tactical net manager, being able to maintain situational awareness is a skill that you won't develop while passing formal traffic.  It comes from hours of practice, working with net controllers who have been in the wringer and survived.  Situational Awareness is a skill that when properly developed serves not only the tactical net controller, but areas of traffic management.
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