Emergency Amateur Radio Club
Amateur Radio Net Participation Guidelines

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1.  Net Protocols

a.  Legal

Legal requirements within nets are those of identification and operation on frequencies within the amateur radio bands.  The FCC tells us that you MUST identify at 10-minute intervals during a conversation and in your last transmission.  During periods of heavy activity in event nets it is easy to forget when you last identified.

The easiest way to insure that you comply with FCC identification requirements during an event net is to identify with your FCC issued call sign as you complete an exchange.  This serves as two functions: 1) Tells NCS you consider the exchange to be complete without having to use extra words (saves time) and 2) Fulfills all FCC identification requirements.

b.  Customary

Customary protocols will normally be used in long standing, non-emergency nets.  They may include such practices as identifying with the FCC call sign of both stations on each transmission, giving the FCC call sign of the next person to talk or many other variations.

Please listen to the net before joining.  Customary protocols will easily stand out.

c.  Tactical Calls -- When and how to use them

Tactical calls are used to identify a location during an event regardless of who is operating.  This is an important concept.  The tactical call allows you to contact a location without knowing the FCC call of the operator there.  It also virtually eliminates confusion at shift changes and when a person takes a break from operating.  Think about that.  Do you answer a call from the sound of a persons voice or from the identified location?  Obviously from the identified location.

Tactical calls should be used for all Emergency nets once there are more than three participants and most public service nets if there is more than minimal traffic.

Net control will assign the tactical call as each location is opened.  It will normally be some unique identifier that indicates the location or function.  Some examples are:

NET: For Net Control

FIREBASE-1: For the first fire base established or the fire base in a particular region.

CHECKPOINT-1: For the first checkpoint in a public service event.

CP: For the Event Command Post

AID-3: For the third aid station on a route.

Proper use of tactical calls can be best explained by example:

Initiating a call

If you were at Aid Station Three during a directed net and wanted to contact Net Control, you would say "NET, AID 3", or, in crisper nets, simply, "AID 3."  If you have emergency traffic you would say, "AID 3 Emergency Traffic", or for priority traffic, "AID 3, Priority Traffic."

Notice how you have conveyed all information necessary without using unnecessary words or taking unnecessary time.

If you had traffic for another location, such as Check Point Five, you would say, "AID 3, TRAFFIC FOR CHECKPOINT 5."  This tells NCS everything needed to handle the traffic.  NCS will then call Checkpoint 5 with "CHECKPOINT 5, CALL AID 3 FOR TRAFFIC", if there is no other traffic holding.

Traffic during a call

Tactical calls will normally not be used in the contact unless a separate location is mentioned in the message.

Completing a call

To complete the call from AID 3, after the message/traffic is complete, you would say, "(Your FCC Call), AID 3."  This fulfills your identification requirements and tells NCS that you believe the call to be complete.

The above is the same for all participants under virtually all traffic examples.

d.  Participating in a net

Enjoy yourself -- Amateur Radio public service is fun!  Prepare yourself.  Are your batteries charged?  Are you on your best antenna for the frequency/repeater you will be on?  Do you have pencil, paper, or other items you think you will need?  Listen.  If you are there at the start of the net or join one in progress, LISTEN for several minutes before you check-in.  NCS will announce/ask for what they want.

Follow all NCS instructions.  NCS will ask for specific people/categories-of-people as they are needed.  Follow instructions.

DO NOT EDITORIALIZE: "This is Phred in the Northeast portion of the county at 9300 feet where it is snowing, but it was sunny five minutes ago when I came in from feeding the birds, geese, and hamsters, but it's cold right now and it looks like it could rain in the next day or so -- just checking in" is UNNECESSARY AND UNWANTED!  This ties up the net and does nothing to add usable information.  Check in with your CALLSIGN ONLY!  Add name and other information as requested by NCS.

Plan your transmission.  If you have more information than just your Name/Call then jot it down.  You can, if necessary, just read your note.  This promotes clear, concise information.

Check in ONLY if you are going to be part of the net.  Do NOT check-in as "in and out" or "for the count."  You are either joining the net or just listening.

Checking in with "This is" then a pause or unkey followed by the call may work on a few nets, but causes delays and potential problems on most.

(Local net option)  Unless your transmission is longer than ten minutes, you need only identify at the end of the transmission/exchange of information.

Let NCS know when you leave or if you need to leave early.  Do not go into details of why you need to leave.

During an event, if the authorities ask you to move, do so immediately and without comment, then notify the NCS of your change in status as soon as you can.

If an on-scene authority requests that you shut your radio off, or that you not transmit, do what they ask immediately and without question.  This is one circumstance where you do not notify the NCS of a change in status.  This deserves a little explanation.  This would normally occur only if there is a presence of explosives or explosive chemicals or vapors, and there is the possibility that a spark producing electronic device is present which might be triggered by an RF signal.

Be patient with the NCS.  An NCS operator is under high stress.  His questions and request should be clear and crisp; but as he/she begins to tire, there may be a tendency to become rather terse.  Typically, there is a whole lot going on at the NCS site that the field operators never know about.

Hams are patriotic, independent people, and they are volunteers.  The attitude among a few hams is that "Volunteers don't have to take orders."  That's absolutely correct.  We don't have to take orders, but if you're not ready to follow instructions, you may want to do something outside ARES/RACES.

e.  Leaving a net

You will leave a net for one of three reasons:

1.  The location is closing

If NCS has given you directions to close the location, simply identify with your FCC issued call, the location tactical call and the word "CLOSED."  The NCS will tell you if anything else is needed.

If you are closing the location on orders of the served agency, you will identify with your FCC issued call, location tactical call, and the phrase "location CLOSED per (Name of Person -- served agency identification)."

2.  You need a break and there is no relief operator

Tell NCS that "I will be away from the radio for (number of minutes)" and end with Tactical ID, (your call)."

3.  You have turned the location over to another operator

You will normally not need to tell NCS that you are leaving.  However, if there are specific instructions from NCS, then follow those instructions.

f.  Don't over identify

There is normally nothing that will expend more time, needlessly, than over identification.  Someone that uses their FCC issued call in every transmission is usually a person that is unsure of themselves, or, worse yet, someone that is more interested in having their call known to everyone at the event.  In the latter situation, help them find work elsewhere.

The FCC tells us that you need only identify at ten minute intervals during a conversation (NOT during a net unless you talk more than ten minutes) and during your last transmission.

If you end each exchange with your call, that tells everyone that you are of the opinion that the exchange is complete and you fulfill all FCC requirements.

g.  Write it down

The easiest way to minimize what you say during a net is to write down everything before you key the microphone.  Since very few of us like to write lengthy, this will promote brevity.

An excellent place to keep this information is in your location log.  This serves two purposes: 1) You have a complete log of everything that came from your location, and 2) It will become very brief.

II.  Roles in a net

a.  NCS

The NCS is in charge of the net while it is in session.  He/she is responsible for controlling who uses the frequency and when they pass traffic.  This needs to be balanced with the fact that you will be dealing with volunteers.

Net Control shall have a commanding signal, i.e. clear, crisp signal with good audio characteristics.

NCS must keep track of which resources are on the net and who has cleared the frequency.  NCS is also responsible for knowing what traffic each person is capable of dealing with (sending HF traffic to a Technician No Code will not work).

In medium and large operations you need to have a backup NCS and a person to log.

Keep a written record of incidents and all traffic passed.  This does not mean a copy of all formal traffic -- simply an overview of the message.

Make ALL instructions clear and concise, using as few words as possible.

Use tactical callsigns.  If participants do not follow your lead, only recognize those using tactical calls (obviously all bets are off if it is emergency traffic).

Different nets handle different traffic.  Should someone try to pass traffic that should be on another net, refer them to the correct net.

b.  NCS backup

There are two types of NCS backups.  The first is located in the same room/area as the NCS and acts as relief of the NCS at regular intervals.  The second type is a person that maintains a duplicate log of everything happening at the event and is available should there be a failure at the primary NCS location.  Whenever there are enough people working an event, an offsite backup NCS should be maintained.  This person must be operating with the knowledge and consent of the NCS station and should be known to the entire net.

c.  Loggers

People to handle the operational log for the event are very important to the smooth operation of the event.  These people free the NCS from having to split their time/effort down to a level that is neither efficient nor productive.  Every net will be enhanced by a good logger.

d.  Site communicators

Site communicators have the responsibility of listening to everything that happens on the net and maintaining contact with the served agency people at the site.  They need to produce formal traffic as applicable, maintain a log of activity at their location and be responsive to the needs of their served agency people.

It will be far easier to handle all the tasks at the location if there were at least two people there (this presumes an emergency situation).

e.  General communicators

Report to the NCS promptly as they become available.
Ask clearance from NCS before using the frequency.
Answer PROMPTLY when called by NCS.
Use tactical callsigns.
Follow established net protocol.

f.  Listeners -- LISTEN!

The most helpful listener, during an emergency, is one that listens and stays quiet!  NCS does not care that you are listening unless he asks for assistance from listeners.  Normally there will be enough people working the net to handle everything NCS needs.

g.  Liaison Stations

Liaison stations provide the communication link between two nets.  They will generally be limited to two nets so they can maintain good communications between the nets.

Liaison stations will need to have at least two radios, each with their own antenna.  These antennas must be operated sufficiently to NOT interfere with the other radio when the operator transmits on either frequency.

Liaison stations will be appointed by NCS or the staffing officer, usually from trained operators.


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