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Well, you know what they say about opinions...

As a web site owner, I get to use my space to share some of my thoughts about Amateur Radio.   Here are some of my thoughts you might have seen in the mailing lists:


Just a few thoughts about ham participation in events...

Take a step back and take a look at what you're REALLY doing in an event. To do this, you'll have to be brutally honest. Are you really making a difference? If you weren't there, would anyone really notice?

This may seem harsh, but it's for a reason. I see events with Amateur participation going into some very different directions. Think of your major events and see which one fits yours the best.

One is based in tradition "We've done it this way for years and it works. Why change it?" In this mode you'll hear the term 'shadow' a lot. "Shadow this guy and pass his messages as traffic to the net so that this critical information can be passed to another official who needs it" New technologies, like APRS, aren't welcomed. No need for it. In some cases, the people being shadowed now carry city owned or rented commercial radios and are communicating themselves.

Does this sound familiar? You've stood on the same corner for many years. No pre-event briefing is needed, everyone has been doing it the same way for every year. Observe and report. Take no action, just report what you see to net control. Maybe answer some questions, give directions. Stand in uniform, hold your radio and look official. If you look carefully, you'll see other people doing what you're doing. Paid police officers, fire fighters, and others who are trained to do more than just observe. They have the training to do something when someone passes out. You might feel a bit helpless when something does go wrong near your post. Yes, your eyes are two more on the route, but they're just that, eyes.

Here's where I think we SHOULD be going....

Another mode is that YOU are now the guy who used to be shadowed. You are now the player, making decisions, taking input and acting on it. You are using amateur radio, but it isn't your primary role. You aren't the screwdriver, you're the engine. The feeling after the event is totally different. It really wouldn't have been the same event without you.

We IMPROVE the event. We apply our technology to the goal of the event. We aren't just told to show up, we've invited to the planning meetings of the organization. Our input is welcomed to reshape the event. We actually save the group some money by making them more efficient. This means more money for the charity. You do this by thinking outside the box. What training can YOU get to make yourself more useful at the event? Are you trained in first aid? Why not? Are you active in CERT yet? You've shadowed the parade staging guy for years... how about actually doing staging next year? We know electronics, set up a traffic light to help the guy who paces the parade units. If you see a better way of doing the event, suggest it. We're trained technology experts... don't let that go to waste.

As we all know, we can't hand out ham radios to the players in the event and let them use them. BUT, we can take one of their radios and talk to them on it. We're trained communicators. Yes, ham radio is a tool in our tool box, but we can also use our training to use other radios. Don't be shy to take a trunking radio on the city's system. Make sure you know it so well you can show others how to use it. All those beep and boobs mean something. If you aren't already, the CP should be where the officials come to check out the commercial radios and get the briefing on how they work. We know how to charge and test the radios and keep records of who has what radio. And know their language. You should be able to understand everything you hear on a fire and police radio. Just being able to know that your information is being dispatched correctly can make a difference.

All this comes in very handy in an emergency too. These are the people you'll be working with after a disaster. I've heard the 'you can't beat plain English in an emergency'. That's great if everyone else agrees to speak in plain English. But the professionals won't be, so you have to learn how to understand them. And they sure as hell won't understand our terms and slang, and we have more than they do. QSL and 73 OM. Just getting to the point is hard for many of us. If you've been transmitting more than 10 seconds during an event net, you're blocking something else that might be more important. It's really hard to turn off the rag-chew mode. Listen to the pros and you'll see they get their important messages through in seconds with a minimum of repeats. I've heard the question "How many gallons of water do you have?" get answered by at least two minutes of everything you would want to know about water except how much was left.

Next event, tape the net frequency. A few weeks later, listen to it and look for common themes. If you hear 'Where is the ICE truck?" 20 times then next year, put an APRS tracker on it. If the organizers say that don't know how many riders are on the sag wagon, come up with a way to use packet to send the biker's numbers to net control. The driver could be equipped with a key pad or a scanner to send a report automatically. A printer at the Command Post gives the organizers what they need. In general, keep an open mind and be willing to say that things should change. You have to be involved in the event planning to get to this level. But when they see what you're offering, you'll be invited back. If your area sufferers from politics, this sort of change can be really painful. Sometimes the Amateur ego gets in the way of the big picture.

When you listen to the tape, see how much of the traffic is event related and how much is amateur radio related. If 70% of your net is about getting the free lunch and tee shirts distributed to the hams on their post, then something is wrong. Even asking where rovers are is a waste of time when you have technologies like APRS available. I've watched the voice traffic drop to next to nothing when APRS is involved. Might seem a bit boring on the air, but the CP is constantly looking at the screen and it tells as much as a few minutes of air time. If net control has to ask anyone where they are, that's wasted time given today's technology. They're either on their assigned station, or their position is on the screen at the CP.

Participating in events can be really rewarding. But from time to time, you need to look at what can improve. As you see more and more of your ideas being implemented, you'll know deep inside that you're making a huge difference and you'll look forward to doing it all again next year.

Hopefully all this will get the thoughts flowing. Your input is welcome, but if it's not on topic in the list, please use direct e-mail.


And now some responses...

A couple weeks ago, I posted a message about how I think we should approach our involvement in public service events. I just got some interesting feedback from it that I wanted to share with the SIG. Mainly because I think we need to understand the mind set outside of the APRS circles. We need to remember that for every step we want to take forward in technology, there's a ham out there that wants to keep things just they way they are. Their mantra is "Not our job". Thinking outside of the box is strictly forbidden. My e-mail was published in a news letter (with my approval) and I got the following, indirectly, as feedback. Since it wasn't sent directly to me, I don't feel right in publishing his or her information. But I'm only posting this to prove that there's a very anti-technology sentiment out there that we need to be alert to. If you want to see what this was in response too, check the archives for a message with the subject "Special event operations"! from me dated 10/23/00.

[The name of the author of this has been omitted]


>Just a personal note on the Emergency Communications article. [omitted] and I both received that E-mail as well and discussed it at length. We felt that it is plain and simply a BAD article written by an egotistical techno-nut intent on convincing everyone else on how superior his perceived emergency communications skills are. And, quite frankly, he's batting in entirely the WRONG ball park.

>It is not OUR job to organize an event for the organizers. That is THEIR job. It is not OUR job to operate THEIR radios or public safety radios for THEM. That too is THEIR job. While having first aid skills is certainly commendable for communicators, amateur radio support of public service events is to provide safety communications and to let the professionals know when and where there is a problem and facilitate as rapid a professional response as possible. If a first-aid trained ham operator gets busy with CPR or first aid, they may well neglect the communication aspects of the situation on which the professionals rely.

>It is hard enough to get good ham communicators for events without requiring that they be first-aid certified, have thorough knowledge of public safety protocols and emergency codes and have thorough knowledge of how to operate public safety communication equipment and trunked systems, and to boot, be APRS equipped. For the most part, we assign operators to known checkpoints at designated locations with a few rovers. While APRS might be useful for rovers, it would only slow down response in terms of the known checkpoints. If this egotistical SOB is a police or ambulance wanna-be fine -- amateur radio isn't keeping him from achieving those goals, but to say that all amateurs who volunteer their time, equipment and effort to provide safety communications at events have to meet his perceived lofty goals is ABSURD.

[signature omitted]

Ray, I tend to agree with the person who wrote the reply. If hams volunteer to provide communications for an event, I think they should provide radio communications. Let the Pros and the Event people handle the other stuff. We have all seen the bad examples of the Hams who are Public Safety -wanna-bes. They scare the hell out of me.

Rik Rasmussen WA4BAN Communications Maintenance Administrator City of Durham, NC

There seems to be outright hostility toward amateurs from some of the professional emergency people. Last year I was working as volunteer at a Y2K preparedness drill and was confronted by a guy who ask me "What were you amateurs doing here?" Fortunately one of his fellow workers quickly lead him away before I could reply. I was out there to help and not to take somebodies job away. Volunteers are very badly underappreciated and abused. This sort of attitude seems to have also caused the demise of our local RACES chapter because of little or no support from the local governments. What will happen when all else fails, they are screaming for help and we are not available? I enjoy helping other people because it is so very, very important and that is why I volunteer, even if I have put up with the apathy, office politics and other nonsense. One last point I am no wannabe and I am someone who cares.

Earl F. Hoppe, KE6CIM

Firefighter, EMT-1A (Retired) Fire Dept. Dispatcher (Retired) First Aid Instructor, American Red Cross (Retired) CPR Instructor, American Red Cross (Retired)

I will concede that police wannabees are extremely dangerous. But public safety wannabees?! Aren't we public service personnel?! Granted, we 'work' on a volunteer basis, sometimes in a limited capacity, but I still maintain that ham radio operators are public service personnel! This is most obvious through organizations such as the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES). When a ham volunteers through an organization such as ARES, I believe that he /she is an active public service / public safety worker.

As a public service / public safety 'worker', hams should be expected to have minimum requirements. In an event, hams should not be relied on as primary first responders, but should something happen, shouldn't that ham have the basic first aid / CPR skills to step in and act? Or should he/she stand helpless, calling on the RADIO for help, possibly letting the situation worsen?

I am the communications director for the Georgia Games, arguably one of the best amateur sports consortiums in the United States. This volunteer position forces me to do more than talk on the radio and provide radio communications. During these events, I pride myself on the fact that MY hams always stay in touch. If the operator has a problem with his / her radio, he / she has the wherewithal to use alternate means of communication. Several hams volunteer as not only radio operators, but also for security and medical (when they have demonstrated that they have the additional training to volunteer for these positions). I pride myself on these multi-skilled hams. The Georgia Games has a very tight budget, and every additional person (volunteer) means that another meal must be purchased, another t-shirts provided. These multi-skilled hams save the organization money! A perfect example was during a multi-day event this summer. There was a serious security issue at a venue that needed to be handled by Games personnel. While Games staff and I responded to this and made our way over to the venue, I contacted hams on the scene, and giving them explicit instructions and having them work with the existing security team, to keep the venue secured. Without them doing this would have meant that the situation could have evolved into a serious problem.

I had another opportunity to visit one of the venues during some down time and enjoy watching amateur sports. Midway through the competition, there was a medical situation that the medical personnel on scene responded to. While they were handling this situation, another much more serious medical situation evolved. There were limited medical personnel on scene, so acting within the scope of my training, I assisted medical with the less serious patient, allowing the other medical personnel to handle the more serious situation. During both of these, I contacted the hams at the venue, and requested that they assist the security team in securing areas around both of these patients. Without these hams doing more than radio communications, the Games would have been faced with the possibility of a much more serious medical emergency, and people crowding around these patients.

The most rewarding part of the Games for me was the final night of the competitions. There was severe weather moving through the area. Finishing the competition was high priority, but the safety of all involved was of utmost priority. Hams in surrounding areas activated Skywarn nets and provided spotting reports. These reports indicated a thunderstorm with a possible tornado in the area, allowing me to issue a Stop Competition order and Severe Weather alert, keeping all those involved safe. Due to the Skywarn nets, I was able to issue this order to the Games 10 minutes before NWS issued a tornado warning for the area! These hams did more than talk on the radio! They used their Skywarn training to provide spotting reports!

I also volunteer for numerous bike rides throughout Georgia, including the Bike Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) and many Multiple Sclerosis (MS) rides. During these events, I not only provide communications, but I also serve as a 'sag wagon' driver. It hardly makes sense to have two people, the driver and ham, in a car, both performing individual functions, when one can do the duty of two!

I definitely agree that a ham acting as a wannabee police officer or fireman is dangerous. But by the same token, I think that a ham ONLY providing radio communications is detrimental to the event or organization as well as the safety of those involved.

I would like to echo Ray's sentiments and encourage hams to become adept at technology, as well as become trained in basic first-aid / CPR. You never know when you might have to act on your training to save another person's life!

73, David 

David Ziskind, KE4QLH Emergency Coordinator, North Fulton County, Georgia, Amateur Radio Emergency Service Communications Director, Georgia Games

Don't get too carried away on the call sign thing. When he posts his call sign, he uses a "slash zero", which is a special character on the PC. Some email systems don't allow the special characters, and they replace it with the X... His call sign is [omitted] not the KX that you got.

Anyway, He has been the President of the local Ham club, for the last 2 or 3 years. Prior to my joining, he was also the Secretary, Treasurer, and Newsletter editor. Likewise he is the ARES liaison for our area, and our OEM liaison. It had basically turned into [omitted] 's club,,, and has been suffering a lot.

Since I joined, I was elected as Secretary, got a friend elected as Treasurer, and took over the Newsletter. [Omitted]  didn't like "the new blood", and hence resigned as President, and we got a new one, just last month. Things are "beginning" to look up.

The new ARRL Emergency Communications Course does a pretty good job defining the size of the box. It also does a fair job explaining why we, as Communicators, need to be trained in other things like ICS, First Aid, 800 Mhz Trunking Systems, Fax Machines etc. We can all do a lot better job during any event or emergency situation by knowing a lot about the agencies that we are serving ... as well as how to help save our own hides or the hide of a fellow HAM.

This is not to suggest that we are supposed to DO everything but rather that we should be familiar with many things other than pure Communications in order to enhance our contribution. Cross training with Public Service Organizations is a great way to develop this capability.

I highly recommend taking all the courses that are available through FEMA, plus many of the Red Cross Courses ... and most importantly keep current on the features of APRS so we can use the mode to full advantage.

Anyone who is not familiar with the ARRL EmComm course should take a look. You will be pleased to note that it includes APRS.


Who died and got these guys to take over in heaven?

If any of my folks ( and I am DEC for Central VA) had that attitude, they would find themselves used rather infrequently in the events that we do on a routine basis. Most of the public service types are pleased to have us around because we can communicate under adverse conditions AND understand the trunking radio system. Lots of my folks are EMT's and give us an added (perhaps false!) sense of security on some of the far out in the country events.

Sorry you have to deal with such a narrow mindset. In this day and age of trunked radio systems and cell phones taking the place of jobs that hams used to do, we have to adapt and overcome, as Clint Eastwood would say, and find new ways of assisting our friends in the public sector. Here in the Lynchburg area, the gee whiz things like APRS and Kenwood cameras are items of great interest rather than downers. I had several Fire Department folks glued to the monitor during our recent 10 mile race, and were just delighted to be able to view the assets in real time and follow the front of the race by watching instead of asking.

Enough.  73  Geep WA4RTS

So... some food for thought.   If nothing else it has been an interesting debate.  Let me know what you think. 


Except for portions owned by others, Copyright: Ray Vaughan, 2008