CCAR Activation – How will I know?

First, you must be a registered CCAR operator and have met the minimum training requirements in order to be on the notification list. Impromptu, untrained volunteers are extremely difficult to integrate into an already confusing emergency response. Impromptu, uncertified volunteers will be used in extreme situations, and then they should be paired with a trained, experienced operator.

THE ACTIVATION PLAN

The entire plan is detailed in SOP1—CCAR Activation (see CCAR Standard Operating Procedures). Each CCAR member should know the plan and follow it closely. The plan was developed in detail, and then reduced to a checklist that both CCDES and CCAR officers can keep nearby at all times. It details the circumstances under which activation might occur, who does what, and the various methods used for contact. Your CCAR registration information is the main ingredient in this plan, and the accuracy of the information you provide is important. It must be verified frequently and is updated annually as you re-register.

The ARRL Section ARES and Pennsylvania RACES operate under the “lead agency” principle. This means that CCAR, as a local organization operating under both banners, responds to requests from the agency that has the authority under local, county or state legislation to provide the lead in response to an emergency or disaster. In Chester County, this is CCDES. By following this guideline, amateur radio resources are coordinated where emergency management officials are in the best position to prioritize communications needs and decide any conflicts for resources. Thus, CCAR is activated by the authorized CCAR official at the request of
the Chester County Department of Emergency Services, or another agency, which has requested CCAR assistance through CCDES.

“The authorized CCAR official” means the Emergency Coordinator (EC), the RACES Officer (RO), or an officer who is designated to act if the EC or RO are not available.

One or more CCAR officers will receive a request from the Director, Deputy Director of CCDES, or 911 Supervisor on duty by pager, telephone or other means. Once a request is received, we use a combination of methods to alert members. These include:

  • Telephone notification by automated message delivery from the 911 call center. Messages will be left on answer machines.
  • Personal telephone call.
  • Pager or text-messaging notification.
  • Announcements on a CCAR primary repeater frequency
  • Email notification sent to members subscribed to the CCAR email server (see http://mailman.qth.net/mailman/listinfo/ccar).

If you should become aware of an incident or communications emergency, you should contact a CCAR officer to ensure that CCAR leadership is aware of the situation. Take steps to make yourself available. Monitor the primary CCAR frequencies. CCAR members must not self-deploy or respond to a request from any agency unless an authorized CCAR official has announced activation. If you are not specifically authorized to contact served agency personnel, do not do it.

I have been notified – now what?

Remember—your first obligation is to your family. That obligation may make you unavailable for deployment. (If so, stay home, check in from there and assist as able.) Contact your spouse, children or other family members to let them know what is happening and where you will be. Give them any instructions they will need to be safe. Tell them when you will next try to contact them, and how they may contact you if necessary. Knowing that everyone is OK can let you do your job without needless worry, and, of course, the same is true for them.

Next, check into the Resource Net on one of the primary CCAR frequencies. This will initially be on a linked repeater system. Register your availability and answer any questions NCS asks. The first person signing in should act as NCS temporarily until an assigned NCS checks in. Please see the latest CCAR Standard Communication Plan for current frequency information. If you are unable to check in by radio, call the RACES room at 610-344-5034 or 610-344-4445.

Maintain a watch on the Resource Net while you tend to last-minute preparations for possible deployment. Depending on the current activation response level, you may have time for additional preparations, or not. The activation response levels and your appropriate actions are:

Level 1 (Standby--deployment is possible) – you should check your equipment and ensure you have adequate emergency power and a 72-hour preparedness kit. Fill your vehicle with fuel, pick up any supplies you may need, such as alkaline batteries, food, water and anything missing from your checklist.

Level 2 (Alert--deployment is likely without further notice) – you should load equipment for transport and check all items not previously readied. You may be asked to move to a Marshaling Center, a site set up to process volunteers or issue credentials and stage volunteers for assignments. You may need to wait for an assignment, and this may take some time, especially if the situation is confused. Often, the development of the response to an emergency is unclear and it takes time to develop a cohesive and uniform response plan. You should expect the situation to be fluid. Each incident is unique, and you should respond accordingly. Be prepared to wait patiently.

In other cases, such as the immediate aftermath of a tornado, earthquake, plane or train crash, you must make arrangements as you go. Travel may be difficult or impossible, so you may need to do what you can, where you can. Nets may be established on an ad-hoc basis using whatever means are available. Be flexible and be aware.

Level 3 (Deployment—operators are dispatched to assigned sites or a Marshalling Center) – Listen for your station to be called on the Resource Net. You will receive specific instructions from the NCS. Maintain contact with the Resource NCS as you travel to your assignment and sign off the net only after you arrive. Follow NCS instructions.

Some members may have specific or standing assignments, including making contact with a specific served agency or hospital, going directly to a specific location, or making certain preparations. If this is the case, you must still check into the Resource Net and keep managers aware of your progress and whereabouts.

The Resource Net NCS should also provide talk-in assistance if you are having trouble locating your assigned location or contact person.

Upon Arrival

  • Seek the person in charge or the contact person provided with your assignment. Identify yourself and explain you have been assigned to set up a communications station for that location, and by whom. Present your credentials, take any briefing they offer, and begin setting up.
  • If you are relieving another operator, receive their briefing and take notes.
  • As soon as possible, establish a location from which to work. It should serve as both an operating and message desk, have feedline access to a suitable antenna location, have access to power and telephone, and be just isolated enough from the command center to avoid disturbing each other. Ask about hazards you should be aware of, or cause you to relocate later. If no building or suitable shelter is available, you may need to set up your own tent, or work from your vehicle. Choose a location that provides shelter from wind, precipitation, and is close enough to the agency’s operations to be convenient, but not in the way.
  • Set up and test the antenna for proper SWR, set up the voice radio on the designated repeater frequency, and check into the Tactical Net. Test to find the lowest power that will produce reliable communication, especially if you are operating from a battery or generator power. High power should be avoided to prevent interference with other radios and systems.
  • If assigned, Radio Email or packet radio setup should follow as soon as possible for passing formal written traffic and receiving information bulletins.

Once your station is on the air, begin to work on other needs:

  • Check for working telephones, faxes, internet, and other means of communications
  • Learn about your location’s operations and immediate needs
  • Install any additional supporting equipment
  • Make a list of stations within simplex range
  • Identify other possible message paths
  • Find sanitary facilities, water and food sources, make eating arrangements
  • Review overall conditions at the site and how they will affect operations
  • Find a place to get occasional rest

As soon as possible ask a member of the site’s staff to discuss their operational needs. What are the critical needs? Whom do they need to communicate with, and what sort of information will need to be sent and received? Short tactical messages or long lists? Will any messages be too confidential for radio? Will message needs change at different times of day? What hours will the site operate, or how long will it operate? Will there be staff changes?

You should also provide the staff with basic information on how to create a message, show them how to use message forms, and instruct them on basic procedures. Be sure to let them know that their communications will not be private and “secure” if sent by voice modes of Amateur Radio, and discuss possible alternatives.

Ending Operations

Operations may end all at once, or be phased out over time. Several factors may be involved:

  • Damaged communications systems are restored and returned to service
  • Traffic loads are reduced and can be handled with other systems
  • Shelters and other locations are closed

How you are notified to end operations will depend upon the policies of the served agency and the specific situation. Even though a shelter manager has been told to shut down by the agency, your orders may normally come from a different person who may not be immediately aware of the shelter’s closing. You should check with the NCS before closing station. Once the decision to close your station has been received and verified, be sure to notify the person in charge of your location.

File and package all messages, logs, and other paperwork and turn them over to the person in charge at your location. Keep your notes for debriefing. Return any borrowed equipment or materials. Remove antennas and equipment, taking care to package and store it well.

Leave the space you used in as good a condition as possible. Clean up well, remove trash, and put away furniture or equipment back where it was when you arrived. If you removed personal desktop items from a desk and put them in a sealed box for safekeeping, simply place the box back on the cleaned desk. Do not attempt to replace the items on the desk. This provides proof to the desk’s owner that you took steps to protect their belongings, and helps keep them secure until the owner can take possession again. If tamper-evident tape or similar seals were placed by an agency, do not remove them unless told to do so by an authorized person.

Thank all who worked with you. Even a simple verbal “thanks” goes a long way. Do not forget the building’s owners or staff, the served agency staff, and other emcomm personnel. This is also the time for any apologies. If things did not always go well, or if damage was caused, do your best to repair the relationship before departing.

Debriefing

After each operation, your CCAR officers and CCDES will want to hold a critique meeting to review what went well, and what did not. There may be issues that occurred that you will want to discuss. If you try to rely entirely on your memory or logs, you will probably forget key details of even certain events altogether. To prevent this, keep a separate “debriefing list” specifically for an after-action report or a debriefing meeting. Note things like time, date, and details of what happened, what was accomplished, unfinished items, things that need improvement, ideas to make things better, key events, conflicts and resolutions. Present your information by organizing it by a) what went well and b) what can improve.