Rules of Thumb

It is impossible to list the exact rules that will cover every situation. Emcomm operators may benefit, however, from certain rules of thumb during any exercise or a real disaster. These rules are part of your Level 1 training, but we present them here because they are valuable review material for all.

Overall, keep the proper attitude. You will be a shining example of what Amateur Radio is about to your community and to CCAR’s served agency. Therefore, your conduct should be “professional”—to be courteous, considerate, effective, and to rise above the situation. Watch your ego, and do not bruise someone else’s. On the other hand, don’t take comments others may offer personally. Be an essential part of the team, not a “hero.” Respect authority. Manage your stress. The only thing “Amateur” about us is our name and that is because we do it out of love, not compensation. If things are not going well at the moment, it is not a failure. It is delayed success. Remember that things are not supposed to go right in a real emergency. Focus on the task and pull it off.

You are not a "first responder." Except in rare cases of serendipity, you will seldom be first on the scene. You do not need flashing lights and sirens, gold badges, or fancy uniforms. In most cases beyond reporting the situation to the proper authorities, hams have little usefulness as communicators at the onset of an emergency.

You have no authority. In most cases, you cannot make decisions for others, or make demands on the agency you serve or any other agency. The only decisions you can make are whether to participate or not, and those affecting your own health and safety.

You are not in charge. You are there to fulfill the needs of an agency whose communication system is temporarily unable to do its job. They tell you what they need, and you do your best to comply.

You cannot do it all. When the agency you are helping runs short of doctors, cooks, drivers or traffic cops, it is not your job to fill the void. In most cases, you are not trained for it. However, you can lend a hand to fill an urgent need when you are qualified to do so, or perform other jobs for the served agency of which communication is an integral part, and for which you are trained and capable. Do not over commit.

Prepare well. There is no substitute for preparation. When you do not know when the call will come, the time to prepare is now. This is what we do—prepare and train. Do not neglect it, or you diminish your usefulness to the team, to CCDES and to the citizens.

Assemble and maintain your go-kit. Test it, package it for easy transport, and continuously refine it. Keep it conveniently located and ready to go. Minimum essentials: ID cards, credentials and FCC license. Three days of cash (enough for food, gas and hotel). Your pre-programmed portable 25+ watt dual-band FM rig and portable antenna with long-term battery. 100’ of coax. Headphones. Dual-band FM HT with aftermarket whip antenna (leave the rubber duck home). A durable emergency twinlead j-pole antenna with antenna rope or portable mast. Spare batteries. Adapters. SO-239 Barrel adapters. Duct tape. Tools. Notebook, pen, clipboard. Flashlight. ADC Chester County map book. Compass/GPS. Copy of the current Communications Plan (frequencies). PRE-PROGRAM your radios to the plan. Message forms. Hat. Food, water and personal medications for 72 hours. Portable chair. Printer, paper, ink.

Keep the QRM down. In a disaster, many of the most crucial stations will be weak in signal strength. It is essential that all other stations remain silent unless called. If you are not sure you should transmit, don’t. Do not transmit unless you are sure you can help by doing so. Do not break into an emergency net just to inform the NCS that you are available. Study the situation by listening. An old timer once said, “A ham has two ears and one mouth. Therefore he should listen twice as much as he talks.”

Make your transmissions crisp and professional. Emulate police and fire dispatchers, or air traffic controllers. Think, jot down your message, then transmit using as little air time as necessary. Plan your transmission as if you know you will be quoted. Use standard pro-words, the ITU Phonetic Alphabet, plain language and NO Q-signals, or jargon. Practice.

Use accepted net protocols. In a directed net, do not call and check in until the NCS asks for checkins. Despite what MARS teaches, and what is accepted on many informal nets, saying “this is…” and unkeying before your call wastes time and does only a little to prevent doubles. When everyone does this, tactical nets become ponderous. Occasional doubles are unavoidable, and the NCS will sort it out.

Use your assigned tactical call sign, and identify legally. Tactical calls identify a location during an event—regardless of who is operating. Tactical calls allow you to contact a location without knowing the FCC call of the operator. This eliminates confusion at shift changes and where multiple operators man a station. Say your legal call instead of saying “clear” in an emergency net, and every ten minutes in a prolonged exchange. This practice meets FCC requirements and at the same time efficiently tells everyone your station is “clear” the frequency. Do not over identify. There is no reason to ever say the FCC call sign of another station in an emergency net.

Make your best signal. Besides using a good rig, antenna and appropriate power, operate your station for good audio. Speak close to your mic; talk across it, not into it. Set your mic gain or speak up for full deviation. Articulate your words and do not slur.

If the repeater goes down continue to monitor the output frequency for a simplex net. Also, check other repeaters and the tactical net tertiary frequency for activity (see the communications plan).

Understand ICS and NIMS. You should know the terminology and concepts of the Incident Command System and the National Incident Management System. These are the systems under which our sponsor and all first responder groups operate. They define the environment in which CCAR operates. You need to know this to understand what is going on in the midst of the chaos. Sign up for a readily available free course.

Avoid spreading rumors. During and after an incident, especially on the phone bands, you may hear almost anything. Unfortunately, much misinformation is transmitted. Rumors are started by expansion, deletion, amplification and modification of words, exaggeration or interpretation. In an emergency situation, with everyone’s nerves on edge, it is little short of criminal to make a statement on the air without foundation in authenticated fact.

Authenticate all messages. Every message that purports to be official should be written and signed. Whenever possible, amateurs should avoid initiating disaster or emergency traffic themselves. We are the messengers; the agency officials we serve supply the content of the communications.

Say “this is a drill,” often during drills. Begin and end all formal messages with this, especially when sending simulated priority or emergency messages.

Strive for efficiency. Whatever happens in an emergency, you will find hysteria and some amateurs who feel they must be “sleepless heroes.” Instead of operating your station full time at the expense of your health and efficiency, it is better to serve a shift at one of the best-located and best-equipped stations, suitable for the work at hand, manned by relief shifts of the best-qualified operators.

Use all (not just amateur) communication channels intelligently. While the prime object of emcomm is to save lives and property, Amateur Radio is a secondary communications means; normal channels are primary and should be used if available. Amateur radio may not be the best or only means of communicating. Remember that our job is to get the message through, regardless of the means.

Do not “broadcast.” Some amateur operators in an emergency have a tendency to emulate broadcast techniques. While it is true that the public may be listening, our transmissions are not well equipped to perform such a service. Our job is to communicate for, not with the public.

Be sensitive to privacy and security. You do not know who is listening. Refer all press inquiries to the CCDES Public Information Officer (PIO), unless otherwise authorized. Do not speculate. Never include individual names of third parties, phone or account numbers, frequencies or repeater control codes in messages or transmissions by voice or other easily decoded mode. Be sensitive and compassionate when fatalities occur and choose words carefully. Be aware that amateur radio channels may not be appropriate to use--at all.

You ARE going to get frustrated. Count on it. Remember we are assisting our agency to restore order from chaos. Chaos is a hard enemy to fight. When you get tired or overwhelmed, it is a GOOD thing to let your team leader or NCS know and they will get you a break. Being tired and frustrated only leads to mistakes and adds to the chaos.

Keep personal safety top priority. “Watch out for number one because no one else will.” If an assignment concerns you, decline it. Survey every operating position for two exits. Should one become unavailable, use the other—IMMEDIATELY. If necessary, leave your equipment. It can be replaced.

Your second priority is the safety of your team. If you have an operating partner, or if you become aware of a threat to fellow operators, watch out for them. They will be doing the same for you.

Your third priority is your mission. Your assignment can only be accomplished after your safety and the safety of your team is ensured. If the safety of you or anyone becomes an issue, speak up. Notify your leader or NCS, and leave the danger area immediately.