EmComm Toolbox

Many new hams get involved in emergency communications (EmComm) and it may even be their primary focus or purpose for getting an amateur radio license.  Emergency communications is the first of five basic principles spelled out by the FCC for the existence of the licensed amateur radio service in Part 97:

Section 97.1(a): Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

In fact, by accepting an FCC operator/primary station license grant under these rules, USA amateurs are obliged to provide emergency communications as needed.  Not that you’ll get thrown in the slammer if you don’t help, but all licensed hams with the equipment and experience should help out in case of disaster or other EmComm situation, and most do so.

Having said all that, I would encourage all hams to join a local or regional EmComm group (such as ARES or RACES in the USA) and train and drill with them to get some experience.  It’s not enough to know how to talk on a repeater or social net; things get more serious in an EmComm situation.

There are more formal radio operating practices and language used in EmComm which is almost always conducted as a directed net.  You need to learn when and how to communicate and with whom and what to say and why things are done a certain way.  Participating in EmComm drills and public service events is important training, as is listening in on EmComm training nets. Taking EmComm courses such as the ARRL’s Introduction to Emergency Communication Course EC-001 is also of great benefit.

To familiarize you with the Who/What/When/Where/Why/How of EmComm, attached here Continue reading

Stuck Microphone

While it’s mainly a local VHF/UHF communications issue, stuck microphones can be a real problem.

A stuck mic situation is when a radio operator inadvertently transmits for an extended time because they have unintentionally triggered the push to talk or transmit switch on their radio.  Consequences of a stuck mic range from being a nuisance to a life-threatening disruption. At best a stuck mic ties up a repeater or simplex frequency with dead air or noise.  At worst it blocks urgent communication during a disaster net or public service event.

One common stuck mic situation involves a mobile unit with the hand-held mic loose in the vehicle where it might get wedged into the seat to trigger the PTT button.  Best practice here is to keep the mic clipped into a hanger when not being used to minimize inadvertent transmission.

Keeping a mobile mic secure in clip minimizes chance of inadvertent keying.

Another common situation involves mic accessories with HTs during a public service event or emergency deployment.  When using a speaker-mic or headset, ensure that the PTT button is protected from accidental triggering.  Also, the Yaesu FT-60 is a wonderful handheld radio and many hams have them, but they (and others like them) have a squirrely speaker/mic jack that is prone to false triggers when the connector is not seated completely.  So make sure your accessory is connected securely and not prone to pulling out when the radio is clipped to your belt or in a pocket or something like that.

External mic or headset prone to false PTT triggers because of plug design on certain HTs.

In any case, awareness is our first line of defense.  Be aware that a stuck mic is a problem and that you might be the culprit.

Don’t be this guy!

Keep an eye on your transmit light to make sure it’s not on when Continue reading

Directed Net

An amateur radio net (ham-speak for network) is an organized gathering of at least three hams on the air for a specific purpose.  It is usually on a regular schedule (e.g., 9pm local on Wednesdays) and specific frequency (e.g., 146.900 repeater).  Nets are organized for various reasons, usually conforming to one of two categories: hobby/pleasure and utilitarian.  Nets may be impromptu and unscheduled, such as during severe weather when a net may be quickly organized, or following a local emergency or disaster.

While there are CW (Morse code) and voice (phone) nets on the HF bands, most ham nets are found on VHF/UHF repeaters to serve area organizations such as a club or emergency communication group. EmComm organizations such as ARES typically have weekly training nets so it’s likely that one is in your area.

Radio nets can be formal or informal.  You are most likely to encounter formal nets which have a more structured feel.

When joining a more formal net, you are likely to hear the phrase, “directed net.”  This means that one operator is in charge of the net, and this person is Continue reading