The North Brevard Amateur Radio Club has been dedicated to public service with it’s commitment in its Articles of Incorporation filed in 2003. We are proud to continue that tradition today.
The FCC has given the Amateur radio service a fundamental purpose, including "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." (47 CFR 97.1(a), FCC Rules & Regulations.)
We hope "event" communications never becomes "emergency" communications, but this service offers all of us the opportunity to prepare for emergency service while helping our community in the process. It is also an excellent way for us to show people what ham radio is all about and what fun we have with it.
This presents you with some basic information on working Special Event Communications for the North Brevard Amateur Radio Club. These activities include parades, Walk, Bike, Run-a-Thons, and festivals, and other such events. It will cover many aspects of the subject, from equipment to operating techniques. This is just a primer, though; once you get out and participate in these great events, you'll build on this foundation and accumulate your own special experiences.
What is "Public Service Event Communications?"
NBARC works cooperatively with local non-profit organization in their events by providing communications to insure the safety of all participants. Each event in which we participate has been reviewed by our Vice President of Operations. NBARC is required to provide insurance for the NBARC members participating. This insurance provision is the main reason why event communicators must be NBARC members.
The FCC's interpretation of public service assistance that Amateur radio operators can render is keyed around safety issues, such as providing communications to notify event officials of medical emergencies or logistical requirements. But we are specifically prohibited from engaging in communications regarding the event itself, such as the number or name of the lead runner to release to the public. We can take no compensation for our participation in an event, but can accept T-shirts or meals provided to other helpers and/or participants.
Of course, you need a radio! A 2-meter HT will suffice, but there are some accessories for your HT you will really need if you will be doing event communications.
The "rubber duck" that comes with your radio is OK under most conditions. You should have with you a 5/8 wave telescoping or a 1/2 wave "loaded" whip for areas with a marginal path to the repeater.
Earphones are a must. An inexpensive set used for portable AM/FM radios is OK. It's best to have a set that covers both ears and you can buy a mono to stereo adapter to put audio in both sides.
A speaker mike or headset (combination of earphones and mike) is handy. Headphones can be plugged into your speaker mike. This enables you to take your radio off your belt and hold it in the air to get the antenna up for a better shot at the repeater in marginal areas. A word of caution about speaker mikes. It's tempting to clip your radio to your belt and hang your speaker mike over your shoulder, but remember your antenna is around your waist and you're transmitting more signal to your kidneys than to the repeater!
Buy an alkaline battery pack and put in fresh batteries before the event and carry a spare set. Nicads are really unreliable; you never quite know their charging status and they fail at the most in-opportune times. It's not easy to recharge NiCad's in the middle of the triathlon!
It's also handy to have a magnetic-mount antenna. If you are assigned to a SAG wagon or other vehicle you'll have an outside antenna for your HT. Also, if you're way out in the "boonies" you can put the mag-mount on your own vehicle and stand near your station and have a much better signal to the repeater.
The next consideration is what you will take with you to make your job safe and comfortable. You can usually put your radio and personal supplies in a "fanny pack" or small backpack. Of course, wear comfortable clothing and shoes and bring a hat. It's best if you wear an NBARC Event Communicator or Club T-shirt to help identify your position.
You should try to be self-sufficient and no rely on anyone else. Some things to bring: water or juice, a snack, sunscreen, a few Band-Aids, hand wipes, and tissue. Also, bring a copy of your FCC license, a notepad and pen, a map, and your instruction sheet from the NBARC event organizer.
Working The Event
Before leaving home, be sure you have everything. Program primary and alternate frequencies in your radio. Select high power. Lock the keypad. (It's an awful feeling to hear "beep-boop" and not know what your HT did so you can get it back to normal!) Be sure to be on-station on time! This usually means allowing extra time to find a parking place and get things together. Check in to the net. Locate your assigned position or find your official and introduce yourself. Your job is to "shadow" or stay beside that official and pass information to him or her as necessary. We do not provide communications for the public; you may be asked when the parade will start or where a particular runner is, but politely say you are not in a position to know and can't interrupt the net to find out. When your official wants to send traffic to another official, consider putting them on the radio as third-party traffic. Just identify after they are finished talking.
Remember, your job is communications. We are not supposed to help the event personnel. You may miss an important message if you're out directing traffic or handing out water cups.
Watch your background noise. Parades are particularly difficult to work because the noise is very loud. This is why earphones are helpful; they allow you to be able to hear the net through all but the loudest band. Be aware of background noises when you transmit, too. If a train is going by or a band playing, you might have to say "stand by" and respond when the noise subsides. Don't try to talk over the noise; you'll only cause your signal to distort and you won't be understood anyway. If possible, use a noise-canceling microphone. Do NOT try to use a VOX (voice-actuated) attachment.
A "stuck mike" can completely shut down event communications. Never put your radio's or headset's transmit switch where it can turn the transmitter on without your knowing it. If you haven't heard anything from the net in a while, check your radio to make sure you're on receive and the right frequency.
Check your instruction sheet for directions. You may also receive verbal instructions when you get in position, such as to notify Net Control when the first swimmer makes the transition to bicycle.
Tactical call signs (Check Point Three, SAG Wagon, etc.) are perfectly legal. Just ID with your FCC call sign after a communication exchange is completed. You may also use the suffix of your call sign as a tactical call, signing off with your complete call. When working events, you should make the transition from your ham radio hobby to an Amateur radio avocation. It's fine to be chatty and laugh with the mike open in ham radio, but it is unprofessional when we're at work.
Good Operating Practices
Aim to project a professional image with proper operating practices, whether you're a net controller or a field unit. Keep traffic to a minimum. Say what you have to say then release the frequency. Silence is Golden -- it allows someone else to use the channel when he or she needs it.
Some things to remember to help you be an efficient, professional sounding radio operator include:
Pitch, tone, and volume of voice.
A moderate tone and pitch are desirable. Too high a voice can be irritating, too low can be hard to decipher. While you can't go out and buy a new voice, you should deliberately lower your voice pitch slightly when using the radio unless you have an especially low voice. Try for an even modulation, but not a monotone. Don't trail your voice off at the end of your message -- the last part is just as important as the first!
Too slow and your listener may try to anticipate your next words or may not understand you because it's an unnatural speed. Too fast is worse! Make it a point to slow down slightly when talking on the radio. If you normally talk very fast, slow way down! When transmitting call signs, addresses, names, and other items that must be remembered, noted, or written down, be a bit more deliberate. The speed at which you transmit should be such that the listener can easily understand and/or take notes. Sending logical phrases at nearly normal reading speed followed by ample pauses to allow the receiving operator to finish writing and the results will be fast, error-free transmissions. You tend to talk faster when emotions run high and things get exciting, but that's just when your message MUST get through! Take a deep breath, get yourself under control, plan what you're going to say, and say it slowly.
Enunciation and Pronunciation.
Clear, distinct pronunciation is essential to communications, especially over the radio. Sloppy articulation includes lazy or mush speech, slurring words, and running words together. Santa Barbara has a lot of Spanish names in its heritage and most of us learn the pronunciation by listening. When transmitting over the radio, use the commonly-used pronunciation. Don't talk with objects or food in your mouth. It makes understanding you very difficult. Of course, someone always calls you just as you take a bite of that sandwich you've been waiting an hour to eat, but take small bites so you can swallow quickly!
It's sometimes difficult to not let your emotions show in your voice, especially when you're tired, angry, or busy. These emotions can be misunderstood by others. You may be very busy, but a curt response could be interpreted as your being surly, sarcastic, or angry, and now you have someone more concerned about your answer and intentions than about the task at hand.
Think before you speak.
Know what you're going to say before you call Net Control. Always wait a second after you push the mike button before you talk. This will avoid clipping the first word or syllable of your message. This will also allow two or more repeaters which are "linked" together to complete the circuit before you start. Remember "Push-2-Talk." Push the mike button, count 1-2 (to yourself), then talk. If you have a one-word answer, it's best to add a word or two before it. Instead of "one," you might say, "There is one person here." Or, "I say again, one."
Use expected phrases and words.
Anything out of the ordinary may result in confusion and your having to repeat or rephrase. If your message is technical or unusual, slow down and warn your receiver, or put the event official on the radio to talk direct with the person he wants the message to go to.
Use common words.
Don't try to be funny with some "cutsey" phrase. Avoid slang; not everyone knows your jargon. It's OK and in fact necessary to use specialized terminology, but be sure your listener speaks the same "technical-ese."
Speak in while but brief sentences.
That's what your listener expects to hear. Don't speak in shorthand. Don't ramble on and don't repeat your message by rephrasing it unless asked.
Use plain English and no "10" codes or "Q" signals. Remember your ABCs: Accuracy Brevity Clarity
Standards have been developed by various organizations to facilitate accurate, clear, and brief communications. These standards make communications easier, faster, and more accurate.
The phonetic alphabet we use in amateur radio is the International Phonetic Alphabet and it is used by most organizations except law enforcement. Practice it so you can use it easily.
Numbers also have standard of pronunciation, both as individual numbers and groups of numbers. For example, 13 is said as "one three," 45 is "four five," 136 as "one three six," 500 as "five zero zero," and 1,478 is "one four seven eight." Number groups are also given as they are commonly written or spoken. For instance, the phone number 681-4100 is given as "six eight one" (slight pause) "four one zero zero."
It is a good idea to learn and use 24-hour time. This avoids confusion between a.m. and p.m. and you will find it useful in other aspects of Amateur radio.
Prowords are also very useful in standardizing how two operators communicate. For instance, "Say again?" replaces: "Could you repeat that, please?" "What did you say?" or, "I didn't hear your last transmission." By using a standard phrase, we know exactly what you've said and how to respond.
Try to send any message given to you exactly as it was received. This is why it's a good idea to have a pen and paper with you. If it is very detailed, put the official on the radio. Don't try to paraphrase or interpret a message; you could send the wrong information.
When you receive a message to relay to your official, be sure you have it right before you acknowledge. If something is not clear, ask for a repeat. Write it down if you need to.
The job of net control is to make sure traffic flows smoothly. Just as a traffic cop stands in the middle of the intersection and directs vehicles, the Net Controller is placed in the middle of a event net. Each case requires visibility to carry out the job. A traffic officer sees cars approaching and directs them according to the flow of road traffic.
The Net Control operator directs message traffic so it flows in a smooth manner.
Note that Net Control is a traffic facilitator. He or she does not have all of the answers; in fact, just the opposite is true. So don't come on and ask Net Control a question because he or she probably doesn't know the answer. Look at your assignment sheet for a likely contact, or briefly summarize your needs to Net Control.
Always listen before you transmit. It is quite annoying for someone to start talking right in the middle of someone else's conversation; it wastes air time, causes confusion, and makes the Net Controller very unhappy!
Net Control operators keep written logs of everything that occurs on the net, including a summary of everything you say. The logs are useful as a reference during the event to answer questions that might come up. They are also the only legal documents kept about an incident and have been invaluable when questions arise later about such things as accidents.
Always give the identification of the station you wish to call first, followed by your call. For example, "Net Control, this is Check Point Three."
Keep a copy of your event information sheet with you. This enables you to determine what Event Communicator is assigned to each location and/or official. When you need to pass a message, ask Net Control to "go direct" with that operator. For example, "Net Control, Check Point Three, request direct with Run Director." Net Control will say, "Go Ahead." You say "Run Director, Check Point Three." The communicator with the Run Director answers, he says, "Check Point Three this is Run Director. Go ahead." You then proceed with your traffic. At the conclusion of the exchange, each Event Communicator will sign off with his or her FCC call sign.
Net Control is frequently very busy with work on the other frequencies, the telephone, or other tasks. If you call Net Control and don't get an immediate reply, be patient and call again in 30 to 60 seconds. If it is an emergency, say so. If you still get no answer, proceed with emergency traffic without Net Control. However, the reason you don't get an answer may be that you are in a bad location and not being heard; try moving to another spot and try again. If you have emergency traffic, use the word "Break." This word is for emergency traffic only! All communicators will immediately cease use of the frequency and yield to the breaking station.
Sometimes several stations have traffic or messages at the same time. Net Controllers usually like to solve one problem before moving to another. If you are asked to stand by, please do so. The Net Controller will get to you either in the order of your call or by the nature of your traffic.
If you must move off your assigned frequency for some reason, advise Net Control when you leave and again when you return.
If someone is having trouble with a radio, or some other kind of question comes up, don't jump in to help unless you are asked! It often causes much confusion, so let Net Control handle it. When your assignment is completed and you are ready to leave your position, "check out" with Net Control.
This insures we can account for all our people. If you go home without telling us, we have no way of knowing that you didn't fall down and break both your legs and your radio!
Now go have fun with Amateur Radio!