Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Amateur Radio Emergency Communications (Copied from eHam)

NOTE: This is a article making good natured fun at a great service. It is not intended to offend and if some one is offended, sorry. W1KRP
from Rick McCallum, KC7MF on October 30, 2017

When all else fails, there is Amateur Radio. We all stand ready to provide communications in times of emergency. We can actually do quite well at this and I do not mean to make light of it. Well maybe a little. That said.
As a new ham you may want to get your feet wet in what we call ECOM, or ECOMM, or EMCOMM...whatever. Let’s go with ECOM for brevity sake. As a newly licensed Technician-Class ‘Amateur Radio Station Operator/Licensee’ (ARSOL) uh, I mean Licensed Amateur Radio Station Operator(LARSO) you will start with the basics. You will learn emergency communications from the ground up.

The Basics:
First you will need equipment. You will need a name tag with your call sign on it. It should also have your name on it because there will not be one living soul with whom you will work who will be able to remember your name for over 30 seconds and you will get really tired of being called Mike Foxtrot. Then you will need a hat with your call sign on it. The best hat is a green hard hat indicating that you belong to a CERT team. (More about CERT in part II.) It will afford you protection when you are working “in ECOM” as we say. I recommend putting your name on the back of your hard hat. This way people who hiding behind…that is to say following your lead, will not forget your name. It will be easy for them to communicate with you at the disaster site, shouting official ECOM stuff like, “Rick. Slow down. It is really scary here. Do you smell smoke?”…And other such essential emergency communications. You will need camouflage fatigues and combat boots. You will need a Sam Brown belt to carry your bundle of keys, your aluminum 36,000 lumen flashlight, spare batteries, your canteen, your flare gun, your knife, your first-aid kit, your multi-tool and your portable field Morse code key (snicker).
You will crown your new outfit with an orange reflective vest with ECOM on the back of it. (You may be asking yourself, “won’t the orange vest counteract the effect of the camouflage fatigues? The answer is yes but just drop it. OK? There is no call to be pedantic.) Now let’s move on. There are Ham radio Badges. They look just like Police badges. Do not get one. You will look like an id…well let’s just say the police do not like any badges with references to “ham” on them. OK? A little sensitivity…

Of course you will need an “HT”. This is short for “Handy Talkie”. Your HT will cost anywhere from, at the high end, about $600.00 down to, at the low end, about $6.00 used. Perhaps one of your new ECOM friends (or should I say platoon mates) will help you. “Oh? Bill is looking for an HT? He can have this worthless piece of…oh there you are Bill. Let me give you this rig to get you started”. Wouldn’t that be a lucky stroke? He/or she may just be your new Elmer. Please note. There is no difference between a $500 and a free HT. They all work equally, ah, one might almost say, well.

Thus outfitted you are ready for ECOM training. This is a series of evening classes taught by a guy named Frank (known affectionately in the ECOM community as Methuselah.) You will be able to spot him right away at the radio club meetings as he is the one with the green hard hat, orange vest, HT with remote mic and ham radio badge. (NOTE: Before you ask, yes we have all noticed that he looks like an 80 year old school crossing guard and it is not necessary to mention it.) These classes will be exciting. You will learn ECOM procedures, first aid, outdoor survival, equipment preparation, which vegetation is edible, jeep riding, and why you should keep all of your radio equipment in a Faraday Cage right next to your three year supply of food and 846 guns, and always vote libertarian and...but then I digress… (Do not worry for the moment what a Faraday Cage is. You will not really need to know until you go for your extra class ticket unless, God Forfend, events lead you to really need one but in that case the subject is sort of academic.)
Trained to the hilt you will participate in events designed to hone your emergency communications skills. Most of these are bike races. Your leadership will have pled... that is to say, kindly volunteered your group’s services to monitor the race route in case something awful might happen. There you will be; dressed in your entire combat-first-responder ensemble, HT at the ready, stuffed full of surplus trail mix and ready for any emergency. And then it happens. Something awful! You get on your HT and shout, “Operation Chainguard Flash Eagle Leader Alpha Charlie One whatever this is Flash Thunder Falcon three four, Kilo Echo Seven Uniform Xray Echo, we have a code 6. A bicycle just crashed into three people who were not paying attention because they were on their cell phones and wandered into the race route. Get on your cell phone and call the paramedics.” And there you have it. ECOM at its most basic. Most gritty. Most…
Now if that does not whet your appetite there is more! You could become a weather observer!

Ham Radio Weather Observers

This is a highly technical program to…well…tell people it is raining or windy. I know. Even a no-code Extra can tell when it is raining and/or windy but I guess some people can’t. On edit: I was just informed that I am off-base here. It is not to tell people it is raining and/or windy. It is to tell people who are not where it is raining and/or windy that it is raining and/or windy somewhere else. That makes more sense, even to me. Oh no really?
Okay. The person who told me about the rain just told me that these “observers” go out and try to find tornadoes and then tell people that there are tornadoes somewhere else. You could do that! How cool. You could don all of your ECOM equipment, jump into your emergency SUV, and head toward really nasty looking weather, where you could jump out and look for funnel clouds. Here is where you must make a strategic decision. “Do I carry all of my emergency equipment or travel “light”. The decision will be based upon your skill set. If you are not, shall we say, fleet of foot, the extra weight of the equipment might come in very handy. Your training will be important here. At times like these it is sometimes easy to forget proper radio procedure. But you will stay calm. Seeing a funnel cloud roughly the size of Cleveland headed your way you will take cover behind that… oh what is there... fence post... key your HT and say..."Holy, I mean Hotel Sierra there is Bravo Foxtrot funnel cloud, about the size of Cleveland that just ate my camouflage SUV and is headed right for me. Where is it? I’ll check my map. I have it in my back pocket... I’ll let you know in a minute. Something has uh gotten on my map."

Doesn’t that sound like fun? And it’s important too. It allows the folks at headquarters to tell others not to go near you (or where they believe you were) and give thanks that they are not there with you. Don’t worry. I have never actually heard of someone getting his clothes blown off and you can always get another CERT hat and map. My suspicion is that when this article is published there will be a great many of them available. All the better for an aspiring storm watcher.
This is enough for the first installment. Next time we will cover CERT and ARES. There is much to cover. But at this point it is important to add that what ham radio can and does do in emergencies is a very real thing. I have answered a real Mayday call myself and it is quite the experience. Sometimes though it is instructive to take an alternate look at some of our “foibles.” That is what we just did.