Santa Clara County ARES®/RACES

Weekly SPECS/SVECS Packet Practice


Weekly packet practice helps to ensure that our operators and equipment are always ready for a real activation. Weekly packet practice promotes familiarity with the common types of messages used in real activations, and the correct ways to fill them out, address them, and handle them. It also gives practice in handling BBS outages. Participation in weekly packet practice is a requirement for packet operator credentials.

There are two weekly packet practice nets you can participate in, conducted by the two main emergency communications service groups in Santa Clara County.

Everyone is welcome to send practice messages for either or both nets.

Practice messages can be sent through the traditional BBS network, the AMPRnet, the Winlink network, or email. Everyone should be familiar with sending practice messages from their assigned primary and secondary BBS over the traditional BBS network. But everyone is encouraged to experiment with sending messages from other sources over other networks as well. You can send as many practice messages as you want, from different sources.

To participate in the weekly packet practice, you need to send message(s) according to the instructions for that week, which you can find on the website. The instructions change every week. In general, you need to send:

the correct message(see What Message to Send),
with an appropriate subject line(see Practice Message Subject),
from an appropriate source(see Where to Send Practice Messages FROM),
to the correct destination(see Where to Send Practice Messages TO),
during the correct period of time(see When to Send Practice Messages).

When you send a packet practice message to a valid destination, you will receive a standard packet delivery receipt for it. If you haven't received a delivery receipt within an hour of sending your message, double-check that you sent it to the correct destination. The delivery receipt will contain a summary of any problems with your practice message. If you wish, you can re-send the problematic message, correcting the problems.

After each net, a report of practice messages is sent to all participants and to the packet discussion group.

Any questions about the weekly packet practice should be sent to the packet discussion group.

Simulated BBS Outages

When sending a packet message to another station, you will normally address it to that station at its primary assigned BBS. However, if you are told that BBS is down, you will need to address them at their secondary assigned BBS. In a real activation, you might be told about a BBS outage by your shift supervisor, by voice traffic, or by a packet bulletin.

We use this same procedure for weekly packet practice messages. You will normally address them to the primary assigned BBS for "SCCo Packet Practice." However, if that BBS is down, you'll instead address them to the secondary assigned BBS for "SCCo Packet Practice." Similarly, you can't send a message from a BBS that is down. If your own primary assigned BBS is down, you'll need to send your practice messages from some other BBS (most likely your secondary assigned BBS).

In order to get more practice with this, we sometimes simulate an outage of a BBS during the weekly packet practice. When we have a simulated outage, it will be listed in the weekly instructions. Of course you may also hear about real outages from announcements in packet bulletins or in emails to the packet discussion group. Either way, you need to avoid using BBSes with real or simulated outages during the weekly packet practice.

Note: the weekly rotation of simulated outages used prior to July, 2023 is no longer used. Simulated outages are listed in the weekly instructions instead.

When to Send Practice Messages

To be counted in the SPECS net, your practice messages must be received no later than 19:00 on Monday night (i.e., 1 hour before the main SPECS voice net starts). Messages can be sent any time starting 00:00 the previous Tuesday.

To be counted in the SVECS net, your practice messages must be received no later than 19:00 on Tuesday night (i.e., 1 hour before the SVECS voice net starts). Messages can be sent any time starting 00:00 the previous Wednesday.

Depending on where you send your message from, and what network you use, it may take some time to be delivered. Don't wait until the last minute before the net to send it, or it may not arrive in time.

Where to Send Practice Messages FROM

Practice messages can be sent from any BBS on the traditional BBS network or the AMPRnet, except a BBS that is down (either a real outage, or a simulated outage as described above). Practice messages can also be sent by email from any email address. (Note: when sending by email, make sure to configure the email client to send a "plain text" message.)

If you are practicing as an individual, use your FCC call sign. If you are practicing on behalf of a location or function, use the tactical call sign you've been assigned.

Where to Send Practice Messages TO

The weekly practice instructions will tell you where to send your practice message. In general, messages for the SPECS net will sent to PKTMON, and messages for the SVECS net will be sent to PKTTUE.

The addressing of your message will depend on where you're sending it from and what network you're using. Examples include:


Consult the Packet Network Addressing page for more details.

What Message to Send

The message to be sent is different each week. You can get the message to be sent from the weekly instructions on the website.

Please remember that practice messages — like all messages sent through our BBS network — must be "plain text" messages. They must not contain any characters that don't appear on a standard U.S. keyboard. When sent by email, the email client must be configured to send "plain text." (Styled emails are very large and cause too much strain on our packet network. Also, most packet-related software (such as Outpost) cannot render them correctly.)

Santa Clara County (XSC) forms messages must be encoded using a current version of PackItForms, installed with the "SCCo Packet" integrated installer, and must pass all PackItForms validation checks. (Subscribe to the packet discussion group to be notified when new versions of the installer are posted.)

Note: if a packet message has an "Immediate" handling order, county protocol requires that the sender notify the receiver via voice net or telephone to be sure it is received promptly. This protocol does not apply to weekly practice messages.

Packet Message Subject

All packet practice messages must have a county-standard packet message subject line. When sending a PackItForms-encoded forms message, the PackItForms software will take care of this for you; just make sure you don't modify the subject line it generates. When sending a non-forms message, you will need to generate a correct subject line yourself. Consult the Standard Format for Packet Message Subject Line document for details on the subject line format.

Note: the specialized "Practice CallSign, FirstName, Jurisdiction, NetDate" subject line used in weekly packet practices prior to July 2023 is no longer used.

Appendix: Problems Detected

Weekly packet practice messages are received and analyzed by software. If you check your packet station a little after the top-of-the hour, you should receive a delivery receipt for your message. That receipt will contain a score for your message and a summary of any problems with it. If your message had problems, you can submit another practice message and correct the errors. Only the last message will be counted for each source address. A real time report is available on the where you can see more detail about messages that had problems.

The software will detect and report the following problems. More detail about each problem is available on the website.

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This page was last updated 07-16-2023