Prepared by Ed Radlo, AJ6V, AEC - Los Altos Hills

July 29, 2002

As I promised during our last meeting, here are some tips that can be useful to net control operators during times of emergency. Most of these points are illustrated in the audio excerpts of activities on the SPECS (Southern Peninsula Emergency Communications System) net during initial stages of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. These audio excerpts are posted on the SPECS Website.
  1. It is highly desirable that the net control operator (NCO) be prepared for emergencies with a well thought-out grab-and-go kit. In this grab-and-go kit should be a list of frequencies of the local repeaters, and the simplex frequencies commonly used by the ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) groups of the local cities.

  2. There is a reason for the word "control" in the expression "net control operator". The NCO must maintain control of the frequency by being competent, confident, and aware of the environment, both the radio environment and the situation in the community at large as the emergency develops.

  3. The NCO must prioritize the communications traffic on the frequency, based upon the level of the emergency. Highest priority is to be given to situations where human life is at stake, next priority to non-life threatening injuries, then to incidents involving property damage. Routine (road) traffic reports and the like should be allowed on frequency only if there is no higher priority communications traffic at that time.

  4. It is highly desirable for the NCO to take written notes during the emergency. That way, for example, the NCO will be able to efficiently and accurately match offers of help with needs that were voiced sometime earlier.

  5. To avoid misunderstandings, the NCO should use phonetics for important information, e.g., street names having uncommon spelling.

  6. If the frequency being used for the operation becomes too crowded, the NCO should establish subnets or one-off communications links on other frequencies. These might be simplex frequencies or repeaters.

  7. The NCO should try to follow pre-established procedures where possible, but this must be tempered by common sense. For example, if the pre-established procedure calls for everything to be submitted via a written RIMS report, but a remote stations with no packet capability is reporting, over a handheld, a life threatening emergency, the report should be accepted by voice lest the victim's life is jeopardized while someone tries to find a packet radio.

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