Santa Clara County, California ARES/RACES
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Monthly Packet Message Practice

Description and Materials

 

Last updated: 11 Mar 2024
Contents:

"New" or "Updated" are used to indicated added or modified material since the last monthly practice.

Purpose:

This exercise provides an environment to pass packet messages that simulate participation in a real event as an experienced [see Intended Audience] county packet operator who has been assigned for mutual aid support for Xanadu City. During the course of each monthly exercise, participants will be asked to pass at least two 3rd party messages in each direction (PacketItForm) and at least two operator-to-operator messages in each direction.

The simulated scenario will be different for each month. Likewise, message content and forms used will vary from other scenarios.

Intended Audience:

SCCo packet experience is required. Participants should be familiar with:

  • Exchanging packet messages with the SCC County BBS packet system including plain text and PacketItForms messages.
  • Standard Packet Message Subject Line
  • Standard Packet Check-In/Out Message
  • RACES Recommended Form Routing Cheat Sheet
  • Most recent Packet Operator Type III Part A and Part B training courses and all prequisite courses.
  • Retrieving new bulletins from all XSC Notice Areas and City areas, such as XND@XSC.

If you have any questions about your experience, contact the instructor for the given monthly practice event before signing up.

References:
Scheduling Info:

The Monthly Package Message Passing exercise will usually start on the third Wednesday of the scheduled month:

Note: for November and December 2023, the event will start on the second Wednesday of each month.

  • The exercise will last for one week.
  • The session starts at 09:00 on the Wednesday scheduled for the event.
  • The session ends at 17:00 on the following Wednesday afternoon.
  • An "review and debrief" Zoom meeting will be held that Wednesday evening following the end of session.
Frequencies:

County packet BBSs: W1XSC, W2XSC, W3XSC, and W4XSC.

NOTE: a real-world situation may take one or more BBBs offline. If so, make use of your alternate.

Notes:

Here are some suggestions and reminders for getting the most out of this exercise:

  • This is an "arm chair" exercise - no need to leave home. This is a self-paced activity. It begins with a properly formatted Check-In message sent to the simulated EOC. It then proceeds by following directions in messages received. At the end a "Thank you" message will be sent. You can do it all in an hour or two sitting or pace it out over the week.
  • There is no "pass" or "fail" scoring feedback for this event. Questions about the session messages, Outpost or SCC BBS operation can be discussed during the Zoom office hours. Otherwise, please do your own self-learning.
  • If you get really stuck email the instructor or ask for help in the groups.io packet discussion group.
  • It is known that the simulated Xanadu EOC is picky about following county standards and also about directions you receive in email and packet messages. You may receive a courtesy message if its picky filter detects something.
  • A DELIVERED: receipt is returned for every message received at the simulated EOC.
  • You are not checked in to the packet net until you received a DELIVERED: receipt for your Check-In messsage (properly formatted)
  • You are not checked out of the packet net until you received a DELIVERED: receipt for your Check-Out messsage (properly formatted)
  • Xanadu EOC will check for new message every 3 minutes. After you send your Check-Out message, please wait at least 10 minutes and check again. There may have been other messages queued for you.

Use of URLs for message downloads:

Each month's exercise will make use of URLs for downloading message forms. This is to simulate your manager's handing to you the filled out form then walking away. Actual URLs will be contained in the messages you receive via packet from the Xanadu EOC. If you are going to operate Manually and will not be able to download while performing the exercise, contact the practice lead in advance (i.e., K6FJC) for URLs.

Immediate Handling Order Messages:

From time to time, packet operators may need to send a message with a Handling Order of Immediate [1]. When sending an Immediate message, please follow this checklist:

  1. If you are just handed an Immediate message and are already entering a lower priority message, stop working on the lower priority message:
    • If a PackitForm, switch windows to Outpost.
    • If an Outpost text form, hit "Save" to save the message to the Draft folder.
  2. Open the new message/Form.
  3. If a formal message, make sure the Handling Order of Immediate is checked (clicked) before submitting to Outpost.
  4. Make sure the "Urg" flag is set for the Outpost message indicating "Urgent: Private Message"
  5. If there are any other non-Immediate messages in the Outpost Out Tray, for each message right click on the message, and select "Move to.." the Draft folder.
  6. Perform a "Send Only" Action in Outpost before entering any other non-Immediate messages that might be in your "stack".
  7. When the Immediate message has been transferred to the intended BBS, contact the recipient via an appropriate voice method, e.g. Command Net, Phone Call [2], etc.
  8. Your message should be short and concise. Follow this example for a voiced messsage:

    "Recipient this is tactical call. You have an immediate packet message to retrieve from us with message number msg number. FCC callsign"

    For example for Check Point 31 and X31-223P:

    "Xanadu EOC this is Check Point 31. You have an immediate packet message to retrieve from us with message number "Xray"31-223"Papa". K6FJC" [3]

  9. For any message moved from the Out folder -> Draft folder, go back and re-open each message and click Send

NOTE [1]: Only use this procedure for Immediate handling order messages and not for Priority or Routine messages.

NOTE [2]: Voice is preferred, but if SMS is available for the recipient, you can type the same message and send via SMS.

NOTE [3]: Keep the proword voicing as simple as possible, no need for "Mixed Group" as each side knows it is a packet message number already.

Outpost ICS-309 Form:

Outpost uses a national ICS-309 form and not the SCC county form format. When using Outpost to generate your ICS-309, please observe the following:
  • Each Monthly Message Passing Practice is assigned a simulated activation number. This number should go in the Task # field.
  • The form's Task Name field is a combination of the Incident Name from your assignment email and your tactical postion name. In general:

    incident name, tactical position name

    Examples:

      Xanadu Halloween Parade, Check Point XX

      XND Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration, Post XX

    NOTE: there may be information in the message that contains "Xanadu officials have released you" that give specific instructions for the incident name field; follow these.

  • How to set these values:

    When you bring up the Forms -> ICS 309 Communiation Log, the ICS 309 Comm Log Builder options are presented. Enter the above information into the and fields there.

    If you open Tools -> Report Settings -> ICS 309 you can enter the information there. Note: do this before opening the ICS Comm Log Builder.

  • Note: the previous version of these instructions used a dash character ("-") in the Task Name field. This has been replaced with a comma character (","). It was found that the dash, also known as a hyphen cause problems.
Postion: Manual Operation

P2 credential evaluation requires operation without Outpost: just a terminal emulator and PackItForms. This position is available for those that wish to practice for P2. This is not for everyone. Some notes:

  • Be current with the most recent P2 training course material
  • Recommended: Use Putty or an equivalent terminal emulator that permits session logging. For Putty details see Pages 31 to 36 of the 31 October 2023 Packet P2 course slides.
  • Your packet network ICS-309 can be:
    • Handwritten paper ICS-309 and scanned to pdf or jpg.
    • Fillable ICS-309 that is saved as a PDF file.
    • Excel spreadsheet that is saved as a PDF file.
    • or any equivalent that resembles the Outpost generated ICS-309 or the SCC ICS-309
  • What to turn in at the end of the practice:
    • The packet network ICS-309
    • A separate ICS-309, if an actual or simulated voice frequency was used
    • Recommended: Your Putty (or equivalent) log
Training Questions:

If you have questions or feedback about this or other training activities, you can join our Training discussion group and ask your question(s) there.

For more information about all of our discussion groups, visit our Discussion Groups page.

Preparation for a successful exercise: The following minimum packet computer and Outpost preparation is needed for a successsful exercise:
  • Latest version SCCo Combined Outpost and PackItForms installed and working properly.
  • Windows printer / print driver that allows printing to PDF files.
  • Means to email a PDF file to the course instructor via the Internet (do not send via packet!)
  • Application support for importing, editing, and saving CSV (comma separate value) files.
    • e.g., Microsoft Excel, LibreOffice, etc.
  • In Outpost:
    • Retrieving new XSCEVENT and XND@XSC city notices.
      • Setup -> BBS -> Retrieving -> Custom Retrieval
      • Make sure this is there:
        A XSCEVENT
        LA
      • As well as this or equivalent:
        A ALLXSC
        L> XND
    • Know how to set up Station ID for a Tactical Call for all BBS interactions.
      • Setup -> Station ID -> Tactical
      • Check the box next to Use Tactical Call for all BBS interaction
      • Fill in your tactical assignment information as provided for the event
    • Know how to set the global variable for next message number.
      • Tools -> Report Settings -> Global Variables -> Next Message
    • Knowledge of saving to and opening of CSV files in Outpost messages with "No Headers"
Xanadu EOC static message content

At this time, Outpost's scripting package cannot edit message content to personalize it: any messages sent from Xanadu EOC to anyone are the same message. For any messages you receive from Xanadu EOC, please make the following mental/time adjustments:

  1. Your tactical position may be referred to with an XX. Take this to be equivalent to your assigned tactical number.
  2. Fixed Date value is when the drill started, e.g., date of the 3rd Wednesday. Fixed time values will be at or near when the drill starts: e.g., between 09:00 and 11:00.
  3. If there are any relative times in the message, See 2) above, make equivalents based on the date/time the message was sent by Xanadu EOC. For example, if you see a Take Action, Reply By, Yes, with a Time value of +2h, base your reply time limit form the time the message was actually sent plus the relative offset. Example, if the form Date and time are: 07/19/2023 10:00, reply time +2h, and the time Xanadu EOC sent the message was 07/21/2023 17:00, then you need to reply by 07/21/2023 19:00.
  4. NOTE: these equivalences apply ONLY to messages RECEIVED from XNDEOC. They do not apply to messages handed to your by your simulated manager.
Xanadu-county.org, xanadu-city.org, and Troubleshooting access problems:

The webservers for xanadu-county.org and xanadu-city.org are hosted at DigitalOcean on a droplet located somewhere on the east coast. You should be able to use an Internet "ping" utility to test reachability from your computer. For any questions about these two websites contact k6fjc at arrl.net via Internet email.

In each monhtly packet message passing practice the simulated Manager provides the packet radio operator a message via a URL. Accessing the URL and downloading the message simulates being handed the message. If you get an error trying to access the URL, then there is a problem that we need to solve. Please review the Monthly Message Passing Practice URL Troubleshooting procedures.

Participation and Credential Credit:

As of 12/21/22, the Monthly Message Passing Practice events are marked "Credential: Yes". Starting June 2023, participation in a least two of these monthly events will be required for the P3 and P2 credentials.

Participation will be logged for each event for each participant that sends all forms and requested messages. This includes:

  • Standard Check-In and Check-Out messages
  • Any forms or messages requested in the simulated "you have been handed" messages from Xanadu EOC.
  • The packet ICS-309 for the exercise, signed.
  • A voice ICS-309 if the simulated voice network was used, signed
  • Other forms as requested to be turned in with the ICS-309(s), e.g. ICS-214 (signed), Radio Routing Slip, etc.

The following will be scored, but will not impact participation credit:

  • Leaving out or incorrect ICS-309 "options for the log" in the release instructions
  • Specifying an incorrect Handling Order
  • Issues with Standard Subject line content.
  • Not using the assigned tactical call
  • Any messages requested to be sent in the XSCEVENT notice or XND@XSC city notice.
  • Any "easter egg" messages requested in any other instructions received for the practice, e.g. in the received assignment.
  • Not using the simulated voice network to notify the recipient when sending an Immediate message.
  • Etc. - best to check with the instructor for the exercise with any questions.

Note: participants having problems generating an ICS-309 should contact the Instructor before the end of the exercise via email. In some cases, the Instructor may suggest equivalent documentation that meets participation requirements.

Packet Course Instructor Notes:
Jim Oberhofer, KN6PE

(The unofficial) Amateur Packet Radio Field Reference For SCCo RACES Responders:

Sending and receiving spreadsheets in .csv (comma separated value) format using Packet Type III Part A exercises material. See Section 2.5.
Drill/Exercise Packet Manager Notes:
Mark Laubach, K6FJC

Tips for the Next Time in Packet (PDF)

Opening CSV files with LibreOffice application on Windows


Past Exercises
  • 19-Jun-2024 to 26-Jun-2024.
    • Scenario:T.B.D.
    • Forms exercised:
      • T.B.D.
    • End of Exercise Review presentation: T.B.D.
    • Scorecard: T.B.D.
  • 16-Aug-2023 to 23-Aug-2023.
    • Xanadu EOC is on vacation. Check back in September 2023.
  • 18-January-2023 to 25-January-2023.
  • 21-September-2022 to 28-September-2022. Hosted by K6OTT.

 


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This page was last updated on 26-May-2024