This text was originally typed by Sue Chism, N4ENX, the Greenville South Carolina ARES Emergency Coordinator and entered on the forums at


It is being made available to ARES volunteers in this format to prepare the ARES volunteers for participation in emergencies. 


Those amateurs wishing to take the Level I  Amateur Radio Emergeny Communications Exam will find that this material presented will help with preparation for completion of the Level I course.








How do you fit in?

To the agencies we serve, we are their immediately available communication experts.

Amateurs have the equipment, the skills, and the frequencies necessary to create expedient emergency communication networks under poor conditions.


We are licensed and pre-authorized for national and international communication.


We have the ability to rapidly enlarge our communication capacity to meet growing needs in an emergency. Many of these skills are the same ones that you would use in everyday communications.

Some of the emergency communication skills are very different from those you that use in your day to day ham radio use. Without specific emergency communication skills, you can become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.


There are limits to your responsibilities as an emergency communicator and it is IMPORTANT to know where to draw the line.

You are NOT a "first responder." You do not need flashing lights and sirens, gold badges, or fancy uniforms. You have no authority. You can not make decisions for others. You cannot make demands on the agency you are helping to serve or any other agency.


The only decisions you can make are whether to participate or not, and those affecting your own health and safety. You can lend a hand to fill an urgent need when you are qualified to do so, or to perform other jobs for the served agency of which communication is an integral part for which you are trained and capable. You are not in charge. You are there to temporarily fulfill the needs of an agency whose communication system is unable to do its job. The agency will tell you what they need and you will do your best to comply.







The communications job you are asked to do will vary with the agency you will be helping.


If it is the American Red Cross, you will be providing communications needed to maintain a system of shelters and other relief efforts.


If it is state or local emergency management agency, you could be handling interagency communications, or serving as the eyes and ears of the emergency managers.


If a hospital's telephone system fails, you might be handling the "mechanics" of communications so that doctors and nurses can concentrate on patients.


For a large forest fire or search and rescue operation, you could be setting up phone patches for firefighters or rescuers to their families, or assisting with logistical communications to insure that food, supplies, personnel and materials arrive when and where needed.


For the National Weather Service, the reporting of storm locations and weather conditions to them, so that they can better inform and warn the public.


In any widespread disaster, hams could be assisting all the agencies listed above and more.

Our job is to get the message through, using any means to do so. Don't think of just ham radio, but if you had an emergency message to pass and the communications systems were not available, how would you do it?

If you have access to CB radio, Family Radio, USE IT. If an agency asks you to use their radio system, USE IT. Your operating and technical skills are just as important as your ham radio resources.


Make a list of what means of communications you have available to you.


1. List three ways in which Emergency Communications are similar to Non-Emergency Communications.

2. List six ways in which Emergency Communications differ from Non-emergency Communications.

3. In an emergency situation, a served agency asks you to forward an urgent message. Which one of the following methods would you not use? Tell why you selected your answer.

a. CB radio

b. Family Radio

c. Informal, conversational grapevine

d. The agency's own radio system





Your job as a communicator is to meet the needs of the served agency. When you volunteer your services to ARES you agree to accept and comply with reasonable orders and requests from your ARES leader. If you do not feel comfortable doing this, DO NOT VOLUNTEER!

Our Role as a EmComm Volunteer

In today's fast paced emergency responses, there is often no time to sit down and discuss what are we going to do. We have to be prepared to help with any function that also includes communication as defined by the served agency. There has to be pre-planning with the served agency to ensure that these jobs are clearly defined and any additional job-specific training required is obtained in advance.

In general, emcomm groups should be prepared to perform jobs for their served agency that include the need to communicate.


Here are a few of the many possible job descriptions:

1. Radio operator, using Amateur or served agency radio systems.

2. Dispatcher, organizing the flow of personnel, vehicles, and supplies.

3. Resource coordinator, organizing the assignments of disaster relief volunteers.
4. Field observer, watching and reporting weather or other conditions.

5. Damage assessor, evaluating and reporting damage conditions.

6. Van driver, moving people or supplies from location to location.

7. Searcher, providing communication for a search and rescue team.

To perform these jobs, we need this flexibility to continue our contribution to public safety as Amateur Radio operators.

Specific Agency Relationships between the volunteer communicator and the served agency.


Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) are in place with many served agencies that define the working relationship.


Here are some examples of those relationships.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) ( In most cases you will have little direct contact with federal agencies.

American Red Cross (see logo on ) Have their own communication team and have a MOU with the local ARES Team.


Typical assignments include linking shelters and chapter houses, performing damage assessment, and handling supply and personnel logistics.

State and Local emergency Management. Assignments are inter-agency communications, message handling between state and local emergency management offices. We are the hands that help with communications that are disabled.

The relationship between Amateur Radio operators and a served agency is a critical one.


Emcomm volunteers should maintain a professional attitude at all times and remember that this relationship to the served agency is much like that of an employee, without the paycheck. Agency relationships will vary with the agency, region, and the needs and style of local government. We have to be able to "go with the flow", but also be able to stop the flow when it is burning our bridges behind us.

Avoid giving any information to the press until you understand both the served agency's and the emcomm policies on speaking to the press.





Imagine a random group of volunteers trying to tackle a full-scale disaster communication emergency, working together for the first time. They do not know each other well, have very different approaches to solving the same problem, and half of them want to be in charge. Get the picture?

It is not too far fetched, Just ask anyone who has been around emcomm for a while -- they have seen it! These lessons are intended to help solve that problem.

Emcomm organizations provide training, and a forum to share ideas and develop workable solutions to problems in advance of a real disaster. This way, when the time comes to assist the served agency, you will be as prepared as you can be. The response will occur more smoothly, challenges will be dealt with productively, and the served agency's needs are met.

These are the organizations that can be involved during a disaster.

ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service)

This program is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League(ARRL) since 1935. ARES is part of the League's field organization, which is composed of "Sections", our Section is
South Carolina.

The elected Section Manager (SM), Jim Boehner,N2ZZ, appoints the top leadership of the Section. The Section Emergency Coordinator is,Charlie Miller, AE4UX, who appoints the District Emergency Coordinator (Each EMD Area has a DEC). The SEC also appoints the Emergency Coordinator (EC) for each county within the State. The EC for each county then appoints as many Assistant Emergency Coordinators(AEC) to help with the emergency plans within the county.

ARES has Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with a variety of agencies at the national level, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the National Weather Service. These documents set out the general relationship between ARES and the agency at the national level, and provide guidance for local units of both organizations to draft more specific local MOUs. In addition to local chapters of national groups, ARES groups often have MOUs or other written or verbal agreements with state and city emergency management departments, hsopitals, schools, police and fire departments, public works agencies, and others.


The federal government created RACES after World War II. It addressed the need for a group of hams to operate as an integral part of the Civil Defense organization in time of national emergency or war. The RACES program also provides the means to continue to serve the public if the President suspends regular Amateur operations. The RACES rules provide for use of almost all regular Amateur frequencies, but place strict limits on the types of communications made, and with whom.

Go to ARRL website( section entitled "Public Services Communications Manual."

RACES and Civil Defense(now Emergency Management)have changed over the years. While the RACES rules are the same, there are fewer RACES groups today. Most of them have become "dual hat" organizations. That means that RACES members also belong to ARES, and can "switch hats" when the need arises. Emergency management officals like this arrangement since it provides more flexibility, and gives them more direct control over the ham radio volunteers.

Remember, that in RACES operations, only the county emergency management leader,(such as Greenville County EOC Emergency Management Leader) can activate a RACES operation.

In ARES, the county emergency coordinator,(such as ARRL Greenville County Emergency Coordinator) or assistant emergency coordinator can activate an ARES operation.

Please go to the ARRL web site and look at the MOUs for the different agencies, so that you will have a better understanding of why we do this and not that. 





OBJECTIVE: This lesson introduces communication skills that are specific to emcomm operations, and helps you understand differences from normal Amateur Radio operations.

INFORMATION: An emergency communicator must do his part to get every message to its intended recipient, quickly, accurately, and with a minimum of fuss. A number of factors can affect your ability to do this, including your own operating skills, the communication method used, a variety of noise problems, the skills of the receiving party, the cooperation of others, and adequate resources.

Why Are Emergency Communication Techniques Different?

Life and death communications are not part of our daily experience. Most of what we say and do each day does not have the potential to severely impact the lives and property of hundreds or thousands of people. In an emergency, any given message can have huge and often unintended consequence. An unclear message, one that is delayed or mis-delivered, or never delivered at all can have disastrous results.


Listening is at least 50% of communication. Discipline yourself to focus on your job and "tune out" distractions. If your attention drifts at the wrong time, you could miss a critical message.

Listening also means avoiding unnecessary transmissions. You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as talking. A person with a life and death priority message could be missed while you are chit-chatting.

You might be operating from a noisy location, the signal might be weak, or other stations may be causing interference. In each of these cases, it helps to have headphones to minimize local noise and help you concentrate on the radio signal.

Microphone Techniques

Using your microphone correctly can make a big difference in intelligibility. For optimum performance, hold the microphone close to your cheek and just off to the side of your mouth. Talk across, rather then into the microphone. This will reduce breath noises and "popping" sounds that can mask your speech.

Speak in a normal, clear, calm voice. Raising your voice or shouting can result in over-modulation and distortion, and will not increase volume at the receiving end. Speak at a normal pace, rushing your words can result in slurred and unintelligible speech. Pronounce words carefully, making sure to enunciate each syllable and sound.

Radios should be adjusted so that a normal voice within 2 inches of the microphone element will produce full modulation. If your microphone gain is set so high that you can achieve full modulation with the microphone in your lap, it will also pick up extraneous background noise that can mask or garble your voice. A noise-cancelling microphone is a good choice since it blocks out nearly all unwanted background noise.

"VOICE OPERATED TRANSMISSION" (VOX) is NOT RECOMMENDED for emergency communications. It is too easy for background noise and off-air operator comments to be accidentally transmitted, resulting in embarrassment or a disrupted net. Use a hand or foot switch instead.

When using a repeater, be sure to leave a little extra time between pressing the push-to-talk switch and speaking. A variety of delays can occur within a system, including CTCSS decode time, and transmitter rise time. Some repeaters also have a short "kerchunk" timer to prevent brief key-ups and noise from keying the transmitter. It also gives time for some handhelds to come out of the "power-save" mode. Leaving extra time is also necessary on any system of linked repeaters, to allow time for all the links to begin transmitting.


These techniques will ensure that your entire message is transmitted, avoiding time-wasting repeats for lost first words. Pause a little longer than usual between transmissions any time there is a possibility that other stations may have emergency traffic to pass from time to time. A count of "one, one thousand" is usually sufficient.

Each communication should consist of only the information necessary to get the message across clearly and accurately. Extra information can distract the recipient and lead to misinterpretation and confusion. If you are the message's author and can leave a word out without changing the meaning of the message, leave it out. If the description of an item will not add to the understanding of the subject of the message, leave it out. Avoid using contractions within your messages. Words like don't and isn't are easily confused. If someone else has drafted the message, work with the author to make it more concise.

The following is an example, please rewrite it to reduce the message text, but still retain the clarity of the message.

"We need 50 additional cots and blankets at the Roe School Shelter, and we also need more food since 20 new people just arrived and we are told another 30 may be coming soon. Please call me and tell me when these supplies will arrive."

The following is an example.


Break for text, message to follow


Need fifty cots and blankets at Roe School Shelter (xray) Food for fifty people (xray) Advise arrival time of requested supplies 


break for signature  (    )   


End of message no more





Make your transmissions sound crisp and professional. Do not editorialize, or engage in chitchat. An emergency net is no place for "Hi Larry, long time no hear," or any other non-essential conversation.


Be sure to say exactly what you mean. Use specific words to ensure that your precise meaning is conveyed. Do not say, "that place we were talking about," when "Richards School" is what you mean. Using non-specific language can lead to misunderstandings and confusion.

Communicate one complete subject at a time. Mixing different subjects into one message can cause misunderstanding and confusion. If you are sending a list of additional food supplies needed, keep it separate from a message asking for more sand bags.

Use plain language instead of ham jargon and specialized terminology in our daily conversations. Most of us understand each other when we do, and if we do not on occasion it usually makes little difference. In an emergency, however, the results can be different.

A misunderstood message can cost a person's life.

Not everyone involved in the emergency will understand our specialized language, so do not use it.

All messages and communciations during an emergency should be in plain language. "Q" signals (except in CW commmunications), 10 codes, and similar jargon should be avoided. The one exception to this is the list of standard "pro-signs" used in Amateur traffic nets, such as "clear, say again all after" and such.

Avoid words or phrases that carry strong emotions. Most emergency situations are emotionally charged already, and you do not need to add to the problem. For example, instead of saying "horrific damage and people torn to bits" say "significant physical damage and personal injuries."





Introduction to Emergency Nets

The objective of this lesson is intended to provide an overview of operation in a radio network, or "net" environment. It sets the stage for the following lessons, which present various aspects of net operation and message handling in greater detail.

Learn the following definitions:

Net: A group of stations who gather on one frequency, with a purpose. The net provides a structure and organization to allow an orderly flow of messages.

Net Control Station (NCS): The station in charge of the net and directing the flow of messages and general communications.

Formal Messages: Written messages that are sent in a standardized format.

Traffic: A term referring to messages sent over amateur radio, usually formal, written messages.

Pass: To send messages from one station to another

Third Party Traffic: Messages transmitted on behalf of a person or organization other than a licensed amateur radio operator. The term also applies to when a person other than a licensed operator is allowed to use the microphone.

Liaison Station: A station responsible for passing messages between different nets.

What is an Emergency Net?


The purpose of any net is to provide a means for orderly commmunication within a group of stations. An "emergency" net is a group of stations who provide communications to one or more served agencies, or to the general public, in an emergency. An emergency net may be formal or informal, depending on the number of participants and volume of messages.

Net Formats

Directed (formal) Nets:

In a directed net, a "net control station" (NCS) organizes and controls all activity.


One station wishing to call or send a message to another in the net must first receive permission from the NCS. This is done so that messages with a higher priority will be handled first, and that all messages will be handled in an orderly fashion. Directed nets are the best format when there are a large number of member stations. (Be careful not to confuse"formal nets" with "formal messages." There is no link between the two).

Open (informal) Nets

In an open net, the NCS is optional.


Stations may call each other directly. When a NCS is used a all, he usually exerts minimal control over the net. The NCS may step in when the message volume increases for short periods, or to solve problems and keep the net operating smoothly. Open nets are most often used when there are only a few stations and little traffic.

Types of Emergency Nets:

Emergency nets may have different purposes, and a given emergency may require one or more of each type of net. During a small operation, all functions may be combined into one net.

A traffic net handles formal written messages in a specified format. The nets operated by the National Traffic System (NTS) are an excellent example of traffic nets.


ARES or RACES traffic nets may be directed or open depending on their size.

Tactical nets are used for real-time coordination of activities related to the emergency.


This is a faster moving, often less formal operation. Messages are usually brief, and frequently unwritten. A tactical net usually has a NCS, but may be directed or open. The NCS may have other duties or responsibilities as well.

A resource net may be needed to acquire volunteers and handle assignments, and is usually a directed net.


Resource nets accept check-ins from arriving volunteers, who are then directed to contact an appropriate station or to proceed to a specific location.

An information net is usually an open net used to collect or share information on a developing situation, without overly restricting the use of the frequency by others.


Net members send updated local information as needed, and official bulletins from the served agency may be sent by the NCS , an agency liaison station, or an Official Bulletin Station (OBS).


The NCS and many of the participants monitor the frequency, but a roll call may be taken, but seldom is. The operation of an information net also serves as notice to all stations that a more formal net may be activated at any moment if conditions warrant.


A good example of an information net, is a SKYWARN weather net activated during a severe storm watch.

Checking into an Emergency Net:


There are two situations where you will need to "check in" to a net. When you first join the net and when you have messages, questions, or information to send.

If you are part of the organization operating the net, simply follow the instructions for checking into directed and open nets.

To become part of a directed net, listen for the NCS to ask for "check ins" and listen to any specific instructions, such as "check-ins with emergency traffic only." At the appropriate time, give only your call sign and location transmitting from. If you have a message to pass, you can add, "with traffic." If it is an emergency message, say "with emergency traffic." The same is true for stations with priority traffic. Wait for a response before offering more information. Checking into a directed net when the NCS has not asked for check ins is usually considered a bad practice. If a long period of time passes without a request for check ins, you might wait for a pause in the net's activity and briefly call the NCS like this "net control,(your callsign) with traffic".

To check into an open net for the first time, briefly call the net control station as above. If there appears to be no NCS, call anyone on the net to find out who is "in charge" and make contact with them. If you are already part of the net and have a message to send, simply wait for the frequency to be clear before calling another station.

Passing Messages:

If you told the NCS you have traffic to send when you checked in, he/she will probably ask you to "list your traffic" with its destination and priority. After you send your list, the NCS will direct you to pass each message to the appropriate station in the net, either on the net frequency, or another frequency to avoid tieing up the net. When moving to another frequency to pass the message, always check to see if the frequency is in use before beginning.

When you are asked by the NCS to send your message, the standard procedure is for the NCS to tell the receiving station to call the sending station.

Checking out of an emergency net:

Always let the NCs know when you are leaving the net, even if it is only for a few minutes. If the NCS believes you are still in the net, they may become concerned about your unexplained absence. This could result in someone being unnecessarily dispatched to check on your well-being.

Reasons for checkout out of a net, here they are:

1. The location of station is closing.

If the NCS has given you directions to close the location, simply acknowledge the request, and sign with your FCC callsign, or if using tactical call sign, sign with it and your FCC callsign. If the order to close has come from a local official, state that your location has been closed, along with the name and title of the official who ordered it, and sign off as above. Long "goodbyes" only tie up the net needlessly, and do not sound very professional.

2. You need a break and there is not relief operator.

Tell the NCS that you will be away from the radio for a certain length of time, the reason, and sign with your tactical call sign, if you are using one, and your FCC call sign.

3. You have turned the location over to another operator.

Tell the NCS that you have turned the station over to (give the new operator's name and FCC callsign) and that you are leaving. Sign with your tactical call sign, if you are using one, and your FCC call sign.


1. If you are asked by someone in authority, such as a law enforcement officer, to move your station, then move immediately and without argument. Notify the NCS of the situation at the first appropriate opportunity. Don't argue with the officer.

2. If you are requested by someone in authority to turn off your radio, or to refrain from transmitting, do so immediately and without question. Do not notify Net Control until you have permission to transmit again, and can do so safely. There is usually a good reason for such a request. It may be an issue of security, or it may be a potential hazard, such as an explosive, which could be triggered by RF energy. Again, don't argue.

Here is a review of the lesson:

Large nets are usually directed (formal) nets with a NCS in charge.


Smaller nets may be "open" (informal), and a NCS is optional.


Nets can serve many purposes, including passing formal messages, handling logistics, or passing informal tactical messages. Large emergencies may require more than one of each type of net - small emergencies may have one combined net. Medium and long distance messages are often handled by the National Traffic System (NTS), such as the South Carolina Single Sideband Net, held on 3.915 MHZ, at 7PM local.








This lesson is a summary of ICS and its relationship to emcomm, and not a complete description of its various forms and uses.


In the early 1970's, a disorganized and ineffective multi-agency response to a series of major wildland fires in
Southern California prompted municipal, county, state, and federal fire authorities to form an organization known as Firefighting Resources of California Organized for Potential Emergencies (FIRESCOPE). California authorities had found that a lack of coordination and cooperation between the various responding agencies resulted in over-lapping efforts, and gaps in the overall response. Many specific problems involving multi-agency responses were identified by FIRESCOPE. these included poor overall organization, ineffective communication between agencies, lack of accountability, and the lack of a well-defined command structure.

Their efforts to address these difficulties resulted in the development of the original Incident Command System. Although developed for wildland fires, the system ultimately evolved into an "all risk" system, appropriate for all types of fire and non-fire emergencies.

There are other versions of the ICS in use, but the Incident Command System (ICS), as developed by the National Fire Academy (NFA), has been widely recognized as a model tool for the command, control, and coordination of resources and personnel at the scene of an emergency andis used by most fire, police, and other agencies around the country. The use of the ICS is now required by various federal laws for all hazardous material incidents, and in other situations by many state and local laws. The ICS has also been adopted for use in many other countries.


The Incident Command System is a management tool designed to bring multiple responding agencies, including those from different jurisdictions, together under a single overall command structure. Before the use of the ICS became commonplace, various agencies responding to a disaster often fought for control, duplicated efforts, missed critical needs, and generally reduced the potential effectiveness of the response. Under ICS, each agency recognizes one "lead" coordinating agency and person, will handle one or more tasks that are part of a single over-all plan, and interact with other agencies in defined ways.

The Incident Command System is based upon simple and proven business management principles. In a business or government agency, managers and leaders perform the basic daily tasks of planning, directing, organizing, coordinating, communicating, delegating, and evaluating. The same is true for the Incident Command System, but the responsibilities are often shared between several agencies. These tasks, or functional areas as they are known in the ICS, are performed under the overall direction of a single Incident Commander (IC) in a coordinated manner, even with multiple agencies and across jurisdictional lines.


1. A fixed and unchangeable system for managing an incident
2. A means to take control or authority away from agencies or departments that participate in the response.
3. A way to subvert the normal chain of command within a department or agency.
4. Always managed by the fire department.
5. Too big and cumbersome to be used in small, every day events.
6. Restricted to use by government agencies and departments.

Greenville County Emergency Management uses this format. Please check with your
county ARES Emergency Coordinator to see what format they use during an emergency.


The Incident Command System has two interrelated parts. They are "management by objectives," and the "organizational structure."


Four essential steps are used in developing the response to every incident, regardless of size or complexity.

1. Understand the policies, procedures, and statutes that affect the official response.

2. Establish incident objectives(the desired outcome of the agencies' efforts).

3. Select appropriate strategies for cooperation and resource utilization.

4. Apply tactics most likely to accomplish objectives (assign the correct resources and monitor the results.)

The complexity of the incident will determine how formally the "management by objectives" portion will be handled. If the incident is small and uncomplicated, the process can be handled by verbal communications between appropriate people. As the incident and response become more complex, differences between the individual agencies' or departments' goals, objectives, and methods will need to be resolved in writing.


The ICS supports the creation of a flexible organizational structure that can be modified to meet changing conditions. Under the ICS, the one person in charge is always called the "Incident Commander" (IC). In large responses, the IC may have a "General Staff" consisting of the Information, Safety, and Liaison Officers. In a smaller incident, the IC may also handle one, two, or all three of these positions, if they are needed at all.

Various other tasks within the ICS are subdivided into four major operating sections: Planning, Operations, Logistics, and Finance/Administration. Each operating section has its own "chief", and may have various "task forces" working on specific goals. The Logistics section handles the coordination of all interagency communication infrastructures involved in the response, including Amateur Radio.

These operating sections may be scaled up or down, depending ont he needs of the situation. In a small, single agency response, the IC may handle many or all functions. As the size and complexity of a response increase, and as other agencies become involved, the various tasks can be re-assigned and sub-divided. If the response workload increases, the Logistics Chief may handle communication decisions along with other tasks, or assign the job to a "communication task force leader".


The initial IC is usually the most senior on-scene officer fromt he first responding agency. The IC is responsible for the management of the incident and starts the process by helping setting initial incident objectives, followed by an "Incident Plan" (IP). In a small incident, the IC may do all the ICS functions without aid, but in a larger incident, they will usually delegate responsibilities to others. The IC still has overall responsibility for the incident, regardless of any duties delegated.

In the early stages of a hazardous materials spill, the Incident Commandr may be a fire department officer. As other federal agencies arrive to begin cleanup efforts, one of their officers may become the Incident Commander.








Responsiblilities are: information gathering and dissemination and working out the details of each agenc's response.



Responsibilities are: working with people from these agencies (Police, Fire, Public Works, Red Cross, Relief Agencies) who are actually in the field doing the work to protect or serve the public.



Responsibilities are: working with the responding agencies offering these services (communication, medical support, transportation, supplies, personnel, food).



Responsibilities are: each of the responding agencies financial staff will keep track of the total cost of the response. This is very important if Federal Disaster Relief funds will be requested.

Amateur Radio ARES falls under the Logistics Section Organization,when the Logistics Chief creates a Communications Task Force.


The relationship of an emcomm group to the ICS structure will vary with the specific situation. If your group is providing internal communication support to only one responding agency, and has no need to communciate with other agencies that are part of the ICS, you may not have any part in the ICS structure itself except through your served agency. If your group is tasked with handling inter-agency communications, or serves more than one agency's internal communication needs, it is likely your group will have a representative on the Logistics Section's "communication task force."

In certain situations, an emcomm group might serve one or more agencies simultaneously. As the responsibility for managing the incident shifts from one agency to another, the emcomm group's mission may shift to assisting the new lead agency, or simply end. In some cases, your group might begin by supporting your own served agency, and end up supporting a new and unfamiliar agency. The choice of whether to use you emcomm group's services may be made by the served agency, Communications Task Force leader, Logistics Chief, or Incident Commander, depending on the specific situation and ICS structure in use.

Here is a review of the lesson: The ICS is a management tool that preserves the command structure of each responding agency, while bringing them all together under a common plan and leader. Emcomm groups often operate as part of the Logistics section of the ICS. If the emcomm group serves the internal communication needs of only one agency, it may not be a formal part of the ICS structure.





In this lesson we will discuss the steps an emcomm volunteer should take to be ready to respond quickly and be fully prepared to handle their emcomm assignment.


You never know what challenges an emergency situation will offer. You might have AC power, or just the batteries you bring along. Safe drinking water may be available, or you may have only your canteen. Sometimes you can find out in advance what sort of conditions are likely for your assignment, but many times no one will know, particularly during the early stages of an emergency.

Being prepared for an emergency communication deployment involves a wide range of considerations, including radio equipment, clothing and personal gear, food and water, information, and specialized training. No two deployments are the same, and each region offers its own specific challenges. What is appropriate for rural
South Carolina in January probably won't work for urban southern South Carolina in any season. Our goal is to help you think about ways to be prepared for your particular situation. We cannot provide all the answers, but we can help you to ask the correct questions.

What will you need to be ready for your assignment without delay?

Will you need to join networks, what do I need to do that?

Will you need to be able to relocate quickly?

Will you be on foot, or near your vehicle?

Is your assignment at a fixed location or will you be mobile?

What will the duration of the assignment be, less than 48 hours, 72 hours, or for even longer?

Will you be in a building with reliable power and working toilets, or in a campsite without the modern conveniences?

What will the weather be like or what conditions will I encounter?

Will I have food or water?

Where will I sleep?

These are some of the questions an emcomm volunteer needs answers to, if they are going to be ready to deploy at a moment's notice.

Most people seem to divide ready kits into two categories: one for deployments under 48 hours, and one for up to 72 hours. For deployements longer than 72 hours, many people will just add more of the items that they will use up as the assignment continues.

Here are some ideas for your ready kit:

Radios and Accessories

Handheld VHF or dual-band radio
Spare rechargeable batteries for handhelds
Alkaline battery pack for handhelds
Alkaline batteries
Speaker microphone and earphone for handheld
Battery chargers, AC and DC for handhelds
Mobile VHF or dual-band radio
HF radio
Muti-band HF antenna, tuner, heavy parachute cord
Gain antennas and adapters(roll up J-Pole, mobile magnetic mount, etc)
Coaxial feed lines, jumpers
Ground rod, pipe clamps and wire
AC power supplies for VHF,UHF mobile and HF radios, accessories
Large battery source for VHF/UHF mobile and HF radios, with chargers
All related power, data, audio, and RF cables and adapters
Small repair kit, hand tools, multi-meters connectors, adapters, fuses,wire, connectors,small parts, insulators, duct tape, etc.
Spare manuals for all equipment
Headphones for Radios
Specialized gear for packet, ATV or other modes
Multi-band scanner, weather radio
Personal cell phone, pager, spare batteries and chargers
Pencils, legal pads, pencil sharper

Personal Gear

Clothing for the season, weather, and the length of deployment
Toilet kit, such as soap, razor, deodorant, comb, brush, toilet paper
Foul weather or protective gear, warm coats, hats, etc
Sleeping bag, air mattress of some sort, pillows if needed
Ear plugs
High energy snacks
Easily prepared dried foods that will store for long periods
Eating and cooking equipment if needed
Water containers, filled befor departure (bottled water)
First aid kit, personal medications and prescriptions for up to one week
Money, including a large quantity of quarters for vending machines, tolls
Telephone calling card

Information to carry

ID cards and other authorizations
Frequency lists and net schedules
Maps, both street and topographic
Key phone numbers, email and internet addresses
Contact information for other members in your group, EC, etc
Copy of emergency plans
Resource lists, who to call for which kinds of problems
Log sheets, message forms

Operating Supplies

Outgoing message forms or sheets to compose message
Incoming message forms
Log Sheets
Standard forms used by the served agency
Letter or legal note pads
Sticky notes
Paper clips and rubber bands
Blank envelopes

The make up of your ready kit is the way you want it to pack it and carry it.

Make up a checklist and keep copies of it in your ready kit, so that the items used can be replaced.


When the time comes, you need to know where to go, and what to do,but that may not be possible until you arrive at the situation.

If it is possible, run through this checklist of questions for answers.

Which frequency should you check in on initially? Is there a back-up frequency?

If a repeater is out of service, which simplex frequency is used for the net? (check and see if 146.52 works in your vehicle, it can interfer with the car's computer these days)

Which nets will be activated first?

Should you report to a pre-determined location or will your assignment be made as needed?

Learn about any place to which you may be deployed to familiarize yourself with its resources, requirements, and limitations. If you are assigned to a particular shelter, you will need to know alternate routes to it.

Will you need a long antenna cable to get from your operating position to the roof?

Are antennas permanently installed, or will you need to bring your own?

Will you be in one room with everyone else, or in a separte room?

Is there dependable emergency power to circuits at possible operating positions?

Does the building have an independent and dependable water supply?

Do you have good coverage for your cell phone or beeper inside the building?

Can you reach local repeaters reliably with only a rubber duck antenna, or do you need an antenna with gain?

If the repeaters are out ot service, how far can you reach on a simplex channel?

Will you need a HF radio?

If you will be assigned to an EOC, school, hospital, or other facility with its own radio system in place, learn under what conditions you will be required to use it, where it is, and how it works. In addition to radios, consider copiers, computers, fax machines, phone systems and other potentially useful equipment.

Consider escape routes. If you could be in the path of a sotrm surge or other dangerous condition, know all the possible routes out of the area. If you will be stationed in a large building such as a school or hospital, find the fire exits, and learn which parking areas will be the safest for your vehicle.

Here is the review of this lesson:

Pre-planning and physical preparation are essential to an effective and timely emergency response. Know in advance where are you going, if possible, and what you will be doing there when you get there. Keep a ready kit available to go at a moment's notice. Information is as important as equipment, keep updated lists of other volunteers and contact information, frequencies, andother resources on hand as well as copies of essential information to help you in your deployment.







This lesson will help you understand and deal with some of the operating logistical issues that arise during emergency relief and communication operations.

Choosing Net Frequencies

Unlike commerical and public safety radio users, Amateurs have a vast amount of radio spectrum to use in meeting the needs of an emergency. Most local and regional emcomm communication takes place on 2 meter or 70 centimeter FM, or on 40 or 80 meter SSB/CW. The choice made is based on the locations to be covered, the availability of repeaters, distance, terrain, and band conditions.

VHF and UHF FM are preferred for most local operations because the equipment is common, portable, has a clear voice quality and the coverage is extended by repeater stations. VHF and UHF communication range is determined by terrain, antenna height, and the availability of repeaters.

For larger areas or in areas without repeaters. HF SSB may be needed. Most local emcomm operation is on the 40 or 80 meter bands using Near Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) propagation. For occasional long-haul communication needs and international operations, 15 or 20 meter nets may be the best option.

The frequencies for this area, upstate
South Carolina, are on 3.915, 40 meters, and 2, 220,440 frequencies.

Know Your Resources in Advance

Become familiar with the coverage and features of each permanent repeater and digital message system in your area, and pre-program your radios with the frequencies, offsets, and CTCSS tones.


Ask your EC or AEC which repeaters are used for emergency communication in your area.


Will they be available for exclusive emcomm use, or must they be shared with other users?


Information to find out include:

How does it identify itself?

Are there any "dead spots" in critical areas? How much power is required to reach the repeater with a clear, quiet, signal from key locations?

Does the repeater have a courtesy tone, and what does it sound like?

Do the tones change depending on the repeater's mode?

How long is the "time-out timer?"

Is it part of a linked system of repeaters? What features does it have, and which touch-tone commands or CTCSS tones activate them?

Net frequencies that support digital communication systems, such as packet radio bulletin board messaging systems, AMTOR, PSK31 and RTTY:

Which software do they use?

Do the digital systems have mailboxes or digipeater functions?

Which other nodes can they connect to?

Can traffic be passed over an Internet link automatically or manually?

How many connections can they support at once?

Each station monitors one or more frequencies. When you want to pass the traffic to another station, consider which frequency you wish to use to exchange messages. then, find the other station's monitoring frequency and call on that frequency. If the other station is monitoring a controlled net, first ask the Net Control Station (NCS) for permission to call the other station and when persmission is granted, give the other station a call. when you make contact, inform the other station of the frequency you wish to use to exchange the message, move to that frequency and pass the message.

Message Relays

When one station cannot hear another, a third station may have to "relay" the messages
. Although this is a slow and cumbersome process, it is often the only way to reach certain stations. If relays must be used, move off the main net frequency to avoid tying up the frequency for an extended period.

Record Keeping


Most served agencies will expect you to keep records of your operations.


These records will certainly include original copies of any messages sent, station logs, memos, and official correstpondence.


Some may even require you to keep "scratch" notes and informal logs. Depending on agency policy, you may be required to keep these records in your own possession for a time, or to turn some or all records over to the agency at the end of operations.


In some agencies, your station records are permanent and important legal documents, and must be treated as such. It is important to know your served agency's policy on record keeping in advance so that you can comply from the very beginning of operations.

Your station operating logs should probably contain the following information:

Your arrival and departure times

Times you check in and out of specific nets

Each message, by number, sender, addressee, and other handling stations

Critical events - damage, power loss, injuries, earth tremors, other emergencies

Staff changes - both emcomm and site management, if known

Equipment problems and issues

Every individual message or note should be labeled with a time and date. In the case of scratch notes, place dates and times to each note on a sheet so that information can be used later to determine a course of events.

If you expect to operate from the location for more than a day or two, establish a message filing system so that you can retrieve the messages as needed. A "portable office" type file box or any other suitable container can be used to organize and file the messages. This is also an efficient way to allow another operator to pick up where you left off, even if they arrive after you leave. Effective record keeping allows them to come up to speed quickly.





Any unusual situation can create personal stress - disasters create incredible amounts of it.


Most people are not used to working under extreme stress for long periods of time, and do not know how to handle it. They can become disoriented, confused, unable to make good decisions at all, lose their tempers, and behave in ways they never would any other time.

In the early hours of a diaster, the tendency is to regard every situation or need as an "emergency", requiring an immediate response. You might get a barrage of requests for actions. You might not have the extra seconds it requires to fully consider the options, and to prioritize your actions. The result is an overload of responsibility, which can lead to unmanageable levels of stress.

While you cannot eliminate disaster-related stress, you can certainly take steps to reduce or control it. Here are some tips to help you manage the situation to avoid creating, and dealing with, excessive stress and stressful situations.


1. Delegate some of your responsibilities to others. Take on those tasks only you can handle.

2. Prioritize your actions - the most important and time-sensitive ones come first.

3. Do not take comments personally - mentally translate "personal attacks" into "constructive criticism" and a signal that there may be an important need that is being overlooked.

4. Take a few deep breaths and relax. Do this often, especially if you feel stress increasing. Gather your thoughts and move on.

5. Watch out for your own needs - food, water, rest and medical attention.

6. Do not insist on working more than your assigned shift if others can take over.

7. Take a moment to think before responding to a stress-causing challenge - if needed, tell them you will be back to them in a few minutes.

8. If you are losing control of a situation, bring someone else in to assist you. Do not let a problem get out of hand before asking for help.

9. Keep an eye on other team members, and help them reduce stress when possible.

Long Term Operations

As soon as it becomes clear that the situation is not going to return to normal for a while, plans should be made for extended emcomm operations


Here are some to consider:

1. Additional operators to allow for regular shift changes, and those who go home.

2. Replacement equipment, as operators leave with their own gear or it fails.

3. Food and Water

4. A suitable place to sleep or rest.

5. Generator fuel

6. Fresh batteries

7. Sanitation facilities

8. Shelter

9. Message handling supplies, forms

10.Alternate NCS operators, backups

11.Additional net resources to handle message traffic.

If you can think of other items to consider, let me know, so that we can add them to the list.





Battery Management

If you are operating on battery power, you will eventually need to recharge your batteries. As discussed earlier, some batteries need more time to recharge than others, and this time needs to be taken into account in your planning. Deep cycle marine batteries, for instance, can require a full day or longer to fully recharge. Sealed lead-acid (
SLA) batteries, also known as "gel-cells",require up to 18 hours to recharge. NiCd, LIon, and similar batteries can be recharged quite quickly, although repeated rapid charge cycles can reduce overall bettery life.

If you are using slow-charging batteries, you may need to have enough on-hand to last the entire length of the operation. If your batteries can be charged quickly, some means must be provided for doing so. Some chargers can be powered from a vehicle's 12-volt system, and are a good choice for emcomm. If no local means of charging is available, your logistics team may need to shuttle batteries back and forth between your position and a location with power and chargers.

Generator and Power Safety

Take some care in the placement of generators so that they will not be a problem for others.


Engine noise can make it difficult for shelter residents and volunteers to get much needed rest, and for anyone trying to do their job.


Exhaust fumes should not be allowed to enter the building or nearby tents or vehicles. A position "down wind" of any occupied location is best. Even when vehicles are not included, internal combustion engines are still the number one cause of carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. Propane powered engines produce as much or more carbon monoxide as gasoline or diesel engines.

Earth grounding of portable or vehicle-mounted AC generators is not required as long as only plug and cord connected equipment is used, and the generator meets National Electrical Code (NEC) standards listed in Article 250-6. The main exception is for generators that will be connected, even temporarily, to a building's permanent electrical system.

Ground Fault Interrupters (GFIs) add a further degree of safety when working with generators and portable power systems. However, GFIs will not work as intended without a good electrical ground. Be sure the ground connections in every extension cord and device are intact. Also, be sure to test any GFI device to be used with or near HF radios to be sure that the GFI will function porperly while the radio is transmitting.

AC extension cords used to connect to generators or other power sources should be rated for the actual load. Most are rated for far less power than the generator can produce. Also, most extension cords are rated only for their actual length, and cannot be strung together to make a longer cord without "de-rating" the cord's capacity.


For example, a typical 16 gauge, 50 foot, orange "hardware store" cord is rated for 10 amps. When two are used to run 100 foot, the rating drops to only 7 amps.


Choose a single length of cord rated for the load and the entire distance you must run it. If this is not possible, you can also run two or more parallel cords to the generator in order to reduce the load on any single cord.

While "romex" type wire for long extension cords have been used, it is a violation of the National Electrical Code and a dangerous practice. Repeated bending, rolling, and abrasion can cause the solid copper conductors and insulation to break, resulting in a fire and electrocution hazard.


 Use only flexible insulated extension cords that are UL, rated for temporary, portable use.

Specialized Assignments

You may be asked to handle other assignments for the served agency that may or may not include communicating. Emcomm volunteers may be cross trained for and perform, a variety of served-agency skills that also include communicating.


Examples are Skywarn weather spotting, Red Cross damage assessment, and many logistics jobs. If the opportunity arises for cross training, grab it and add it to your list of skills.

Review of lesson:

Simplex operation is preferred over repeaters because repeaters often fail in a disaster situation.


Frequencies and operators are resource that should be managed for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.


Record keeping is essential to an effective emcomm operation. It allows messages to be tracked, and preserves continuity when personnel change.


Demanding situations like disasters can breed disagreements, especially when strong egos and short-fused tempers are introduced. Take steps to reduce the level of stress on yourself, and do not respond in kind to an angry person.


When an operation looks like it will be an extended one, begin immediately to prepare for the additional people and resources necessary to sustain the operation


Arrange to charge batteries as needed. Use generators and power distribution equipment safely.


Leaving your equipment behind is a choice only you can make. Think about this well in advance to be sure other arrangements are made before you leave with all your equipment.


Emcomm groups accept other agency tasks beyond just communications.


1. Which of the following will NOT limit VHF simplex range?

A. Terrain
B. Output Power
C. Antenna Gain
D. Digipeaters

2. Which of the followig actions will NOT improve simplex reception?

A. Increase the antenna height.
B. Switch to a non-directional antenna.
C. Increase transmitter output power.
D. Move the antenna away from obstructions.

3. Which of the following is true about a simplex repeater?

A. The FCC rules do not permit unattended operation of simplex repeaters.
B. They work best in the "cross-band repeater" mode.
C. They require the use of two radios.
D. Is the same as a "human repeater."

4. Which of the following is NOT an appropriate served agency assignment for an emcomm volunteer?
A. Field damage assessment and reporting.
B. Driving a supply delivery vehicle.
C. Typing inventory lists and filing memos.
D. Gathering weather data and reporting conditions.

5. Which of the following is a good means of dealing with stress during an emcomm event?
A. Take every comment personally.
B. Pay no attention to other team members; let them handle their own problems.
C. To reduce personal stress, insist on working more than your own shift.
D. Prioritize your actions - the most important and time sensitive ones come first.






Here are the answers to the questions given in Lesson 12.

1. D

2. B
3. A

4. C

5. D






Your purpose as emergency communicators is to provide accurate and rapid transfer of information from one place to another.


To do that job well, you must understand the strengths and weaknesses of each mode of communication.


 You must be throughly familiar with the needs and priorities of the agencies you are serving. some messages must be delivered quickly, and others are less urgent.


Some are detailed, and some are simple. Sometimes you should not even use the radio to pass the message.

Some Concepts to Consider:

Communication modes fall into several categories:

. Point to point - telephone, fax, some digital radio modes
. Multi-point - voice and cw radio, some digital modes
. High precision - fax, e-mail, digital modes
. Low precision - voice, cw, telephone
. High priority - voice, telephone
. Low priority - fax, e-mail, digital modes, cw

Messages fall into similar categories:

. Point to point - Messages intended for one party
. Point to Multi-point - Messages intended for a group
. Multi-point to point - Messages from members of a group directed to one station
. High precision - Lists of items, medical or technical terminology, specialized or detailed information
. Low precision - Traffic reports, damage estimates, simple situation reports
. High priority - Fast delivery is critical
. Low priority - Message can be delivered in a more relaxed time frame

Each type of message should be sent using the most appropriate mode, taking into consideration the message's contents, and its destination(s).

An example might serve to illustrate these concepts.


A localized flash flood hit north Greenville County a few years ago, prompting the evacuation of a low-lying neighborhood. The Red Cross opened a shelter in a church several miles away from the affected area. Greenville County ARES was mobilized to provide communication support.

In spite of the weather, the shelter still had electricity and phone service.

QUESTION: How would you set up the station to assist at the shelter?

The station is set up and the operator has a three page list of names and addresses of evacuees who had checked into the shelter to transmit to Red Cross headquarters.

Working equipment available to the operator is:

1. Ham Radio station, with emcomm net on local wide area repeater.
2. Ham Radio station, with emcomm resource net on simplex
3. Fax machine

What are some questions to ask yourself first 

1. This is a long list, can I send it with an alternative method?

2. Should I tie up the emcomm net for this list that may take about 15 minutes to transmit and make sure it is received as is?

3. Can I use the fax machine?

4. Is the fax machine at Red Cross operating?

How did you answer?


Using the wide area repeater ( a busy mult-point method) only ties up the repeater, it can not be used for reports from mobiles out in the field also the broadcast of the evacuee's names and addresses over a non-secure communications frequency is a violation of Red Cross policy.

Using voice for transmission
, which is a low precision method because of the copying by handwritten transcription and using spelling and phonetics for the names and addresses. Time consuming. What about privacy policy?

Using the fax machine, after checking to see if the Red Cross headquarters' fax is operating, is this the best method for transmitting long lists of names and addresses. It not only gives a hard copy, but is faster in the transmittal of the list and it is kept confidential according to Red Cross privacy policy.

Not all telephone lines and fax machines will be available in every emergency. Sometimes only one mode will be available, especially when the utility service is interrupted over a wide area. We need to check on the options when arriving at our assigned positions.


Tactical messages are usually low-precision and time-critical, and can be passed most efficiently using voice.


Depending on the nature of the message, it may take the form of formal written traffic, or at the other extreme, it may mean that the microphone is handed to a person from the served agency.


This is frequently the quickest way to get the job done, but remember to identify third party traffic, if the person is unlicensed. Use this method, "this is (callsign),Headquarters, with third party traffic. get EOC Commander on line.


Some messages contain long lists of supplies, or details where accuracy is important.


Voice transmission can introduce errors, and long messages can waste valuable net resources.


The various digital modes (including land line fax and email) offer the best means of handling these messages, since they are both fast and accurate. Digital messages also have the benefit of repeatable accuracy. When a message is passed through several stations, it remains unchanged since no operator intervention occurs.


Some messages contain information that should be kept private.


Reporters and the general public commonly use scanning receivers to monitor public safety and Amateur Radio communications.


Names and addresses of evacuees and other sentsitive information should NEVER be transmitted over voice frequencies, since anyone with a scanner can use this information to their own means of mischief, for example, looting unattended homes and repeating information inaccurately to others, sometimes causing public panic. Learn in advance your served agency's privacy policy regarding certain types of information.

Some groups have switched to digital modes, such as packet, in an attempt to offer more privacy.


Here in Greenville County we are using several different bands and modes.

Although digital transmissions require more than a simple scanner to intercept, they cannot be relied upon for absolute privacy. The equipment needed to receive most digital modes is available, and is even built into some newer receivers. Anyone wishing to monitor digital transmissions can certainly do so.


Let us put our heads together and discuss the various modes before deciding what will be use during an emergency.






Traffic nets handling large volumes of written or high precision traffic should consider using one of the digital modes.


Digital modes can be used to transmit long lists such as health and welfare traffic, and logistics messages involving lists of people or supplies.


Some digital modes provide virtually error-free transmission and relays can be accomplished by retransmitting the received digital message without having to retype it. Packet systems can provide automatic relays

Digital modes that do not provide automatic error correction should only be used when clean and interference-free signals can be guaranteed. These modes include RTTY, AMTOR mode A, and PSK31 in BPSK mode.


The best digital modes for HF operation are packet, AMTOR mode B, and PSK 31 in QPSK mode. In general, antenna and radio considerations are similar to voice or CW operation, although certain digital signals require less power than voice modes to achieve the same effect.


The TNC2 (Terminal Node Controller, Version 2) FM packet is the most common mode used on VHF and UHF frequencies. The antenna and coverage considerations are the same as for FM voice.


Packet communication is error-free in point to point "automated repeat request" (ARQ) or "forward error correctionF" (FEC) broadcast modes.


The most effective way to send messages via packet radio is to use a "bullentin board." The sending station "posts" his messages on the bulletin board, and other stations can then retrieve their message at will.


Urgent messages can also be sent directly to the receiving station if needed.

Bulletin-board stations are also useful when a number of stations are sending messages to a single point, such as a command post, weather service office, or emergency operations center. Similarly, bulletin-boards can be useful in handling outgoing traffic. Stations with traffic can post messages to the bulletin-board. The traffic handlers can periodically pick up the traffic and send it to the outbound NTS nets.

A consideration is that multipath propagation may distort digital signals enough to cause failure when a voice might still be understandable. The solution is the same as in voice mode - move the antenna a few inches or feet until you get a clear signal.


AMTOR Mode B (also known as "FEC" mode) is an advanced teletype mode with forward error correction, making it ideal for high precision messages over long distances.


The ability of PSK31 to be usable in very poor conditions makes it ideal for HF emergency communication.


In addition, the efficiency resulting from the very narrow bandwidth of the PSK31 signal means that even a low power transmitter will work quite well. There are two PSK31 modes: BPSK, which has no error correction, and QPSK which has forward error-correction. BPSK should be used unless the received copy is poor, since QPSK is 3db less efficient and requires more careful tuning. Under all but the worst conditions, BPSK will provide perfect transmissions.


This is a combination of packet and AMTOR. It is designed for HF use only, and combines the best features of both. PACTOR uses FEC and ARQ modes, and a standard keyboard. PACTOR is quite robust (more so than AMTOR and RTTY), but can be slowed by poor band conditions.


TCP/IP Internet protocols and network services are useable on packet radio. TCP/IP systems have advantages over conventional packet protocols that could be important in Amateur emcomm operations. One IP system is JNOS, which has extensions written by Johannes Reinalda, WG7J, to the orginal NOS(Network Operating System), written by Phil Karn, KA9Q.

*JNOS is a TCP/IP oriented e-mail system. If you're familiar with Internet e-mail, your're familiar with typing e-mail into JNOS.

*It sends e-mail via SMTP mail protocol and can interface to Internet. A JNOS station can relay packet radio messages to the Internet and vice versa, unattended.

*It will print incoming messages automatically onto a printer, unattended. If the printer is a cut-sheet printer such as an inkjet or laser printer, individual messages will automatically appear on separate sheets.

*The operator can open up to eight windows for multiple sessions for messaging. It has a ninth window for command mode for controlling the system, and a tenth window for debugging.

*It can multi-task efficiently on a 386 computer with 1 megabyte of memory. In a minimal configuration, it can run on a PC/XT (640KB 8086) as an end-node station.
  * It supports multiple communications ports and multiple radio/TNC combinations.
  * It is shareware, and is available on the internet.


While not a message handling mode, APRS is a digital information mode with applications in emcomm. Originally called "Automatic Position Reporting System", this mode is now sometimes called "Automatic Packet Reporting System", owing to new applications of the technology. The newest application of APRS is the automated reporting of data from digital weather stations. The original application for APRS, developed by Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, is to track a station's location. A GPS receiver is connected to a computer, and its position information is transmitted to other stations using APRS packet software, displaying the location of the sending station on a map. APRS also has a messaging mode similar to Internet "Instant Messaging" where quick one-line messages can be exchanged.

APRS has two obvious applications for emcomm.


First, the locations of various emergency vehicles can be tracked visually in real time in an automated and unattended fashion.


Second, weather and other environmental data can be reported automatically in near real-time. Both applications can both speed data acquisition and reduce the work load on critical emergency nets.


Become familiar with, and practice using, any digital mode or system well in advance of an emergency. Most are complex enough that some experience is required to use them efficiently and effectively.

Digital communications can be enhanced by composing the message off-line in a text editor. With a little ingenuity, "fill in the blank" forms can be created in most word processors to reduce the amount of typing required and help standardize message formats


The high duty-cycle of many digital modes requires a rugged radio and power supply with adequate cooling. Test your equipment under field conditions for an extended period of time to identify any possible problems.


There are two forms of ATV - slow-scan and fast-scan.


Fast-scan ATV is live, full motion TV similar to what you see on commerical TV, but usually at reduced quality.


Slow-scan ATV uses a voice-grade channel to send a still picture line by line. It can take more than a minute for a color picture to be transmitted.

ATV has a number of emcomm applications, but all involve letting emergency managers see what is going on in the field without ever leaving their offices. ATV crews usually take a passive "observer" approach, and avoid interaction with bystanders to ensure that a situation is accurately represent. No emcomm ATV transmission should ever be "staged" for the camera.


Choosing the correct mode and frequency for each type of message will make your nets more efficient and improve service to your agency. Voice modes are low precision,multi-point modes, and many digital modes are high precision point to point modes. Sometimes, Amateur Radio is not the best way to send a message. Confidential messages are best sent via telephone, fax, or courier.


1. Which of the following best describes your purpose as an emergency communicator?

A. To operate the radio
B. To coordinate communications for the EOC
C. To provide accurate and rapid transfer of information from one place to another?
D. To provide internal communication support to one (and only one) responding agency?


2. Which of the following best describes tactical messages?

A. They are high precision and time critical.
B. They are low precision and time critical.
C. They are point-to-point and NOT time critical.
D. They are point-to-multipoint and low precision.


3. Long lists and detailed messages are best handled by which of the following modes?

A. Voice or CW
B. Fax or digital
C. CW or digital
D. Phone or fax


4. During an emergency, you are using voice transmissions to pass messages. Which of the following "guidelines" should govern your action if you were asked to transmit the names and addresses of victims?

A. Transmit the information exactly as presented to you.
B. Use a pre-established code to transmit the information.
C. If absolute privacy is required, do not transmit the information by Amateur Radio.
D. Switch to a digital mode and be assured of complete privacy.


5. Which of the following PSK31 modes has an error correction feature?








The emcomm volunteer should know the pros and cons of using alternate communication systems.


This lesson discusses a variety of communication options that do not depend on Amateur Radio and some circumstances where they might be used.

There are times when a means of communication other than Amateur Radio might be appropriate. It is important to remember that your job is to communicate - regardless of the medium.


Here are some possible situations:

. Communication with non-ham volunteers or emergency management personnel.

. Transmission of sensitive or lengthy information

. Communication with the public

. Amateur Radio equipment has failed or is not available

. Interference is blocking use of Amateur Radio frequencies



Some radio services require licenses, and others do not. However, in a true emergency as defined by the FCC, this may not be a problem. FCC rules gives anyone special permission to use"any means necessary" to communicate in order to protect life and property - BUT ONLY WHEN NO OTHER


Please do not assume that this means you can just modify your radio and call for help on the local police requency the next time you see a car crash on the highway. Law enforcement agencies are not bound by FCC's rules. Hams who have called for "help" on police frequencies have been convicted of "interfering with a police agency" under state and local laws, even though the FCC had taken no enforcement action. In one case, the judge ruled that by MODIFYING his radio in advance, the Amateur had committed "pre-meditated" interference, a serious charge. If you are in a position to save someone's life or property, be sure you are ready to defend your actions - and possible lose your amateur radio license - before pressing the microphone button.

Other services, such as GMRS, require a license that is relatively easy to obtain. If we plan or need to use this system, there is a need to obtain the license and keep it current. If you own a radio, but no license, a judge could claim pre-meditation if you use and disturb licensed users. Like Amateur Radio, unlicensed operation is not allowed.


While it is easy to modify many VHF and UHF Amateur radios for operation in nearby public service and business bands, it is NOT LEGAL TO DO SO. Radios used in those bands must be "Type Accepted" by the FCC for the purpose, and Amateur radios are not. It is better to purchase the proper radio.


In most of the radio services listed below only VOICE COMMUNICATION is permitted. Packet and other forms of data or image transmission are ILLEGAL.


GMRS is a high power (50 watt), personal-use UHF FM radio service in which users can also license repeater stations. Each station license covers only the licensee and their immediate family, but stations or different licensees are permitted to talk to one another. 462.675 MHz is designated by the FCC as an emergency and traveler's information channel, and is monitored by REACT in many cities. Seven GMRS channels are shared with the Family Radio Service, but communication between GMRS licensees and FRS users is NOT permitted except in an emergency.


The Family Radio Service uses inexpensive, half-watt, UHF FM radios on 14 channels. Range can be up to two miles, but mountaintop transmissions have been heard at much greater distances.


These radios are becoming quite popular with the public, and could be a good means of communication with stranded or isolated persons a short distance away.


REACT recommends the use of FRS channel 1 for emergency and calling use, but the FCC has declined to make this official. Voice-scrambling is permitted on FRS, and is available in a few models. This might make it useful for short-range transmission of sensitive information.


27 MHz AM CB radio is familiar to almost everyone. SSB operation is also allowed. Many of the general public still have CB radios in their vehicles, especially truckers. Since disaster relief supplies often arrive by truck, being able to communicate with and direct an incoming truck on channel 19 could be quite useful. In addition, the longer range (3-5 miles) of CB makes it useful for receiving calls for assistance on emergency channel 9 from more distant stranded or isolated persons.


This is a relatively new radio service, intended primarily for business users, but it can be used for any legal purpose under current rules. There are five MURS channels in the VHF business band. No license is required and transmitters are limited to two watts output.

This service is perfect for establishing short-range communication with non-licensed personnel at an incident scene, command post, or within an EOC.


There are instances where the use of police and fire radio frquencies are possible. The agency itself might allow and train you for such use, or an individual officer may ask you to use his radio to call for help when he cannot. Keep your transmissions short and to the point. Do not tie up the channel with long explanations, and cease transmitting if they tell you to.


In a widespread disaster situation, these phone systems can quickly become OVERLOADED. In smaller emergencies, they may still be usable. If a message is too sensitive to send via any two-way radio, try your cell phone. Cellular and PCS phone transmissions, especially digital, are considerable more secure. In addition, it is possible to send data or fax transmissions over the cellular network at slow speeds.



Do not forget the most obvious means of communication. If they are still functioning, use the telephone and fax whenever the message might be to sensitive for radio. Fax is also useful for sending long lists, and where accuracy is critical. Do not tie up a radio frequency sending a long list of supplies if a fax is available and in working order.


Courier service is an excellent marriage of old and new technologies. When we are asked to deliver a message with contents that are sensitive or very lengthy, and fax and phone lines are out of service, hand delivery might be the best choice.


Amateur Radio may not always be the best or only means of communicating. It is important to remember that our job is to get the message through, regardless of the means.


Plan to have other systems licensed and in place beforehand when possible, but improvise when necessary.


**Side Note: If you plan to take the Level I Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Course Exam, please order the book from the Book store and fill in the areas not covered here before you take the exam, or you can sign up for the on-line course following the instructions on the page.  Any questions that you would like input on, please contact,, or your local County ARRL ARES Emergency Coordinator.