Emergency Practice Nets

Emergency Practice Nets

Much of my rantings about nets is contained in the “Excess Verbiage” column. If you need to be ranted at, read that column too. Now…new rant:

Break it up

Can we make our emergency nets more useful? I have been participating in VHF nets for many years and have seen it done in different ways. No doubt, there is no single ‘proper’ way to conduct one, however, it seems that an ’emergency practice’ net should be conducted with emergencies in mind. One thing I instituted locally when I ran a net was to officially announce a demarcation between the social net and the emergency net. I have no problem with having social nets as well as emergency practice nets, but I think they should not be held concurrently. Maybe I’m wrong but when we announce ‘this net is for conducting emergency practice’, and then go on to ask Farmer Brown if he got that old pickup running yet, well, you get the idea.

Let us socialize right after we do the emergency stuff. It shouldn’t take long to conduct an emergency practice net. We take check-ins, briefly explain some protocols to follow and get some responses to questions that truly might involve emergency operation. Why not ask: ‘Has anyone increased their operating capabilities since the last net?’ That could range from putting up a new dipole to upgrading your license class. Think about it…what does a net controller need to know? He or she needs to know what resources are available to respond to the emergencies that we are anticipating with our practice. Does your emergency net controller need to say ‘Is the frequency in use?’ 52 times a year or does your controller need to ask if you can monitor the National Weather Service frequency and the VHF repeater simultaneously? I’m simply saying, let’s make it realistic and practical, not rote. If we did that, perhaps our emergency nets might be a little more fun and not so boring. They might actually cause us to examine our capabilities and improve them. What a concept!

Let’s get social!

So, after a quick emergency net, then we could slow down the pace and have our social net. Then we could take check-ins of people who are not really there and who cannot respond on the radio at that moment. Then we can check on Farmer Brown’s progress. I’m all for that aspect of it. We all know that amateur radio is a social exercise as much as it is a technical exercise. That is not a problem. I just do not want to fool myself into believing that my social participation relates directly to my ability to participate in an emergency.

I do believe that a social net could have some benefit to an emergency net. Here’s how: If a net controller is new to the position, then it is likely that person needs experience in listening. Seasoned controllers often know who is transmitting within the first two or three letters of the transmitting station’s callsign. That sort of familiarity helps out. If you are already writing down the callsign before they even finish, you are ahead of the game and the net moves along faster and more efficiently. If you are trained in listening (Wow! What a concept!), then you will likely copy a new callsign quicker and not have to ask for a repeat. Conducting social nets could help train us to keep everyone involved in the net. That seems like a good idea.

Dis – leks – see – uh

It is my thought that most or all of us are dyslexic, to some degree. The faster you go, the more dyslexic you become. I have been listening to a controller who has difficulty with that. What should we do? I suppose the answer is to give the controller more practice. It’s as simple as that. Comfort level could have an effect on mistakes, so if the controller becomes more comfortable, then perhaps fewer mistakes will be made. Makes sense to me. having come from a profession where mistakes could not be tolerated, I may be a bit harsh on others, but I do think they should strive to improve.


After a net in which numerous mistakes are made, and the person making the mistakes is told ‘great job’, makes me shake my head. Again, perhaps I am being too harsh, but I see a debriefing as being useful here. Not to cause the mistake maker to be uncomfortable, but to highlight areas that need improvement. That’s what would have occurred in a professional setting. We call ourselves professional in our intent to provide emergency communications. Well then, let us approach it with a professional stance. Yes, we all want to bolster the confidence of the mistake maker, and  that is called for, but what about some positive corrective action?

Back to the basics

In an emergency net, what does a net controller need? That controller needs to know what assets are available to respond to a given situation. That controller firstly needs operators, so the controller needs callsigns of potential responders. The controller should be like a switchboard operator: not necessarily responding themselves, but directing others to respond. That can only be done when the controller knows and understands the assets at hand and can direct them appropriately. In my experience, the controller may have to be quite a juggler! You need to keep track of multiple resources and need to be thinking ahead if you can. Not only that, but you need to be organized.  This is where practice really pays off.

Now, here I go again…keeping up with amateur operator XYZ’s gout doesn’t do as much for you as being thrown into an unusual situation, mock or real, and having to respond appropriately does. Get some realistic practice if you want to be a real net controller. I recall one Simulated Emergency Test that really put our feet to the fire, and I had help that time! Had I been all alone, I would have been floundering. A net where we all check in, and five minutes later we are all saying goodbye, in no way constitutes emergency practice. Sure, you might discover your batteries are dead or that there’s water in your coax, I’ll give you that. What I am saying is, CHALLENGE YOURSELF! Just as in the sports world, you will never improve if you remain within your comfort zone. Think about it like this: You don’t need to know where you will succeed, you need to know where you will fail. Only then can you truly prepare.

Does your weekly bull session prepare you? Perhaps in some very small way it can, but don’t expect to run in a marathon when you’ve been walking around the park. It just won’t happen.

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