Emergency Net Participant Manual
By Dino Kitsios, KF6ECO © 2002
Authorized for Non-Profit reproduction with copyright
The purpose of this document is to provide some basic guidelines that
apply to all "Declared " or "Directed" voice or
phone nets. Some of these guidelines will apply to any net in any mode.
Mixed in with the nuts and bolts of net activity you will find some
basic rules of conduct with which you must be familiar. They are every
bit as important as your ability to run your radio. If your conduct is
out of line, you can absolutely destroy hard-won relationships that have
taken years to build with served agencies.
A "declared" net is defined as any net that begins with a
statement from an operator that a net is being started for a particular
purpose, and that someone is assuming duties as Net Control Station
(NCS). Declared nets can take many different formats and styles.
- OPEN NET FORMAT: This type of declared net can be nearly
invisible. A group has declared a net to be active, but not much is
happening. The repeater or frequency is being used normally. The net
is transparent and running in the background. A typical use for this
type net is during the early stages of weather watches. Operators
are occasionally reporting some weather condition to an informal
NCS. Other than that, the rag chewing is proceeding normally.
- DIRECTED NET FORMAT: There are two basic types of directed
nets: Formal and Informal.
- Informal Directed Nets are your normal Tuesday night
club net, Elmer's Net, CW practice net, ARES teaching net,
Public Service Events, etc.
- Formal Directed Nets are usually implemented for the
activation of ARES/RACES personnel for Fire Nets, Skywarn,
earthquake, or other Emergency Activations. In either case, the
NCS declares the net to be active and actively controls the
frequency. A specific topic, conditions, and/or set of
instructions for check-in may be given. Normal usage of the
frequency is stopped.
Net Control Stations can quickly become overwhelmed by rapidly
accumulating administrative and logistical requirements. As the scope of
an operation grows, the Main (Command) NCS may activate one or more
supporting sub-nets to handle these duties. This reduces the traffic
flow and maintains the efficiency of the main net. These sub-nets
operate independent of the main net and have their own NCS, but they
report and respond to the main net. Some typical names for these
sub-nets are: Resource (personnel, standby, relief, scheduling);
Logistics (supply, transportation); Health & Welfare; Search &
Rescue; Damage Assessment; ARESMAT; and Security.
GENERAL RULES OF OPERATION FOR FORMAL DIRECTED
- The Net Control Station has ABSOLUTE CONTROL of the frequency
until the net is closed.
- All communications must pass through the authority of the NCS for
the duration of the net. If you wish to speak with another station
involved in the net, ask NCS for permission to "go
direct." Make sure it is important and relevant to the net
activity. Personal transmissions are inappropriate.
- During any net, but of particular importance in Emergency Nets,
the NCS may give check-in instructions requesting information he/she
wants as part of your check-in to the net. If no special
instructions are given for an emergency net check-in, the following
might be appropriate:
- Your Call sign (ALWAYS USE ITU PHONETICS)
- Your Name
- Your Location
- RACES qualified?
- Operating capabilities: mobile/base, bands/equipment, battery
- Available for how long?
- If the NCS announces that all operators should check-in to a
"Resource" net, go to the requested frequency and check-in
with the NCS there. (If this occurs, you will know that the NCS is
in a Tactical or Command Operations mode and is very busy.) A
Resource Net is a holding area where you will stay until given an
assignment. When you receive your assignment from the Resource NCS,
follow his instructions exactly. Listen carefully. The instructions
may have a direct bearing on your personal safety and they may
change during the course of the net.
- Once you have "checked in" (joined the net) you should
NEVER leave the assigned frequency or your transmitter without
telling the NCS, unless you are in immediate danger.
- If the net is called for any emergency or semi-emergency purpose,
you may be issued a tactical call sign by the NCS. Normally only KEY
stations with a special function will be assigned a tactical call
sign. If you are assigned a tactical call sign, use it as much as
possible. You are still obligated to use your FCC issued call sign
to ID every 10 minutes. If the NCS senses that there is going to be
a lull in the action, he/she may call for all operators to ID. In
emergency nets, don't interrupt the flow of emergency traffic just
to ID. Just fit it into your next transmission, for example: ".
. . KA8XYZ as Fire One."
- In emergency nets, keep all your transmissions short and
to-the-point. Think about what you are going to say before you
transmit. Rule: Think it, Say it, Get off the key! Don't rag chew
even a little bit.
- LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN - Pay attention to everything that is going
on! Failure to do so could endanger your life! If a situation
escalates you may be asked to assume a larger role, maybe take over
a sub-net, and if you haven't been keeping track of the situation
you won't be very effective.
- If the NCS requests that you join a sub-net on another frequency,
report and check-in to that net as quickly as possible and STAY on
that sub-net frequency! DON'T switch back and forth between nets! It
may not be as "exciting" on a sub-net, but there is a very
definite reason why you were asked to go to work there. They are
going to need your help!
- Reporters will be everywhere that there might be a tidbit of
unique information about any incident or event. This is especially
true if you are working a front-line disaster field site. NEVER MAKE
ANY COMMENT TO A MEMBER OF THE MEDIA! That is the job of the Public
Information Officer. "I can't answer that question," is
always a good response. Refer them to the PIO. Media personnel are
trained to be very convincing and are very clever at getting you to
say something. What they will always be looking for will be
information regarding injuries, deaths, addresses of the most severe
damage, license numbers of vehicles, rail car numbers, and possible
reported causes which might lead them to a
"trail-of-responsibility/blame." This type of information
is confidential and is to be passed only by more secure means which
they cannot access by scanner. If you don't recognize a person as
someone you know beyond a shadow of a doubt to be part of the
authorized on-site operations team, don't discuss the situation with
- Should you ever find yourself in a situation where you have found
a dead body, or body parts, DO NOT report this to the NCS. Request
only that the NCS send the appropriate authorities and help to your
location on a priority basis. If the NCS should happen to ask for
more details, do not give them but simply repeat your request. A
smart and trained NCS operator will catch on quickly. In the case of
a discovered injury or body entrapment, notify the NCS immediately,
but NEVER TRANSMIT THE NAME OF AN INJURED, TRAPPED OR DECEASED
- NEVER leave your post or the person you have been assigned to
"shadow" without notifying the NCS. If the authorities ask
you to move, do so immediately and without comment, but notify the
NCS of your change in status as soon as you can.
- Remember: We are communicators. We do not make decisions about
anything for the authorities. They are in charge, not us. It is not
your call to decide that more fire engines are needed, or that an
emergency generator is needed somewhere. Your only job is to
communicate, when asked to do so, what the authorities want
communicated. They do not HAVE to use you at all, and many times
they won't. Do not insist that they do. You are there to provide an
additonal method for them to pass information when their
communications systems either fail or become overloaded. Tell them
you are available for service when needed and then back off. Speak
only when spoken to, stay visible and pay attention. Nothing can be
more embarrassing than to "lose" the person you are
supposed to shadow.
- It may be quicker and more efficient to hand your microphone to
the person who wishes to pass a message than to try to relay it
yourself. Don't be afraid to let the authorities operate as third
parties. Just hand them the mic and tell them they can't use foul
language or conduct commercial business. Relayed messages often
become incorrectly "translated" by the relay operator,
especially if there is a high percentage of special agency
terminology, technical terms or jargon that you do not really
- If an on-scene authority requests that you shut your radio off or
that you not transmit, please do what they ask without question.
Normally they will tell you why, but they don't have to. This is one
circumstance where you do not notify the NCS of a change in your
status. This would normally occur only if there is a presence of
explosives or explosive chemicals or vapors, and there is the
possibility that a spark-producing electronic device is present like
blasting caps, smoke detectors, receivers, telephones, etc., which
might be triggered by an RF Signal.
- In Emergency Nets you will, on rare occasions, hear a station
break in with the words "Priority" or
"Emergency." When either of these words is heard,
everything Stops! NCS is obligated to stop everything and answer
these calls immediately! It is important that you clearly understand
when these words are to be used. PRIORITY - means that your
message concerns an immediate SAFETY ISSUE regarding Human Life or
Injury or an immediate SAFETY ISSUE regarding impending property
damage. EMERGENCY is the highest priority message possible.
It must involve, and is reserved for, ONLY those messages which
contain information that someone IS ABSOLUTELY in DANGER OF DEATH or
SERIOUS INJURY IF YOUR MESSAGE ISN'T HEARD IMMEDIATELY. Here is an
example: If you observe that a damaged brick wall is in danger of
falling into the street, that is a safety issue and should rank as a
Priority call. If the wall just fell on two people in the street,
that is a "danger of death" issue and would definitely
qualify as an Emergency call.
- Whenever you join a net try to turn your emotional sensitivity
down a couple of notches. To operate with continuing professionalism
you have to become as objective as possible. Don't lose sight of
what you are trying to accomplish. Develop as unemotional an
attitude as possible to what is happening, how you are spoken to,
how you speak, how you react to someone else, how you react to what
sounded like a direct order, etc. On the air, there is never a
proper time or place for emotional outbursts or criticism of any
kind. Be patient with the NCS. An NCS operator is under high stress.
His questions and requests should be clear and crisp, but as he/she
begins to tire there may be a tendency to become rather terse. You
may be tired, wet, hungry and bored. It's a volatile mix. Be aware
of it. Typically, there is a whole lot going on in an NCS that the
field operators never know about. This stress level increases
dramatically if the field operators are not well trained. The higher
the training levels for field operators and NCS operators, the
smoother everything will go.
- One other very important rule of thumb: If you should hear on your
scanner or by other means, that there is an emergency in progress
somewhere, DO NOT rush in and volunteer your services or demand that
you be used for communications. Nothing is more unwelcome and
distasteful to the authorities than an uninvited, demanding amateur
operator. There is no room for ambulance and fire truck chasing in
the Amateur Radio Service. If you have not been given a specific
assignment by a Net Control Station, don't go to a disaster or
incident site. If they need us, they will call us out by contacting