Working Together
To Provide Public Service Communications
by Don Felgenhauer K7BFL

The ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) and NTS (National Traffic System) both have objectives of providing public service.

The ARRL Public Service Communications Manual lists NTS and ARES as partners within the Field Services Department of ARRL. The broad objective of amateur radio providing satisfactory communications services to the public and public agencies could be enhanced if ARES and NTS would work together more closely.

During a local disaster responding public agencies will use the Incident Command System. A local agency will be in "command". ARES will be the "official" amateur organization reporting to the Incident Command.

The communications services needed by clients (public agencies) during an ARES event (services to clients) are mostly accomplished using VHF/UHF, without the need for HF paths.

When an ARES event does require the use of HF paths, the ARES operators are usually not familiar with handling traffic.

Most ARES operators are not active in NTS.

Most NTS operators are not active in ARES.

Most NTS operators are highly skilled at passing "formal" written traffic.

Most NTS operators have VHF equipment, but seldom use it.

The normal NTS net schedules are not designed to meet the needs of the high traffic volume associated with an "emergency". However NTS leadership may initiate additional net sessions and/or dedicated continuous circuits to meet the needs of NTS users.

At any given moment a single operator can either receive a message, or send a message.

It is usually difficult to determine if the "emergency event" will require the use of additional personnel/equipment over the "normal" level.

People usually perform better during an "emergency" event if they use the same equipment, procedures, and skills as they use during "normal" events.

Techniques to Increase the Performance of a Formal Written Traffic System

Use operators trained in applicable protocols and equipment.

Use stations as either "Send" or "Receive" stations.

Use two operators at a physical location, one to receive, one to transmit, with hardcopy between, two frequencies in simultaneous use.

Increase the hours of operation of a particular station or network.

Establish additional Send and Receive channels or stations.

Reduce the number of relay stations.

Use cw instead of voice.

Use pactor instead of cw.

Things To Do before an "Emergency" event

ARES and NTS leadership (at all levels) should meet with each other periodically to discuss their respective needs, personnel skill levels, and equipment capabilities.

ARES and NTS leadership should develop a Plan, which will enable NTS to assist ARES with formal message traffic handling.

Training events should be held to facilitate ARES and NTS personnel getting to know each other better, and to appreciate each other's skills and equipment capabilities.

Things to Do when an "Emergency" event occurs

ARES leadership should request traffic handling assistance from NTS leadership
ARES leadership will specify performance requirements; such as volume of traffic expected, expected origination locations, expected destination locations, expected timeliness of message throughput, expected message security requirements.

NTS will increase its activity level to meet the needs of the ARES.

The ARES groups involved will become "clients" of the NTS during the event. ARES personnel will be assigned to report to appropriate NTS station locations. The objective would be to provide a VHF/UHF link between message Originations/Deliveries and the NTS.

ARES and NTS leadership will frequently consult with each other during the event to determine if ARES traffic handling needs are being met by the NTS.

NTS Operators could be assigned duty shifts at Official Emergency Stations.

Author Profile
Don Felgenhauer, K7BFL has held an amateur license since 1957. He is active in ARES, having assisted with communications during fires, ice storms and floods.

He is also active in the NTS, being Assistant Manager of the Washington State Net. He operates regularly as an Official Relay Station on regional and area nets.

Professionally he has held various engineering and management positions at a major northwest electric and natural gas utility. For eight years he was responsible for the performance of dispatchers responding to outages and "emergency events" involving electric transmission and generation equipment.