The Red Phone

The Problem
Most people can concentrate on a single task.  When asked to accomplish multiple simultaneous tasks, performance suffers on all of the tasks, or all except the one task upon which the person chooses to focus.   This is not necessary a “problem”, but a “fact of life”.  The important thing is to recognize the condition, and deal with it in a manner which maximizes production and performance.

Application of the Problem to ARES events
An amateur radio operator should not be asked to deal with multiple tasks, simultaneously.

A Red Phone is a device that is quiet, 99% of the time, but can be used to signal or alarm the operator, for the purpose of possibly changing the priority of the tasks that the person has on his or her “to-do list”.

For example, a person in a one person station, acting as a HF/VHF Liaison Operator, is initially asked to monitor both a HF channel and a VHF channel.  This can be only be accomplished if BOTH channels are “quiet”.  When either of the channels becomes active, the operators attention focuses on the active channel.  This again, is not a problem until the other channel becomes active.  Then the operator consciously or unconsciously chooses to focus on one channel and ignore the other.   This becomes a problem if there are expectations by others that the Liaison Operator is monitoring BOTH channels.

The Solution
Assume that the Liaison Operator is busy with the HF channel.  His “supervisor”, located in a Operations Command Center, tries to contact him, without success, via the VHF channel.  The supervisor should then attempt contact via the Liaison Operator’s “Red Phone”.  The Red Phone could one of many possible devices:  another VHF, UHF, or HF radio channel,  telephone,  cell phone, pager, FAX, FRS Radio, Human Runner, etc.  Radio devices used as Red Phones may or may not have the PL tone function in use.

The important attributes of a Red Phone are:  it is silent 99% of the time, and when used, it acquires the immediate attention of the intended person.   After answering the Red Phone, the Liaison Operator is able to decide if he should change the priorities of the tasks on which he is presently working.   The Red Phone is used only when communication via the “normal” channel is not responsive in a timely manner.

All ARES Field Stations should have a useable Red Phone.   The ARES Command Center should know the attributes of each Field Station’s Red Phone, and be able to communicate via it.   It is not necessary that each Field Station have identical Red Phones.

The ARES Command Center should also have a Red Phone, or multiple Red Phones, so that EVERY Field Station is able to contact the Command Center via the Red Phone concept.  Each Field Station should know how to contact the Command Center via the Red Phone.  If activity on the Command Center Red Phones becomes something other than “Quiet”, that would indicate that either 1) Additional Working Channels/Nets need to be created to handle the apparent increased workload or 2) The apparent increased workload must to be managed by choosing NOT to handle certain types of work requests, and that those decisions be communicated to all Field Stations.

The Red Phone concept should be used for all ARES activities.  It strengthens our ability to communicate “no matter what”.  It helps to mitigate propagation, interference, and equipment breakdown problems.   It is a tool which will assist in recognition of workload overload.  Most importantly, it is a tool which will enable amateur radio to provide better service to those that it serves. 

by Don Felgenhauer, K7BFL