The Amateur Amateur: Net (Controller) Quake
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
I briefly entertained the idea of shutting off the lights during the drill
but quickly realized that I would not be able to shuffle a net script,
check-in list and everything else I needed in the dim glow of a
September 1, 2004
Okay, I've been a
net control operator before--many
times, in fact. But when I
was asked to be the net controller for an earthquake drill here in
Missouri, my stomach did a little quaking of its own. There is just
something about doing new
things that gets
my knees trembling.
I accepted the
assignment nonetheless. I knew that I could do it, and I knew that it
wouldn't be anywhere near
as nerve wracking as my first
attempt at being a net controller. That was back when my wife Nancy
and I were taking the Level I ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency
I was doing one of the homework assignments, which was something like
"Volunteer to act as the net controller for a local ARES net."
Nancy was sitting next to me critiquing my performance. Talk about pressure!
already nervous, but what was really
causing me to sweat
bullets was the fact that Nancy was sitting next to me doing her own
homework assignment: "Monitor a local net, and write a critique
of the net controller's performance."
Talk about pressure
Anyway, my job
during the earthquake drill was to run the local VHF net, then a
half-hour later, get on the district-wide HF net and report the total
number of check-ins I'd received.
Word about the
upcoming earthquake drill passed through the Amateur Radio community
fairly quickly. Everyone knew the date, but for some reason everyone
had the time wrong. Even I had difficulty keeping it straight.
According to the official instructions, the main drill was to start
at 12:30 PM local time. I don't know why, but just about every time
the drill was mentioned on the air, the start time was given as noon.
Several Web sites also had it listed that way.
"Why do they
keep getting it wrong?" I complained. About then I discovered
that I, too, had posted noon
as the start time on the local
ARES Web site. I can't imagine what mass psychological quirk made us
all keep saying "noon," even those of who knew better.
publicizing the event, there wasn't much preparation that I needed to
do. A couple of ARES officials and I wrote net scripts, compared
them, rewrote them and eventually put them in a blender to see what
the amalgam would look like. (Since I was going to have to read it, I
was allowed to pick the version I liked the most.)
Other preparations included making sure I had battery power (see my April
"The Amateur Amateur:
Wake Me Before the Disaster
Starts"). No problem. This
time my battery power was
I went to pick up the folder, and there was the net script.
anything else that I needed to do? I thought, "Well, if this
were a real emergency and there was no electricity, my basement shack
would be in the dark." I briefly entertained the idea of
shutting off the lights during the drill--for the sake of creating an
aura of realism--but quickly realized that I would not be able to
shuffle a net script, check-in list and everything else I needed in
the dim glow of a kerosene lantern. Maybe next time. (I know, I know,
but I'm working on it. I'd appreciate suggestions, especially
concerning 12 V light sources.)
Anyway, if I'm
going to trip over a dog toy in the dark and break my leg, I'd rather
it be during something other
than a simulated emergency. That
would be making things too
The day of the
earthquake drill arrived. I was ready. More than ready. If anything,
I was over-prepared. Nancy and I ate lunch early, then I settled into
my shack and went over everything for the thousandth time. I opened
the folder containing all of the paperwork and documentation
concerning the drill and went through it all one more time.
frequencies, net script ... whoa, where was the net script? There was
no net script! How could I have failed to put the net script in the
folder!? Quick! Did I have time to print a copy from my computer?
Which computer had a copy? Where?
In my sudden
panic I knocked over the folder. I bent down and picked it up and saw
the net script nestled among all the other papers. It wasn't missing
after all. I sagged into my chair. Okay, calm down. This is a very
simple drill. No need to get hysterical.
Whew! Thankfully I had remembered to reconnect the
At precisely noon
I went on the air and announced that if anyone was standing by for
the earthquake drill, it would begin at 12:30, not noon. I apologized
for the confusion and signed off. I played FreeCell
computer for a while to help settle my nerves. When 12:30 finally
rolled around I started the drill.
fine during the check-in period of the VHF net. I read the net script
and almost everyone followed the instructions I gave. Thankfully,
everyone used standard phonetics when giving their call signs. It
worked like a well-oiled machine, and it was all over before I knew
Ah, but that was
My next job was
to check-in to the district-wide net and report my totals. This net
was to be held on 40 meters, with backup frequencies on the 80 meter band.
Iono, the laughing sky god, was in full humor that day, though, and both bands
were practically useless. I did manage to check into the district
net, but I was practically the only county that was able to do so.
Net control was in the adjacent county, so I suspect that what
signals we were able to exchange were via ground wave propagation. I
later heard that conditions were much the same all over the state.
For those two
bands at least, the sky was a lead wall that day.
The drill was
over, though, and I felt that I had done okay. I filled out several
reports, made entries in my log, made a notation to look into
emergency lighting, and left the basement. All was well. Unless . . .
I wonder if I
remembered to reconnect the emergency battery to its charger? Er,
excuse me, I'll be right back.
note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant,
Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name
-- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a
rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His
wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web
page. Readers are invited to contact the author
via e-mail, [email protected].
© 2004 American Radio Relay League