The Amateur Amateur: Simplexity
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
How a SET
became a "RET," and everything worked out okay in the end.
November 24, 2004
The ARRL had
suggested October 2-3 as the weekend during which Amateur Radio
Emergency Service (ARES) teams across the US should a conduct
Simulated Emergency Test (SET). I'm a member of the St Louis County,
Missouri, ARES team--a relatively young group--and I didn't feel that
we were ready to handle a SET. My rationale was that since we did not
yet have any served agencies, and hence had no emergency plans, there
was nothing to test.
Steve, KC0QMU, our EC. During the test he was ARES East.
Our Emergency Coordinator Steve Wooten, KC0QMU, felt otherwise. He saw
the SET as an opportunity for us to test our capabilities, find out
what our strengths and weaknesses were and perhaps even get a little
bit of public exposure.
I couldn't fault
his logic, but I didn't know what we could do. We didn't have the
connections or staffing to mount any kind of "real"
simulated emergency. Still, Steve had his heart set on our group
during the SET weekend, so I wracked my brain
to see if I could come up with some sort of exercise for us to do.
What I eventually
devised was an event that would test our capacity to communicate
using repeaters (gasp!
). We would place ARES
at the four compass points of the county, then
ask the Amateur Radio community at large to try to contact these
stations. Each participant would be deployed to the nearest public
park. Using only a handheld transceiver, that station then would call
the field operator closest to his or her location. If successful, the
participant would also try contacting the other field operators.
A test controller
would stand by on a repeater to explain the event, answer questions
and log all participants who could not reach a field operator. Since
this could not truly be called a SET, I concocted the term Resource
, or RET--just one letter shy being a SET, get it?
I wrote up the
details of my RET idea and sent them out to various ARES team members
to evaluate. Our regular ARES meeting was coming up soon, and we
planned to discuss the ARRL SET and what we might do to participate.
With only two weeks to go until the official SET weekend, we had to
make a decision quickly.
I guess everyone
had already expected me to come up with a dynamite plan, because no
one else presented one at the meeting. That was both heartening and
daunting. Anyway, my plan was adopted with very few changes. They
even kept the name RET
. About the only change was that at its
conclusion, a district-wide (multi-county) HF net would activate, and
the participating counties would report the number of people who had
taken part in their individual SETs.
We quickly found
four people to serve as the field operators. Each was assigned a
catchy tactical call sign such as ARES North, ARES South,
so on. I had planned to be one of them, but the addition of the
district-wide net changed my role. At the time, I was the only active
member of our team who had an HF station (as I said, our group was
relatively young), so I had to act as our county's liaison to the
district-wide net. I wouldn't have time work in the field and then
dash home to set up for the district-wide net. So instead of being a
field operator, I was assigned the job of test director--
guy who sat on the repeater and refereed the whole thing.
Let me tell you,
the tactical call sign Test Director
was enough to swell
anyone's ego. But at this point I still saw the whole RET as little
more than a publicity event, so I didn't think much of it.
Some operators in the field used these mobile antenna mast stands,
built and contributed by John, N0UFB.
I wrote up a script for the test director and optional scripts for the field
operators. The rules of the RET were written up and put on our ARES
. Announcements were made on various club nets and
at club meetings. The repeater trustee was notified of our
intentions. And finally, there was nothing left to do but wait for
October 2 to arrive.
I really didn't
know expect. The long range weather forecast said that it might rain.
I figured that even if it didn't, only a few ARES members would
participate. I didn't think many ham operators outside of the ARES
group would take part. And having worked simplex quite often with my
wife Nancy, I figured anyone who did check in would be able to reach
at least two of our field operators and maybe all of them.
Thankfully, I'm not a betting man, because nothing
way I thought it would.
indication I had that things were taking a different turn from the
expected was when I received a phone call from Chuck Wehking, KC0QKS.
Chuck was scheduled to be the field operator covering the southern
portion of the county.
lot of chatter on the nets about the upcoming RET," he said.
Oh? Good or
bad? I wondered
. Chuck seemed to think it was a good sign. I
wasn't so certain.
2 arrived. It had rained Friday, but there was no precipitation in
the forecast for that day. Nancy and I ate lunch early so that I
would have plenty of time to get home, sit in front of my rig, and
worry pointlessly. (Nancy will tell you that I am very good at that.)
I tuned my transceiver to the repeater frequency and set up a scanner
to receive the four simplex frequencies that would be used.
Just before the
official start of the RET, each of the field operators checked in on
the repeater to let me know they were in position. Nancy jumped in
her car and headed for the nearest park. I was most gratified that
she'd decided to get involved, although I kind of wished she'd stuck
around to hold my hand.
the dog on your lap. She'll take care of you," Nancy said before
I tried, but
Ariel wasn't partial to the buzz, hums, squawks, and spits coming
from my equipment. She retreated upstairs leaving me to tough it out
At precisely 1 PM
I got on the air and started the test. Reading from my script with a
firm voice (and slightly shaky hands), I described the exercise and
explained the rules. When I finished the script I paused and waited
for the anticipated surge of messages saying, "Would you repeat
And then I got my
first big surprise. People did call in with reports from time to
time, but no one asked me to repeat the instructions. No one asked me
for the simplex frequencies. It seemed that everyone, everyone,
had carefully read the instructions from our Web site, written down
the frequencies, and knew precisely what to do.
"This little ham stayed home." Me, acting as the Test
I made periodic announcements during the next half hour repeating the
instructions and explaining what we were doing. Between announcements
I listened to the scanner. Its antenna system was less than optimal,
but I expected to hear something.
As it was, I only heard one
station on the scanner during the entire test. It was Nancy, calling,
from N0NJ" over and over.
Nancy later told
me that she could hear Eric Bueneman, N0UIH, the north county field
operator, but apparently he couldn't hear her.
At 1:30 PM the
four field operators switched over to the repeater and gave me their
totals and my second big surprise. Steve (ARES East
), Eric (ARES North
), and Bob Ernst, KC0NRK,
who was ARES West
, together had a grand total of eight
contacts. Eight more had called me on the repeater to report failure
to contact any of the field operators.
I had anticipated
a much better outcome on simplex. But I had also predicted a much
smaller turnout. My little RET had presented me with some unexpected
They say that it
ain't over till the fat lady sings (or, to quote Yogi Berra, "It
ain't over till it's over"). The equivalent in an ARES exercise
is that it ain't over until you've had a debriefing
Scheduling one turned out to be the most difficult assignment of all,
but we eventually did get together to discuss the RET. And it was
during the debriefing that I realized that Steve had been right all
along and I had been wrong. The RET had not
been merely a
publicity stunt. It had
been a useful exercise and had most
definitely been a learning experience.
scratching my head over what it all means. But I'm sure I'll have at
least some of it figured out by the time the next SET rolls around.
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