The Amateur Amateur: Our Net Controller is Missing
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
miraculous happened. It seems that when no net control station showed
up on the air, some of the regular participants brought up the net on
March 26, 2006
Some areas of the
country have large, very active Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES)
groups; other areas have much smaller, less active groups. Many
factors explain these extremes, including how often that region
encounters disasters. California, for example, endures fires,
earthquakes, floods and mudslides. I've actually heard those listed
as that state's four seasons. Not surprisingly, California has
prominent, well-organized ARES groups. More sedate (less troubled?)
areas of the country, however, may not even have ARES groups.
Steve Wooten, KC0QMU, bravely took on the duties of Emergency
St Louis County,
Missouri, falls somewhere in the middle of the ARES continuum. We
have a large enough population to support a substantial ARES group,
but the local ARES organization has tended to grow, then decline.
Again, there are many factors involved, but one of the main
considerations is how often disasters occur here.
Oh, we have great
disasters are infrequent
here. We did have significant flooding about a decade ago, but they
called it "The Four Hundred-Year Flood." That should give
you an idea of when we expect the next one. And earthquakes? Well, we
get frequent warnings that "The Big One" is coming, but
when it fails to materialize, we all get lax again.
incarnation of the St.
Louis County ARES group
is on the upswing. The
Emergency Coordinator is a dynamic and personable young man named
Steve Wooten, KC0QMU. Steve had his work cut out for him when he took
the position two years ago. He not only had to build the organization
practically from scratch, he also had to convince everyone to take
the group seriously. After all, it had risen and fallen several times
in the past.
One of the first
things Steve focused on was the weekly 2 meter net. Ultimately such
nets are meant as training sessions, but in the early days of the
group they were more of a declaration: "We are here!"
The net was held
every week, even if only two people checked in, even if the repeater
was acting funky, even if it was Christmas Eve. Each week we made the
statement, "Yes, we're still here. And, yes, we're serious."
Gradually, people began to pay attention.
I was supposed to be sitting here when the net came
The radio, the script, and the schedule. All that's missing is the net
Steve had a lot
more to do than just run the net, so he appointed a Net Manager. He
picked someone who was compulsive, understood the rules, was somewhat
of a perfectionist, had a slight air of authority and was just a
little bit scary. He picked me.
Well, I will not
say that I single-handedly built up the net, because that's not true.
If I had one good quality as Net Manager, it was that I listened to
other people's suggestions. And there were a lot of good ones. The
weekly net has changed a lot over the last few years. My feeling is
that it's getting better. It certainly has a lot more participants
than when we first started it.
We have four
regular net controllers. They rotate weeks, meaning that each of them
has to run the net about once a month. We also have volunteers who
try the net control spot only one time, or perhaps just occasionally.
Most of them find it terrifying the first time, but it's a great
morale booster once they've gotten through it. There is a schedule
showing who has net control station (NCS) duty for each week. There
is also a back-up operator for each week. If neither the scheduled
operator nor his backup come on the air, one of the two remaining
regular net controllers is supposed to take over. I guess you could
call it quadruple redundancy.
This system failed once.
The breakdown was
both a miserable failure and a glorious success. It was miserable in
that even with a scheduled operator and three back-up operators, none
of them came on the air. It was even more
miserable because I
was the operator scheduled to run the net that night. Boy, was I
embarrassed! I can't remember exactly what happened, other than
Monday was a holiday and I got the days of the week messed up. I
finally remembered that I was supposed to be on the air about a
half-hour after I should have called up the net.
It wasn't until
the next day that I found out that the backup operator had also
missed the net, as had the other two regular net controllers.
Now, you might
think that we would all have fallen on our respective swords over the
incident or at least retired to the local bar to drown our sorrows.
Instead, something miraculous happened. The net took place even
It seems that
when no NCS came on the air, some of the regular participants started
talking to each other. A couple of them assumed that the absence of
an NCS was a test, just to see what they would do. So they brought up
the net on their own. One of them volunteered to be NCS, another
volunteered to be backup. They found a copy of a generic net script
on the group's Web site. Then they ran the net and filed a net
activity report with the Emergency Coordinator. They even passed
I may have been
embarrassed about missing NCS duty that night, but I was tremendously
proud of how the ARES members reacted. They didn't need any authority
figure to tell them what to do. They saw the problem. They knew what
needed to be done. They knew how to do it. And they did it.
If I had any
doubts about the dedication of the members or about any of them not
taking the ARES mission seriously, they vanished that night. Well
done, ladies and gentlemen, well done indeed!
Editor's 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
Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail,
© 2006 American Radio Relay League