The Amateur Amateur: Aftershock, Part 1
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
director of the "Department of Brilliant Ideas," it was up
to me to come up with some exercises for our ARES team to do.
June 4, 2006
Craig (standing) and I trying to work out last minute details of
Part of the Aftershock promotion. Unfortunately, the letters don't jiggle on
Craig's sandbag field mast mount is well known within our group.
ambition can lead you astray. You wind up going down unexpected paths
through unfamiliar and ever more disquieting landscapes. But
sometimes, just when you've become convinced that you'll never find
you way back, you suddenly discover that you've reached your
destination. Such was the case with an emergency exercise we called
Our Amateur Radio
Emergency Service (ARES
group is still growing and establishing its niche in the community. I
am one of the Assistant Emergency Coordinators. I have a very
specific set of duties, but my unofficial tasks--and hence, the most
important ones--are to make things run smoothly and to come up with
We knew from the
very inception of the organization that exercises would be very
important. They would serve as training tools, of course, but they
would also focus attention on us and help to bring in new people.
Initially we simply joined in existing exercises such as regional
earthquake drills, but it quickly became apparent that we would have
to create our own exercises at some point.
As the director
of the "Department of Brilliant Ideas," it was up to me to
come up with some exercises for us to do. For two years we ran a
simplex exercise we dubbed a Resource
, held on the date of the annual ARRL
Simulated Emergency Test weekend. (We came up with RET because it
sounded like SET.)
After a while I
realized that we needed much more than a single yearly exercise. I
talked to Steve Wooten, KC0QMU, our Emergency Coordinator, and he
agreed that we should try to hold quarterly exercises. Well, it was
my idea, but as soon as I had permission to implement it, I realized
that it was too ambitious. It's not that I was bereft of ideas --
it's that I didn't have enough time to develop and run four exercises
So I went back to
Steve and said, "Is it okay if I recruit a small team to help me
develop these exercises?" He said that I could, so the first
person I approached was Craig Hirsh, K0CMH. As it turned out, I
didn't have to recruit anyone else. Craig was not only a fount of
clever ideas for exercises, he had the energy and drive to plan
and run them
And now we come
right back to ambition. Craig's plan for our first exercise of the
year caused my eyes to bug out. Oh, it was very clever, very
innovative. It was also as ambitious as the Allied landing at
Normandy in World War II.
is pretty good," I said in my best diplomatic voice, "but
let's save it for later, when we have a lot more experience under our
belts. For our first effort, why don't we just focus on the basic
things we need to teach our people?"
he replied. "Like what?"
formal messages," I said.
Craig is a very easy-going fellow. He put away his plans for the
invasion of Europe and started drafting a much-simpler
traffic-handling exercise. I still felt that it was a bit too
complex, but I got caught up in Craig's enthusiasm and went along
with what he had designed.
It really was
Craig's baby. I know that we were theoretically a team, but I had so
many demands on my time that I contributed very little to the
planning of the exercise. About the only thing I was adamant about
was how we presented it.
things," I said. "First, we need some jazzy name for the
exercise. I want people to get excited about it. I want to draw them
`Aftershock'?" said Craig.
mention that it is a message-handling exercise," I said.
From the Amateur
Radio Emergency Communications Course (ARECC)
and from experienced operators we knew that our primary function
during a real emergency would be to handle formal written messages.
Accordingly, we made quite a bit of traffic-handling information and
training materials available to the members of our ARES group.
We also arranged
for messages from the National Traffic System (NTS)
to be passed on our weekly ARES net. The problem was that practically
none of our members was interested in pursuing this training.
That's why I
decided that our first big exercise should be about handling formal
messages. It's also why I decided not to advertise that fact. What we
did instead was to play up the angle that this was a post-earthquake
disaster exercise. We didn't exactly keep the message-handling aspect
a secret, but we also didn't draw attention to it.
We publicized the
event heavily. We mentioned it on the air every chance we got. We
promoted it on our Web
. Bob Ernst, KC0NRK, even went so far as to come
up with a logo, the word "Aftershock" in letters that
jiggled when you called up the Web page. I made up Aftershock buttons
with the logo on them, but unfortunately I couldn't make the letters
We asked everyone
interested to sign up in advance because we needed to distribute
special packages to those people who were going to participate. It
was only after they received their packages that they found the
prepared formal messages that they would have to pass.
Oh, it wasn't all
that sneaky. For three months Craig had been giving special
message-handling presentations at our ARES meetings, so I'm sure
everyone at least suspected
what we were doing. By the last
presentation we were quite open about what would happen during
signed up, which was astounding considering the size of our group. No
one bailed out after receiving a package, although a few did express
Besides the heavy
publicity I believe one other thing contributed to the high number of
participants. During the announcements about the exercise I
repeatedly said, "Failure is an option!" I explained that
this was a complicated exercise designed to press everyone's skills
to their limits. Some failures were actually built into the exercise
and we anticipated other, unforeseen failures as well. Far from
expecting everything to running like clockwork, we wanted everyone to
experience a stressful situation and to discover where their
weaknesses were. We told everyone that we knew they wouldn't do
everything exactly right but that it was perfectly okay. Craig and I
chuckled at the surprises that were in store for the participants.
Little did we
realize that we
would be the ones most surprised.
To be continued .
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