The Amateur Amateur: Aftershock, Part 2
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
synchronized our watches at the beginning of the exercise, we gave
the incorrect time and had to start over again. As it turned out the
actual time and net time both became moot points.
July 4, 2006
Don (standing) and I. He kept trying to tell me something important,
but I was only half listening.
Don (left) and I working the Shelter 5 station. Note the
Craig running net control -- and pretty much everything else -- largely by
himself. [Photographs courtesy of Jim, N0OBG]
In my last
I described the events leading up to an Amateur
Radio Emergency Service (ARES
exercise called "Aftershock." Craig Hirsh, K0CMH, designed
it and put it together almost single-handedly.
It was bitterly
cold on the day of Aftershock, but fortunately it had not been
designed to be a field exercise. Even though we were simulating the
aftermath of an earthquake, and the participants were hypothetically
located at shelters and such, most of them were really operating from
the comfort of their homes.
The purpose of
the exercise was to give the ARES members some message-handling
experience. We had distributed special packages to members the
previous week. Each contained instructions and sealed envelopes
containing the messages they were to send. Each envelope was marked
with the time to send the message. Unfortunately, that led to one of
our first problems.
Craig had written
all of the messages. He knew that if Aftershock started late, we'd be
in deep trouble, because all of the messages had to be sent at
specific times. To compensate for this possibility he devised
something he called net time.
Net time was a virtual time
keyed to the beginning of the exercise. We planned to begin at 1 PM,
but if we were delayed until 1:15, the net time
at the start
of the exercise would still be 1 PM.
It seemed like a
clever idea at the time, but none of the participants liked it.
Worse, when we synchronized our watches at the beginning of the
exercise, we gave the incorrect time and had to start over again. As
it turned out the actual time and net time both became moot points
when the messages started to pile up.
N0OBG, had graciously allowed us to use his place of business as our
base of operations. There were six of us at the base. Jim, of course,
had the key to the front door. Craig and I were going to oversee the
operation plus occasionally take the net controller's chair. Ed
Harris, KC0UKR, and Bob Wills, WB0REW, had brought radio equipment.
The Wild Card
A relatively new
radio amateur, Don Mueller, KC0UJB, turned out to be one of the wild
cards of the exercise -- although in the end his attendance at
Aftershock was of mutual benefit. Don had heard about Aftershock and
contacted me wanting to know if he could come and observe. I
responded that he was welcome to come, but I would put him to work.
He replied that he was dubious about operating but would be there
When I got to
Jim's place, Don was already there. We introduced ourselves, and I
started sorting though the mass of stuff I had brought, and we
chatted as I unpacked boxes and bags. He kept saying that he'd just
like to observe, and I kept insisting that he operate one of the
stations (we had mailed him a package).
worry, you'll do fine
!" I told him. After all, most of
the people participating in this exercise had no message-handling
experience, and we knew that they would make many flubs and mistakes.
At some point, though, it dawned on me what Don had been trying to
tell me all along: He had no operating experience whatsoever
And here I'd been assuring him there was no need to worry.
Oh boy! Open
mouth, insert foot.
I grabbed Craig,
and we had a private chat. I explained that Don had never used a
repeater and may never have even keyed a microphone. We were
expecting him to operate as Shelter 5
or something like that,
and for the last hour I'd been assuring him over and over that he'd
do just fine. It was clear that he wasn't yet ready to run a station
by himself, however.
know I'm supposed to help you manage the exercise, take a turn as net
controller and so forth," I said. "But I can't tell Don to
just go stand in a corner. He came because I invited him, and I've
told him a dozen times that I expect him to participate. I'm going to
have to stay with him and help him through the whole thing."
Craig agreed with
me, but I still felt like I was jumping into the last lifeboat and
leaving him alone on the deck of the Titanic.
Barely Controlled Mayhem
Things only got
worse for poor Craig. With only 30 minutes until the exercise was
supposed to start, lunch arrived, and he never got a chance to brief
anyone. Although there were plenty of people at the base, all of
those scheduled as net controllers got tied up handling unexpected
events. By the time the exercise started, Craig was pretty much
managing the whole operation by himself.
barely controlled mayhem. The list of messages to be passed piled up
much more quickly than we could have imagined. Craig had deliberately
of the messages to occur at the same time, but
our ability to clear them slowed down to a crawl, and we soon had an
We had arranged
to use four repeaters during the exercise, so we should have been
able to pass several messages simultaneously. Few people could reach
of the repeaters, however, and in the true spirit of
Murphy's Law practically every message to be passed was between
stations that could not hit the same
repeater. The only
repeater that everyone
could hit reliably was, of course, the
one we were using for net control.
everything bogged down. Just about every message had to go through
the main repeater, plus all of the net controller's instructions.
Things were getting more and more difficult to manage, and, although
I was primarily focused on helping Don, I could hear the strain in
Craig's voice. Heck, I could hear the strain in everyone's
Baptism By Fire
Just when things
were at their very worst, the very best came out in our members.
Jim came around
to check on everyone and see if they needed anything.
running a separate station, jumped in and handled net control when
Craig looked totally overwhelmed.
person to whom I was about to pass a message told me that he could
hear me fine on the input frequency and that we could jump over to
simplex and free the repeater.
Despite the high
stress levels, no one
became rude or surly.
operators were independently figuring out alternate routes for their
traffic. One even managed to secure a fifth repeater.
Don, never having
operated before, became a veteran at sending and receiving formal
messages. Talk about baptism by fire!
Almost all of the
messages got passed, and the exercise only ran about 20 minutes
Craig and I were
in shock ourselves by the time the exercise ended. Oh, we had wanted
it to be a stressful situation, but we hadn't expected to be the main
of the stress. But as they say, if everything goes as
planned, then the exercise is a failure.
I guess the
debriefing was the biggest surprise for me. As you can imagine,
everyone had a long list of things that went wrong, suggestions about
what should have been differently, and so on. The surprise, though,
was that almost to a man, they said, "Let's do it again!"
And Don? He's
turned into a real tiger. He wants to help design the next exercise.
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