SnoVARC Mini Exercise

This past Thursday evening the Snoqualmie Valley ARC (SnoVARC) held another one of their mini exercises. The mini exercises are held once a month on the third Thursday of the month and attempt to provide teaching opportunities for emergency communications.

With the snow that hit Seattle this past weekend–yours truly received 8.6″ of snow which is not as much as I used to receive in Maine, but if you have seen my driveway then you know this was not a trivial amount–the premise of the drill was to quickly and efficiently report ones current status to the net. In addition, WA7TBP wanted to add to the pressure by “throwing people under the bus” where everyone would need to track all the information and be ready to assume net control.

I especially like this last point as it is similar to things I have done on EMCOMM training nets. It is a wonderful thing mid-sentence during the middle of the net to just stop transmitting and see what happens. It clearly shows who is on the ball and who your best communicators are. But those are stories for another time.

So WA7TBP took a quick roll call to see who was participating and then gave a list of questions that each station needed to report in with. The information to report with was

  • Callsign
  • Do you have commercial power?
  • Do you have natural gas/propane?
  • Do you have commercial water?
  • Do you have internet?
  • Do you have phone service (twisted pair)?
  • Zip code you are reporting from

Pretty straight forward and easy to report. There was about 5 of use participating in the exercise and everyone performed flawlessly. GREAT! We are all ready for Armageddon to arrive and can perfectly move traffic without introducing any errors! OK, I hope everyone can recognize that is pipe dream and things are never so simple in a real world scenario.

There are a couple of things I want to highlight from this mini exercise that I think can help a lot of other communicators.

First thing is to start planning now. No, I mean NOW. Stop reading this, grab some paper and start planning the mostly likely events that you may have in your area. OK, continue reading but put it on your calendar to have some drafts of a plan in the next couple of days.

Much of this planning comes in the form of what sort of events can be anticipated and what information is vital during the event that needs to be gathered or disseminated. Here in the Pacific Northwest we focus on floods, wind storms, earthquakes, and volcanoes. Although I hate to say it civil unrest is inching up the list (I am 15 miles or so from Seattle). Other areas need to focus on tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, heat waves and several more that I can not think of right now. So get your top 5 events, start putting a standard set of questions together for the status report and get that distributed to other members of your group. Having members of your group ready to go in an event is half the battle. Of course your group needs to practice the reporting structure periodically to keep everyone in a ready posture.

Another thing to think about is how to organize the information collected. You want something simple and quick to update. I am including a photo of the notes/log that I took during the exercise to give you some ideas how this can be done. You don’t want to have to be writing things out in long hand or digging around looking for that one form. You want something that can be constructed on the fly and readily marked up.

If this was a real event I would probably be working off of about 3 separate pages. One would be a log of who has checked in/out, times and other important traffic. Another page would be the consolidated page of reports. The final page would be a collection of notes concerning outstanding or significant reports (e.g. down trees, closed roads, injuries, collapsed buildings, etc.)

Another thing you want to establish is to have everyone tracking the same information. I say everyone but the reality is that there will probably be some people in the field that won’t have the capabilities to record and track the information. For those stations (usually fixed) that are on the net and are capable of logging the traffic, they need to do so. At any moment the net control station may go dark and another station may need to assume control. If the fixed station are not also tracking the information then it becomes a cluster you know what trying to regain control of the net and needing to gather all the information again. And by the way half the stations have gone away to handle other tasks and you can not gather their information.

Your group may want to collectively decide to have a hierarchy of stations that assume net control functions. Or the group may decide to leave it to the situation and who has the abilities to function as net control. Personally I like to ad hoc aspect the stations in the net electing/commandeering net control as it adds self-organization and self-repair aspects to the net. Neither way is right or wrong, but the group needs to practice it and feel free to experiment with them to find what works and what does not work. A lot of it depends upon the operators and their capabilities.

Well, I have gotten off the topic I really wanted to hit and this post is getting a bit long, so I will continue the original topic in another post.


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