This is the fourth, and final, part of the “Designing An NTS Section Traffic Net” series. We looked at the basic requirements for our section net in parts 1 through 3 of the series. In this part, we will take those requirements and constraints, refine and organize them, and describe the initial design and operation of the Ohio Section NTS traffic net — the Buckeye Net.
The Buckeye Net mission statement is as follows:
The mission of the Buckeye Net is to provide a pool of well-trained radio operators capable of the accurate and efficient transfer of formal message traffic via medium and long haul HF radio during times of disaster or emergency on the behalf of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service and their served agencies within the ARRL’s Ohio Section.
The remainder of this article will describe how we will accomplish this mission.
The Buckeye Net will act to provide the relay of formal record traffic on the behalf of any entity served by the Ohio Section ARES. The majority of the traffic will most likely be FEMA ICS forms and amateur radio radiograms.
Liaison will be maintained with the NTS Eighth Region Net providing two-way access throughout the U. S. for net stations. The Buckeye Net will maintain liaison with stations other than those of the Amateur Radio Service via the 60 meter HF interoperability channels. These may be with MARS, FEMA, or any other federal or state agency with access to these frequencies. The Buckeye Net will maintain liaison with the State of Ohio EOC. These liaison activities will occur on the section net level in order to maintain constant access with and between these stations and the rest of the Ohio Sections’ participating stations throughout the state. Liaison with other organizations and/or agencies will be maintained as needed to serve the communication needs of the Ohio section.
The Buckeye Net network will be based on the standard NTS net structure consisting of a net manager (NM), net control station (NCS), assistant net control station (ANCS), and, liaison stations carrying traffic to both higher and lower level nets.
Buckeye Net operation will be activated on the request of the Section Manager (SM), Section Traffic Manager (STM), Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC), section net manager (NM), any ARES District Emergency Coordinator (DEC), or, any ARES County Emergency Coordinator (EC).
The first net to be activated will be the section-level net. This section-level net will also be the last net to be deactivated. Section-level liaison stations will be assigned as needed and as soon as stations become available. The network will expand or shrink as needed by activating or deactivating additional nets at the Ohio NTS Region or Ohio ARES district levels, as determined by the needs of the served agencies and the availability of operating stations at any given time. The Buckeye Net will be prepared to operate 24 hours per day for as long as the emergency lasts and communications support is needed.
One of the great strengths the Amateur Radio Service offers during an emergency is frequency agility. The service has access to frequency bands throughout the MF and HF spectrum. In addition, amateur operators are, generally, not restricted to channelized operation. Amateurs may operate on any frequency within any band authorized for the mode in use at the time. Net operating frequencies will be assigned, generally, from the frequency band that provides the best propagation characteristics for the time of day and day of the year.
The vast majority of net operation will occur via NVIS propagation. Most network operation will occur on the 75m/80m band. Operation on the 60m interoperability channels will be maintained as long as that band is usable. Stations will be prepared to change frequency between the 160m, 75m/80m, 60m, and 40m bands as propagation conditions dictate. Other frequency bands, including VHF and UHF bands, will be used as needed by stations equipped for the desired operation.
Buckeye Net operation will, generally, use SSB voice for general net operations. Operation will switch to CW only if no other band is available to maintain SSB voice operation, and, only as long as such conditions exist. Operation will return to SSB voice as soon as it becomes practical to do so.
Traffic may be passed via SSB voice, CW, or digital mode depending on the characteristics of the traffic, urgency of delivery needed, and propagation conditions. ICS forms and any other traffic that is long or any traffic where high accuracy is required will generally be sent via digital modes. When large quantities of messages need to be sent, digital modes will also be used. Messages that are relatively short and where few messages need to be sent may be sent via SSB voice. When conditions exist where voice and/or digital modes are unable to get through and the message can’t wait for better conditions, CW may be used to pass that traffic.
Emergencies and disasters requiring the communications services provided by the Buckeye Net are few and far between. When such situations do occur, however, there will be a need for very many well-trained, knowledgeable, and experienced traffic handlers to fill all net roles. The day-to-day operation of the Buckeye Net will serve to provide experience and training opportunities for those radio amateurs desiring to become effective traffic handlers.
Day-to-day operation on the Buckeye Net will provide opportunities to develop and improve radio communication skills in voice, digital, and CW operation and traffic handling.
The Buckeye Net will participate in training exercises of all sizes and complexities. They will range from single-session tests of capabilities to large-scale exercises involving any and all ARES served government and non-government agencies.
Participation in amateur radio activities outside of the Buckeye Net that provide relevant experience will be encouraged. Activities, such as the annual Armed Forces Day cross-band radio event, provide experience in cross-band operation with a radio service outside of the Amateur Radio service. Frequent participation in contests provides opportunities to develop and improve operation skills under difficult conditions and under pressure to perform well. Multi-day contests provide needed experience choosing the best bands at all times of the day or night and improves understanding of HF propagation.
The Buckeye Net role in a disaster is to relay formal message traffic accurately and efficiently. It takes skilled and experienced operators to perform the required tasks at a high level. These skills include net operation, radio operation using all modes, understanding of propagation conditions and how to overcome adverse conditions. Net control stations need to make on-the-spot decisions in routing traffic and assigning stations to best meet the needs of the originating and receiving agencies. Net managers and net controls need to be able to understand net operations, under all conditions, in order to bring appropriate subnets up and down and assign appropriate frequencies, modes and stations.
The above-mentioned skills and abilities are developed and honed by study, practice, and experience. Participation in the Buckeye Net’s day-to-day operation, along with frequent exercises, will provide net-specific knowledge and skills that will enhance an operator’s skills acquired in normal amateur radio operation. Experienced Buckeye Net operators are the stations that are best able to perform traffic handling and net operation in the stress and conditions likely to be experienced in an actual emergency situation.