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Amateur Radio Info & Exams - Public Service and Emergency Operation

Amateur Radio has several Community Service roles, also called "Pubic Service".


In most countries groups can be called out, or "activated" by both government agencies, and non-government organisations, such as the Red Cross.

In Australia there are "WICEN" organisations in each state and major territory. WICEN once stood for Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network, as they were sub-committees of the state or territory WIA branch. They are now more independent.

In addition to responding to call-outs, many groups also support "Fun Runs" (is there is such a thing?), walks, cycling events, canoe paddles, car rallies, and horse and motorcycle enduros. Many supported events raise significant funds for medical and community development charities.

The US system is a little unusual, as there are two significant services, and several smaller ones.

ARES is the Amateur Radio Emergency Service is a service of the ARRL. It supports non-government agencies during disasters. Note that these groups obtain routine communication systems from normal commercial providers.

RACES, which stands for Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, supports various government agencies, such as state, territory, city or county emergency operations centres.

RACES is also a system where if the Amateur Service is closed down by executive order, typically due to a war on US territory, or nuclear strikes, that the government can continue to use Amateurs to assist in the civil defence response.

Amateurs listed to be activated by RACES are often also ARES members.

SATERN, the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network is a system to pass messages supporting their operations during disasters, and passing health and safety messages (information about disaster survivors' welfare).

SKYWARN is a storm spotting service of the National Weather Service. It tracks the movement of tornadoes and severe storms.

Net Control

Some form of Net Control Station is generally established. This may be at the Emergency Operations Centre, or event HQ; or at another location, such as a radio club's clubrooms.

The establishment of the net may vary, from when a Thursday morning earthquake suddenly turns a whole city in a disaster area, with telephone exchanges seriously damaged, and communications down; to a planned response to the predicted escalation of a climate-change driven bushfire emergency. In the former case there may be a somewhat organic establishment of communications, with hams testing repeater access, and a net coalescing with damage reports until a formal net is established. The latter case will involve email messages and 'phone calls generating availability lists, and assigning operators to shifts.

In the former case, the rapidly established Net Control may take check-ins of stations, and assign tasks on the go. For the latter case, Net control has a list of operators and locations. Once whatever net required is established, net control responds to requests to send messages between organisations.

An example, where an evacuation centre has been established at a showground, and the Ambulance station has lost communications may be:

"Control, this is Showground Priority".
"Showground this is Control, SEND, OVER."
"Control, Showground, message for Ambulance Service: We have a 37 year old hypertensive patient going into labour. OVER."
"Showground, Control, You have a 37 year old hypertensive patient going into labour, QSL? OVER"
"Control, Showground, QSL, OVER.

"Ambulance, Control, Message from Showground, OVER"
"Control, Ambulance, SEND OVER"
"Ambulance, Control, Showground has a 37 year old hypertensive patient going into labour. OVER"
"Control, Ambulance, Showground has a 37 year old hypertensive patient going into labour, QSL? OVER"
"Ambulance, Control, ROGER, OVER"
"Control, Ambulance, WAIT, OUT"
"Control, Ambulance, OVER"
"Ambulance, Control, SEND OVER"
"Control, Ambulance, Ambulance assigned, ETA 5 minutes, OVER."
"Ambulance, Control, Ambulance assigned, ETA 5 minutes. Thank-you. OUT

"Showground, Control, OVER
"Control, Showground, SEND, OVER.
"Showground, Control, Ambulance assigned, ETA 5 minutes, OVER."
"Control, Showground, Ambulance assigned, ETA 5 minutes, QSL? OVER."
"Showground, Control, ROGER, OVER."
"Control, Showground, Thank-you. OUT."

This is very much a Controlled Net, very formal in its operation.

In a slightly less formal net Ambulance may indicate that the message had been copied, or Control may instruct the two to speak directly. Were a long conversation be neccessary, the two station may be directed to a second frequency, or a second repeater, and a paramedic would provide instructions directly to a person at Showground, speaking on the radio.

If "hypertensive" had been read back as "hypotensive", the station would reply "Negative, hypertensive, I spell Hotel Yankee Papa Echo Romeo Tango Echo November Sierra India Victor Echo." Hyper- is high, hypo- low.

It is possible to have things like a secondary net for staffing and technical co-ordination.


Formal messages are written on message pads, which may generate carbon-less copies. This includes a preamble recording the originating and destination people or positions, time and date, priority, and stations involved in its passing, to help track messages.

The words in the message body are counted, this being recorded as the "count", which helps to ensure a word is not missed.

Where a formal message is for all stations, control may conduct a "roll call" to confirm reception by each station. This also give the opportunity to clarify a word, for example.


Each emergency communications support group has a series of "pronounceable words" as part of voice procedures. A few examples are:

The two in the exam are "Priority" and "Emergency", used before your callsign if you have urgent traffic.

"Urgent" in used in WICEN for similar traffic.

Remember also that an unfit or unwell person taking part in a "fun run" can suddenly lead to the need to document times ambulance / paramedics were requested, and similar information, lest the coroner requires it.

Official phonetics are used to ensure names are sent correctly, the need to use them is in the exam, but you don't have to demonstrate you know them. You can find them here.

Note that the SOS, Mayday, and Pan Pan are not used in such nets, but for situations, such as coming across a serious road accident while travelling.

Other public service

Outside the exam, many Hams also volunteer for Scouting & Guiding movement events, such as "Jamboree on the Air", or JOTA; at regular Jamborees, and also at weekly meetings while members are studying for their licence and/or Communicator badges.

Relevant Questions

Actual exam questions, from the published NCVEC Technician pool.

T2C01 [97.103(a)]
When do the FCC rules NOT apply to the operation of an amateur station?
A. When operating a RACES station
B. When operating under special FEMA rules
C. When operating under special ARES rules
D. Never, FCC rules always apply

FCC rules always apply, answer D.

Which of the following are typical duties of a Net Control Station?
A. Choose the regular net meeting time and frequency
B. Ensure that all stations checking into the net are properly licensed for operation on the net frequency
C. Call the net to order and direct communications between stations checking in
D. All these choices are correct

The Network Control Station, controls the operations of stations calling in, answer C.

What technique is used to ensure that voice messages containing unusual words are received correctly?
A. Send the words by voice and Morse code
B. Speak very loudly into the microphone
C. Spell the words using a standard phonetic alphabet
D. All of these choices are correct

Say you are in a town called Canowindra, NSW, which sounds like "Canoundra", then, using the correct pronunciation, say, "The location is Canowindra - I spell: Charlie Alpha November Oscar Whisky India November Delta Romeo Alpha - Over". Use proper phonetics, answer C.

What is RACES?
A. An emergency organization combining amateur radio and citizens band operators and frequencies
B. An international radio experimentation society
C. A radio contest held in a short period, sometimes called a "sprint"
D. An FCC part 97 amateur radio service for civil defense communications during national emergencies

This is the legislated use of Amateur Radio resources for civil defence, during a national emergency, answer D.

This includes after a nuclear strike. For radios to be usable after an electromagnetic pulse, they must be stored inside a double-shielded container, such as a paint tin, inside a metal garbage can.

What does the term "traffic" refer to in net operation?
A. Messages exchanged by net stations
B. The number of stations checking in and out of a net
C. Operation by mobile or portable stations
D. Requests to activate the net by a served agency

This refers the messages sent and received by a station in an emergency or event support net, answer A.

These are typically recorded in "self-carbonated" or "carbonless" message pads (use the cardboard below the current message!). These are used for important messages, or is situations where there needs to be a record of messages, such as a search where there is a possibility the coroner may hold a hearing into the disappearance.

What is the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES)?
A. A group of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment for communications duty in the public service
B. A group of licensed amateurs who are members of the military and who voluntarily agreed to provide message handling services in the case of an emergency
C. A training program that provides licensing courses for those interested in obtaining an amateur license to use during emergencies
D. A training program that certifies amateur operators for membership in the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service

This is a team of Hams voluntarily registering to assist with public service communications, answer A.

Which of the following is standard practice when you participate in a net?
A. When first responding to the net control station, transmit your call sign, name, and address as in the FCC database
B. Record the time of each of your transmissions
C. Unless you are reporting an emergency, transmit only when directed by the net control station
D. All these choices are correct

Unless you have important traffic, stand by once you have checked in, answer C.

Which of the following is a characteristic of good emergency traffic handling?
A. Passing messages exactly as received
B. Making decisions as to whether or not messages should be relayed or delivered
C. Communicating messages to the news media for broadcast outside the disaster area
D. All of these choices are correct

Emergency messages being relayed should be passed on exactly as received, answer A.

Are amateur station control operators ever permitted to operate outside the frequency privileges of their license class?
A. No
B. Yes, but only when part of a FEMA emergency plan
C. Yes, but only when part of a RACES emergency plan
D. Yes, but only if necessary in situations involving the immediate safety of human life or protection of property

Operation on either Amateur bands outside licence privileges, or even on marine or air frequencies, is only permitted during dire emergencies, answer D.

What information is contained in the preamble of a formal traffic message?
A. The email address of the originating station
B. The address of the intended recipient
C. The telephone number of the addressee
D. The information needed to track the message

This is the addressing and other information needed to pass and track the message, answer D.

What is meant by "check" in a radiogram header?
A. The number of words or word equivalents in the text portion of the message
B. The call sign of the originating station
C. A list of stations that have relayed the message
D. A box on the message form that indicates that the message was received and/or relayed

This is the number of words or numbers in a message body, answer A.

"There are 258 persons at this location." is 7 words.

That is 16 of 19 pages down. Well done!

On to: Propagation - How radio waves travel

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Written by Julian Sortland, VK2YJS & AG6LE, February 2022.

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