Training and Preparation
Training and Preparation are two very important aspects of any serious organizational group and most especially of Amateur Radio Emergency Communicators.
What exactly does this mean to you and your group?
Well it could mean many things. Operations in a rural environment are quite different from an urban environment and yet there are certain benchmarks as the saying goes that are inherent to both. Let's start with 'Formal Directed Nets'.
Formal Directed Nets begin and end with an NCS directing communications on a specific frequency and between all involved and recognized participating stations. Transmissions are short sweet and too the point. If longer transmissions are necessary or multiple messages need to be handled at one time, the NCS may opt to send several stations off frequency to handle their own individual business and then return to the net frequency to again be available. (This is one reason to be aware of what frequencies are useful in your county both from a repeater and a simplex standpoint and who can hear whom based on knowledge of propagation in your area.) In this sense then a good NCS is much like a 'Dispatcher or Traffic Cop' in that they direct and maintain control over a group and a frequency. Anyone can and should attempt to be an NCS at least once. The experience will give you a newfound respect for what other NCS's go through in the course of a shift at the mike. Not all who try the NCS position will or are destined to be good NCS material.
Know your radio or the radio at the EOC you will be using.
Periodic activation of the EOC's or use of your 'Go-Kit' will allow you to keep in touch with whether or not you have issues with the radio and how to utilize some of the features inside it. Periodic testing of the use of CTCSS codes (sometimes called PL Tones) on simplex could allow you to mitigate or lessen the interference that might be on a given frequency at a given time. On newer radios there are now DCS codes also. This allows us to have many different 'Users' on the same frequency and each only hearing what is intended for them. This however does not stop the fact that the frequency can only support one conversation between two or more stations at a time.
Understand what it means to be SAFE.
In most cases you will be assigned a location that has been deemed safe by a safety officer of some sort. Does this mean that that location will continue to be safe? No, so it is important that you learn to be aware of your surroundings from an 'all of your senses' standpoint. Does something catch the corner of your eyes that does not look right? Ask someone to investigate it who has the authority to do so and make a determination. Still not sure if it's safe, ask to be repositioned to somewhere you feel safer. Use your nose to smell, your body to feel. Smelling 'Rotten Eggs' can or cannot signal something that may be dangerous for or to you. Ask for training in HazMAT or Personal Safety from Fire or Law Enforcement personnel. The life you save just might be your own.
Not Computer literate or comfortable?
Ask for training and assistance in learning computer skills. In this age of technology the use of computers is more prevalent than ever. Ask in advance of an actual event for help and training in the use of computers for record keeping and Packet operations. Don't arrive at a scene and find that you need these skills and do not have them after accepting the assignment. You have just as much of a responsibility as the 'Staging Manager or Logistics Director' to be aware of the skills needed for a specific position and whether you have those skills or not. Ask questions in advance!
Know Basic 'First AID and CPR techniques'!
You may never need them and in fact one of the things that everyone is first taught when they take these courses is that once you begin giving care to someone you have an obligation to continue until one of two things occurs.
Someone else arrives and relieves you. Or,
You get so tired that your own safety is in question from continued service
There have been many articles in the news of late of people collapsing in various situations and others coming to their aid. This has allowed many of these people to survive the episode that beseeched them. Whether this is from a Heart Attack or a Diabetic episode is not important other than the fact that either of these conditions can be life threatening. Ask for training in First Aid and CPR!
These are but a few of many things that all of us should be thinking about besides the use of and talking on our radios when we decide to enlist our services in Emergency Communications. EC's think about and talk with your people and served agencies to see if they can make these and other types of training available. You may never need these skills but you'll be glad you had them if they save yours or someone else's life down the road and make your job easier in the long run.