Basic Certification

On March 30, 2010 feedback was integrated into this outline from Oregon ARES ECs, Oregon Emergency Managers, and amateur operators from across the country.

This training and certification will involve sixteen (16) hours of classroom and/or online training followed by eight (8) hours of practical evaluation where the operator must demonstrate the specific learning competencies outlined for the course. This course will cover basic emergency communications topics and procedures for operating VHF/UHF voice only. 

Students attending this course are expected to bring a hand held amateur radio with instruction book as well as proof of completion of IS-100, IS-200 and IS-700 FEMA courses.  Students should have a working knowledge of their radio and be able to do basic programming of frequencies and other parameters covered in the course.

The following outline is representative of the material to be presented in the classroom.

  1. Introduction To Emergency Communications
    1. Why we need training
    2. The differences between amateur radio and public safety radio
    3. The differences between emergency communications and regular communications
    4. Your role as a communicator in an emergency
    5. Scope of this course
    6. Other courses available soon to build on this material
    7. Why is this course different from others - based on performance skills
  2. Emergency Communications Groups and Served Agencies
    1. Served Agencies - many require operating agreements
      1. County/City - generally Emergency Management, may be Sheriff's Office
      2. State - generally State Office of Emergency Management
      3. Federal
        1. FEMA/DHS
        2. Military
      4. Private
        1. Red Cross
        2. SATERN
        3. Hospitals and medical facilities
    2. Operating Agreements - samples, need for documentation
    3. RACES - Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service
      1. Description of RACES program per FCC
      2. Example of implementation
      3. Flat management structure, discrete control by County EM
      4. Oregon Credentialing requires ICS 100,200,700 and background check
    4. ARES - Amateur Radio Emergency Service
      1. Description of ARRL program
      2. National Multi-layer Management Structure
        1. Elected State Section Manager
        2. Appointed State, District and County Emergency Coordinator
      3. Managed service provided to the served agency
      4. No national training or certification requirements
    5. CAP - Civil Air Patrol
      1. Private aircraft facilities and communications services
    6. MARS - Military Affiliate Radio System
    7. CERT - Community Emergency Response Team
    8. REACT - Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams
      1. Citizen Band, FRS, GMRS, MURS
      2. Amateur Bands
      3. National Management Structure similar to ARES
    9. ACS - Auxiliary Communications Service
      1. Examples of Implementation
        1. California - statewide program
        2. Cowlitz County
        3. Others
    10. ACES - Auxiliary Communications Emergency Service
      1. Training - developed by group of RACES, ARES, and other communicators
      2. Certification - based on written test and skills based evaluation
      3. Registry - issued certificate, course meets national standards
  3. Basic Communications Skills for Emergency Communications
    1. Basic mic and radio operation - pause after pushing button, 2" from face, etc.
    2. Listening skills
    3. Protocols and procedures - how to call other stations, signing off
    4. Prowords and phonetics - "Q" signals not for voice
      1. ITU phonetic list
      2. Police/Fire phonetic list
    5. Plain language - NIMS compliance means no codes
    6. Tactical callsign use - should reflect physical location or action, still require legal callsign identification
    7. Repeater operation
      1. Why we use repeaters - extend range from line of sight
      2. How they work - RX and TX on different frequencies, simultaneously
      3. Simplex vs. Duplex operation
      4. Using linked repeaters - RF linking, IRLP, Echolink all add extra delay in key-up
      5. Relaying and monitoring reverse - how to relay correctly, monitoring the input when a station is unreadable on repeater
    8. De-sense - nearby transmitter swamps receiver, doesn't have to be the same frequency, demonstration
    9. Doubling - how to avoid, pause to allow for response
  4. Basic Equipment Selection for Emergency Communications
    1. Portable/Handheld - limitations and advantages
      1. Limited battery life
      2. Limited power output and range
      3. Non-standard charging and external power connectors
      4. Limited external antenna possibilities
      5. Extremely portable
      6. Very low power output option for short-range extended life operation
      7. Very low idle receive power consumption
    2. Mobile - limitations and advantages
      1. Requires more standby power
      2. Requires vehicle
      3. Very good range and power output capability
      4. Better external antenna possibilities and placement
      5. Ability to relocate the entire station to cover a desired area
    3. Base station - limitations and advantages
      1. Non-portable
      2. More range: higher gain and antenna elevation
      3. Commercial power source
      4. Fixed installation ready to operate in the agency
      5. Better for message passing, logging, and net control
    4. Band selection
      1. VHF/UHF ideal for local communications
        1. VHF can be up to 9dB better than UHF for the same path
        2. VHF will work better in mixed terrain
        3. 70 cm is less crowded
        4. If net control is on one band, can operate very close without interference on a different band
      2. Typically use 2-meters (VHF) and 70-centimeters (UHF)
      3. Other options include 6-meters (50MHz VHF), 1.25-meters (220MHz VHF)
    5. Crossbanding
      1. Extend the range of a group of handhelds to a distant repeater
      2. Use two to bridge VHF handhelds over a UHF link
      3. Extend battery life of handhelds by operating on low power to the cross-band repeater
      4. The handhelds operate on a simplex channel to the cross-band repeater
    6. DC power and batteries
      1. Battery types and characteristics
      2. Charging and floating
      3. Connectors
        1. Andersons (current ARES recommendation)
        2. Ring terminals
        3. Cigarette power plugs
        4. Molex plugs (legacy ARES recommendation)
        5. Perfect interoperability in a pinch: stripped wire
      4. Wire size and voltage drop
      5. Fusing - safety aspects, spares
    7. Antenna types and selection
      1. Handheld
        1. OEM rubber duck
        2. Aftermarket high-gain whip
        3. Roll-up wire antennas
      2. Mobile
        1. Magnetic mount (needs a ground plane)
        2. Fixed mount
      3. Portable
        1. Mast, Tripod, Coax
        2. Antenna with a ground plane
        3. Guying supplies
      4. Types of antennas and selection criteria
        1. Omni - radiates in all directions
        2. Directional - yagi or quad squeezes signal in one direction
        3. Discone - wide bandwidth, not always ideal
        4. Gain antenna patterns - no free lunch, signal re-directed
        5. Elevation - extremely critical, minimal increase (10') can yield large increase
        6. Proximity to other objects - metal object reflect, cause distorted pattern, increase reflected power.
  5. Programming and Operations of VHF/UHF Equipment
    1. Simplex, Duplex
    2. Tones
      1. Purpose and benefit
      2. Tone squelch types
      3. When to use carrier or tone squelch
    3. Frequency selection and memory channels
    4. Bank organization
    5. Typical repeater operation
  6. Troubleshooting your field operations
    1. Common equipment failures
      1. Low battery
    2. Common antenna and feedline problems
      1. Open or shorted coax
      2. Incorrectly installed connectors
      3. Moisture intrusion
    3. Common programming errors
      1. Incorrect tone
      2. Incorrect offset
      3. Incorrect tuning step
      4. Insufficient power level
    4. Methods for determining repeater issues
      1. How to tell if you are keying the repeater
      2. How to tell if you or the other station are weak into the repeater
  7. Incident Command System for Communications
    1. Provides a standardized scalable structure for emergency response management
    2. Organizing an emergency communications group under this structure
    3. NIMS Procedures and forms
      1. ICS-213: Message
      2. ICS-205: Radio Frequency Plan
      3. Recordkeeping and Logging
        1. Paper forms
        2. Specialized software
        3. Anything else you have available
      4. Requires plain language; affects typical amateur radio "jargon" use
    4. Resource Typing
      1. NIMS Resource Typing Example
      2. WRRL classifications
      3. NRCEV classifications
      4. ACES
  8. Emergency Nets and Net Operation
    1. Types of nets
      1. Tactical
      2. Resource
      3. Health and Welfare
      4. NTS
    2. Multi-layer approach to high traffic scenarios
    3. Guidelines for being net control
      1. Responsible for:
        1. Directing traffic between stations
        2. Keeping track of on and off frequency stations
        3. Logging requests for stations that are returning shortly
      2. Remain on frequency at all times
      3. Schedule breaks and shift changes
      4. Logging and information hand-off is critical for shift change
    4. Relaying weak stations
    5. Sample preamble
    6. Procedure and skill differences between simplex and repeater nets
      1. Common issues operating a simplex net with operators used to repeater operation
      2. Technical challenges
  9. Building a Response Kit and Preparing for Activation
    1. Family disaster plan
    2. Go kit
      1. Minimum 24 hour duration
      2. Technical supplies for a portable station:
        1. Transceiver
        2. Broadcast receiver
        3. Portable antenna with flexible installation options
        4. Battery power and charging options when mains become available
        5. Cabling
        6. Physical supports for makeshift antenna, tape, bungee cords, etc
        7. Minimal tools required for assembly and repair
      3. Personal survival gear to support:
        1. Hydration
        2. Nutrition
        3. Hygiene
        4. Medicine
        5. Sleep
        6. Entertainment
      4. 72 hour supplement pack
  10. Activation and Response
    1. Methods of activating volunteers
      1. Phone tree
      2. Voice nets
      3. "Feeling the earthquake" (self activation)
      4. Activation by policy
    2. Using selective call technologies for "paging" (keep the radio quiet until an emergency)
    3. Other commercial systems and preparing for alternatives
    4. Safety while activated
      1. Making it worse with more wires
      2. RF Safety
      3. Power and Generators
      4. Hazardous materials and situations
      5. Nutrition, Hydration, Sanitation
    5. Disaster psychology
      1. Critical Incident Stress Disorder
      2. Managing people in a crisis
  11. Basic Message Handling
    1. Message priority: Emergency, Priority, Welfare, Routine
    2. Formal vs. Tactical messages
      1. Definition
      2. Deciding which to use
        1. The served agency should always be the deciding factor
      3. Formal message formats
        1. ARRL Radiogram
        2. ICS-213
      4. General message handling guidelines
        1. Prowords and phrases
      5. Formal message handling and routing networks (NTS)
        1. Local, Section, Regional, Transcontinental nets
        2. Voice, CW, Digital
    3. Radiogram Traffic Handling Procedures
      1. Radiogram message format
        1. Preamble
          1. Handling Instructions
          2. Calculating the Check
          3. Address and Telephone
          4. Message
          5. Signature
      2. Operators' Notes
      3. Calculating the check
      4. Servicing the handling instructions
      5. Protocol for transmission
      6. Protocol for copying and acknowledging
      7. Protocol for book traffic
      8. Servicing messages with handling instructions
      9. Typical NTS procedures for VHF/UHF local nets
      10. "Last Mile" delivery
      11. ARRL Numbered Radiograms
        1. Purpose
        2. When to use
    4. NIMS-Compliant ICS-213 message handling
      1. Intended to be somewhat of an "Interoffice Memo" form
      2. Not easy to pass over a voice channel
        1. Too many fields
        2. Not designed to be read over the air
        3. Despite standardization, there are many variations
      3. Commonly sent in proper format over data channels
      4. Various methods for tracking these forms:
        1. "Rubber stamp" with NTS header
        2. Addition of the NTS header at the top of the form
        3. Two-page form to preserve the actual message form exactly
      5. Present the multiple Schools of thought on this:
        1. Treat like radiogram, read only data, assume field positions
        2. Read the entire form, including the field names
        3. Pass the message like a tactical message, informally provide sender/recipient/etc data as appropriate
        4. Our recommendation is option #3, but your agency should decide
  12. Message Handling Classroom Exercise
  13. Public Safety and Other Communications Systems
    1. Public Safety Systems
      1. Traditional Analog VHF/UHF/800
      2. Trunked Systems
      3. Digital P25
      4. ROIP
      5. Telephone, Cellular, Fax, Email, Messaging, Paging
    2. Marine System
      1. USCG oceans and inland water ways
      2. VHF based system
    3. National Communications System (NCS)
      1. SHARES
      2. MARS
      3. FNARS
    4. Emergency Warning Systems
      1. EAS broadcast alerting
      2. NOAA weather alerting
      3. NAWAS 'hardened'  wireline network
      4. NEIC - earthquake warning center
      5. Tsunami Warning System
    5. Amateurs are often assigned to monitor or man non-amateur radios
  14. Mapping and GPS use
    1. Basic overview of latitude/longitude formats
      1. Decimal Degrees - D.DDD
      2. D M'S"
      3. D M.MM"
      4. UTM
      5. PLSS
    2. Datums
    3. Map basics
      1. North is up
      2. Scales
      3. Topographical vs. Sectional
      4. Basic compass use
  15. Weather
    1. SKYWARN weather spotting program - what to report
      1. Tornado Funnelcloud Waterspout
      2. Hail any size
      3. Flooding, damage from weather events, high winds, snow
    2. NOAA radio broadcast warning
    3. Assessing weather conditions
      1. estimating ceiling and visibility
      2. estimating wind speed and direction
      3. estimating wave height
  16. Communications Integrity
    1. Message integrity
      1. Do not share content
      2. Do not alter the message
    2. Determine best transport if material is sensitive, advise originator if another method is appropriate
    3. Participation in EOC or dispatch environments
      1. Will require background check
      2. Potential to see data not meant for your eyes
      3. Must respect environment and process
    4. HIPPA issues
    5. Personal Performance within the EOC
      1. Adding to the chaos with radio noise or yelling into the microphone
      2. Cleanliness
      3. Be aware of sexual harassment
      4. Proper identification and credentialing
      5. Respect authority

At the end of the course there will be a comprehensive 40 question multiple choice test.  Students must pass with a 75% or higher score. 

The eight (8) hour practical session will be practical application of skills learned and will include each student successfully demonstrating the following skills:

  • Individual
    • Given the details of a simulated repeater (another radio) correctly configure your own handheld for proper frequency, tone, and offset to open the squelch and transmit your callsign
    • Using a hand held radio, exchange a signal report with your instructor using correct phonetics for both callsigns
    • Using a hand held radio, demonstrate techniques for improving communications by:
      • Adjusting squelch level to overcome noise
      • Enabling tone squelch
      • Adjusting antenna position
      • Increasing power
    • Using a provided radiotelegram, transmit the contents via voice
    • Accurately copy a radiotelegram transmitted by the instructor
    • Demonstrate accurately completing an ICS-213 and transmitting its contents
    • Demonstrate programming a radio according to a completed ICS-205
  • Classroom
    • De-sense demonstration
      • Actual hands-on demonstration of close-proximity transceivers can desensitize each other
      • How to tell it's happening and what to do to minimize the effect, when necessary
    • Participate in a simulated traffic net exercise
      • Half the class gets traffic to pass, half the class will receive
      • One person as net control, the others as checkins
    • Participate in a simulated activation practice ACT
      • Definition of a scenario
      • Tabletop activation
      • Practice tactical net
      • Sample traffic and requests that must be translated into formal or tactical messages and passed