Back in September, October, and November of 2022, MARC (along with some members of the Citizen's Militia of Utah) was privileged to take part in a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training series offered by our own Murray City Fire Department. At the conclusion of the final week, which was a hands on practical exam/exercise, we sat down to enjoy some pizza and talk about the experience. I asked Dan (N7XDL) to write up a summary of our discussion, which I am posting here:
MURRAY AMATEUR RADIO CLUB – MARC
POST-MORTUM ANALYSIS OF THE CERT FINAL EVENT
After going through the final CERT training event, held at Murray Fire Station #84, here is a synopsis of what went well and what we could have done better as far as Communications go. Most members of the Murray Amateur Radio Club (hereafter referred to as MARC) were present for this round of CERT training. As MARC members are very familiar with radio communication protocols, it was more “normal” for us to deal with the communication aspects of the CERT event than others not as familiar with radio communication as we are. That said, there were things that we did “right” and there were things that we found needed improvement. This summary document describes each.
The first person that arrived was designated as the “IC”, or Incident Commander. This person was Sherwood. He identified and created Teams that needed to be created in order to perform the various functions of CERT.
Each Team had a Team Leader identified. This person was called by the IC.
Each Team had an assigned “RADO” or Radio Operator. This person was also called by the IC.
Tactical Call Signs were discussed and assigned to each Team based on the function of the Team.
Most times effective communications were used to get vital information back to the IC.
Most times vital information was communicated between Teams.
All RADO operators tried to keep the information flowing.
THE BAD, THE UGLY
According to many members of the Murray Fire Department, MARC excelled at communications. They told us time and time again that they’ve never seen CERT classes that they’ve taught communicate like we were able to communicate. With that said, there were a number of items that we could have improved on. The following describes this.
We should have already had pre-identified tactical call signs, or at least a better version of the tactical call signs that were used. Some examples follow:
- M-A (Mike-Alpha) was first used as Medical Alpha, which originally was thought to mean the first medical team (Alpha designator). What should have been used was M-1, or “Mike-One” or even better, “Medical-One”. This prevents any ambiguity in the radio transmissions.
- S-A (Sierra-Alpha) and S-B (Sierra-Bravo) were the original tactical call signs to designate Search team One (Alpha) and Search team Two (Bravo). Again, we should have used “Search-One” and “Search-Two” as the tactical call signs.
- The same issue with T-A & T-B, which originally meant, “Transport Alpha” and “Transport Bravo”, which should have been “Transport-One” and “Transport-Two” respectively.
- The Incident Commander did not really have a tactical call sign. This should have been identified immediately. The issue of Sherwood not having a TCS (Tactical Call Sign) resulted in the fact that Sherwood was first acting in a duplicate role, and that of the Medical Triage person. He had to do that as no one else was assigned to this position.
- The IC should have really had a RADO assigned to him. That would have been ideal. We were short RADO’s, so we did what we could.
There were some basic FCC guidelines that were mistakenly “modified” for the CERT event. Namely the FCC requirement of proper Identification. These guidelines were even forgotten by some of the most experienced ham radio operators in the club… namely the Founder himself! Wow!
Since I admittedly confessed my sin to the FCC I hope they forgive me 😊
What was missed? I was the RADO for the Transport-One team. Or was it Transport-Two? One of those! Anyway, after I would talk to the IC or some other Team Lead I completely forgot to end my transmission QSO with my call sign. I would use my TCS solely during the QSO. As we all know, that is a “no-no”.
To be fair, I also heard others do the same, but in the same breath, I heard other RADO’s that properly identified themselves as well. My hats off to those who were not as easily swayed into thinking that since this was a CERT activity one didn’t need to follow FCC rules! So that was definitely something that needed to be addressed (if by no one else, by me!)
We all should have followed the Utah SAG RADO procedures more closely. Having done that, we wouldn’t (OK… I wouldn’t) have forgotten that rule of identification. Just to be clear, everyone should have followed the protocol as outlined below:
- When beginning the QSO, simply identify the person you are trying to contact, followed by your TCS. As an example, “Search-Two from Transport-Two, do you copy?”
- Communicate your message, then when you are done identify properly by saying something like this, “This is Transport-Two, N7XDL, clear”, where “Transport-Two” was my TCS, but N7XDL is my FCC call sign.
Every RADO’s really needed the proper equipment to do their job well. We should have all been wearing headsets and had extra batteries at our disposal. For the headsets, having an “in-ear” or “over-the-ear” speaker would have been preferable than to just relying on the HT speaker. There were some calls that were missed because of this. If you can’t hear the person trying to contact you it’s a bit difficult to respond. Having an earpiece should be standard (and required) equipment for any RADO.
Having extra batteries should also be a minimum requirement for RADO’s as well. There’s nothing worse than to have to bow out of being a RADO because your radio no longer works… because you forgot extra batteries for it.
Sherwood, the IC, should not have been handling a radio if he was the IC. If he was going to be on the radio for that station (which was necessary due to a lack of radio operators available), he should have handed off IC duties to another qualified person as soon as one was available.
No disregard to Sherwood, he did a great job juggling a complex situation, but trying to combine IC duties, comms duties, and passing messages for medical was a little too much for one person.
In my professional opinion, the MARC members who were participating in the CERT event, did an exemplary effort in communicating during the event. We laugh about it now, but we also know that identifying these successes and opportunities for improvement is part of improving our skills in radio communications. What a great effort and experience it was to participate in the CERT event. We all learned lots and were able to see how we each needed to improve, for when we do this again, we’ll be all that much better!
A warm thanks to the Murray Fire Department in leading the way! Thanks to them we have been able to attend a few CERT classes.
73 for now.
Dan Lundwall, N7XDL… and I’m clear.
Thank you, Dan, for that well written and detailed exposition on both what went well at our CERT evaluation and what went not quite so well.
You may remember that we have talked about Tactical Call Signs back in March... you may want to review that class. Dan also gave a presentation on Tactical Call Signs in EmComms in November (working on getting the slides from that online). We also have an upcoming class in January where we will be talking about Roles and Responsibilities at an Event. Hope to see you all there!