Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter & Spring Weather

Snow began falling on Kiefer OK this afternoon (29 DEC 09) a little before 5 PM, and it is still coming down. This is on top of what remains from the Christmas Eve Blizzard. Both the current system and the blizzard moved SW to NE. Doesn't that sound familiar?

The systems that create the strongest severe springtime thunderstorms usually travel the same direction. What causes this is a trough will set up to the west of the Great Plains, and this makes the jet stream dip to the south around the trough, creating a "valley" or "long wave" in the jet stream pattern. As the jet stream flows from SW to NE, it sets up smaller low pressure centers that move along the jet stream. These "short waves" become the nuclei of severe weather systems.

Reports came out earlier that an El Nino was forming. El Ninos change weather patterns. If an El Nino is responsible for the current pattern, it might persist into and throughout the spring. We could be in for an active severe weather season in 2010.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Critical Communications

This post has been 39 years in the making.

In my sophomore year in high school, I took a half-year speech course, and I flunked it. I flunked because I was shy.

I was never very athletic as a kid, so I tended to read a lot. I guess that contributed to my shyness. But it also meant I tended to get good grades, and I didn't like flunking. So, I retook the course the next year and passed. In my senior year, I took Speech II, a full year course that explored more than the usual speechmaking. We had debates, and tried different things related to speech.

Thus began my development as a communicator.

The next big step came on 23 JUN 74. That's the day I joined an Oklahoma Army National Guard infantry unit. I signed up for communications. For 4 of the next 6 years, I was a 'commo' man.

Started as a field wireman, and ended as a field radio mechanic. Before they sent me to Fort Leonard Wood for basic training and the field wireman's course, I went with my unit to summer camp. There I learned the basics of organizing communications in a front line combat unit.

That knowledge proved helpful in my most significant military experience. It was during my last summer camp during the last two weeks of May, 1980. Earlier that year, Fidel Castro opened up Cuba's prisons and mental institutions and let anyone go that wanted to leave the country. It was an easy way for him to deal with political prisoners, and temporarily relieved him of the burden of caring for hardened criminals and the mentally ill.

Many of those "boat people" wound up at Ft. Chaffee, AR, where my unit usually went for summer camp. We went there, but not to the barracks. Most of the barracks were full of Cubans being processed, so the engineers set up tents for us on a ridge southwest of the main post.

During the second week of summer camp, our unit would go out to the countryside for a 3-day field training exercise. That year, only the rifle, mortar and TOW sections went.

One night during the FTX, I heard the battalion commander call for the company commander on the battalion radio frequency. When the battalion commander couldn't raise him, I got on and asked why he wanted the company commander, and if I could help. The battalion commander said that some Cubans had gotten out of the refugee compound and were trying to reach a highway.

He needed some troops to go help bring them back to the compound.

I said I'd do what I could. I got on the company radio frequency and contacted the captain. I told him that the colonel tried to call him on the battalion frequency, and he needed some troops to help round up some Cubans that had gotten loose from the compound. The captain thanked me for the information and said he'd contact the colonel on his frequency.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, trucks and jeeps full of troops rolled into our encampment, stirring up a lot of dust and noise. The troops unloaded, stowed away their excess gear, loaded back onto the trucks and jeeps and headed out again.

During those years I was in the National Guard, I also got in on the CB craze. This was when CB radios had only 23 channels, and you had to have a license to operate one. My call sign then was KEG9546. I won't say what my handle was, jus that it was an old nickname from when I was much younger and had an embarrassing problem.

After the National Guard, I developed an interest in writing. Except for a few courses required to obtain associate degrees in computer science and mathematics, I am mostly self-taught. I have written a few pieces for a company newsletter and a church bulletin.

I obtained the associate degree in math because of my interest in weather. I wanted to go to Oklahoma University to become a research meteorologist. The math degree at Tulsa Community College most closely matched the course requirements for the OU meteorology degree.

After obtaining that degree, I decided to get involved in storm spotting and ham radio. In January of 1997, I attended a spotter training session sponsored by the Tulsa Amateur Radio Club. There, I learned about the Creek County Emergency Management spotter program, and a book I could study to pass the ham radio license test.

In March, I passed the test at the Green Country Hamfest, held that year at the Tulsa Convention Center, and the FCC issued me the callsign of KC5ZQM.

Since becoming a ham, I have reported on storms for both Creek County Emergency Management and the National Weather Service office in Tulsa. I have participated in dozens of public service events such as bike rides and foot races. When hams provide communications support these events, they have an opportunity to practice for emergency or disaster communications.

I have not only participate in these events as a communicator, I have organized the communications support when I was Activities Chair for the Tulsa Repeater Organization. In that capacity, I helped to recruit and organize the response by hams in the Tulsa area to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. I also wrote the article about it that appeared in the March issue of QST magazine, the official publication of the national ham radio organization, the American Radio Relay League.

From my experience in military, civil emergency management, and ham radio communications, I have come up with a concept I call Critical Communications. Critical Communications is when communications is essential to the management of a critical situation such as combat, a disaster, or in an emergency.

The most important thing to remember in Critical Communications is the communicator's job. The communicator's job is to make sure the right information reaches the right person or place at the right time by the best means. That sounds simple, but it bears a closer look. I will break it down phrase by phrase.

"To make sure." This is the responsibility of both the sending and receiving stations. Both must maintain contact until until they are sure a correct copy of the information has been transferred.

"The right information" is clear, complete, and concise. "Clear" means the information is not vague, accurate, and true. It does not present speculation as facts. "Complete" means that you leave nothing out. "Concise" means that you do not include unnecessary details.

"The right person" is the person who needs the information to make a decision, or the person who needs to act on the information. Sometimes you can't directly send the information to the right person, so you have to get it to the right place, where someone there can pass on the information to the right person.

"The right time" is when the right person can still act on it.

"The best means" are the methods or channels for passing the information that allow you to best fulfill all the other aspects of this job. I have heard some comment that two-way voice radio is not an efficient use of bandspace. But sometimes it is the best means. It requires no dialing, encoding or writing down anything before you begin. You key up and you talk. You only have to wait for the receiving station to answer before you start passing information. However, if you have a large amount of information, or if the information is of a sensitive nature, you should use another means.

I could elaborate more on each point, and maybe I will, but this is enough for now.