Friday, December 1, 2017


I like to watch mystery and real crime shows.

While the mystery shows are fiction, some are based on real cases.  One of those real cases occurred in Tulsa, and I have seen it used in several different series.

A common feature of many of the fictional shows is a defense attorney and/or private investigator who often finds evidence that the police will miss, or ignore, and the attorney or PI uses the evidence to find the real culprit.

But I am seeing a trend in the real crime shows of more cases questioning police investigations and their results.  In these cases, I see police missing, or mishandling, or misinterpreting evidence.

This leaves me with several questions:

     Did the police look at everything?

     Were the investigators sufficiently trained to identify, collect, handle, process, and interpret the evidence?

     Has anyone ever compiled a complete list of all the elements of an investigation?

The last two questions lead to a possible solution that could cut down the number of botched investigation, and could also help correct the results of an investigation gone wrong: a comprehensive guide to investigations.

If such a guide existed, investigators could use it to make sure they don't miss evidence, and they handle, process, and interpret it correctly.

Also, if a questionable investigation does take place, the guide could be used to review the investigation to see where and how things went wrong, and so authorities could know which corrective actions they need to take.

I don't know if such a guide already exists.  I am just an observer who thinks about what he has seen.  I am not a law enforcement officer, or an investigator, so I have no way of knowing without asking someone who is.

If it does exist, I have one more question:

     Why isn't everyone using it?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Communications Procedure

I've got to admit, I am an old "commo" man.  Commo is an older military term for communications, much the same way that "ammo" is short for ammunition.

I still think like a commo man when it comes to amateur radio public service communications.   Ham radio public service comms do use some basic structure and terminology taken from military comms.  But I do see some variation between the two, and I believe that hams could benefit by learning, and adopting more practices from military comms.   I believe this because military forces have hammered out their practices and refined them in the forge of combat.

Even though I have only experienced simulated combat, I can tell you that combat is a fluid and chaotic situation.  Change is constant, unpredictable, rapid, and intense.   Sometimes, each second demands a decision that must be made, communicated, and carried out – IMMEDIATELY!   In such situations, using standard commo practices can ease and smooth the flow of information.   Ham radio emergency and disaster comms often take place in similar situations, so we can learn from military comms.

A Word About Words
One of the earliest lessons I learned is that some words are used for directing action, and some are used for communications procedure.   I had asked someone to repeat something they said over the radio that I didn't hear clearly... and I immediately got an earful about why I should NEVER ask anyone on military radio to repeat what they said!

The military reserves the word REPEAT for directing action, such as mortar and artillery strikes.  When someone orders such a strike, they designate where and what kind of rounds to fire.   If the first strike hits the target, but doesn't complete the job, the one who called in the strike will ask the Fire Direction Controller to REPEAT the action.

So, if a military operator doesn't clearly copy what someone said, what do they say if they don't use the word REPEAT?  SAY AGAIN.

Now you might, ask why have two separate terms? Why not just use REPEAT for both meanings?

Consider the case of an infantry platoon leader whose unit is under attack.   Enemy troops are close to overrunning his position, so he orders a mortar strike.   The rounds fall right on top of the approaching enemy troops, and that cuts down their numbers enough that the platoon leader sees that he can end the attack by ordering his own troops to counterattack.   As his soldiers take over the enemy's position, the FDC calls to see if the platoon leader needs another strike.  If the platoon leader didn't copy the FDC's question, should he say REPEAT or SAY AGAIN?

With SAY AGAIN, the FDC knows what to do.   With REPEAT, he doesn't know if the platoon leader wants him to fire rounds again on the same location as the last strike, or to say again his question.   In this situation, miscommunication due to poor practices could lead to highly undesirable consequences.

But, why should we as ham radio operators worry about the distinction between REPEAT and SAY AGAIN?  We are not likely to come under enemy fire like the troops on the battlefield.

The role of comms in combat, or emergencies, or disasters, is the directing of resources to where they are needed.   Poor comm practices in emergencies or disasters can lead to wasted resources, efforts and time.

Let's look at another pair of terms that shows the difference between action directives and commo procedure: STAND BY and WAIT.

To me, STAND BY is an action directive.   It means to prepare for action and continue to monitor comm channels for the call to deploy.  Preparing for action means to check supplies and equipment, stage them for quick mobilization, and review activation procedures.  When the National Weather Service forecasts hazardous weather is for a portion of the state, Oklahoma ARES Section Emergency Coordinator Mark Conklin, N7XYO, will send out a message calling for ARES members in the affected regions to STAND BY.   When he does this, he is responding to a developing situation that might require hams to go into action, and not to a inquiry from any volunteer concerning activation.

I bring this up because someone has established a practice for Net Control Operators to say STAND BY when a volunteer calls in to Net Control, and the NCO is already handling an issue, or the calling station has a question.  When I am in the Net Control seat, I prefer to say WAIT or WAIT ONE.  I am not expecting them to prepare for action, so I have no reason to tell them to STAND BY.  If I need someone to wait before passing traffic, or to wait on an answer to their question, that's what I tell them to do... to WAIT.

Now some might say I'm being picky, but I don't think so.  I'm being clear about people's actions beyond the comms, or comm procedure.

The military has a term for words like SAY AGAIN and WAIT. They call them procedure words, or PROWORDS. Some refer to them as PROSIGNS.

Here are a few of the more common PROWORDS, and their meanings:

ROGER – general affirmation or acknowledgement.

OVER – I'm through talking, and waiting for a response.

OUT – I'm through talking and leaving the net, so I am not waiting for a response.

CLEAR – I'm through talking and clearing the frequency for others to use.

NOTE: OVER and OUT are mutually exclusive! Leave OVER AND OUT to the cartoons and B-movies!

What's Appropriate When
Now, in public service comms, including emergency and disaster comms, we follow the Incident Command System rules, which state that on-air voice comms should use plain text.  This precludes the use of codes.   That includes Q-signals.   I have heard a net control recently use QSL during a net. That does not comply with ICS rules, and needs to stop.

The one exception I see concerning Q-signals is the use of QST to announce a net, because the net has not yet been established.  But once the net has started, we should hold the use of Q-signals until the net closes. Now, this applies only to public service nets.

During club and ragchew nets, Q-signals are okay. So are easy phonetics. Remember, ham radio is a hobby, and hobbies are supposed to be fun. As long as you are not violating FCC regulations, I see no problem with easy phonetics.

BTW, my easy phonetics, along with my first name, comes out as a sentence: Doug Keeps Chasing 5 Zippy Quick Mobiles.   And I haven't caught them yet!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Severe Weather Reporting Criteria - AGAIN!

Since I last visited this issue, things haven't changed enough.  I suggest you review my previous treatment of this issue here: Severe Weather Reporting Criteria Revisited.
Towards the end of that post, I recommended the presentation of reporting criteria according to priority instead of starting with the minimums.  This year during the spotter training, I noticed the Tulsa NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist, Ed Calianese,  listed them according to priority.  So, someone was listening.

Was it enough?  If you listened to the last couple of Skywarn nets in the Tulsa area, you couldn't tell if it made any difference at all.  I did say that this approach would take time to have a significant effect.  I also noticed that the Net Control operators continued to list criteria starting with the minimums.

So, why continue to push the priorities?

I can answer this with a few old quotes.

"First impressions are lasting impressions."  You might have heard this advice when preparing for a job interview, first date, or making a speech.  What that means is that people tend to remember the first things they see and hear when meeting someone new, and they are less likely to remember any changes in someone's appearance or personality.  This not only applies to people.  When someone visits a place they've never been to before, they tend to remember it the way it first appeared to them.

"FIFO - First In, First Out."  This is a business term, usually used in accounting and other business operations.  In accounting, it means that the first documents that come in, such as sales orders or time cards, are processed and recorded first.

"GIGO - Garbage In, Garbage Out."  This saying started with computer programmers, but at one time it became popular for a while.  It means that even if a program is designed to process information properly, if you feed garbage (bad data or information) into the program, the program will put out bad information.

These quotes give us a general picture of what is going on when someone makes a nuisance report.

When someone hears or sees the minimum criteria first, that is what they tend to remember.  So, when they are out looking at storms, their minds are set on the low end of the spectrum.  Also, many people have a tendency to "lower the bar."  Like I said in my previous post, quarter-sized hail becomes quarter inch hail.  Hail is precipitation, so is rain.  Some might assume that if the NWS wants to hear about hail, they want to hear about rain too.

Just to be sure that everyone is on the right track, let me list, in my own words, the severe weather criteria according to priority:

TORNADO  =  A violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm base to the ground.  A tornado WILL cause damage!  Anything that can cause damage, can also cause injury, or even death.  That is why tornadoes are #1 priority.

PERSISTENTLY ROTATING WALL CLOUD  =  A spinning, isolated lowering of the cloud base.  A persistently rotating wall cloud is one that appears to spin for 10 minutes or more.  Such wall clouds have a higher potential for producing a tornado than non-rotating clouds.  The shear factors that make the wall cloud rotate do indicate the storm is severe, so they should be watched and reported.

FUNNEL CLOUD  =  A spinning cone of condensation not in contact with the ground.  Funnel clouds are NOT tornadoes!  A tornado is always in contact with the ground, and is indicated by a dust or debris swirl on the ground.  If you cannot see the base of a funnel, report it only as a funnel.  Even if you can see the base, and it does not have a dust or debris swirl, report it, because severe conditions will be occurring near the funnel.

SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE   Significant damage would include items such as large tree limbs broken off, numerous shingles blown off a roof, or heavy objects lifted into the air.  Reports of significant damage will confirm severe conditions that may have prompted, or might indicate the need for, a severe warning.

SIGNIFICANT FLOODING   Significant flooding would include a stream out of its banks, a bridge or roadway washed out, or a roadway that is not visible.  Reports of significant flooding will confirm severe conditions that may have prompted, or might indicate the need for, a flood warning.

HAIL THE SIZE OF QUARTERS OR LARGER   This means if you place the hailstone on top of a quarter, it will completely cover the quarter. The best practice for reporting hail is to measure its diameter with a ruler, tape measure or calipers.  Next best is to compare it to coins or balls: quarters, half-dollars, ping pong or golf balls, etc.

58 MILES AN HOUR WINDS OR GREATER   The best practice for winds is to measure with a handheld or stationary gauge.  (This is one the NWS should reconsider, for in estimating winds, and according to the Beaufort Scale, you cannot distinguish between 50 and 60 MPH winds by visual clues.)

Now, I can see two more factors in why the nuisance reports continue to be a problem.

First, we have people that have a strong desire and drive to get their amateur radio license and get into storm spotting or chasing, but they don't get their license until AFTER the spotter training is over.  They spend their time studying for their license, and miss the spotter training.  So, when they go out to look at storms, they are not familiar with the criteria.

Second, the spotter reference card they used to hand out at the spotter training is available for download online, but it needs SERIOUS updating!

Again the resolution to this problem is time, and patience.  Time to educate, to train, to familiarize people with the best practices.