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!

No comments: