Training Tips

The Central Ohio Traffic Net handles traffic 365 days per year. Each day we hold a regular session and we hold special sessions throughout the year for training sessions and for emergencies as events warrant. As a training net, we pay special attention to our procedure and help new traffic handlers.

When we hear mistakes (as they invariably will) and have questions, our more senior handlers offer their words of wisdom. Here we memorialize some of them.

Third-Party Traffic Handling Is a Public Service

posted Apr 2, 2017, 4:24 PM by C. Matthew Curtin

Amateur radio is a great hobby, where one can tinker and experiment to learn the art of radio, to advance the state of the art, and even to enhance international goodwill. All of these benefits are memorialized in the opening of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 97, the rules that define the amateur radio service in the United States. The very first benefit of all, however, is something more serious:

(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

Here is traffic handling: a voluntary noncommercial communication service for the public. Since the earliest days of amateur radio, our technology and operating skill have been ready to serve. When one of the worst windstorms ever experienced by Ann Arbor, Michigan blew through on the night of March 21, 1913, toppling houses and telegraph lines. The situation worsened when by a week later, the city of Freemont, Ohio was under water and flooding was prevalent throughout central Ohio. During this time, amateur radio operators worked day and night to keep the communications flowing though other systems had failed. Lessons learned from this early event were clear. Amateurs should "Put [their] aerial up so it will stay up, no matter what happens, and learn to handle messages at commercial speeds, for [they] may be called on to handle emergency messages when [they] least expect it." Radio, "in the hands of the amateur, while it is used by some as a plaything, is capable of doing excellent service in time of need; and we hope the work done by these men who did all they could to maintain communication between the flood stricken cities and the rest of the world, will long be remembered." (Modern Electronics. "The Wireless Amateur in Times of Disaster." April 1913)

In those days, the response was ad hoc. Today, however, we are far better organized to handle events large and small. This is due in no large part to the voluntary public service rendered by radio amateurs. The Central Ohio Traffic Net, and the larger network of amateur operators around the world, may well be hobbyists, but train and operate so that they may serve their communities in a professional, if unpaid, manner.

While we typically enjoy the work, traffic handling is not a hobby: it is a public service. Once we make an appearance and volunteer in a traffic net, as part of Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), or put our radio to work for a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), we are not hobbyists: we've committed to help to achieve a mission on behalf of the public.

COTN is a training net, and we encourage all regardless of experience to join us and to learn how to put the art of radio to good use. We're happy to help you along the way so that you can see whether this is the kind of public service you'd like to render, and if so, how you can be the greatest asset you can be in a time of need. We encourage all to follow a few guidelines:
  1. Learn to operate well.
  2. Keep proper logs of operation.
  3. Track your traffic, using the "Received" and "Sent" parts of the Radiogram.
  4. Handle your traffic in a timely manner.
  5. Perform your duties professionally.
  6. Report your activity.
We're here to get the job done, and to help others learn to do the job well. Never hesitate to ask if you have a question. Once we're finished with the ongoing operation we're happy to take the time to discuss what you've seen and heard, and to find out how we can improve. Thank you for all that you do to advance amateur radio and to provide service to your community.

FEMA Emergency Management Institute Online Training

posted Mar 26, 2017, 4:12 PM by C. Matthew Curtin   [ updated Mar 28, 2017, 4:31 AM ]

COTN has started to keep track of FEMA/EMI coursework that our operators have completed. We'll need this for representing to served agencies such as Franklin County Emergency Management & Homeland Security.

All FEMA independent studies can be accessed at https://training.fema.gov/is/crslist.aspx?page=all
Please note that a FEMA STUDENT IDENTIFICATION NUMBER will be required for any credit or documentation. (You can get one online if you do not have one.)

Once you have completed any FEMA course and have your EMI certificate, please send a copy of your certificate to the ARRL Ohio Section and Franklin County Emergency Management & Homeland Security, who keep the certificates to show evidence of completion. Please also advise our Personnel Officer by radiogram, who can update the roster. These qualifications will be needed for emergency deployments.

 ARRL Ohio Section Jim Yoder W8ERW w8erw@arrl.net
 FCEM&HS Chris Williams chriswilliams@franklincountyohio.gov
 COTN Personnel Officer Chris Miller KD8PSD 

How Do We Count Interrupted Net Sessions?

posted Aug 30, 2016, 5:45 PM by C. Matthew Curtin

Most of the time, reporting for a net is pretty straightforward. Net managers track how many "sessions" the net holds during the course of a month. COTN typically has one session per day, but may have special sessions as well during recruiting events, training, or the annual Simulated Emergency Test (SET). Some other nets meet more or less frequently: the Ohio Single Sideband Net, for example, has three scheduled sessions daily. Every time that a net control station calls a net session and directs the frequency, the net has a session to be recorded and reported. Each station that checks into the net will count that checkin for station activity reports (SAR) and the public service honor roll (PSHR).

Sometimes, though, a session can be interrupted. Sometimes sessions get interrupted because the net control station disappears, as happens if working from emergency power and having batteries give out. In other cases, a repeater might stop working. In still other cases, interference require that the net move to an alternate frequency.

No matter what the cause, if a net session is interrupted and needs to be continued, the session ends with the interruption and an entirely new session is called on the alternate frequency. Net control will begin a completely new session, reading the script, and going through the process of checkins. Any traffic passed in the session that was interrupted still counts as having been passed in the previous session, so it is not to be listed again. Any traffic that was listed or has since come in to be passed will need to be listed for the new session. Net control will direct the traffic as usual. In such a case, the net control station of each session will create a session report: one for the session that was interrupted, and the next for the session that was called to take care of unfinished business from the interrupted session. In such a case, of course, the net session report for anything other than the 1915 ET net will have an extra word in it, indicating the time that the net was started.

For example, if the usual session on August 30 started at 1915, had eight stations checkin, passed one piece of traffic to the Section Net Liaison KD8TTE, and ran until 1921 before needing to restart, the session report would read:

 30 8 1 6 KD8TTE

A second session starting at 1925 to continue the net operation would also need to be filed, with its word two indicating the time that the net began. Suppose nine stations check in, KD8TTE as SNL, two pieces of traffic move, and the net completes at 1941. That session report would read:

 30 1925 9 2 16 KD8TTE

Of course if on the same net WA3EZN also acted as SNL, the session report would read:

 30 1925 9 2 16 KD8TTE WA3EZN

If your station checks into both nets, you will count two net checkins for SAR and PSHR purposes. If you check into only one then you will count only one. Despite the fact that the second session exists to complete unfinished business, it is a completely independent net session, just as if it were held on another day entirely.

Having Trouble Delivering Traffic to Rural Areas by Phone?

posted Aug 26, 2016, 12:34 PM by C. Matthew Curtin

Sometimes traffic handlers will have difficulty delivering traffic by telephone. FCC reports that these are happening frequently in some places as a result of some phone service providers using third-party call-routing services designed to reduce fees associated with completing calls. Sometimes those services fail to complete the call at all, which can be evident from conditions like:
  •  Ringing and ringing (10-20 times) with no answer or connection to voicemail
  •  Ringing that finally terminates with a busy signal
  •  A dead connection, with no sound, for a long time, that might end with a busy signal
To deliver traffic, you might want to try making the call from another provider, e.g., a landline if you're using a mobile phone to complete the call, before servicing the message back to the station of origin. Of course you might also consider delivering the traffic by hand or by mail.

For more information on the problem and what to do about it, see FCC's page on rural calling completion problems.

How Do I Deliver a Message?

posted Aug 10, 2016, 12:32 PM by C. Matthew Curtin

After learning how to originate and to relay traffic, you've started to accept traffic. Great! It's one thing to accept traffic for yourself, but something entirely different to deliver a message to someone who might not even know what amateur radio is.

This isn't just something to make you worry. Sadly we do have operators among us who don't get enough practice delivering messages to the public and sometimes forget that they're dealing with people who don't even know how to spell NTS, much less how to make sense out of "NUMBER EIGHT FOUR SEVEN ROUTINE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS FOXTROT ONE ZERO..." I just got a service message back on a birthday greeting I sent to someone. The service message said "wrong number," but it turns out that the number was right. The recipient had no idea what was happening and didn't wait around for two minutes of baffling words to get to the signature to learn who sent the message.

NTS just isn't as useful as it should be if we do stuff like this.

How do we avoid this trouble? As usual, Methods and Practices Guidelines is a good place to look. Chapter 8 deals with interacting with members of the public, including the delivery of traffic.

In a nutshell, the recipient does not want a "radiogram" and the way that we relay the message along NTS is not how we will deliver the message to the public. They don't care about message numbers, handling instructions, stations of origin, or anything like that. We—traffic handlers—need that kind of information to ensure smooth and effective operation. When it comes to the originators and recipients of messages, what they care about is who sent the message and what it says.

My advice is get to the point, and get there quickly. If I have a message for Alice in Hilliard from Bob in Chicago, when I talk to Alice I'm going to say, "Hello. I am an amateur radio operator and have a radio message for you from Bob in Chicago. I'd like to read it to you and can send back a response if you'd like." I then read the message directly in plain English, no mumbo-jumbo ALFA ROMEO LIMA SEVEN X-RAY.

After I read the message, I ask if they need me to repeat anything. Once that's taken care of, I ask if I may send a message back for them. Once that's addressed, I'll ask if they've got any questions about this service provided by amateur radio operators to ensure that we have communication even when phones, cell towers, and Internet service are taken out by disaster. If they say they want to hear more, I give them only a few sentences: amateur radio also known as ham radio operators use their radios and antenna systems to talk to people all over the world. It's a great hobby, a way to learn how electronics work, and because we can talk all over the world gives us the chance to provide international goodwill. We also serve our communities by providing communications services when things like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina strike. Those disasters make it impossible for entire parts of the country to communicate but because our radios don't need wires or have limited circuits for calls we can send and receive messages for people who are affected. To keep ourselves in practice, we relay routine messages like the one you just got so we're not rusty when it's time to perform the service under stress. If you or someone you know would like to learn how to do this, I'm happy to give you my number and point you to the local clubs to help you get started.

Here's the critical part of MPG, quoted verbatim.

8.2.2 DELIVERING MESSAGES, STYLE, EXAMPLE
Messages are important to both the addressees and the originators, and, because our free public
service is a novelty to many, we have an opportunity to serve the public and make a good
impression on the people we encounter. Much of what people know about Amateur Radio will be
learned from the experience of receiving a message, and how well (or poorly) the delivering
amateur presented himself or herself.

In today’s telemarketing world, the first consideration in delivery style is to make immediately
clear that your call is not a sales pitch or solicitation. Ascertain if you have reached the correct
residence or location then explain who you are and why you are calling.
Use care to explain that you have a greetings message so that the party on the phone does not
jump to the conclusion that you are bearing bad news. People naturally think a "radiogram" is
used only for the worst kind of news.

If the message is bad news, extra effort has to be made to soften the blow. Explain that the
message might not be good news and you wish to help them understand the content clearly. This
is a difficult and delicate matter requiring serious tone, calm voice, and sympathetic attention to
the reactions of the party on the line. Messages concerning death or serious illness might be
better handled if you contact the local American Red Cross or police for assistance.

* MESSAGE DELIVERY EXAMPLE:
A good way to deliver a routine message might be as follows:
"Good (evening), is this the (addressee last name) residence? (on the affirmative) May I
speak with (addressee name) please?".

If asked, identify yourself and your purpose without revealing the message contents (reserved for
the addressee). When contact is made:
"Good (evening) Mr. (Mrs., Ms.) (name), this is an Amateur Radio operator here in (city).
We are the Hams you hear about who help with communications during emergencies. We
also send radiograms for people as a daily free public service, and I have a greetings
message here for you from (place of origin). I will read it through for you and would be
happy to repeat it if you care to write it down."

This allows the person to ask you to wait until they get pencil and paper before starting, if they
wish.

Read the message text slowly and clearly, using plain language (translating ARL messages with
blanks filled properly), and saying "period" for X-RAY as needed, etc., then say:
"... and the message is signed by (signature) from (place of origin) at (time filed, if present)
on (date).”

Reading the message preamble, prowords, OP NOTES, or full addressee information, is not done
unless there is some information contained therein which might need to be discussed to verify the
correct delivery.

Ask if they would like you to repeat the message again to permit them to write it down, or simply
to hear it again. Repeat the message, if required.

Offer to send a message back, or perhaps a message to another party of the addressee's choice. A
reply may have been requested in the text by ARL SEVEN, or in the preamble by HXE. These
requests are honored differently. See the later sections below.

Recipients may or may not ask about how the message system works. This is your chance to talk
about Amateur Radio. They will be amazed to hear your story.

Happy traffic handling!
Matthew KD8TTE, ORS

Station Activity Reporting and Public Service Honor Roll (PSHR) Report

posted Apr 2, 2016, 9:54 AM by C. Matthew Curtin

The Amateur Radio service is defined in US Law in Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 97 (47 CFR 97). It opens with a simple statement of why valuable spectrum is allocated for amateur radio rather than auctioned off to the highest bidder or reserved for government use:

The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:
(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) provides support for use of amateur radio in public service through its Field Organization, with both the National Traffic System (NTS) and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES). Among the support provided by the League is representation to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), American Red Cross, and other volunteer services. Accurate presentation of amateur radio's capability includes knowing things like the hours devoted to training, operation in public service event support, and deployment in real emergencies. ARRL depends upon you to report your activity on the air so our force strength and capability can be accurately represented.

The League has two types of reports of interest: the Station Activity Report (SAR) and the Public Service Honor Roll (PSHR). We encourage all amateur radio operators, whether members of the ARRL or not, to track their time and to file timely reports at the start of each month.

Station Activity Report

The SAR is the easiest of the reports to compile. Simply keep track of how much traffic (radiograms) you originate, relay, and deliver. You get one point for each activity, so if you originate a radiogram for someone else (create a radiogram that contains someone's message to someone else), you get a point. If you relay your radiogram to (or receive from) another radio operator you get a point. If you deliver the radiogram to its recipient you get a point. Keep track of your points for traffic through the whole month, and then report it to our Section Traffic Manager in the form of a radiogram with a simple three-word radiogram.

For example, if KD8TTE has 19 points for traffic for the month of March, that station activity report radiogram will look like this.


Public Service Honor Roll

Having completed the SAR, your have already computed one of the things you need for the PSHR. Your PSHR report contain six scores, namely:
  1. Participation in a public service net, using any mode, one point per session, maximum 40 points. You get one point for every time you check into a net for NTS, ARES, SKYWARN, CERT, or other public service net during the course of the month, whether for training, regular meeting, or for activation to support a real emergency. Nets for ragchew, hobby advancement, and goodwill do not count: this is for activities that serve the public.
  2. Handling formal traffic, using any mode, one point per action, maximum 40 points. This is your total station activity report from above, but has a maximum value of 40 points, so if you got 52 points in your SAR, you'll have a SAR showing 52 and PSHR score here of 40. If you create a formal message for someone else, that is origination and counts for one point. If you relay the formal message to another station, that is relay and counts for one point. If you are on the receiving end of relay that is also relay and counts for one point. If you get the message to the addressee that is delivery and counts for one point. Thus if you receive a piece of traffic on-air and then relay it to another station on the air, that counts for two points.
  3. Serving in an ARRL-sponsored volunteer position, 10 points per position, maximum 30 points. These are not self-appointments: you must be appointed by ARRL after volunteering for the position. You get 10 points for each of these positions to which you have been appointed: Assistant Section Managers, District Emergency Coordinators, Emergency Coordinators, Local Government Liaisons, Net Managers, Official Bulletin Stations, Official Emergency Stations, Official Observers, Official Observer Coordinators, Official Relay Stations, Public Information Coordinators, Public Information Officers, Section Emergency Coordinators, Section Managers, Section Traffic Managers, State Government Liaisons, and Technical Specialists. 
  4. Participation in scheduled public service events and emergency communications training, five points for each hour (or portion thereof), no maximum. Examples include communication support for marathons, bicycle ride events, emergency exercises, and the Simulated Emergency Test (SET). Time you spend planning and coordinating counts, as well as time operating in the event.
  5. Participation in unscheduled emergency response when amateur radio is on the scene, five points for each hour (or portion thereof), no maximum. Examples include a severe weather event that puts amateur radio operators into action at an emergency operations center or scenes where there is damage, or where people have lost communication to the outside world and need amateur radio to get messages to friends and family.
  6. Providing and maintaining either an automated digital system for relaying traffic with amateur radio, or a web site, mailing list, or other electronic service dedicated to amateur radio in public service, ten points per item, no maximum. Bulletin-board systems that relay traffic over amateur radio frequencies count, as do web sites, blogs, mailing lists, and other centers for discussion or activity highlighting the use of amateur radio in public service. A blog about recreational outdoors activity that includes amateur radio would not count because it is about recreation, rather than public service. A blog about handling traffic in different circumstances, including in the wilderness would count because its focus is on traffic, a public service.
For example, take station KD8TTE for the month of March:
  1. Nets for public service include ARES, NTS, and CERT, a total of 21 checkins: 21 points;
  2. Traffic handled for the month including origination for others, relay to others, relay from others, and delivery, 19 items: 19 points;
  3. Station is appointed Official Relay Station (ORS), Official Emergency Station (OES), Net Manager (NM), and Assistant Section Emergency Coordinator (ASEC), four appointments, 10 points each, taking us to 40, but a maximum of 30 points allowed for the category: 30 points;
  4. Hours spent planning or operating on scheduled public service events or emergency exercises for the month, 16, with five points for each hour or portion: 80 points;
  5. Hours spent operating in an unscheduled emergency where amateur radio is on the scene, none happened this month: 0 point;
  6. Operation of a web site and a blog focusing on amateur radio as a public service, 10 points each: 20 points.
Now turning that report into a radiogram brings us to this:

How Do I Make Good Reports?

Now seeing what you are to report at the end of each month, you will see the value in keeping a good log of your activity on the air. Because I keep a single good log of all of my station activity, it takes me approximately ten minutes at the start of every month to calculate my scores and to complete the radiograms to our Section Traffic Manager showing both my SAR and PSHR. Also because I am an Official Emergency Station, I also complete the report that the Ohio Section monthly OES report.

Receiving Traffic as a Radiogram

posted Feb 21, 2016, 10:38 AM by C. Matthew Curtin

A critical feature of the National Traffic System is fidelity of the message: that message received is exactly the same as the message sent. How can this be done, especially as a message is relayed from operator to operator until it arrives at its destination? We write the message as we receive it, of course! And we write it to a radiogram.

The radiogram form is helpful not only for originating traffic in the first place, but also for relay stations who receive the traffic and relay it to others, as well as for the station that ultimately receives the traffic—especially to deliver the message by hand.

In this short video we show how to take traffic from a net and put it into the form of a radiogram.

Training Video: NTS Net Operation, and Passing Book Traffic

posted Feb 15, 2016, 10:40 AM by C. Matthew Curtin

We present the Sunday, February 14, 2016 session of COTN edited to a training video for demonstration of how to check into an NTS net and how to pass book traffic. Enjoy, and share!

Use of Prowords: NUMBER, BREAK, END, and ROGER

posted Feb 13, 2016, 3:03 PM by C. Matthew Curtin

Listeners to formal radio transmissions such as those on National Traffic System nets like COTN will hear words that come up routinely on the net but different from everyday speech. Words like NUMBER, BREAK, END, and ROGER are among them—they are known as prowords, words that have particular meaning. We will discuss these four briefly as we did on last night's net.

NUMBER. This indicates that the listener is to start copying traffic. If I have a radiogram number 123 and am delivering that to station W1AW, the sequence is straightforward.
W1AW: Kilo Delta Eight Tango Tango Echo, this is Whiskey One Alfa Whiskey, ready to copy.
KD8TTE: Number one two three ...

If we do not have a formal way for the receiving station to know that the sending station is starting the transmission we might not be able to tell when the sending station is talking about the traffic or is in fact sending the traffic itself. Assuming that we can just "listen" and figure it out works in regular daily speech but not in a formal net, where premium is placed on tight transmissions that reduce the amount of airtime to the minimum needed to get the job done, and to work even when band conditions are uncooperative.

Incidentally this is also the reason that when we want the receiving station to write 7 instead of SEVEN, we say "figure seven." Were we to say "number seven," the receiving station might question whether a new message is starting.

BREAK. This proword indicates a halt in transmission while the sending station is not giving up control of the frequency. This happens when a transmission is long and the sending station wants to stop and listen to be sure that no one needs the frequency for an emergency, or that there is a priority interruption of the traffic being delivered. We use it in NTS specifically to indicate where the radiogram text starts and ends, i.e., we say BREAK after the addressee but before text, and again after text but before signature.

END. When reaching the end of a message, a relay station will use the word END to tell the receiving station that the transmission has completed, rather than having been interrupted, or lost due to a fading signal. The receiving station need only to hear END after signature to know that the radiogram has been received in its entirety.

ROGER. This is another word that has a particular meaning that is often lost on inexperienced operators. ROGER means that the receiving station receives the transmission and understands it. ROGER is not "radio-speak" for "yes." It means literally "I receive the transmission correctly." On NTS the receiving station upon hearing the sending station say END will confirm that the check matches in the text of the message, and that all parts of the radiogram were received properly. If so, the receiving station will reply ROGER. On many NTS nets including COTN, ROGER is followed by the message number, e.g.,
ROGER one two three.

Our Methods, Procedures, and Guidelines for NTS nets in chapter 2 for sending messages on voice, goes into some detail in the section "PROWORDS, OPERATIONAL WORDS."

Getting to Know Your Local Calling Area

posted Oct 31, 2015, 5:20 PM by C. Matthew Curtin

Once upon a time, you could tell what phone numbers were local and which would cost you for long-distance simply by looking to see whether you were dialing seven digits or more. This is no longer the case. In the past few years, Ohio has seen several area codes run out of available numbers, creating the need for "relief," in the form of splitting the area codes covering particular geography.

When deciding whether to take traffic, you'll want to know where the recipient of the message is relative to you and the method that you intend to use for delivery. If you're using a land line that has tolls for long distance you'll want to be sure that you know the difference between local and toll calling. As an example, we had traffic this evening for a station with a 740 area code in Powell. As it turns out, that's local to Columbus. Yet, 740 also goes in the other direction and can reach down into an area where the call will be assessed as long distance, e.g., Lancaster.

The Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has a map showing area codes and where they are, including the new 220 and 380 area codes.

In addition localcallingguide.com provides a helpful guide to help you determine whether a number that you're looking to call will be long distance for you. Give it a look, and be ready to make use of it as more and more local numbers require ten or eleven digit dialing and make it ever harder to see easily whether the number is local.

Thanks to Chuck WA8KKN for the training tip and pointer to localcallingguide.com!

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