From the Ontario STM VE3GNA/VA3OPN

The Section Traffic Manager (STM) for Ontario Glenn Killam VE3GNA has sent us some exerpts from the Brass Pounders Quarterly.  This pertains to the NTS System and well worth reading.

Follows are parts of the quarterly article on NTS

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Bob: I have snipped out what I believe are the main points to the
newsletter. They may be editable to some degree due to their length.

If any of the material is used, please ensure that reference is made to the originating document, namely the Brass Pounders’ Quarterly vol V issue 1.

Thanks and 73,
Glenn
Perhaps a header along the lines of :


“Where is NTS Going in the Future?” from Richard Webb, NF5B, Central Area Chair.

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EDITOR’S CORNER

A fork in the road

Well folks, that’s where we are right now, we’re standing at a fork
in the road. One branch leads us toward the untried, an unfamiliar
route along paths we’ve never traveled before. The other fork
takes us past familiar scenes, everything’s just as it always has
been, but that way leads to ultimate failure. Taking the fork
which leads to the unfamiliar is going to require some work on our
part. There are places along the road where we’re going to have to
get out and push a little bit. The going isn’t going to be smooth,
the bumps haven’t been nicely taken care of by the maintainers,
because we’re essentially breaking trail here. The crews haven’t
been out to clearly mark hazards with signs and use the other heavy
equipment to smooth the way for us.

There are two things needed to be done if we choose to take the
unfamiliar way, but again, along that way leads opportunities for
growth, continued relevance and a good possibility of a renewed
interest in what we’re about among the general population of radio
amateurs.

Both of the tasks that need doing to smooth our journey along this
new path are of equal import. First, I hope everyone has had a
look at the new NTS Methods practices and guidelines chapter 6. As
you know, the MPG can be found in Appendix B of the ARRL Public
Service Communications Manual. The new appendix B chapter 6 has
not yet been folded into the pSCM however, but see elsewhere in
this issue to find your way to it on the web. These concepts go a
great deal of the way toward a robust messaging system of the
future, but, they only do this if they’re implemented. TO get that
implementation we need to be sure that those winlink sysops who put
up those packet radio gateways on vhf and uhf are aware of this
work. Then, there ar going to be gaps that need filling with
capable hf stations.

Comments from the trenches

Over the last few months there has been some discussion amongst
NTS leaders and others regarding the future of NTS. The
following are comments I’ve received from active
radio amateurs from within both Ares and NTS. My conclusions
follow their comments.

Note the common thread in all of these comments. those comments,
and similar that I’ve received over the last five years are
reflected in the thinking which went into the white paper I
composed from september through December of 2010.

A long time ntsd traffic handler and leader writes:

National EmComm Traffic system proposal (For example, can NTS be
more effective during emergencies or do we need something
completely new?)

The current NTS is not currently able to respond in a prompt
fashion without internet notifications which take place outside the
RF world. The NTS should be able to function in a “ramped up”
fashion in response to events. Training should be the same as the
exercises, and should be the same as the real events.

The ARRL killed, or hid or suppressed, much of the work that took
place in 2004 and 2005. The world has changed in the last 5-6
years. Some of the material is still current; some is not. An
ICS213 or any other format is only a format. The ability to move
the “information package” is the part the NTS needs to address. Can
the NTS move information point to point in a timely fashion is the
question.

A local ares leader from TEnnessee with a variety of experiences in
various emergency response organizations writes:

ARES has bought into the idea we MUST have a served agency. This
violates the idea of the Emergency Coordinator, what is he
coordinating. This also gives the served agency the veto on ARES
membership. Thus the EC is reduced to a recruiter with training and
management residing in the served agency

In short the problem has been around a while. Unfortunately neither
service, NTS or ARES by enlarge, has kept up with the rapid changes
in communications technology. Back in the day, tube technology, AM
and the Novice license, the current net plan may have been the best
way to pass messages across the county. The capability of the
Amateur Radio infrastructure; including repeaters mobile and Ht
equipment, was valuable to the local community. This was in the day
a Motorola HT220 cost $1,000 per. Many smaller communities could
not afford the cost of such systems which also required a repeater.
Now with the cell phone industry providing a similar infrastructure
at low cost the current Amateur Radio infrastructure is seen as
unnecessary to many of our government agencies. NTS also is looked
at as to slow and not reliable for EMCOMM use by most emergency
responding agencies. Another thought has also come into my head.
That is the personalities that are drawn to ARES and NTS. NTS is an
ordered scheduled system, in normal operation. Thus most NTS
operators can schedule their participation around the various NTS
net schedules. ARES on the other hand is seen as the unscheduled
immediate response organization which also draws many of those that
want to be in the lime light or seek official recognition from
local government agencies. Also by not having a single management
structure there is no perceived or actual national coordination
between the two services. NTS as currently structured is unable to
provide the required long haul message handling that is required
for large scale disaster response. ARES, for the most part, is
unable to provide NTS with messages in the proper format. We
realize the problem, and maybe even the source of the problem.

The real question is, what is the solution?

Can NTS restructure itself to meet the needs of ARES during a large scale disaster? Can  ARES be required to have Radiogram format trained operators as well  as the competence to operate on NTS nets?

I could go along with a training requirement for EC’s and above as
well as performance requirements for certifying any ARES
organization. A similar requirement may be needed for NTS NCS and
above. AT least NTS does provide continued reinforcement in the net
held and traffic that is passed. Until we professionalize the ARES
side and make NTS responsive to the needs of ARES both may be
heading for the grave yard as functional services.

One real problem the ARRL made was to push for ARES to provide
services to one served agency. This holds ARES hostage to the needs
of a single local agency without the thought of interagency
communications. Interoperability has been the buzz word for the
last 5 years but we, the Amateur Radio community, have not taken
this to heart. In my opinion ARES can best serve the local
community by knowing and working with multiple agencies. No single
agency would control the local ARES group but help support the
training and communications needs of the local community. ARES has
lost site of the definition of coordinator used in the title of all
ARRL appointed ARES positions.

Not all agencies need a full range of communications services. Some
need only local communications. Others need long range
communications, but does each agency need a dedicated team to
provide them or could one team provide the same service for
multiple agencies? One example of a real problem with ARES serving
a single agency. County A uses ARES for local hospital
communications. The next county uses ARES for EMA communications.
County C they are ARC members. County D is ties to Satern. Now
County C needs to coordinate medical evacuees with County A. Can
this be done? And County D could use the help of county B for
traffic control. I do not see much coordination under this
situation.
K, rant done. Just very frustrated within the current structure
and lack of even a concept of professionalism, or do they even
care?

My comments:
The sad truth is the man makes some valid points. We have allowed
ourselves to miss the forest as we look at trees. Instead of
adaptability and flexibility we’ve got various entities and
organizations that don’t work well together and poor participation
in emergency communications among the amateur radio community. YEt
if you ask the majority of amateur radio operators they’ll tell you
that emergency communications is one of the primary reasons that
the service exists. IF the majority of radio amateur agree with
this they don’t show it by participating. Have our leaders
bothered to consider why this is so? some are, hence some of the
efforts that are ongoing to improve participation and provide
better service to the public we serve.

An emergency coordinator from Indiana sent the following comments
by email to some colleagues …

Referencing the INdiana traffic net (on ssb).

1) the net runs at two times a day when most fully employed
operators aren’t available. I work a 7:30 to 4:30pm schedule. By
the time I get home at 5:15, the net is over. I suspect only
retirees or unemployed operators can routinely check into the ITN
due to schedule conflicts.

2) I question the relevancy of the current ITN mission to serve
EmComm. Nearly all the traffic handled falls into one of 3
categories:

a) Happy Birthday, you aren’t SK yet

b) Congratulations on your license upgrade, real hams know code so
learn it NOW!

c) Your license is about to expire, so get off your butt and renew
it.

I understand the need for practice and if these are the only
messages that can serve as practice, then so be it. Most hams
aren’t motivated to handle mundane traffic that originates from the
same Oklahoma station just to earn top score in the PSHR each
month.

The NTS needs a mission overhaul that focuses on customer needs
rather than a self-serving mission that keeps outdated ham
practices on life support.

summing up

I hear comments such as those above from a variety
of individuals. Average hams have a scheduling problem with
current NTS structure and aren’t inclined to even participate
regularly in section phone nets because many involve too much time
spent unproductively. Many of the section phone nets utilize a
format with a long drawn out role call which is unnecessary. When
propagation conditions deteriorate these nets often don’t even
utilize relay stations effectively. Section nets that choose
counties or other geographic entities alphabetically and therefore
result in long role calls taking 45 minutes to an hour should
endeavor to call different sections of the alphabet first so as to
give the poor folks in counties beginning with letters t through z
a chance to be first, get in and get out. NTS phone nets need to
provide better training and relevant service to today’s amateur
operator. Region and area “guard frequency” nets such as I propose
allow NTS to develop better training tools serving a variety of
subsets of the amateur population whilst providing useful and
relevant training to operators. Though it must be admitted that
the bulk book traffic *does* provide some training opportunities
its usefulness is limited as a primary training tool. Currently it
is the only NTS training tool which reaches most amateurs. All one
need do is listen closely to a variety of section phone nets for a
period of a few days to realize that net controls themselves often
are not properly trained, or exposed to an operation which would be
similar to that which would be needed for emergency communications
phone circuits.

NEts such as those on 14300 khz; Satern, MIdcars/southcars, etc. do
a better job at exposing net control operators to the variety of
conditions that will be encountered when controlling a busy
tactical or other emcomm circuit using voice. NEt controls are
exposed to how to work with relays; medical and other emergencies;
malicious interference; untrained operators with communications
needs that must be met, etc. NTS section phone nets in some
sections are well run operations, but others are “hi bubba did ya
catch any fish today” sessions. Any emcomm circuit, including the
health and welfare or information net is going to be a very busy
circuit and net controls must know how to prioritize the handling
of business effectively. MOst of these section nets don’t even
acquaint operators handling traffic with building a stack off
frequency allowing the net to continue with other business. IN
short, NTS offers poor training for today’s radio amateur instead
of the operating skills he or she needs to learn.

The preceding paragraphs make some strong statements that fly in
the face of conventional NTS thinking, and every time such
statements are made we hear the same old tired whine that the
person making them is advocating the abandonment of cw. Quite the
contrary! Those of us who have been around any time at all
understand the value of fostering the skill. So, please move past
that and consider the following in support of those statements I
made.

I’ve participated more than once in a busy network in support of
such an activity as a parade, marathon, bike event or other
activity. Net control often cannot acknowledge more than one
station and handle each in turn in an orderly fashion. Net control
often is the person expected to copy participant numbers and other
information which must be copied accurately. Yet you never hear ncs
do a read back or in any other way verify that he copied the
traffic accurately and in full.

Most section and local nets do not provide the intensive training
needed for net controls to be at all comfortable handling a busy
net such as those which will be needed during emergencies or
disasters.

we hear all this talk of “professionalizing” emergency
communications, but within this talk we never hear about
professionalizing the operational side. Yes, knowing about the
incident command structure is a must, knowing how to devise and
critique exercises is important as well! However, our operators
such as our net controls should present a professional sounding
efficient operation to their fellow amateurs, and the public, which
*will* be listening.

Even local nets are going to require seasoned skilled net control
operators. Repeater systems may fail and automated links be
unavailable. Controlling a busy tactical or other net on simplex
where net control can’t hear all the stations utilizing net
services, and all stations can’t hear each other is a challenge.
That challenge is met every day in the world of utility comms, and
has been now since there was such a thing as radiotelephony. This
skill is basically ignored in training available to operators who
only control local and section nets. AS I stated above, some
section phone nets are well run efficient operations. Others not so
much so.

NTS needs to broaden and deepen its activities if it truly wishes
to remain viable and relevant. To that end I’ve composed a white
paper discussing some possible ways forward for the system and the system’s possible long term goals. You can download it on the web at

http://www.wpusa.dynip.com/files/FDIST/HAMNEWS/NTSFUTUR.ZIP>

If you have any points you would like to discuss with the Ontario STM on the topic of the NTS , Glenn can be reached via email at ve3gna@xplornet.ca or via his blog at ve3gna.wordpress.com.

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