I decided to post my post marathon observations in a separate post from yesterday’s look at the event because this will have a different audience. Most likely only my ham readers would be interested in what I took away from yesterday’s amateur radio activity. As always when I take part in a public service event, I try to look back and learn something; this time is no different. I can’t say that I learned anything new but it definitely reinforced some of my preexisting beliefs on what to do and how to do things.
Double check your equipment before you leave the house. I’m going to embarrass myself with this one. When heading out to support an event or an emergency always check to make sure you have all of the equipment you’re supposed to have and make sure that it is working properly. Yesterday when I left the house, I left my cellphone sitting on my dresser on its charger. Luckily both of my parents were working another mile marker and one of them was able to go pick it up and bring it to me. I was by myself so that wasn’t an option. This could have caused a problem during the race because the primary means of contacting medical support was via cell phone. I could have of course relayed traffic via another radio station but that would have slowed down the response. I had checked my gear to make sure it was operating properly but I forgot to check and make sure I had everything I was supposed to have. I should have known better.
Get a headset for your handheld. At many events like marathons and 5k runs, you’re going to find yourself in a noisy environment trying to operate with a handheld radio. HTs, especially many of the new ones have tiny speakers that are going to be hard to hear in such noisy environments. You can’t operate properly if you can’t hear the stations you’re talking to. Many HT headsets are relatively inexpensive and are a great addition to your kit. Most are single-ear headsets and leave your other ear uncovered to hear what’s going around you and easily converse with others. Many hams might find themselves in the position of operating a handheld if they volunteer during an emergency or disaster and those could very well be high noise environments as well; imagine yourself in a shelter full of people or shadowing a work team operating chainsaws. An HT headset is a very good investment.
Utilize a formal net. Yesterday’s event didn’t use a formal net and one really wasn’t required. It probably wouldn’t have been a bad idea to use a separate net control and establish a formal net anyway. In addition to offering a public service and a way to get out and have fun with the radios, these kind of activities are also good training opportunities for disaster or emergency support. Operating under a net structure would give folks good experience at doing it, especially for new hams. They’ll get experience at working through net control and keeping communications brief as opposed to how they operate when ragchewing. When supporting an emergency or disaster, hams may not find themselves working an HF station passing formal message traffic but may find themselves out in the field with an HT passing traffic of a more tactical nature; these public service events are perfect practice for those kinds of situations.
Use Tactical Callsigns. When operating in events like the marathon or during emergency or disaster operations, use tactical callsigns! But I worked hard for this callsign and I’m going to use it. The FCC regulations state I have to use my callsign to ID transmissions. You’re going to use your FCC issued callsign because that’s how you legally ID your transmissions. No one is asking you not to. A tactical callsign would simply replace your FCC callsign during an initial call; for instance instead of calling net control with “KF4LMT to Net Control,” yesterday I would have called net control like this: “Mile 17 to Net Control.” At the end of the conversation (or every 10 minutes if the conversation took longer), I would have signed off with my FCC callsign KF4LMT. Tactical callsigns help eliminate confusion because it identifies the station’s location or duties as opposed to the individual ham. If an operation goes on for an extended time, operators will be rotated through positions; by using tactical callsigns you don’t have to worry about which ham is working which position (a coordinator does, of course – but not everyone) you simply call the position by its tactical callsign. Everyone also knows where the traffic is coming from. Let’s take yesterday for instance, if we’re using tactical callsigns, no one has to remember which mile marker I’m assigned to or look me up on the list when I transmit if I ID as “Mile 17” instead of KF4LMT. There were also operators who were assigned the responsibility for multiple mile markers; if you call as “Mile ##” as opposed to your FCC callsign, the net control operator instantly knows which location you’re calling about instead of waiting for the message content to know. For some reason, there is an ingrained resistance among amateur radio operators to using tactical callsigns, but they really can make things work smoother.