Hurricane Katrina Health & Welfare Traffic

Hurricane KatrinaEastern MA Section Emergency Coordinator Rob Macedo, KD1CY writes:

Hurricane Katrina made three landfalls across the Northern US Gulf Coast and caused catastrophic damage as it affected Southeast Louisiana, Southern Mississippi and Southern Alabama. Katrina tore roofs off homes and caused wall damage, downed thousands of trees and power lines, totally destroyed some homes and caused 70-80% of the city of New Orleans to be under water as two levees were damaged. Communications infrastructure was also severely damaged. Katrina was a large hurricane that spread a path of hurricane force winds almost 150 miles inland and was a hurricane for 13 hours after landfall as it spread that damage of hurricane force winds inland.

There have been some inquiries concerning contact into the affected area by people who have loved ones in those locations. Jim Palmer, KB1KQW, ARES Emergency Coordinator on the North Shore, had one such request as did the President of the SEMARA club, Don Manley, N1PMB.

[Full story]

NTS Role In Disaster Response


May 21, 2005
NTS Role In Disaster Response

NTS Expansion in Disasters

In day-to-day operation, the National Traffic System passes routine messages around the country. in its emergency role, the NTS is dedicated to disaster communication on behalf of ARES. NTS is capable of expanding its cyclic operation partially or fully depending on the level of need. The normal cycles can be expanded to handle an increasing volume of messages with greater speed. In extreme cases, the cycles can operate continuously. This requires all nets to be on the air full time, with stations designated for liaison operation replacing each other as stations are dispatched to the higher or lower nets with which they make liaison.

Managers of NTS nets at local, section, region and area levels are directly responsible for activation of their nets at the request of ARES or NTS officials at lower levels.

Section Traffic Manager and Section Net Manager Roles

The STM and specific section net managers may be contacted during a disaster situation by the Section Emergency Coordinator to activate specific section nets, whether NTS or not, either to provide section-wide contact or, in the case of NTS nets, to provide liaison with the “outside.” It is important that net managers have some means of activating their nets at any time. Net members should automatically monitor the net frequency in the event of a disaster. Some net stations at critical locations can be activated by using the telephone or local repeaters if these are available.

The STM and section net managers make contact with NTS region net managers in the event that communications connected with the disaster cross section boundaries, and may recommend extraordinary activation of the region net. There should be some prearranged method of contact for this purpose.

Specific net stations are designated to conduct liaison with the NTS region net, either through another section net or directly. This is the responsibility of section officials, not the region net manager.

General Policy for all NTS Operators

NTS operators should be self-alerting to disaster conditions that might require their services, and should report into an appropriately assigned net or other function without being specifically called upon. That is, the assignment should have been worked out with the net manager in advance. If the operator cannot answer the question, “If I hear of a disaster condition, what should I do?” they should seek an answer to it through their Net Manager. It may be as simple as “Report into the X Net on X frequency.”

If the operator concerned is highly specialized, it might be “Report to your TCC director in the X net on X frequency for a special assignment.” Such an assignment might be an extra TCC function, or it might be as a functionary in a “hot line” point-to-point circuit needing special abilities or equipment.

Although every net member should have a specific assignment, they must also remain flexible enough to change assignments when the need arises.

Health and Welfare Traffic Handling

One of the biggest challenges during a disaster is handling so-called “health and welfare” messages, or as the American Red Cross calls them, “Disaster Welfare Inquiries” (DWI). The ARRL-recommended precedence for this type of traffic is W or “Welfare,” and refers to either an inquiry as to the health and welfare of an individual in the disaster area or an advisory message from the disaster area that indicates all is well. The Red Cross at first attempts to handle DWIs through normal communication channels. If the volume of traffic to and from the disaster area is large, or if normal channels are disrupted, the NTS may be called upon to assist with the overload.

The NTS policy is to handle as many DWI messages as possible, but to adhere to its precedence. Higher-precedence traffic must be handled first, and welfare traffic should be handled only when the circuit is free. Routine (R) traffic is not normally handled by an NTS net operating under disaster conditions, because usually the net is involved to capacity with higher precedence messages. However, should a disaster circuit be temporarily available, routine messages can and should be passed until the circuit again becomes occupied with higher-precedence traffic.

Maintain close contact with the Red Cross or the Salvation Army as appropriate, since most inquiries are handled through these organizations. Civil preparedness organizations may also set up procedures for handling such traffic.

In a widespread disaster, it is seldom possible to handle all the welfare traffic with efficiency and dispatch. At times, DWI traffic piles up alarmingly, even to the extent that much of it is never delivered. In these cases, high volume modes should be used rather than slower phone and CW. In the past, special RTTY, ASCII, AMTOR, fax, and packet circuits have been established with great success. PSK31 and similar new digital modes hold great promise for high volume, high accuracy traffic handling as well.

Until or unless means for handling DWI traffic are established, it is usually wisest not to accept it from the general public, or to do so only with an explicit understanding that chances of delivery are not guaranteed or even good.


Eastern MA Traffic Handlers Picnic, August 22, 2004

EMA NTS logoThe Eastern MA ARRL NTS Traffic Handlers Picnic will be held on August 22, 2004 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Raynham Senior Citizen Recreation Area. According to Section Traffic Manager Jim Ward, N1LKJ, the event is “bring your own food and beverages.” No alcohol is allowed on the property as it is owned by the Town. There are numerous picnic tables and grills available. RSVP to [Full story].

ARES-NTS Forum, April 24, 2004

There were 12 attendees at the seminar and they were as follows:

KB1EKN-Mark Duff Metro Boston ARES District Emergency Coordinator
WQ1O-Frank Olaughlin Cape Cod ARES District Emergency Coordinator
N1XTB-Philip McNamara Bridgewater ARES Team Member
K9HI-Phil Temples Eastern Massachusetts ARRL Section Manager
WA1IDA-Bob Salow Eastern Massachusetts Assistant Section Manager
N1LKJ-Jim Ward Eastern Massachusetts Section NTS Traffic Manager
N1BDA-Steve Telsey Middlesex County ARES District Emergency Coordinator
KW1U-Marcia Forde NTS EAS Chairperson
W1GMF-Gil Follett NTS Traffic Handler
W3EVE-Steve Schwarm Norfolk County ARES District Emergency Coordinator
N1FY-Carl Aveni Bridgewater ARES Emergency Coordinator
KD1CY-Rob Macedo ARES SKYWARN Coordinator for NWS Taunton

The first topic of the meeting was an ARES Program Overview. During the program overview, introductions were made and each person was asked about what they would like to get out of the meeting. The overview described how the ARES program has progressed over the last several years and how ARES has expanded relationships with different served agencies. It also talked about existing working relationships with MEMA and the National Weather Service. The presentation was well received and some suggestions on enhancements for the NWS Taunton station and for an additional project involving receiving AM Radio Stations was discussed and will be reviewed with NWS.

Following the ARES Overview, numerous items were discussed. Gil Follett-W1GMF requested what Clients/Served Agencies might need NTSD (National Traffic System Digital) or Packet support. This included the following agencies:

  1. Red Cross
  2.  Salvation Army
  3. National Weather Service
  4. Cities/Towns ARES/RACES operations
  5. VOAD non-profit (Southern Baptist, Adventists, REACT and other smaller groups) (Mass. VOAD currently defunct due to internal issues.)
  6. MARS-Is there some way to try and plug into their digital system

It was noted in these discussions that any agency could need support in an emergency but the various agencies listed above would be some of the main agencies to service for potential ARES activations. Several additional ideas were also noted:

Instruct all NTS traffic that is going to a different ARES team either within district but especially outside of the district to pass their traffic via an active NTS traffic net using voice for all future ARES exercises.

  • Utilize Packet more heavily across all parts of the Eastern Massachusetts section during exercises and actual activations.
  • Add Health and Welfare traffic as part of the exercise and utilize active NTS voice traffic nets as well as Packet to pass this traffic.
  • Add NTS Net and Net Control Operations to the Advanced Emergency Communications Workshop as follow-on to the Basic NTS Course offering in the Basic Emergency Communications Workshop.
  • Assist NTS with utilization of a Laptop and LCD Projector capable of putting together Power Point slides to assist with getting more people involved with NTS.
  • NTS Traffic Overview

Jim Ward-N1LKJ gave an overview of the voice and CW network. He explained what nets are run at run times and how the local nets interface with the region and area nets.
All these nets are available and need to be utilized further.

Gil Follett-W1GMF gave an overview of the digital system of NTS traffic. He put up a diagram using post it signs on the whiteboard to describe the Packet network. Learned that KW1U-Marcia is a Winlink PMBO node that can be utilized as part of the NTSD network. MMRA is attempting to put this together and we need to refer MMRA to Marcia for technical/logistical support.

Gil then walked through how to format a NTS message via Packet. With Digital, messages can be handled at any length within Gil’s system. Outside of Gil’s system, you have to follow normal NTS traffic rules. Keep in mind, that you can send regular messages at any length in and/or out of the Mass. system.

Gil-W1GMF discussed the NTS program. He discouraged the use of WinRC Packet because it’s only compatible with systems in Colorado. Gil discussed the NTS system being developed by KA1VGM and Beta tested by Gil. The system has most if not all of the bugs worked out. The system should be compatible with any BBS system and include the Winlink systems. The program should now be up on the KA1VGM web site. It is meant for anyone writing NTS traffic. It has several views for NWS messages, NTS traffic and other types of messages and will be passed to the various stations on the Packet network.

Several suggestions have come out of discussion:

1.) Have Jim-N1LKJ and Gil-W1GMF involved in ARES Meetings/exercise discussions. (Add them to all ARES Meeting invitations)
2.) For regular NTS nets, get listeners and anyone else to check into the net and encourage them to get out there and check-in and try to slow down on traffic for new people that are interested. Make sure that NTS people slow down to pass traffic to newcomers.
3.) Need to encourage Amateurs to utilize NTS traffic messaging via the Packet/Digital network even if its for routine traffic as its good practice for activations.
4.) Ask Jim to contact the local Net Managers, one night a month or one night a week to conduct a very basic training net to pass traffic. Jim to put together the scenario to run the basic NTS training across all the traffic nets.
5.) Jim asked that all ARES/RACES personnel encourage their members to check into the NTS Traffic Nets and generate and pick up traffic whenever possible and check into the local, and region traffic nets.
6.) Make sure NTS personnel are invited to the MRAS Meetings.
7.) Put together an all day NTS workshop that would encompass the existing slide sets from the basic and advanced Emergency Communication Workshops and include running a NTS Traffic Net on simplex or a repeater with everyone checking in using HT’s.
8.) Recommend NTS utilize Echolink/IRLP capabilities for in addition to their Region and Area nets and be part of the NTS national infrastructure.
9.) Supplying creative NTS traffic throughout the network via voice or digital nets. Use the key NTS traffic handlers to get this accomplished.
10.) Look into a formal DEC appointment for NTS.

After lunch, continued brainstorming continued and the first part of the afternoon focused on the ARESCOM proposals and the NTSD system. Marcia discussed the NTSD (National Traffic System Digital) System in reasonable detail. Marcia is able to get bulk traffic (2500 messages plus per month) sent across the national digital network using her WinLink node.

Marcia knows several members that are on the ARESCOM, which is a committee setup by Board of Directors concerning nationwide emergency communications and how to improve it. There are two NTS people are on this committee. ARESCOM is working closely with the Winlink Classic and the Winlink 2000 programs. The Winlink Classic program allows single user text messages using conventional forms of Packet. Winlink 2000 is an enhancement to Winlink Classic that would allow traffic from ARES clients including attachments, email and more. The protocol being utilized is called B2, which can handle attachments and has much higher compression rates and makes the message relatively secure.

The idea is to improve ARES capability to expand beyond the local area and to handle anything the client wants to send out. They want a flat “invisible” network with traffic coming in and out of Internet/Digital without knowing where the source is. The National Connection is through the Internet backed up with HF. It was noted that Doc-W1EO might be an excellent resource in the NTSD discussions going forward. The goal is to have regular messages and email with or without attachments to be able to be accepted through the NTSD system utilizing PMBO’s (Participating Mail Box Operators) when needed with the Winlink Classic program via Internet backbone or HF backbone whenever needed.

The EMCON proposal was proposed by W3YVQ-Jim from the Baltimore, Maryland area. Marcia stated that in direct discussions with Jim, they do not consider what they are proposing to be an ARES-NTS merger although at times the document comes across like it should be an ARES-NTS merger. Marcia stated that there is a Message and Procedure Guide on the League web site concerning Winlink and the EMCON proposal and you can click on topics of interest to gather information.

Marcia-KW1U highlighted the following items from the proposal documentation and in direct discussions with W3YVQ-Jim, which is one of the NTSD/EMCON proposal writers:

  • STM and SEC as separate organizations doing what they are doing.
  • ARES will work with the agencies and that’s their primary responsibility.
  • NTS responsible for the message handling network and meet certain criteria.
  • SEC and STM should work together to establish the Emergency Communications Plan for the section.

Based on this discussion, the ARES-NTS Workshop participants drew the following conclusions:

  • The ARESCOM Report/Proposal is very misunderstood by ARES and NTS leadership on what the changes would mean for ARES and NTS.
  • The report needs to be streamlined, reorganized and reworded and should separate the ARES-NTS network alignment from the Winlink-Digital system technical documentation.
  • Volunteer Resource Committee had very negative feedback on NTS. ARESCOM is far less negative on NTS. ARRL Board of Directors needs to decide what committee’s report is more relevant. Based on the fact that ARESCOM does not recommend NTS merge with a ARES, we recommend that ARESCOM apply pressure to the ARRL Board of Directors on preventing any merger of ARES and NTS.
  • Recommend Board of Directors to clear-up miscommunication of ARES-NTS network realignment/further cooperation. State to all SMs that NTS IS a requirement and having a STM IS a requirement that must be upheld.
  • Recommend that the Part 97 rule changes that would dissolve RACES be dropped. While this may happen at some point in the future by attrition, the ARRL should not advocate it as it could promote ill will from RACES groups that already feel threatened by ARES.
  • After the NTSD/ARESCOM discussion, the participants discussed Gil’s recent issues with passing traffic to certain states that are blocking it as “SPAM” traffic. Phil-K9HI plans to confront some of the ARRL Section Managers that are allowing this behavior at the
  • Dayton Hamfest in late May. Phil has recommended that all who attended the meeting be prepared to write complaints to Tom-K1KI, New England Division Director if necessary, to try and resolve these NTS problems as ARRL HQ and the Board have not responded on the issues that Gil is having. Phil also recommended to Marcia that ARESCOM apply pressure to the ARRL Board of Directors and HQ on this issue as well. Phil-K9HI plans on providing status reports on this issue.

Additional discussions surrounded increasing NTS participation. A suggestion was made to take a NTS net, record it and put it on the NTS web site and the ARES web site as well. There should be recordings of one voice net and one CW Net. After putting these recordings, commentary to explain the various portions of the NTS Net, voice or CW could be done as well. Jim and Gil will attempt to put together the recording via .wav or other audio type file that can be put on the web-site, put in workshops and bring to club meetings etc. Gil-W1GMF, Phil-N1XTB and Phil-K9HI will check with Elliot Mayer-W1MJ as he may be an expert in utilizing audio files and could help with breaking up the audio files to allow commentary to be put into the audio files to help describe what various items that happen in the net are so that Hams can learn about NTS Nets quicker.

The next item discussed was a recommendation on a potential name change from ARES to a more generic “Emergency Communicator, Emergency Communications team” type of name. The recommendation was taken under advisement for a future meeting.

Phil-N1XTB brought up a generic point about technical considerations of what MARS is running into for their digital system and how NTS may run into some of the same issues. Some corroboration between MARS and NTS in this area maybe very helpful for both Digital networks to work well and potentially have a path to connect to each other if needed.

The next meeting will be scheduled in the late Summer/Fall of 2004 to review actions generated from this meeting and assure that the plan for expanding the cooperation of ARES and NTS goes to the plans laid out during the meeting. The next meeting will also assure that the recommendations to the ARRL Board of Directors and HQ on ARES and NTS are heard and taken into account on the future of ARES and NTS going forward.

EM2MN Traffic Net Change

EMA ARRL NTS logoEastern Massachusetts Section Traffic Manager Jim Ward, N1LKJ has requested the Eastern Mass. Two Meter Net Manager, N1TPU, to move the net, which meets daily at 8:00 pm ET on the Boston 145.23 repeater to the Waltham 146.64 repeater until further notice.

“We all are aware of the problems with the Boston repeater,” commented N1LKJ. “The window washing equipment is blocking [the repeater] antenna. All the far away stations have been unable to get into the repeater.” Ward added, “Let’s us hope the winter passes quickly, and things get back to normal.” [Full story]

From the Section Traffic Manager

Jim Ward, N1LKJHello to all. I want to bring to your attention some of what’s going on with the Traffic Nets.

First off, we want to welcome N1OTC back to the Net’s. Jack Boles underwent Heart surgery in December which was very successful. Jack is now back up and running again on the phone and CW Nets. It is good news.

We also want to welcome KC1ML Mark Loring to the Traffic Nets. Mark has been on the local VHF Nets and just recently joined the CW Nets under the tutelage of Marcia KW1U and Jack N1OTC.

We also welcome Marino Coppoleti N1PVP into the Traffic ranks. Marino will be working the CW Nets and will certainly be a welcomed there to fill a big need.

Also rejoining the Traffic Nets will be NG1A, Fred Butts a seasoned Traffic handler who
took some time off to visit Germany and move into a new house. Good to have Freddy
back. Freddy is also a member of the CW Nets and VHF Nets.

We all are aware of the problems with the Boston Repeater. The window washing equipment blocking our antenna. Since this has happened all the far out stations have not been able to get into the repeater, myself included. I have suggested to Jack N1TPU to move the net to the Waltham repeater until further notice. The Waltham repeater is having some problems too, but I think it will be better than Boston for the time being. Let us hope the winter passes quickly and things will get back to normal.


“Balkanization of the National Traffic System”

An opinion piece by Phil Temples, K9HI
December 23, 2003

Recently, I received a letter in the mail from one of our section’s more prolific traffic handlers, Gil, W1GMF. Gil had copied me on a letter sent to him by another Section Manager. (I’ll maintain the anonymity of this SM and refer to him simply as “Joe Manager.” And, no–his first name isn’t “Joe.”)

In his letter to W1GMF, Joe Manager wrote, “I must inform you that your radiograms sent to [my section] stations must stop as we are having a real problem with getting stations to take the spam traffic.” Joe went on to write, “Your radiograms is (sic) a gross misuse of the NTS system.  As the system was not originally meant to send these types of message from one ham to another. (sic) This is not considered a public service.”

Joe Manager concluded his letter with some serious statements that cut to the heart of this essay. He wrote, “…I’ll only have two recourse (sic) if you continue to send these messages. I’ll either get them stopped at the Regional intake or I’ll personally take all your traffic and put in file thirteen… I would hate to [have] all of your radiograms trashed. I’m sure that you do pass some good ones now and then.”

As someone who “cut his ham radio teeth” in NTS and traffic handling, participating at the section, region and area levels, it came as quite a surprise to me to learn that sending radiograms from one ham to another was a “gross misuse” of the system. I decided to contact Joe Manager to learn what his source of information was.

Joe Manager and I spoke on the telephone yesterday. Our conversation was civil. I asked him to explain his position further so that I might better understand the rational behind his threats. Joe Manager reiterated that he and the traffic handlers in his section felt that the traffic originated by W1GMF was “spam.” Joe thought that W1GMF and others like him were simply trying to “run up their totals” in order to earn awards. [Joe Manager did say, “I understand that W1GMF doesn’t always turn in his traffic totals at the end of the month.”] Further, Joe explained that many traffic handlers in his section had simply decided to “hang it up” on account of the volume of these messages coming into his section.

I asked Joe Manager if he could point me to the source of his information that indicated “amateur-to-amateur” traffic was inappropriate on NTS. He referred me to a document authored by his Section Traffic Manager–a document I had already read. I asked Joe, “Is there a reference to some ARRL publication that he may have used?” Joe replied, “I’m sure that there is. I’ll get back to you on that.”

I asked Joe Manager if he had discussed this matter with any NTS Area Staff. “I’ve discussed this matter with my Division Director and with my Net Managers.” Joe added, “Area Staff? Who are they, now? What do they do?”

Joe argued that the W1GMF traffic was “all the same.” He was referring, of course, to the fact that it arrived in book format. Joe Manager felt that this particular attribute made the traffic especially undesirable–hence, spam. I pointed out to Joe Manager that his description of the traffic as “spam” was not only inflammatory, but incorrect. I explained that the term “spam” is used to describe “unsolicited, commercial e-mail,” and before that, “unsolicited, commercial Usenet posts.” Joe agreed with me on this sole point–he would refrain from using the term “spam” to describe the messages. Instead, he would call W1GMF’s traffic “generic radiograms.”

I asked Joe Manager how much traffic was passed on his section nets. He replied, “Not much.” I then asked if he would agree with me that eliminating the greeting traffic would reduce the amount of messages and net participation even further. I received a very telling answer: “I could care less whether there’s any traffic!”

Joe Manager explained to me that, in his opinion, traffic handling skills should be taught under the auspices of ARES. Joe had already decided to cancel the STM position in his section, in anticipation of field organization restructuring heralded in the recent VRC report to the ARRL Board of Directors.

Again, during our conversation, Joe Manager reiterated that he would personally block “generic radiograms” from entering his section. He went on to point out that this was also occurring at the “Eleventh and Twelfth Region levels.”

Excerpting from the email of a Washington, D.C.-area traffic handler who states the case for generic, or greeting traffic eloquently:

     “I hardly need to tell you that we are a service, and our continued existence depends on the perception of us as a service–one that comes through when all else fails. NTS (and ARES) are designed to provide practice for those times when we are called upon to serve. If that means handling a book of 22 birthday messages to octegenarians, so be it. My 17-year-old daughter practices her volleyball serves hundreds of time during the course of a season; my eight-year-old practices the violin for long periods of time (with no parental guidance, I’m afraid). Rote is good. Routine is good. A book of 22 birthday messages today prepares us to handle a book of 22 health and welfare messages tomorrow. Tomorrow won’t come? Move last week’s 6.5 magnitude earthquake south of Paso Robles, oh, say, 200 miles, and there will be a lot of tomorrows…”

In closing, I am appalled that someone in a position of leadership–an ARRL Section Manager, of all people–would threaten to block radiograms en masse. Imagine what would happen to the National Traffic System if every section–indeed, every traffic handler took the law unto his or her own hands and decided what traffic they felt was appropriate and worthy of relay or delivery. Or, region and area liaisons accepting the responsibility for relaying messages, only to silently discard them–to “put in ‘file thirteen'” as Joe Manager would say.

I wonder if we’ll soon hear exchanges on the nets like, “Sorry–we don’t accept ham-to-ham greeting traffic. Birthday traffic? Okay; Handi-ham traffic–nope. ‘License expiration warning’ traffic is okay. Net reports are… well–maybe, I guess.”

Will your next radiogram pass the “sniff test?”

It’s bad enough when individual traffic handlers act irresponsibly by accepting messages, only to discard them. However, it’s particularly reprehensible that someone in a leadership or liaison role would attempt to block traffic into his/her region or section, thus depriving the many from enjoying the pleasures of participating in this great pastime we call the NTS.

Are we witnessing the balkanization of the National Traffic System?


Follows is an excerpt from one of the many messages received by Gil, W1GMF. I believe it epitomizes what Gil and company have tried to accomplish by generating the greeting traffic. I suspect that this story is being played out across the country:

     “I had someone check into one of our 2-meter traffic nets and although he’d never handled any traffic before and didn’t know the format …talked him into getting his feet wet.

     “…Held him until the end of the net and then talked him through copying a short book explaining the format and as he copied… telling him when to start a new line and when to put in blank lines. Since I could monitor it, [I] listened to him relay that traffic on the VHF net he took it to. He did fine.

     “Waited to see if he’d come back the next day. He did and was willing to take more traffic. Now I’m trying to make sure I’ve got a short book of your messages (or at least something) each day for him so he has something to look forward to and a reason to continue checking into the net. That, of course, also involves him in another net. Any traffic he can’t deliver himself he takes to this second net and relays it there.”