The Amateur Amateur: Simulated Emergency Mess
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
It was my turn to run the local ARES® net, but I was thinking about asking someone else to do it for me. It had been a stressful day and my speech was becoming a little slurred (I’m struggling with myasthenia gravis). But I hated to impose on the other net controllers, and I hated being “sidelined” because of an inconvenient medical condition.
“Okay Gary,” I said to myself. “What would you do if it were a real emergency net?”
I wouldn’t sit on my hands, that’s for sure. I would have to do something.
So I decided to go ahead with the net. It wasn’t a macho “tough it out” attitude, it was more like working out how to operate with diminished resources. That’s what would happen in the field, right? Adverse conditions and all that. Good training, I reasoned.
Oh man, did I get some good training that night. It was as if the fates had heard my thoughts and replied, “Oh, you want adverse conditions!? Here you go!” and then dumped a truck load of surprises onto my head.
I took a couple of water bottles down to my shack with me. Sipping water gives me a few moments of relief if my speech becomes sloppy.
Five minutes before the net, I got onto my secondary transceiver to put the local repeater into “net mode” (turn off the CTCSS tones). My primary transceiver doesn’t have a DTMF keypad, so I use my secondary to perform the task. I keyed in the appropriate codes and...
...nothing happened. I tried again. And again. The repeater “bleeped” each time I keyed up, but it did not give me the automated message confirming that my commands had been successful. Something was definitely wrong.
Another operator finally came on the air and told me that my transmissions were very weak and that the repeater probably wasn’t hearing my DTMF tones. He offered to send the tones for me and I accepted.
Hooray for teamwork! That’s one thing I love about our practice nets. Sooner or later something will go wrong and everyone gets some first-hand experience in problem-solving.
Okay, I was running out of time. I had my net script ready, but I needed to get onto the local ARES® website to get the latest announcements, our weekly tip from what we call the Emergency Communicator’s Notebook and a question to ask the net participants. My main shack computer had decided to go into Weird Mode, so I used my laptop, called up the appropriate items and printed them.
Only what came out of the printer were reams and reams of nonsense that I hadn’t requested. Paper was spewing out all over the floor. The net was due to begin right then, and I was starting to get really stressed.
Did I mention that stress aggravates my sloppy speech condition? Oh, does it ever.
I took a deep breath to calm myself. Ignoring the clackity-clack of the printer, I picked up the microphone, and...
The kid next door started practicing his basketball moves. The low frequency throbs of his dribbling reverberated throughout my basement. It felt like I was inside his basketball.
I grabbed my water bottle...
No! Don’t drink down the whole thing at once! Just a sip. Another deep breath, and...
“Calling the St Louis County ARES® net, calling the St. Louis County Amateur Radio Emergency Service net.”
Okay, I’d gotten started. I was a little shaky. I could tell that my speech wasn’t 100 percent clear, but I kept going. I reached the point in the script where I called for a backup net controller and Chuck, W0CEH, responded.
“Thank you Chuck,” I said. “Much of the equipment in my shack, myself included, is not working optimally tonight, so be prepared to take over without much notice.”
Chuck assured me that he would.
I continued with the net.
BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. The washing machine announced that it had finished its load. One more complication of having a shack in the basement.
I guzzled some more water. The net had barely started and I was already running out.
One hand on the microphone and one eye on my net script (the other eye was twitching), I fumbled around trying to scoop up the papers that the printer had spewed all over the floor. Surely the net announcements had printout out by now.
Yes. There they were.
Smeared. Totally illegible.
I dropped the useless papers and poked at my laptop computer’s keys, trying to get the ARES® website to re-appear. I would just read the announcements off of the screen.
Of course my anti-virus program had decided that was the exact right moment to do a two-hour scan of the laptop, and it had given itself absolute top priority. It had grabbed all of the memory and all of the CPU cycles and I was completely frozen out. I looked back at my main shack computer.
It was still in Weird Mode. No time to sort it out.
I glanced over at the Dilbert cartoon calendar hanging in my shack. I always marked upcoming ARES® events on it, and it didn’t require electricity, batteries or blasted Norton Anti-Virus.
I read off the upcoming events. Thank goodness for non-technical, non-mechanic redundancy.
Things settled down after that. I guess the fates had grown bored with me and moved on to some other poor slob. I’d run out of water, but with no new trauma raining down on me, my stress levels went down a bit and my speech didn’t get any worse. No one asked me to repeat anything, so I guess I was at least intelligible.
Chuck was kind enough to put the repeater back into “normal mode” at the end of the net.
Well, it had been quite an evening. Murphy’s Laws in action. Dilbert to the rescue. A real, live Simulated Emergency Mess.
Now, if my anti-virus scan ever finishes, I’ll write up the lessons I learned from the experience.
Editor’s note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He’s been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column’s name -- “The Amateur Amateur” -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail.