AmRRON (American Redoubt Radio Operator’s Network) holds an annual grid-down exercise, having its members relay traffic and reports for a disaster scenario. In my view its what the ARRL’s Field Day actually should be, but that’s another story. Mauser sends the following:
First, I'm not sure how familiar you are with AMRRON, so a quick run down of their SOI is as follows: Nationwide voice and digital traffic nets on 30min windows, every 6 hours upon activation. This is followed by a rolling regional net every 6 hours consisting of 30 min voice followed by 30 min digital comms windows, which is supposed to be followed by 2m local voice and digital nets and dissemination of relevant traffic to the unlicensed public by the Channel 3 project (FRS/GMRS, CB, MURS) and the Black Echo project (low power FM broadcast). I really don't think there is anything else like AMRRON in existence. They place a heavy emphasis on digital comms, and have developed the use of custom forms on FLMSG, FLAMP, and this year used FSQ to coordinate between stations holding traffic. They also introduced the use of regional Signals Centers (SIGCENS) who gathered traffic from their areas and distributed it within their respective region, as well as to the National SIGCEN at AMRRON HQ. The AMRRON SOI provides frequencies, comms windows, modes of digital operation, and even authentication (which I actually saw being used this year for the first time). As for the AAR, voice nets were completely out of the question. I was on frequency for 80% of the voice nets over 3 days and either the NCS was garbled, completely unreadable, or the net failed to be established altogether. I did communicate with a handful of AMRRON operators who were trying to check in, but overall the voice nets were a total failure. Digital was a different story. Despite the poorest band conditions I've ever seen, we were able to pass traffic and communicate digitally. I personally passed 32 messages over the airwaves, primarily received from the NC SIGCEN, which was generally considered the best SIGCEN of the exercise. FSQ really shined this weekend as a robust digital mode for small groups of operators coordinating their traffic handling. From a tactical communicator's point of view, the use of custom forms in FLMSG and FLAMP really put into practice your lessons on SALUTE, SALT, and other types of reports. I'm going to spend some time creating custom forms for my Scout Team for SALUTE/SPOT, SITREP, etc. With the right mode, those reports can be transmitted very quickly, and using FLAMP missing pieces of the report can be quickly requested from the receiving station and transmitted in an almost automated fashion. This really adds a robustness and almost a layer of encryption (FLAMP requires FLDIGI, the appropriate custom form in FLMSG, and FLAMP running) to traffic transmission. Yes, the Big Boys can decrypt and DF it, but following all other rules, and implementing OTPs where applicable can add additional layers of encryption. Strategically, we need a greater number of devoted SIGCEN operators. Your AO was well covered, with SIGCENS in VA (I received a real world piece of traffic from them updating National SIGCENT on the flooding that was affecting their operations), SC, and NC (X4XXX- the best SIGCEN of the operation IMO). I personally took a lot of traffic from NC and the quality of their station, personnel, and info was top notch. I'm located in MO and between myself and an IL station, relayed 90% of the traffic heading West from the East and South. I think from a national perspective, AMRRON is going to need more operators in the Midwest to act as links between the various AMRRON regions across the country. I'm going to be joining AMRRON Corps (a leadership group within AMRRON) to further assist with the development of AMRRON's nationwide network and improve my own development as a communicator. I also took away the fact that, much like is posted at WRSA with regard to armed and trained friends, I don't have enough trained communicator friends. To put it bluntly, this weekend was grueling. I was on the air almost non-stop from 2pm Friday afternoon through 3am Sunday morning passing traffic. A few short hours of sleep, and I was back on until nearly 2pm Sunday afternoon. That is simply unsustainable long-term. Anyone who fancies their Amateur Radio station as a preparedness-oriented comms center needs to face some facts. There will be far more to do post-SHTF than to stay in front of the radio. Community security patrols, food growth/acquisition and preparation, repair of fences/outbuildings/living centers, attending community meetings, first aid, water collection/purification, sanitation, and familial obligations will all be part of the mix. This means any comms center needs a trained staff to monitor the airwaves. Digital comms can't be over emphasized. Training can't be overvalued. I for one am looking forward to more training, because a weekend like this one was a great opportunity to learn, figure out what I don't know, and note down weak points and failures. Finally, my IC-7200 performed well beyond expectations. At one point, I was transmitting traffic for 4 hours almost continuously, at 40 watts. This would probably cause radios with lesser heat sinks to die, but mine kept on going strong, although the shack got pretty darn hot in the process. I ended that session sweat soaked and exhausted. Quality radios, quality laptops, and a solar/battery bank to make Tesla jealous are definitely required to run radio ops long term from a fixed position, especially in a grid-down environment. A much smaller package, battery and solar-wise is also required for foot mobile team operations. I'll be working toward achieving both goals. Hope your weekend went well, brother. If interested, I can send you a text of all the traffic I received over the weekend. Take care and keep up the good work on the blog and in class. We need more of your kind in the community.
All excellent points and ones needing to be made. You should never pass up any opportunity to train, whether its in a formal sense such as a dedicated class or training exercises such as T-REX. All of these skills have a steep learning curve- from small unit movements and tactics to all of the skills which support it- and if you’re only training for one area, then you’re not necessarily effective.
Another thing I’ll drive home from Mauser’s AAR is the value of modes other than voice/SSB. The approaching solar minimum has made HF a challenge on a good day, and even with convenient space weather predictors like the one I have in the sidebar, it’s not always a sure bet. If you’re new to regional communications, you’ve got a tough road ahead- made easier with the use of digital communications and the most robust of them all, CW/Morse Code. And its not limited to HF…you’d be surprised at what can be done locally and far off the beaten path.
In our last class I was asked in the AAR what would be a training roadmap to the Advanced Class I’m running in the fall- I had two answers. The first is that the class picks up right where the RTO course leaves off, going much deeper into several topics that we just don’t have time to cover in a weekend, but also taking the actions-on side of what we focus on (tactical report formats and traffic handling in a live environment) and simply working with your teams. There’s not some secret voodoo to it- just solid, competent training in a good, no-nonsense environment. Just like the fundamentals of marksmanship (breathe, relax, aim, squeeze), Land Navigation, and even the principles of effective camouflage and concealment (shape, shine and silhouette), these are perishable skills. You’ve got to work on them beyond what we can do in a weekend- in class we lay the foundation, but the rest is up to you.
If you’ve got holes in your training program or are looking to step up your game, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll get you jump started in an easy to follow and relevant way. In the meantime poke around and see if AmRRON has activity near you, and consider joining up. You’re likely to meet like-minded and in my experience, really good folks who probably train in quite a few other areas also.