Unless you are not on social media or not watching the news you can’t help seeing that there are thousands of people who are without cell service or other means of communication. There are thousands who are not able to communicate to their loved ones that they are OK, or otherwise, and there are families all over the country trying to make contact with their loved ones in the areas impacted by hurricane Ian.
While restoration of communications into the impacted communities is a very high priority as it is essential to support rescue and recovery efforts, and the cell companies have some exceptional equipment and resources to do so, it takes time. Rescue operations take priority, and getting messages to loved ones is a little lower on the list. This is where the National Traffic System (NTS) and Amateur Radio (ham) operators come into play.
Think of the NTS as a modern version of the old telegraph. Ham radio operators take a message and then pass from one to another across the country by a variety of different methods, including morse code and digital modes. When it gets to the local area hams will then deliver that message, by going to a house if needed.
Within the disaster area a ham operator will take a message and get it into the NTS for delivery. A family member outside the disaster area can contact a ham and ask them to send a welfare inquiry into the disaster area. These messages are short but contain the essential information, such as “I’m OK.”
The messages follow a preset format to eliminate loss or misinterpreted messages. Pre-formatted, “numbered” messages are set up, again for accuracy and speed, such as:
“ARL ONE” meaning “Everyone safe here. Please don’t worry.”
“ARL FOUR” meaning “Only slight property damage here. Do not be concerned about disaster reports.”
“ARL SIX” meaning “Will contact you as soon as possible.”
Or if you are trying to check on family:
“ARL TWELVE” meaning “Anxious to hear from you. No word in some time. Please contact me as soon as
“ARL FIFTEEN” meaning “Please advise your condition and what help is needed.”
So you can see that with four or five “words” you can send a fairly lengthy message.
As a radio operator YOU should practice the skills necessary to send and receive these types of messages. On this page is the standard NTS form, which you can download, and the instructions on how to fill out various parts of the form.
This page has the list of the numbered messages used for disasters and emergencies.
You can search here to find a local “traffic net” in your area – select the NTS Area Nets and then search for your area. You can also use a search engine and try something like “national traffic net pa” – this brought up a page for Pennsylvania traffic nets. LISTEN to how the messages are done and try and write them down yourself and then jump in and perhaps send one to friends in another state.
There are additional pages on my web page dealing with communications messages. Look under communications then message handling.
Stump Knocker is the name we have given a talkgroup on the TGIF DMR network. You need a digital radio, Such as the Anytone 878, and a Multi-Modem Digital Voice Modem (MMDVM). There is more information on the MMDVM and its use here. One of the purposes is to allow us like-minded folks to communicate, but more importantly it is to practice communications skills in a “safe” space, especially for those new to ham radio. You are talking to “us” and not folks on the local repeater that you do not know. We’ve had folks key up on our channel for the first time on the radio who have been licensed for a year or more!
So, go to the page on MMDVM’s and learn more. I sell the devices all set up for you to plug and play and I also provide you the programming for your radio to get you on our talkgroup, as well as some others.