Being net control is not what many people think it is. Net control is not all-powerful, nor it being net control especially glamorous. Yes, it has certain advantages, but there are clear disadvantages, too. This post is about how what many people think a net control is or does is not totally true. These are the myths of EMCOMM and public service event net control.
This is the first of what is likely to be a series of posts on the role played by net control operators in emergency and public service communication. I have been asked to prepare a presentation for net control wannabe’s and I’m using my blog to work out the content. Please feel free to comment and set me straight if the mood strikes you.
My comments should be taken as a very broad approach. There are few things of which I am absolutely certain, but one of them is that Amateur Radio and Emergency Management mostly play by local rules, which should be followed. If anything here is useful to you, please apply it however it works best where you live.
1. The Net Control Station is “In Charge”
This is the biggest and most important myth, because it’s what can get a new net control in trouble the fastest. If you think you are in charge, think again. Sure, in a directed net people are supposed to communicate through net control. And you may be moving people around, even giving orders.
Rare, however, is the circumstance where the net control is truly his or her own boss. Unless it is your incident or exercise and you are the incident commander as well as net control, you are working for someone else.
This may be a public safety incident commander (IC), a communications unit leader (COML) or “merely” the organizer of the bike ride your group is supporting. Almost always, a net control is working to facilitate someone else’s incident, exercise, bike ride, horseshoe toss, whatever.
There is almost always someone giving direction to net control, but often with little understanding of what is possible, what we do or how we do it. An important part of the net control’s job is translating someone else’s orders into actions the net members can take.
2. The Net Control Actually Controls the Net
Your net members are volunteers. If they follow your direction, it’s because they want to. Give them directions they don’t like and they may not follow them. Or may not be available the next time you need their help. Some groups are more committed and better disciplined than others, but net control must always remember that net members are not slaves and cannot be taken for granted.
3. Net Control does the Most Important Work
Check your ego at the door. It’s the members of the net that do the actual work. They are in the field, at fixed locations, perhaps mobile. They are out where things are happening, may happen or better not happen. They are the eyes and ears of the operation. You have the honor of talking to these great volunteers who are doing all the important work — probably out in the sun.
Net control’s job is primarily to support net members in getting the job done, responding to requests from above, assigning tasks to net members and reporting the result back to the requesting party. And variations on that theme.
4. The Net Control Station Works Alone
If you see a net control working alone, kill him. (Before he kills someone else). OK, a bit extreme, but a very serious point: If you are working an emergency net all by yourself, you are putting the net members and operation at risk.
Rand Paul filibustered for 13 hours before the call of nature arrived. You are unlikely to last as long. If you are all alone, you will probably have to leave the net from time to time. Bathroom, food, drinks, whatever, will draw you off the radio. That’s when four-out-of-five doctors predict something bad will happen and the net will go wonko while you are away. Don’t let that happen.
Smart net controls want at least one and maybe several other operators — who needn’t be great net controls themselves — somewhere within earshot. One of these people should be your logger and extra set of ears.
Logging is a critical task that many people — sometimes including me — don’t pay enough attention to. If you get in the habit of keeping good logs when they aren’t really necessary, it won’t be a chore when you really need them.
Net control locations can be noisy and you may need to keep an ear on multiple radios or channels, if only so you know what else is going on around you. That’s when a skilled assistant can be a real help. Note that I said “skilled.” Find people who can keep track of what’s happening on multiple public safety scanners at the same time and make them your extra ears at net control during an event or incident.
You need to be careful, however, about having too many hangers-on at net control. Ever notice how many times people who are supposed to be in the field land at net control — and stay? Or that “sag” vehicles at cycling events can all end up at the same place? One of the jobs of the assistants at net control is to send these people back where they belong, early and often.
5. Anybody Can Be a Net Control Station
Being net control does not require the ability to fly faster than a speeding bullet or even have more power than a locomotive. It does, however, require a variety of skills that not everyone has. The reason I mention this myth is in honor of groups who rotate their net control duties among all the group’s members.
That is not a good thing if it gives people the false sense that they are actually good net controls, when they probably are not. Running the weekly club net requires only a minor subset of what is required to run emergency or public safety communications.
Regardless of how you run day-to-day operations, designate your “real incident” net controls in advance and make sure everyone knows who they are.
To be continued…