Are you ready for the SET? Is your ARES/RACES team prepared for this annual event?

Coming up the first weekend in October, the Simulated Emergency Test (SET) is a drill for ARES/RACES teams to practice deployment and communications effectiveness. Most SET drills can be quite simple, yet some groups really love to test the limits by enacting a complex scenario and drill. Which is better: simple nets, table top exercises or complex drills. It’s hard to say, because it really depends on the readiness level of your communication team.

Increasing readiness levels is the core of the Simulated Emergency Test. As ARES/RACES leaders we can preach all day about go-bags and portable kits, but until the rubber hits the road and we have a chance to use our tools, we really don’t know how our group will act or react in a situation. [pq]That’s why the Simulated Emergency Test is an essential exercise for any emergency communications group.[/pq]

This week our ARES/RACES state leadership released the statewide scenario and timeline for this year’s SET operation. In any SET drill, the back-story may change a bit from year to year, but how we are acting within the drill pretty much stays the same. I find that most Simulated Emergency Tests boil down to three main points: Field Operations, Winlink & other digital modes, and interfacing with served agencies.

Field Operations

2011 ARRL Simulated Emergency Test SET

Simulated Emergency Test operations set up in the parking lot of the local Red Cross Agency

A common thread in SET drills is to get out into the field and operate a station. This could be a simple as driving to the local hospital or fire station and standing in the parking lot with an HT, or it could be an elaborate affair with a tent, trailer and scads of equipment. This is where your portable kit comes handy; if you are called out to man a location that doesn’t have a permament station, would you be able to quickly assemble enough equipment to run for four hours or more? A basic two meter radio, deep cycle battery, and antenna (like the 2 meter break-away J-Pole) are essential components for a field station.

Winlink and other digital modes

Winlink 2000 portable station

Winlink 2000 is fast becoming an essential tool to emergency operations communications activities

Digital communication is becoming increasingly popular with ARES/RACES teams. Not only does it make the transmission of information easier, but with applications like RMS Express for Winlink 2000 provide an easy to use and familiar interface for served agencies. Our group uses Winlink to provide email in the field. Yeah, I know, every smart phone has email capabilities. But there are still remote areas that aren’t served by cell towers. In our neck of the woods we only need to get a few miles out of town for our cell phones to lose reception. If you are stationed at a rural volunteer fire station, a good Winlink station with a J-Pole or Slim Jim antenna can make all the difference.

Working with served agencies

Marathon County, WI Emergency Operations Center dedication with Emergency Manager, County Administrator, and Wausau City Mayog

Marathon County, WI Emergency Operations Center dedication with Emergency Manager, County Administrator, and Wausau City Mayor

Finally, the key to a successful SET operation is working with your served agencies, be it the Red Cross, Emergency Management, Fire & Rescue, or the area hospitals. Bring them into the drill planning process and explain how this activity is good training and troubleshooting for when their is an actual emergency that would require communications support. In all the exercises I’ve participated in, the training that involves the served agencies always had the biggest impact in building relationships with the agency and overall readiness of the communication team.

Take these three components and weave in a little story, and you will have a SET exercise that is fun and educational. Are you part of an ARES/RACES group? How are your SET plans shaping up. Feel free to join the discussion in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading. Do you need a good antenna for your upcoming SET exercise. Use the coupon Code SET2013 to save $2.00 off the purchase of a J-Pole or Slim Jim antenna. (offer expires Sept 30, 2013)