Net Protocols and Break Tags for Public Service Activities

Many amateur radio clubs, ARES/RACES, and emergency communications groups help out with local events by providing health and welfare communications. In fact, volunteering to provide communication assistance is a great way to hone your emergency communication skills. So here’s some tips on how to be an effective communicator at your next event

Watch the video below for more:

Use Tactical Callsigns

Biggest communication issue in public service activities is that people over-identify. Using a tactical callsign infers meaning and speeds up communications on the net. A tactical callsign can be like: net control, aid station 1, mile 16, etc. Anything that tells your location or position during the net. Use the tactical callsign when you establish your communication, pass the traffic and then finish with your FCC callsign. For example:

Aid Station 1: Aid Station 1 to net control

Net Control: Go ahead Mile 24

Aid Station 1: The first runner, bib 231 has arrived at our location

Net Control: Roger, thank you. W9SM net control

Aid Station 1: KB9VBR

Be concise

In the thick of activity for a large public service event, there can be quite a bit of traffic. Being concise with your traffic creates efficiency and speeds up the flow of the event. If you need to, take a moment before you transmit to collect your thoughts and pass your traffic as concise as possible. If net control requires details or more information, they will request it.

Use a speaker mic and earpiece

I almost always use a speaker mic and earpiece for public service events. The reason are two fold. First, the earpiece allows you to hear the traffic in noisy environments. In a situation where there is background noise and people talking, the earpiece will let you clearly hear the radio traffic without needing to crank the volume of your radio.

The second reason why an earpiece is good is that it keeps the radio traffic out of the ears of other volunteers. Sometimes when they hear the traffic over the radio, they will receive an incomplete picture of the situation which will create a frustration for you as they ask questions and want clarification. Your responsibility as a communicator is to receive the relevant traffic and pass it to the other volunteers. Using the earpiece will let you be that filter.

My favorite earpiece is the Otto 3.5mm Acoustic Earpiece. It’s comfortable and I find that I can wear it all day without irritation.

Wear proper clothing for the elements

Dress for the elements. If it is hot and sunny, wear appropriate clothing. Cold and wet? Dress in layers. Don’t forget the hat and sunglasses if you are outdoors. And most importantly, dress neatly and wear clean clothes. You are an ambassador for the amateur radio service, so keep your dress clean and professional.

Use Break Tags to Prioritize Traffic

Break tags are a series of simple words that can be used on the net to prioritize your traffic. If there is an ongoing QSO and you have a piece of important traffic, the appropriate break tag will let net control triage the situation and know if they should take your traffic or if you can standby. The seven common break tags are as follows:

Answer: To be used when you have the definitive answer to a question currently being discussed on the air.

Question: To be used when the answer of a question can’t wait; for example, when the mayor is standing next to you and requesting you to get information using your radio.

Info: To be used when information needs to be transmitted rapidly but is not related to what is being said on the air; for example, if an event that net control needs to know about is going to happen in the next few seconds or if waiting for the end of an exchange will negate the value of the information.

Priority: To be used to report an important but non-life threatening situation such as a fender-bender that just happened.

Medical: To be used to report a minor medical incident that affects the operator in some way; for example, having to leave his/her post for a few minutes to walk someone with a minor cut over to a med tent.

Emergency: Only to be used to report an ongoing life or property threatening or damaging incident.

Your Call Sign: An indication that the operator has traffic that can wait and does not require the cessation of the ongoing exchange. This tag is an expectation to be put on hold and in queue for transmission.

I have a longer article that goes into detail on how to effectively use break tags, be sure to check it out.

Are there any tips or net protocols that you find handy in working a public service activity? Please feel free to share them in the comments below.