Comments and Responses
This is Part 2 of the post-exercise survey results
COMMENTS (and JJS’s responses in blue and indented)
JJS: Overall, this was an excellent exercise for our much-needed addition of
Quarterly SETs (Simulated Emergency Tests). Although this was not actually a
“Simulated Emergency,” it did serve as more of a ‘drill’ and a baseline for future
quarterly exercises. The AmRRON Quarterly SETs are a result of a lot of feedback
from you, the operators in the field, requesting more “mini exercises” throughout
the year to help build skills and better prepare for larger exercises (T-REX) and
Although it was an overall success, it also revealed several points of failure or
weaknesses. Some of these are in the operational aspects of communicating over the
air and all the supporting tasks necessary to ensure success. That is a matter of
better training and guidance. Other areas that we identified are administrative
and planning. That’s not on you, the operator, that’s on us, and we are identifying
better practices for smoother and more efficient planning and preparation to help
you be as effective as possible as communications specialists.
Some of my own notes:
Better communications with the Net Control Stations to help prepare them.
– Improved communications with the operators across the network, leading up to the
– Improvements in conveying better detailed goals, expectations, and preparation steps
for all participants.
AmRRON Mobile Team App was not used other than the initial exercise announcement
nearly two weeks prior to the exercise. The mobile app is a very effective tool to
inform and prepare the members, but sadly it was neglected.
Several of my other notes are relevant to the comments contributed by those of you
who took the post-exercise survey, so I will reserve those for further responses
Since band condx were poor sometimes it helps to drop to a narrower bandwidth such as
from MFSK32 to MFSK16 in order to take advantage of a better S/N ratio.
This was an awesome Training Exercise! Thank You!
JJS: You are correct. I saw this a couple of times. Selecting MFSK-16 certainly will get
more data successfully transmitted. However, it also takes twice as long to transmit
than does MFSK-32. We recommend trying to get as much of the message as possible
transmitted in -32 and then getting those last few stubborn blocks to fill (if sending
FLAMP) using MFSK-16. Often however, it is better (and faster) to get the remaining
missing portions of a message through another strong relay station, when a relay
station is available. When there are multiple operators on the air (such as during
this Quarterly Exercise), one or two stations relaying the message after receiving it
from NCS will fill most missing blocks for all the other stations on the air.
Great exercise! Appreciated that it only ran 4 hours on a busy Saturday!
Eastern Heard 0%. Could only hear Central about 60% but not enough to get good info
— band would fade during the preambles. Mountain ONLY NCS callsign nothing more.
Nice Band Conditions & successful 144.50 digital net with the tfc.
Good exercise plan to assess our “top down” commo proceedure –look forward to the
AAR on the exercise.
JJS: It’s exciting to see/hear so many conversations about the increased interest in digital
VHF/UHF communications. It is really a great way to send lots of data (report, forms,
etc.) that simply isn’t as practical over voice. This is especially true if you end
up supporting a leadership or command & control element, such as local officials or
community leaders and groups.
The PDF specified exercise time of 18:00 Zulu, but did not specify it was a rolling
net. While I understood it, nobody else down here did. Spent a lot of time explaining
when the mountain net would start. ugh.
JJS: Correct. The PDF did not specify it would be a rolling net. The PDF stated that the
net schedule would be distributed during the previous week’s nets. That is how the
radio operators learned it would be a rolling net, and which specific times the nets
would be held during the exercise.
Here’s item 2 on the PDF:
2. Tune in to the weekly rolling nets the week of the 6th and 7th of November.
The Q4 Exercise schedule will be disseminated on the digital nets in plain text
and via a .k2s file
By the way, great job training up those around you however. They didn’t understand it,
but you did. That’s the kind of leadership that encourages all of us when we see it!
None of us here understand what you mean by SHAH1# or how one gets it from A GTK
JJS: “None of us…”? The hash function was not mandatory, but rather a bonus.
According to the stats in the surveys, 26 stations sent in a SHA-1 Hash for the files
they received. For months a SHA-1 hash has been part of the weekly AIB transmission
schedule. We included it in this exercise as a fun way to have a ‘bonus activity’ for
those who have been participating in regularly-scheduled training.
To learn more about file hashing, you can click HERE
We provide an opportunity each week for operators to practice.
Double check start times and clarify times for each time zone
I saw that this exercise was supposed to begin at 1800Z, and end at 2200Z. Somehow
those times didn’t have the meaning I expected, and nothing happened until I saw the
“new” net times discussed on the 40 meter freq. Also, did anybody try to send traffic
on 80 meters? Im curious as to how well that worked if they did.
Anyway, I was working a portable QRP station, with a VHF and HF radio.
JJS: The exercise did indeed begin at 1800z. The rolling net began in the Eastern Region for
one hour, and rolled across each subsequent time zone, which was laid out in the exercise
schedule distributed during the weekly nets that week (per the instructions). The exercise
ran past 1400z as stations were helping each other out by filling missing blocks and relaying
We initially planned to run 40m and 80m for a half hour each, but decided it would be much simpler
to stay on 40m for the entire hour in each time zone. This is one of the areas where we failed
to adequately convey changes and updates to the participants, and is on the list of improvements
for future exercises. But yes, some stations switched to 80m when they felt the conditions or
distances would be better on 80m.
In the updated version of the PDF, item 3.C. it states:
c) After NCS is finished sending the traffic, he/she will take check ins, so be prepared to
check in using your call sign and your state.
Again, this was a failure on the part of the planning/administrative side to adequately alert the
participants of this change. We posted it at the top of the Q4 Exercise web posting, but if you
had already been there and downloaded the original version, how would you know?
This is something we will improve upon in the future.
Question #7 asks if we checked into an HF net. I did not, as I understood this to be an
RX only , a “one-way traffic test”.
JJS: Checking in to a net is NOT traffic. ‘Traffic’ refers to a message or report or some piece of
information intended to be moved across a network from the originating station to its final
destination. This can happen directly between two stations or by the use of multiple stations
relaying the traffic until it reaches its intended destination. A NCS (Net Control Station) is
there to help facilitate the handling of that traffic.
This is why you’ll often see/hear NCS announce “before we take check-ins, is there any priority
traffic for the net?” And after taking check-ins, NCS will also ask if anyone has traffic to pass.
A net is like going to a meeting. The participants announce their arrival at the meeting and the
host (NCS) acknowledges each participant as they arrive. Once all the participants have arrived,
they’re given the opportunity to share information (traffic) with other individual operators, or
to the entire net.
Not everyone checks in, but simply observe and listen. Sometimes they can’t, because they are
only receiving (such as shortwave radios or SDR receivers). It is much akin to someone watching
a meeting being live streamed over the internet. They can’t participate, but they can still get
the information being shared during the meeting.
Great exercise, look forward to the next !!
I think we need to encourage the use of 2m digital comms on our weekly repeater and
simplex nets. There are only a few operators that I am aware of that have this
capability. It will be extremely helpful when passing larger messages than can be
easily relayed by voice comms.
JJS: Absolutely! We’re in agreement and look forward to encouraging more of this.
I am looking forward to the next Quarterly Exercise and improving my station.
Thanks for all you do!
MFSK32 IS NOT USEFUL DURING BAD PROPAGATION.
AS SOON AS THEY WENT FROM CONSTESTIA NCS DROPPED OUT. PERHAPS MFSK16?
JJS: I had difficulty receiving it too. BUT… it obviously worked for the overwhelming majority.
HF 40M Digital (FLAMP): 35 #1 Method received
HF 40M Digital (plain text): 32
The HF portion was very unsatisfactory – poorly received – jumbled. I tried to check
in but they didn’t copy me and I copied very little of what happened there. The 2M
portion was very successful. Thank you all for your efforts.
JJS: So, some bad, some good. Thank you for being out there and training. Getting better!
Tried all Nets and could not make connection long enough to get all the exercise
download. Well done.
1) at start of each region try to find some stn that has the complete copy – let
them send first to maintain version integrity. Communication details surrounding events
seemed to get dropped or miscommunicated in the shuffle (ie. there was mention in the
PDF of both 80 and 40 meters being used for the SitRep propagation when that wasn’t the
JJS: The PDF was updated but one part mentioning 80m was inadvertently overlooked
and left in the document. HOWEVER… the PDF also clearly stated that the net schedule
for the exercise would be distributed during that week’s regularly-scheduled AmRRON
rolling nets on Thursday (which it was).
That exercise net schedule indicated 40m band (7.110) only.
Not 100% sure what we accomplished. Seemed very basic and not enough for
an exercise. I wish I could have been more of a participant but I had xmtr problems. It
was finally resolved but too late to check in. I will be ready for the next exercise!
JJS: We accomplished disseminating a single piece of traffic (in this case, a Situation
Report — SITREP) from the top down. The SITREP was distributed to the volunteer NCSs
for this exercise. They disseminated the SITREP to all the other HF operators, as well as
those with shortwave radios or Software Defined Radio (SDR) receivers,who then distributed
the traffic throughout their regional or local nets. We hoped the traffic would find its
way down to the local CH3 nets, and in several cases it did.
It was indeed very basic, as it was intended to be. T-REX and other exercises incorporate
a lot of moving parts and ‘chaos’. We wanted the participants in Q4 2019 to have one
specific piece of information to receive and relay on to others, in one direction.
So, with lots of room for improvement, ‘Mission Accomplished.’
This exercise was designed to send traffic one direction — top down.
The next exercise (Q1-20) will be designed to send traffic one direcion — bottom up.
Q1 – I received the URL via relay during the East Coast digital rolling net on 11/7, but
could not copy the AIB on any of the nets (with MANY tries).
Not sure I actually got checked in. (N2—/NJ)
JJS: That’s frustrating, not getting traffic after multiple tries. This is something we
are discussing for future protocols to ensure as many stations receive the traffic as
possible. An increased number of stations willing to relay the traffic would greatly
reduce the amount of stations missing traffic.
Comment: My FLDIGI kept jumping from 1000 to 1500 and I was missing important messages.
(like the beginning of the FLAMP file) At least I was able to receive the plain text.
repeat entire message in flamp 2 or 3 times before asking for block fills. I received 74%
of flamp but my reports of missing blocks were not heard. I managed to get the Q4 code in
plain text message although some of the plain text was missing. With the flamp, since I
had only 74% copy I could not read any of it. So I would have to also say it is important
to transmit plain text as well as flamp especially since some hams are not up to speed on
JJS: In your FLDIGI program, at the top is a ‘Configuration’ tab. Click that. From the
dropdown menu, select ‘Miscellaneous’ and then ‘Sweet Spot’. In the Sweet Spot settings,
change the ‘PSK et al’ setting to 1000. That will become your default waterfall location
whenever you open FLDIGI and are using modes such as PSK, MFSK, Contestia, etc.
Also, be sure to uncheck your AFC button in the lower right-hand portion of FLDIGI. There
are more customization settings, but that should fix most of those issues.
I also do not understand SHA1 hash whatever that means. I’ve read the white paper
on hashing but that did not help me. Could you do another paper or video in depth on how
to use and decode hashed messages. Lastly, I’d like to see a paper or video on using fsq
and js8call. These modes are unfamiliar to me. Thanks what you all are doing, I sincerely
appreciate it. Golf-33
JJS: We could certainly put a Hash function video on the list.
We are in the middle of production of several much-needed videos. However, I have posted
some of those useful and excellent videos we’ve found at AmRRON.com
For FSQ (and the entire FLDIGI suite):
Was unable to decode full flamp messages containing SET code during Saturday rolling nets.
NCS’s did well, they were loud and the ANCS’s did well also on eastern. Thanks for allowing
tx in flamp and flmsg and not forcing the use of Arim only or something like that.
I like these Q4 exercises
Eastern and Central nets ran over because of missing message block resends. Central Net
NCS announced a QSY before the Net was handed to the Mountain time zone in order to
facilitate those with missing message blocks. This was a good decision on his part.
I would suggest this be SOP for all NCS if the net is running long, if it is not already so.
JJS: Thanks for bringing that up. It is not ‘official’ procedure, but one which the more
experienced operators do. This will be added to NCS training as an official protocol.
The last .ks2 hash file that I received was for the aib on 11-05-19.
NCS need always provide short tx bursts to align mfsk bandwidth…maybe more than once
…especially if txid wasn’t engaged by ncs. Station operators (like myself) could use
more guidance regarding establishment of FRS, MURS, GMRS, VHF simplex and repeater net
procedures. Some discussions about ways to describe and discuss AmRRON to neighbors and
others who hear us for the first time and inquire. I would not want to misrepresent AmRRON.
The preambles explain alot but may not adequately prepare the new “local NCS” for the
inquiries that will likely follow.
Maybe some ragchews and consultations regarding prior experiences of seasoned station
operators can help prepare us? I’m ready to go technically (hardware/software) but I could
use some philosophical strength-building. Excellent exercise! We broke ground with some VHF
digital comms with the CSRA group… but voice (and walking the streets) are where it’s at
with regard to building local coalitions as expressed in the Net Exercise Traffic.
I was gone trucking during the Q4 exercise. Let station on the air to bolster the “network”.
Was hoping to participate but unforeseen circumstances prevented that.
JJS: This is all excellent feedback as well. Thank you. Certainly worth consideration.
I never received more than 17 of the 34 blocks and that was with a lot of requests for fills.
Only heard NCS and ANCS occasionally. I have suggested this before but when bands are this
bad long format JS8 should be considered. I am a member of a much smaller preparedness group
and our rules are simple.
Members only can use a Raspberry Pi and communications can ONLY be in JS8. That keeps our
training sand support very simple. Some of our transmissions are 10-15 minutes long but we
get the message through about 95% of the time even in poor band conditions. But when you
consider all the time spent on block fills it is actually shorter to get the message through
in a single 15 minute transmission.
[One particular operator] TRIED VERY HARD TO GET THE MSG TO ME ON 40, I WAS
HAVING USB HW ISSUES AND SOLVED THEM FOR THE 80M RELAY
Rough and long band on 40M. I relayed on 80M. Rolling nets a good idea. Delayed check-ins…
interesting. Good [exercise]. Was inside skip for NCS eastern and could not get flamp to
activate due to incomplete or garbled retries.
This exercise really pushed me to get my digital HF comms all the way up. Have been making
steady progress but this was the final shot in the arm I needed. Definitely looking forward
to the next one and to streamlining my new setup. Would’ve been nice to see the file hash in
FLDIGI text, the chat, or team app for the national sitrep. Will be deciding on whether or
not I can keep enough OPSEC and PERSEC to establish a proper local network within Seattle or
if I need to stay gray next. Very open to suggestions there.
JJS: Great job! Seattle is tough, as you know. First step would be to use the member contact
form to try to get in contact with other AmRRON members in the Puget Sound area. Next step
would be to reach out locally. Several folks have had good luck getting booths at gun shows
or other venues which draw like-minded potential local net prospects.
Another great idea is to put on a basic, free introduction to emergency communications
presentation at a local church (that weeds out several who might not be a good fit). From
there you simply introduce AmRRON, but place your emphasis specifically on communication and
some of their options (scanners, shortwave radios, local ham radio and repeaters, and finally,
the unlicensed bands). Meeting once a month regularly is extremely helpful for the AmRRON
local nets that are formed. Many non-AmRRON folks attend and even check in to the nets. If
they feel the mission statement of AmRRON isn’t a good fit for them, they’ll move on. But in
fairly short order you’ll have a growing local AmRRON network and many lingerers will often
join after realizing it’s pretty cool afterall.
Printed info about exercise did not quite match actual.
8. Final Tips
a) I did not see a url for this link in the exercise today. I would have worked
harder on the rolling net Thursday to obtain it had I known. I was 96% on the FLAMP so of
course it’s all worthless. Today I was up to 89%. I had to radio the NCS for a direct QSO
after the exercise and ask for it. He got through to me after being hammered several times by
+30 NOISE on 80m!
Also in 3. b) it states that the signal will be uncompressed. I only saw
FLAMP being sent in compressed mode? Also in 3. a) it states it will be sent first in 40m and
then switch over to 80m. I don’t think NCS ever switched to 80?
My rig is useless trying to bring in the AIB while I’m at work.
JJS: As mentioned previously, we updated the PDF when we made the changes,
but that was likely after you had already downloaded the initial exercise guide.
That is an area for improvement on our
part — better communicating updates when changes are made.
Again, the schedule was intentionally distributed only during that week’s nets.
That schedule reflected the updated version, which showed 40 meters only. For the stations
who did not get the updated schedule via the nets, this highlights the importance of being
able to track important information down.
Great exercise! Thank you all for your participation and the great feedback!
This exercise focused on sending traffic one way — Top Down.
The next exercise (Q1-20) will focus on one way traffic — Bottom Up.
Let’s keep the conversation going!
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God bless, and 73!