What would we do without our GPS units, our APRS trackers, our cellular devices with data capabilities, and our online mapping resources? These technological marvels have resulted in our being able to pinpoint locations, altitudes, headings, speed, and distances. We can mount them on our dashboards, put them in our pockets, tap out destinations, or even speak to them and let them know where we’d like to go. Like magic, they seek out a few satellites in geosynchronous orbit miles above us, whip up a quick triangulation or two, search a few databases, pull up an up-to-the-minute map, and within seconds, we’re given step-by-step directions. Heck, for the cost of an additional click or two, we can see street images of our current location or our destination. I can’t wait for the day that the autopilot feature on my vehicle takes all this in and simply gets me to where I’m going while I kick back and relax! Ahhh, technology.
But, back to my original question. What *would* we do without all these things? If “THE BIG ONE” hit your area and your community was without power, cellular and land line service, and other critical infrastructure, would you be ready?
“Why, sure,” you say. “We’ve got a great amateur radio club here, and an ARES/RACES group that’s top-notch!” Awesome! You have good operators, good equipment, and have prepared well for providing communications during disaster situations just like this one. You’ve drilled, you’ve trained, you’ve practiced until you’re blue in the face. You can set up stations and pass traffic like it’s nobody’s business. But can you communicate effectively? Particularly when it comes to location and direction?
I recently took part in a training net in which stations were paired up, acting as operators during an emergency. One played the part of the control station at a county EOC, the other manned the radio at an ad hoc shelter within the county. (Each station chose a location that they were familiar with within the county prior to the exercise taking place, but they weren’t told why; that was the location of their “shelter” for the exercise.) The scenario was such that the EOC had several volunteers working within logistics who were not from the area. The emergency was so big that volunteers from miles away were brought in to help. These folks may have known a few of the main thoroughfares in the county, but were not familiar at all with local “hills and hollers.”
The exercise consisted of the “shelter” op requesting supplies from the “EOC” op. The shelter op then had to give accurate, concise directions to their shelter from the EOC. The directions had to be as such that a delivery person who “ain’t from around here” could get to the shelter without any problems, armed with only a paper map of the county. After this, the two operators reversed roles and we played the game again.
Sounds pretty easy, and most of the operators in the exercise did a fine job, but we learned a few valuable lessons from the game.
- Situational awareness. You can’t give someone directions to your location if you don’t know where you are. One thing you can do to practice this is, the next time you’re stopped at a light or in a parking lot somewhere, think to yourself, “What’s my location, what are nearby landmarks, and how would I convey to someone the easiest way to get to me right now?”
- Real, visible landmarks are good! (Take a right one mile past the large water tower.)
- Real, visible landmarks that are normally present may not be available. (Hey, what’d that earthquake do with my large water tower?)
- Landmarks based on historical events, no matter how significant, are not good. (Turn right at the corner where old man Johnson’s barn stood. It’s the one that was taken out by the tornado about a year ago. EVERYBODY knows where that is . . . it was the talk of the town!)
- When you’re passing information, it’s a conversation, not a broadcast. Sending station, pause for breaks, questions, and confirmation when giving directions. Receiving station, ask for repeats or clarifications if things aren’t clear.
- Even if alternate tactical frequencies are in use, there will probably be LOTS of radio traffic. Make sure your directions are thorough and clear, but be as concise as possible so as not to use the frequency longer than necessary.
- You may know a road by it’s commonly used local name, but the person you’re giving directions to may be looking for street signs, county road signs, or highway numbers . . . none of which match the name you use. Try and be familiar with county road and state highway numbers, as these signs are usually most prominent, most easily seen, and readable while driving.
- The BEST route is not necessarily the SHORTEST route. You may know a dozen different ways to get to a particular place, but is there a route that requires fewer turns and involves more main roads? If so, that’s probably the route to choose, even though it might be a bit longer.
It certainly wasn’t the most technologically challenging net I’ve participated in. Not much flash, no cool digital stuff, no talk about the latest whiz-bang gizmos that we all love so much. But it was very insightful, and made us all think about things from a little different perspective.