What exactly are we doing when we volunteer for an event?
We are supporting the charity that is running the event.
We are there for situational awareness and safety.
Situational awareness: A few minutes after the race starts, the race committee does not know what is happening on the course. We are their eyes and ears on the trail. The ham radio volunteers give updates as the leaders pass by. Should anyone have problems, they can report to a ham radio volunteer, and we can work to solve the problem. Sometimes racers drop out of the race. If they drop at an aid station, we can report the name and bib number in case family or friends are looking for them.
Safety: We do not worry much about the elite athletes at the front of the pack. We are more concerned with the racers at the back of the pack that are not sure that they will even finish the race. We don’t leave until every racer is accounted for. This being Alaska, there is a possibility of bears and moose on the trail.
Emergency Communications Training for us. There is almost no better practice available for disaster Emergency Communications (EmComm) operations than a live sporting event! Equipment is put to the test every year to keep it running well and to keep improving it. Each time an Anchorage Amateur Radio Club member deploys, he or she gains valuable experience on what works well, and what doesn’t. We must be ready for the unexpected, the unusual.
Public relations: Put on a safety vest, grab a clipboard and a handheld radio and you are now an expert. People will now ask you about the race, radios, the weather, geography, history, landmarks, bears, salmon, eagles, and even the “moose breeding grounds”!
It’s rewarding to volunteer your time. You will remember when a marathon runner that is more than 3 hours and more than 24 miles into the race smiles, waves and says “thank you for volunteering”.
What radio equipment do we use?
Generally you will use a 2 meter VHF handheld transceiver (HT). We encourage you to get a better antenna than the “rubber duckie” that comes with your radio. A better antenna, like from Signal Stick will improve your transmission and reception.
If you are at a noisy location (next to a highway, next to the PA system at a start or finish line, next to a band along a trail), you might want a headset with a boom microphone.
Another option is a Speaker Microphone.
If you are at a location on the road system, you can use a mobile radio with antenna mounted on your vehicle. You can also bring a spare large battery, a mobile transceiver, and a mag-mount antenna for your roof. Sometime people way out in the bush have brought a vertical antenna mounted high on a tripod, or even a Yagi antenna.
How do I prepare?
Use and be comfortable with your equipment. Participate in the Southcentral Simplex net with the same equipment that you will use during the event.
A day or three before the event, make sure that you have programmed all the frequencies that are published for the event into your radio. Test that your radio works on all the repeaters and frequencies. You will feel so much better when you find out your radio is mis-programmed at home two days before the event, rather than 15 minutes before the starting gun goes off.
It is a lot more reliable switching between memory channels than going to VFO mode and punching the frequency, offset and tone into your radio on the side of the trail.
Learn how to lock and unlock your HT keyboard. It is embarrassing to stick a perfectly performing radio into a pocket or chest harness, and all of a sudden the volume is way off, or the radio has mysteriously switched frequencies because you fat fingered the keyboard while handling it.
Charge your radio and phone batteries the night before!
Update the contacts on your phone with the phone number for Net Control and the event radio coordinator. Yes we are amateur radio, but if we need to get through, we will use whatever is available.
Look up on a map exactly where you will be positioned in case you need to call 911 in an emergency. Check to see if there are course mile markers near you. It will help the paramedics.
If you have time, go to your checkpoint ahead of time and do a radio test if repeaters are involved. Any issues with your RF path can be dealt with before that 15 minutes before the event starts.
What do I bring?
Like everything else here, it depends. It depends on where you are located, the weather, what stuff you already have.
- As we mentioned before, bring a charged, programmed radio with an antenna. Spare charged battery. Spare radio and battery. Headset or Speaker Microphone.
- Cell phone.
- Your radio manual or cheat sheets for programming it.
- High visibility safety vest. We prefer the lime green variety. The AARC has some amateur radio vests to loan.
- Notepad, pen, pencil.
- Course map, event frequencies on paper.
- A name tag is nice.
- Comfort for you. At the 2022 Gold Nugget Triathlon it was 32 degrees at 7 AM. By the middle of the afternoon it was t-shirt weather. It can range from t-shirt, shorts, bug dope and sunscreen to windy, rainy, and spitting sleet. Wear layers, dress appropriately.
- Water, cold non-alcoholic drinks, hot drinks, snacks, maybe lunch.
- Folding chair, tarp, pop-up shelter, car, truck, van, RV as appropriate.
- Bear spray, air horn, whistle
How do I carry my HT?
There are a number of ways. Clipped on a belt is not the best because your body shields the antenna. You can hold it in your hand or use a chest harness. Maybe a chest pocket in a jacket. I have a pack with plastic “D” rings on the shoulder strap that I can clip a radio to. Drink pocket on the arm of your folding chair.
ABC—Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity
Consider including the Five Ws in the transmission.
- Who—needs something
- What—do they need
- Why—do they need it
- When—do they need it
- Where—do they need it
- Listen before transmitting.
- Always leave a little extra time (1 second will suffice) between depressing the PTT switch and speaking. Numerous electronic circuits, including tone squelch, RF squelch and power-saving modes, need a substantial fraction of that time in order to allow your signal to be transmitted.
- Hold the microphone close to your cheek, just off to the side of your mouth, positioned so that you talk across, and not into, the microphone. This reduces plosives (popping sounds from letters such as “P”).
- Speak in a normal, clear, calm voice. Talking loudly or shouting does not increase the volume of your voice at the receiving radios, but will distort the audio, because loud sounds result in over-modulation, which directly causes distortion.
- Speak at a normal pace, or preferably, slower. Not leaving gaps between words causes problems with radio transmissions that are not as noticeable when one is talking face-to-face.
What happens on the radio?
There might be some chatter on the radio an hour before the event start. Feel free to check in.
About half an hour before the event starts, Net Control will start the Net. It will start with an announcement, and then a roll call. Finish line folks might not show up for another hour.
We usually use “tactical call signs” during an event. Use your tactical call sign. If you are done talking, you can finish with <your call sign> to signify that you are done.
You will usually go through Net Control for your transmissions.
Let’s say that you are at Goose Lake and the first runner with bib number 351 has just ran by.
“Net Control, Goose Lake”
“Goose Lake, go ahead.”
“Net Control, the first runner with bib number 351 just went by, <your call sign>”
“Bib number 351, Thank you Goose Lake”
If you are trying to keep track of bib numbers, write down the time and the bib number. If it’s been busy on the net you might have to call in with the time and bib number. I also had a case where a runner resigned from the race at the location I was at. About three hours later I heard that they were looking for that person, because he never finished. Since I had the time and bib number written down, I was able to cancel the search, or at least limit it.
What if someone is hurt?
It is up to your judgment to determine if you are going to call Net Control or 911 first.
Most of our events have paramedics available on the course. They are available to treat an injury, but they do not do emergency transport. If it’s a minor injury, we can call a paramedic in. If it’s a major injury, call 911. If it’s major, we call in the professionals. You are the one that can answer questions about the incident better than Net Control.
After calling 911, call Net Control we might be able to get our paramedics on scene faster than the Fire Department because we are closer. On the radio we will respect the privacy of the patient, no names, no bib numbers, no detailed descriptions “short female, purple hair, Barney the dinosaur t-shirt”. Use a cell phone call to Net Control for private medical information.
When can I go home?
The end of the event is a bit tricky to predict. The red lantern might not be the slowest person on the course that day, but they are the slowest at the end of the day. On an all day event, if we have a ton of volunteers, we can schedule two people for the morning, and two people for the afternoon. Sometimes we only get one person for a location. We usually have a sweep of some sort to follow the last person in. We want to make sure that everyone that started the event finishes.
As the sweep goes by, report the red lantern and sweep to Net Control. Net Control will thank you for your service and release you to go home. Should you need to leave early, please check out with Net Control. Stuff happens, and we are volunteers.
Any other questions or comments?
73 – Walter Yankauskas – KL7WY – cell 907-351-3992
walteryak at gmail.com