Amateur Radio: National Traffic System (NTS) – When all else fails. Or, When Twitter is down!
There are a lot of people who read this blog that know nothing about Amateur Radio. Perhaps some of you are wondering about the doomsday scenario – no doubt to befall us at the end of the Mayan calendar in December 2012. Or perhaps it’s a lesser event, such as a hurricane or some other disaster.
No more global communication for you…
So what do you do when your smartphone is down? You know, that global communication device in your pocket. If you lose that no more texting, no more twittering, you can’t send a photograph, you won’t know your GPS location, you won’t be able to stream a movie. If you lose the capability of that smartphone device you won’t be able to pay for the mocha latte at Starbucks. If you lose the capability of that device you won’t be able to have a video chat with aunt Mary to see if she is OK. Forget the face-time video, you won’t even be able to talk to her. Given this new situation, you won’t be able to update your Facebook status and alert your friends of your situation. Surely, in the context of our always-connected digital life, the world has ended.
In short, your global communication device and all the infrastructure that has to be working to support it – is gone. What now?
Amateur Radio National Traffic System
Never fear. Amateur Radio has something called the National Traffic System (NTS). In brief (there are a lot of links to detailed info below) Amateur Radio operators, using a network of point to point private radio systems will get your all important message to just about anywhere in the world.
The NTS is “idling” when not in use for the Mayan end of the world or a local or national disaster. Amateur Radio operators are sending self-generated messages to constantly ensure that the network of volunteer operators, the network, and the radio equipment is up and working.
How it works…
The Wikipedia has a somewhat colorful example of how the Amateur Radio National Traffic System works. Here it is:
This process is best explained by an example. Let’s say that someone in Minnesota wants to send a birthday greeting to Aunt Mary in California. They telephone their local ham friend and give him the message.
At 6:30 local time, the Minnesota ham attends (“checks in to”) the Minnesota Section net. One station there has been designated to accept all outgoing messages, and Aunt Mary’s message is sent to that station.
At 7:45, the station who received the message checks in to the Region net. This net consists of representatives from all the section nets in the region, and one station has been designated to accept all traffic that flows out of the region. Aunt Mary’s greeting will be sent to this station.
At 8:30, the station from the region checks into the Area net and sends Aunt Mary’s greeting to the designated representative from the Pacific area.
At 8:30 Pacific Time, the Pacific Area net meets. (All the area nets meet at 8:30 local time; since they are in different time zones there is no overlap.) At this point the process is repeated in the opposite order
The area representative sends the message to the appropriate region representative,
The region representative meets a later session of the region net and sends the message to the appropriate section representative,
The section representative meets a later section net and sends the message to the closest operator to Aunt Mary’s home
The final recipient calls Aunt Mary on the telephone and delivers the greeting.
Perhaps this sounds rather complex, but it really isn’t. Each net uses the same procedure and operating techniques, so as novice operators gain experience they can “graduate” from section to region to area nets. Every message is placed into the same format. The operation is disciplined but not unduly complex.
The NTS uses a variety of modes of Amateur Radio communication to transmit your message. Of special interest is the Brass Pounders. These are folks, that, with a bit of nostalgia, use Morse code and (brass) telegraph keys to transmit the message.
Try it for yourself…
You, the private citizen might want to try this NTS system out by contacting a local amateur radio operator and having them send a “Radiogram”.
What says “Happy Birthday” to Aunt Mary better than a Radiogram sent through the Amateur Radio National Traffic System and perhaps handled by a Brass Pounder? That, for sure, beats an e-Card from Hallmark or even a talking birthday card sent through the postal mail.
Read (lots) more
You can find out what the NTS is all about in this presentation.
Below are lots of references where you can read more about the NTS
What is the government doing to ensure survivability of communications – Presidential Executive Order