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Amateur Radio: National Traffic System (NTS) – When all else fails. Or, When Twitter is down!

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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

Written by frrl

July 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm

When all else fails

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Part of the relevancy of Amateur Radio in the 21st Century is the idea that “When all else fails” Amateur Radio will be there.

From the ARRL

Despite the complexity of modern commercial communications – or perhaps BECAUSE they are so complex – Amateur Radio operators are regularly called upon to provide communications when other systems are down or overloaded.

You can check out what the ARRL has to say here:

What is the “else” in…When all else fails?

Did you ever wonder what has to fail? Curiosity led me to find the Statewide Communications Interoperability Plan for my state – Illinois

Here is the scope of that plan

The Statewide Communications Interoperability Plan, or SCIP, serves as the operational blueprint for the conceptualization, procurement, implementation, and usage of interoperable communications by Illinois’ public safety agencies and non- governmental/private organizations. The development of the SCIP was a cooperative effort by a consortium of federal, state, and local public safety practitioners working through the Illinois Terrorism Task Force’s Communications Committee and the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee. Annual reviews/updates to the SCIP will be conducted under the auspices of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

The SCIP is much more than a user’s guide to radio communications. The plan outlines Illinois’ interoperability vision, its mission, and the goals, objectives, and strategic initiatives that will be employed to achieve that vision. It establishes standard operating procedures that will be followed by public safety practitioners when responding to disasters or significant incidents and underscores Illinois’ adherence to the tenets of the National Incident Management System. The plan sets forth the methodology that will be used to assess Illinois’ current interoperable capabilities, defines the governance role of the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee, and details funding strategies to achieve Illinois’ interoperability vision.,, Most importantly, however, the SCIP demonstrates Illinois’ uncompromising commitment to bring communications interoperability to all of its governmental/non- governmental public safety agencies.

It’s a fascinating read.  In this plan you will find tons of frequencies providing the opportunity to “listen in” on drills and actual emergency communications  (link)

The Bigger Picture

The bigger picture, for Illinois, is located here

Illinois Emergency Management Agency

Disaster Preparedness, Response & Recovery

And then there is FEMA.

Check out the National Response Framework

FEMA offers more than 100 training courses on-line for free

So how does all this fit in with Amateur Radio?

Read the Public Service Communications Manual from the ARRL

Here are some resources from an Illinois ARES group

Mystery Projects – FEMA/DHS AM backup transmitters

And finally, this  article from the Radio Engineering Blog

What is the deal with those FEMA/DHS AM backup transmitters?

Back last February, it was reported that FEMA/Department of Homeland Security was mysteriously constructing prepackaged AM transmitter buildings at various PEP (Primary Entry Point) transmitter sites across the country as something call “Primary Entry Point Expansion.” These buildings contain a 5 KW Nautel AM transmitter, EAS gear, satellite equipment (the exact equipment list is undisclosed) and a backup generator all in a shielded (Faraday Cage), prefabricated building placed inside of a fenced in compound at the station’s transmitter site. The buildings are being put in place, but not connected to anything in the outside world. They are planning to have about 80 (the number keeps increasing) of these structures in place when the project is completed by mid 2013.

Read the entire posting here –

The Take

If all the above is the “else” … and  “If all else fails” I’m not sure I want to be around. Or perhaps, if all else fails, none of us may have a choice to be around or not.

Read a related article on this site –

Written by frrl

February 4, 2012 at 7:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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Amateur Radio – Reality Check from the Wife

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I snagged this on YouTube


The above video was created by K6FRC.  Web site –
This must be a tolerant wife (cache web site pages) –

Written by frrl

December 29, 2011 at 2:33 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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