SET thoughts from Mike

I’m sure a number of you are wondering about what you really need to be doing participation wise in the upcoming SET on October 6th. Some of the emails I’ve seen indicate you may be suffering a bit of trepidation about what will occur. Hopefully this will help you iron some of that out.

First, the reason we do these exercises is to see where our weak points are. Simply put, an actual emergency is the WRONG time to find what works and what doesn’t.  In light of that, we do “push the envelope” a bit. If we don’t…nothing “breaks.”

When we first started Thomas County ARES, it was a true “start up from scratch,” as no ARES unit had existed in the county for a long time, if ever. There were a lot of questions about what we needed to be able to do, and what equipment we’d need to do it with.  I was also brand new to the ARES concept, so I had as many questions as anyone else.

The first thing I looked at was the “Jump-Kit” of gear I would need for deployment.  I had the stuff needed, but was unsure what to take and what would be excess baggage. In the midst of this, our group got its first “for-real” call out, which occurred about a week after a Field Day exercise.

On a Friday, an elderly man, suffering from dementia, had walked away from his house and didn’t return.  At that point we were already working with Thomas County Fire Rescue, and they didn’t get called in until Saturday morning, so the man had been missing for about 20 hours.

Chief Jones’ assistant gave me a call that morning and said he needed ONE operator at his command trailer as soon as I could get someone there. I asked why they only needed one (who would we talk to?) and she said she wasn’t sure but was simply passing the message.

You guessed it…I was caught “flat footed”…

Most of my station was still disassembled from Field Day, and was still loaded in the truck. Thinking it was too cluttered, I chose to pull two charged HTs, and use my work truck, which also had a mobile radio installed.

On the way in, I started trying to call a few others to alert them to what was happening, and get someone out there with me, so that once we found out what was going on, one of us could go back and get what was necessary to accomplish our task. I caught Buddy at home and he also headed out.

Arriving at the site, we found that there was a ham along with one of the K-9 Search units, and the “one operator” was needed to be in contact with him. As he was on an HT, we needed one of the tripods to get an antenna a bit higher to hear him…guess what we didn’t have?

Buddy headed home to get some additional gear, and as luck would have it, they found the man while he was gone, and other than being dehydrated and hungry, he was OK.

So ended our first real event, and at best we rated about a “D-“on the report card. But, we now had a LOT of info on what we needed in a deployment kit.

I left thinking “I thought I was better prepared than that.”

So, what does all this have to do with the upcoming SET?

Easy…”it’s better to bleed in practice than in combat”  We want to have a realistic experience now, so that when you do it for real, you don’t react like I did above.

Did you catch my first critical mistake? My personal truck was still loaded from Field Day. That means it had radios, power supplies, coax, and tripod towers already loaded up. Granted it was bulging at the seams, but it had EVERYTHING I needed!

I think the old Army adage is “Lose your Head…your @$$ will follow shortly”

So, Point 1 – several folks mentioned they don’t have the gear available to deploy. That’s OK, simply operate from home. We wouldn’t all gather at the same place anyway…we’d have too many people underfoot.

The club maintains a hospital station and also has an additional HF and Dual band radio for deployment to where it’s needed. You may want to get more familiar with those so you can be assigned to wherever they go.

Point 2 -  you’re worried about the complicated names on some of the medicines listed in the scenario causing you problems with passing them in formal traffic. Chances are, we won’t worry about using those, we simply want you to be more familiar with passing written traffic. Can you spell “we need 30 blankets and cots?”

Point 3 – I don’t write fast enough to take written traffic. Here’s a simple rule of thumb for those of you sending the traffic. Read it at the same rate you’d write it down yourself. Doing that keeps you from blowing away someone trying to copy it.

Point 4 – Shouldn’t we be doing this from the locations rather than from home? While we’d usually prefer it so that our served agencies can see the response, they most likely won’t be on site as it’s a Saturday, and they DON’T do overtime for their people. So, if operating from home is all you can do right now, so be it. I’d rather see you get the practice of traffic handling and net procedures, and that doesn’t require you to be on location.

Is this a complex SET? Yes, it is somewhat more so than the last ones we’ve done. But don’t let that stop you from participating. What we’re after is to get you to the same point I was at after leaving the real event above…knowing where you stand in preparation for a real event.

One final thought…we’ve done hurricane scenarios for a couple of years and during those exercises, we got a bit lazy about adding the phrase “This is a Drill” as often as possible. There was no real harm there as most non-ham people who might be listening to the nets on HF receivers and scanners knew there was no Cat.4 hurricane off the coast.

This scenario however, would be easily misconstrued as an actual event because of its medical nature. There’s always the chance someone will hear it on the scanner and go into “Oh My GOD!!” phase.

We do not want a “War of the Worlds” scenario where people take to the streets looking for the triage areas and PODs for inoculations. So use “This is a Drill”  early and often in your traffic.

Still have questions?…shoot me an email and I’ll do what I can to help you along… And again, don’t worry, this will be painless, and you’ll learn a lot!

73, Mike


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