Author: Frederick R. Vobbe, W8HDU
January 1, 2008
I'll start this by saying if you're a league member and are offended, or don't like what's written, don't bother writing or commenting at all. Close your browser and move on. See the bottom for the reason.
I started participating in traffic handling because of two reasons. First, there was a need in my community. Second, I realized after Hurricane Katrina that the normal avenues for emergency communications were woefully undependable. As Katrina demonstrated, all the normal avenues of communications, which we take for granted, failed. Amateur radio played a pivotal role in communications, and I personally handled 26 messages for Katrina, and over 40 not associated with the Katrina weather event.
My participation is, as I call it, "non-political". I follow as closely as possible the ARRL's National Traffic System (NTS) guidelines. But I stop at using forms for promotion of an organization, and I distance myself from members who take great pride in putting their organization before the service that is being provided. Again, if this angers you, refer to the first paragraph on this page and please don't comment. You don't need to be a "member" to do this. You do need to be willing and committed to doing it, and not in need of accolades.
My participation is solely to get messages from point A to point B, especially when there are no other avenues to use, and the safety, security, and wellbeing of people and personal property are at risk. I take this seriously and have not challenged any messages based on content or perceived importance.
As society gravitates to higher forms of technologies, I see more risks of a breakdown in communication. This is where amateur radio shines. Hams were on the air in many cities, and people were often surprised to have me on their doorstep dropping off a message to them from someone. The more we step away from the basics and toward technology, the more risks we bring on ourselves.
Movies such as "2012" only amplify the public's misperceptions of communications. The reality is that people love their cellphones and the Internet. But when we had our ice storm several years back resulting in one week of no phone/power/Internet, and the great blackout where power was out for a day, people literally freaked by not being able to contact friends and family. During Katrina the phones were out, Internet was out, and even the first responder and FEMA's great digital communication system was toasted. Hams, however, were able to communicate and recovered faster than the big boys could.
I think it's important to have a link such as traffic handling in these cases. It plays an important role, and is beneficial not only in emergencies but in minor times of concern. And when you operate during times of non-emergency, you get very proficient so that when there is an emergency it's all second nature to you.
If you are interested traffic handling, review sites such as The National Traffic System (NTS) Primer, or the ARRL's site. Here in Ohio there are numerous nets. Google: "NTS traffic" or "traffic handling net" for more links to read.
Listen in to traffic nets for a few months, and practice message handling before you jump in. It's also good to know the players in your local traffic-handling region. For example, Hugh Stegman, NV6H, has a good list on his web site.
Above all, stay focused on the mission. The mission is to get the message from point A to point B. Period. If someone tells you that you have to be league member, or must be a member of a "club", or that you have to be a member of their group, either work around the problem or find somewhere else to participate. Again, the purpose is to get the message from point A to point B. It's not to promote an organization, club, or look for self admiration.
Note that you can customize the form as you wish. My form was designed because I found 5,000 windowed #10 envelopes at a flea market for $5.00 so I can fold and stuff the form in with only the recipient's name showing. I also had my forms printed by a local printer with a gum edge, so they are 50 sheet pads. I can write right on them, or occasionally I'll pull up the XLS on the computer and retype the message so it looks clean. This is helpful for elderly when your handwriting is not very legible.
Often, I will have the recipient want to give me a few dollars for my trouble. I've always turned them down, but I have asked that when they talk to anyone in the county or city they mention the service that amateur radio provides. This is especially important when it seems that every U.S. city is becoming more and more anti-tower or trying to write "anti-antenna" legislation into local laws, while not understanding the impact.
Sometimes hams get lumped into the same pool as the CBers and others, so I understand the intent of the law, but it's sort of like writing a law prohibiting someone from owning more than one car, when there are responsible classic car collectors out there. I doubt they will have three or more cars up on cinder blocks in their driveway. Hams need a tower and reasonable antenna to communicate. And the more the public and the hams keep hammering this into the heads of community leaders, the better.
Another thing I offer instead of compensation is to encourage youngsters to get active in ham radio. This is only possible IF you have a good group of non-political elmers in your area. The hobby is always in need of good ham radio operators that understand what the hobby is about.
I've found message handling to be rewarding to myself, and a benefit to my community. It doesn't take much effort to get into the swing of things, and it only improves your skills as an amateur radio operator.
And if you wonder why I opened with the words I did, for some reason it seems some "members" feel that anyone who is not a part of their "group" is somehow persona non grata. I've caught a lot of flack for not being, or wishing joining their roles. As I mention in the article above, the focus should be on the mission. It should not be a member retention or member building purpose. And those of you whom are members should unceremoniously drum out those who not only discourage nonmembers, but take part in illegal activities (ie: jamming) in order to bolster their positions. This is just my opinion, and you have the right to close your brower if you don't agree. 73.
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