Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Fun Times as a Volunteer and Learning to be Net Control at the County Level

Since my last post the best volunteer opportunity and experience I've had was recently attending the Texas Unites Conference sponsored by Texas VOAD and Texas Citizen Corps, held at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Dallas - 23.8 miles and a 35 to 40 minute drive - one way. I avoided the mess of trying to get on Walton Walker (that spur that runs just north of downtown linking 35E & 75 - North Central Expressway - 35E being a total bottleneck to merge on to during rush hour) and wisely went through downtown instead. MUCH less traffic! As I walked in the front door of the hotel wondering where to head, I heard "Linda." I glanced seeing no one. "Linda!" I was absolutely ecstatic to see my emergency management mentor and friend, Ben Patterson, who is now Disaster Recovery Coordinating Manager for the State of Texas. Great conference with excellent programs (although aimed primarily at upper and mid-level emergency managers and volunteer coordinators) - very good networking opportunities. And really great seeing and visiting with Ben after a full year. HI BEN!!

See my new Page on Amateur Radio and RACES for simple explanations of various terms.

Other recent volunteer activities:
  • 7/3 I was asked if I would like to be a Net Controller for Arlington's very big deal 4th of July parade - third largest in the country. Of course! I just need to show up before 6am. It's my first opportunity to get to use the radios in the RACES van.
  • 6/23-24 The Texas Unites Conference in Dallas, which included a mini-NWS SKYWARN class given by Mark Fox of the FWD NWS - good to see him again as well
  • 6/26 Not really a volunteer event, but I participated in Field Day, an annual ham radio event. I had hoped to have access to the much fancier radios and get some interstate experience, but the long time radio operators essentially hogged all the radios, though the purpose of field day is to introduce the public to the use and hobby of amateur radio. My job ended up sitting at the registration desk keeping company with the woman given that job. Not what I expected to end up doing most of the day. I never did have actual contact with a radio, but I did, by being insistent, manage to get a newbie access to a radio to try out, and delightfully discovered that one of the members plays and teaches bagpipes, which she brought with her to practice on.
  • 6/7 RACES monthly Check-In net - only this time I had the opportunity to serve as as an alternate Net Controller when the original Net Controller, my other mentor Radio Dave, encountered radio difficulties. All I had to do was ask the next 3 operators to report their call signs and repeat them back for accuracy in order for them to get credit for having participated. Afterwards I called Radio Dave and found out he had actually fixed his problem rather quickly but let me get in the practice and I guess gather some additional introduction to operators across Tarrant County. While this doesn't sound like much, it once again gave me the opportunity to practice being Net Control. The only thing important about that is that I am able to gain credence such that in an emergency the active members aren't sitting there wondering "Who the !!##?? is that, and is she even authorized?" My RACES mentor, Gerry, called it real-time practice. I call it a bit of fun. This statement is by someone who for the first year she had her radio license was too timid to press the transmit key and say ANYTHING on air, and who, during her first RACES severe thunderstorm report was so excited and NERVOUS Net Control couldn't understand a word I said. It was rather embarrassing and NOT a good start. Thankfully, when nerves are under control, I have a calm, steady and very understandable speaking voice. At least I hope so.
  • 6/2 Noon: Net Controller for Monthly Warning Siren Test. Evening: For the first time I had the opportunity to participate as stand-in Net Control for a RACES severe weather event that came about when Net Control Gerry needed someone to relieve him for a few minutes. I waited but since no one else responded, I tentatively offered. I thought it would just be for maybe 5 minutes. Instead, when he came back some time after that, and I started to relinquish Net Control back to him, he told me to continue. Wow! I knew he was monitoring and ready to step in, but he didn't until the NWS indicated our services were no longer needed. Then he did take back Net Control for the sole purpose to deactivate the Net. A good thing since I had no script and no way to turn off the special RACES Net Morse Code tone that sounds at the end of each transmission. I was really surprised to be allowed to handle this to begin with and delighted to have the opportunity to practice for as long as I did. Had the weather been really severe, someone with more experience would have been doing it. Not me. Not just then anyway.
  • 5/27 Served at Net Controller for the Arlington Hospital Check-in Net
Again, check out my new page on Amateur Radio stuff, but be patient. It's definitely a work in progress.

Abbreviation Key

AARC - Arlington Amateur Radio Club
- Amateur Radio Emergency Service
- Community Emergency Response Team
EMST - Emergency Management Support Team
- Emergency Operations Center - part of the OEM
FEMA - Federal Emergency Management Agency
- National Weather Service
NWS FWD - National Weather Service - Fort Worth/Dallas
OEM - Office of Emergency Management
- Public Service Event - ARES Net
RACES - Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services
- TExas Severe Storm Associaton