Operation Perfect Storm
January 19, 2019
0800 until 1400 Hours
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This page was last updated: January 22, 2019
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Why a Communications Only Exercise?

This is a good question in that we do not work in a vacuum but in a service role with agencies.  We do not self deploy but our services are requested, in most cases with agencies that we have agreements.  So with this being the case, why don't we plan and act in concert with those that we serve.

Have you ever had an agency that you have a MOU that has an exercise or drill that has not invited you as a player?  The reason, most likely is that our role doesn't fit in the purpose of that drill.  Most disaster exercises has a broad agenda with a heavy emphasis on the role of first responders.  We need to take advantage when we are ask to participate with mutable agency drills..  The main experienced gained is a better understanding of how we support them in their roles.  This is an important piece of knowledge.  I have participated in many of these drills and have worked to support different agencies in the real thing.  I have seen hams and other agency people participate in multiable agency drills and then go away with a sense of disappointment because there was almost no role for them.  I have had planners to assure me that they were going to create traffic for us to pass.  Come the day of the exercise we have 25 or 30 hams ready to participate by providing emergency communications.  We then discover no plans have been made to provide for us to be injected into the drill with traffic.  Part of the reason is that professional planners are employed at a very high cost to write the exercise and supervisor the event.  This planning often spans two years with a tabletop preceding the real event.  I was in one of these that were sold as a table top with a full-blown exercise the next year.  The second phase never came to pass.  I still exercise with agencies with the agency taking the primary lead and my expectations for ham involvement is low.  It still has value.

The exercises that I have planned for a number of years on an annual basis are a 100% ham training event with some interoperability involved.  For several years we have had people from neighboring states to take part in our drill.  Disaster doesn't stop at a jurisdictional boundary.  If a disaster strikes your community and exacts total community destruction, your local ARES or EmComm group will be involved in caring for your family needs other than communication.  Outside mutual aid groups will carry the day for you.  The local group will play a major role as liaison with the influx of hams and local agencies.

When I have responded to serious disasters the form most used during the event was a legal pad with the needed content being there.  During Katrina 2005, Gustov 2008, and Ike 2008, I never saw a single ICS-213 or other ICS form being used.  I had all the commonly used ICS forms printed and in my go-bag but used notebook paper because the agency that I served were not using ICS forms.  If an agency requires a form ISC or others, we should comply.  I focus on content and speed. Many Winlink stations in our area run software (Airmail) that has no forms imbedded.  The reason is that these stations do not run Winlink Express because there operating system will not support Winlink Express.  We have 13 agencies in our area equipped with voice and Winlink but the computers are old and running Windows 98.  We are trying to upgrade these as we receive gifts of computers equipped with modern operating systems.  These older computers use a text file for ICS forms and they have all the content that is used in the fancy framed forms.  They take 2 to 3 K of total content that can be copied and pasted in the returned message with the bottom portion filled out and sent as a reply.  In a real disaster, people are concerned about accurate content that answers their requirements. 

I would suggest that you go more in depth in your local drills.  Involve agencies that you serve in your planning and functions.  Once a year we need a drill that we are the central player and that test our ability to test our function which is communications.  Use Winlink and move toward faster modes to use Winlink and don’t wait for another year to pass to fire it up.  Make a habit to use Winlink Wednesday to keep sharp.  The content in the message is a one liner but it keeps you involved in using the mechanics of the software and hardware and is a valuable tool.  If you can send a short message, you have no problem with a larger message with more content.  Improve your handling your short tactical messages via voice.  There is no substitute for preparing yourself for multiple mode use. 

Equip yourselves for 60-meters use.  The reason we were given secondary use on this band is for emergency communications.  You will find a number of emergency communications nets on this band throughout the week.  It also provides for interoperability with other agencies.  Your antenna fix could be as simple as a good tuner or making up a quick 60 meter dipole.  Another band that is CW and digital only is 30 meters.  When serving in gulf states, I used 30 meters for Winlink more than any other band to communicate back into Virginia while being deployed.

To get information out about this drill while in the planning stages, I sent emails to those that participated in last years event.  I also sent out announcements to those that were registered on the EmComm and AUXCOMM database.  These emails also went to leadership in a number of different EmComm groups, if you failed to get the word about this pending drill was because your leadership failed to pass the word on.   The reason behind this drill is that we need an occasional drill that allows us to focus on our mission totally.  It allows us to test out ability to communicate locally and statewide.  So this exercise is designed to have a heavy load of traffic with contacts throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia and traffic that is local.  We have not received all the AARs but we have records of over 1,000 messages exchanged.  This drill is not a substitute for your local training exercises.  If you are running rag chew nets and calling them emergency communications nets, you need to change your agenda to some real training as part of these nets.

Thanks again to all and I hope to hear of your local exercises.