The timeline is set, the inject traffic and initiating stations are in place, and hundreds of operators are making final preparations of their gear.
As in years past, this year’s scenario-based nationwide exercise is based on a cyber attack. But there will be more!
For most participants, this makes the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or more T-REX exercises they’ve participated in. Each time, more is learned, tested, and previous experience applied. We all grow and become better radio operators for it. But we take it for granted that this might be the first time for many of the new members who have joined AmRRON over the past year or more. Apologies! We will help prepare the newer folks much farther in advance in the future, as we’ve done in the past.
WHAT IS T-REX?
It is a three-day (actually, 48 hours) scenario-based disaster preparedness exercise, from Friday, September 9th, through Sunday at Noon, Pacific time, September 11th (non-stop). All participants cuts commercial power, internet, cell phone, satellite, and any other conventional communications methods and simulates a nationwide grid-down emergency.
TIME: Beginning Friday at Noon Pacific time (1pm Mountain; 2pm Central; 3pm Eastern; 1900 Zulu).
It is an opportunity for you as an individual, or family, or preparedness group, church disaster relief ministry, militia, or organization to practice implementing your worst-case emergency preparedness plan. Cook with your off-grid equipment, power your batteries with your solar panels, test out alternative lighting, play a board game with your family by lantern and no electronics, practice your bugout plan, etc.
But most importantly, it’s an opportunity for you to practice using your emergency communications skills and equipment. Make mistakes, learn shortcomings, capabilities and limitations, and identify where you need to make improvements (and you will, each time you do an exercise). Take it seriously, but have fun!
WHAT WILL ACTUALLY HAPPEN DURING THE EXERCISE?
Initially, each SIGCEN (Signals Center) and NCS (Net Control Station) will produce and send an Initial Event Summary. In a real-world event, radio operators will be taking to the airwaves to find out exactly what has happened, and how widespread are the effects. They will inherently be looking to Net Control Stations for answers and guidance. The Initial Event Summary is a tool we use to convey what we know at the moment, at the onset of an event, as well as guidance and instructions such as reminders of when the next scheduled net is to take place, and what frequency and mode, etc.
Also, this year there are 38 pieces of preloaded radio traffic (we call ‘injects’) which was developed and distributed to over twenty volunteer Initiating Stations across the country. Nine of those are welfare traffic requests, such as someone requesting a check on a loved one in another state, for example.
Each Inject that was issued included a set of instructions for each Initiating Station, including when to ‘inject’ their radio traffic into the scenario. This helps enhance the timeline and the scenario with realistic messages, reports, and developments which might occur in logical fashion in a real-world emergency. Net Control Stations will direct traffic to help keep the nets running smoothly, and will facilitate getting radio traffic to their destinations. Tuning in to the nets will help you gain an understanding of the size, scope, and impact of the disaster.
Each piece of traffic is assigned a three-digit training exercise control number, or Traffic ID number. And each Inject Station is assigned a two-digit Station ID number. This helps us track official exercise traffic so we can understand the effectiveness of the nets, identify shortcomings, and track the successful delivery of the traffic.
Some traffic is for wide distribution, for everyone’s situational awareness. Some wide distribution traffic pertains to specific communities, or regions, and is not intended for all nationwide participants. For example, a church setting up a soup kitchen at the American Baptist Church on 123 Merry Lane, Smallville, USA, would only pertain to the people in that community. It wouldn’t pertain to someone a thousand miles, and five states away. On the other hand, foreign military forces landing on the shores of the east coast, the west coast, and crossing the Mexican border would pertain to everyone on the North American continent — when wide distribution means WIDE distribution.
The SIGCENs (Signals Centers) on the east and west coasts will be compiling reports as they are receiving them from NCSs, and others, and compiling consolidated SITREPs (Situation Reports), or Intelligence Briefs, etc. Those are generally for wide distribution intended for all parties with the ability to receive radio signals.
Keep notes for ideas on how to improve your personal situation. As you receive information over the air, and you learn of some of the events taking place, use the opportunity to discuss with your family or group, ‘what would we do, or how would we respond, if this were real’?
YOU GET TO TRANSMIT. One of the first things an NCS is going to try to do is take a ‘pulse check’ to find out who is out there on the air, who else is affected, in what ways, how far reaching the effects are, and what does he not yet know, but should. We use the STATREP (Status Report) as a tool to provide a formatted method for each radio operator to report the status at their location. As each station reports his/her Status Report, others will be able to see those reports as well. The NCS will use the information from these STATREPs to update his Initial Event Summary to fill in any gaps on what he didn’t know beforehand.
Be prepared to submit your STATREP if you are properly licensed to transmit on the Amateur Radio bands. This pertains to both HF and local VHF/UHF frequencies. USE THE ABBREVIATED STATREP. AmRRON operators will find guidance on how to format their STATREPs on Page 37 of the AmRRON Signals Operating Instructions, Section 6.3.1 — the ‘Abbreviated STATREP‘.
YOU ARE GRID DOWN DURING T-REX, and your STATREP should reflect that. Your STATREP should indicate that, at minimum, you are without commercial power and all conventional communications (phone/internet).
This can be done over voice (aka. phone) or using ham digital modes, such as JS8Call, FSQCall, or fldigi modes such as Contestia 4-250. Follow the instructions of NCS. For most AmRRON operators, this is a walk in the park. We practice this regularly.
What is different about T-REX nets versus regularly-scheduled practice nets?
TRAFFIC. Ensuring important traffic (especially Priority or Immediate/Emergency traffic) gets passed. This is the primary difference.
In a real-world emergency, unless there is not business (traffic) to attend to, taking check-ins for the sake of filling a list of callsigns is the lowest priority. Generally, AmRRON nets become ‘Traffic Nets’ for the purpose of moving important, time sensitive, or lifesaving information.
Net Control will likely announce himself, including his name and location, and then announce any traffic he has for the net, including the precedence level of the traffic. Then:
A. He will (should) ask for another station to act as an Assitant NCS (ANCS). The ANCS helps relay traffic to others which may not have a good path to Net Control, and he can step up to take over the net if something happens to NCS (like, if NCS vanishes — it happens — computers crash, generators run out of fuel, dogs chase the neighbor cat, etc.).
B. First, he will ask if there is any Immediate (or Emergency) traffic for the net. He may take the traffic directly, if appropriate, or he may facilitate getting the Priority traffic relayed on to its destination.
C. Then he will send any traffic he has for the net, beginning with Priority traffic.
D. If a station announces he has directed traffic, NCS will then try to identify a station at, or close to, the destination. For example. If NCS is in Missouri and a Station from Texas calls announcing he has traffic that needs to go to Montana, NCS will tell him to stand by and ask if there are any Montana station on frequency. If nothing heard, he may ask for stations in states surrounding Montana to check in who can relay the traffic. An Idaho station responds, offering to take the traffic, and who will work with others in the region to get the traffic to its destination. NCS will then direct the Texas and Idaho stations to move up, or down, three to six kilohertz and exchange traffic. if they do not have a direct path to each other, then the ANCS can move with them, and relay the traffic between them, clearing the main net frequency as soon as possible. ANCS will return to the net frequency as soon as the relay is finished. If there are no stations at or near the destination, the NCS can take the traffic and pass it along using other means after the net closes.
E. Other NCSs from adjacent regions should announce themselves on a net, so the primary NCS knows they are there, and can relay net traffic to them which is intended for their region.
To help keep the scheduled nets from becoming congested, any stations with directed traffic should try to use the Persistent Presence Net to find other stations who might be able to relay the traffic toward its destination. All stations should keep a log of who you sent traffic to, and who you received traffic from. If it gets lost or disappears during the exercise, this will help in tracking it down and learning what happened to it, and why, so we can remedy any shortfalls.
However, since many stations have limited alternate power (perhaps a single RV battery and a small solar panel), it may not be viable for them to be on the air continually. This is why we have regularly scheduled nets listed in the SOI, creating a time window when as many stations as possible can meet on the air to exchange traffic. Scheduled nets is also when wide distribution traffic from AmRRON will be sent.
IF YOU HAVE NO HF CAPABILITIES:
This is a shortcoming you MUST overcome. Get a shortwave radio receiver with SSB capability, or an SDR dongle, if nothing else. You must have the ability to receive information from outside your immediate area if repeaters are rendered inoperable. You must be able to inform your community if there is a radiation cloud, lava, zombies, langoliers, or foreign military convoys bearing down on you from the next state over.
IF YOU HAVE A LOCAL VHF/UHF, GMRS, CH3 COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK BUT NO INJECT TRAFFIC:
Develop your own ‘micro scenarios’ which fit your community, but which go along with the larger nationwide scenario. You’re already a leader, so organizing some training scenarios which provide opportunities to use your communications networks should be right down your alley!
AmRRON is a patriot-oriented network, not an anti-government network. So, do not create micro scenarios which project an adversarial relationship between your local group and government officials or political groups.
But share your small group training experiences as well. What worked, what didn’t, overall impressions and experiences, and areas you’ve identified as needing improvement, and solutions to address the shortcomings revealed during the exercise.
Keep a list of the traffic you receive over the course of the exercise! There will be a survey that will be used to create several after action reports (something we did not get to complete last year).