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The Art and Skill of Public Event Net Control
I called this story: “The Art and Skill of Public Event Net Control” for it truly is both an art and a skill. Art is something that can only truly be mastered by those who are born with an innate ability to do it. Skill is something that can be acquired through training. I owe a debt of gratitude to a person who possessed the “art”. He was the best Emergency Coordinator I ever had the pleasure of working with. Wayne McLean, VE3WWM, was (and perhaps still is) the EC for Dufferin County. Wayne simply knew how to do things right and his events were both well supported by volunteers and a pleasurable experience for those who came out to them. Having learned the basics from Wayne, I have wrapped my own thoughts around his techniques in the hope of enhancing our own events here in Georgian Bay ARC territory.

A net control station (let’s just call it an NCS) plays a vital role in any amateur radio event. We hold weekly nets every Wednesday evening to practice the role. Our weekly nets are informal and if the NCS makes a complete bollocks of it nobody gets hurt and no damage is done. On the other hand, a public event is not informal; neither is it a practice. If the NCS doesn’t do an effective job consequences really could be incurred. Event organizers rely on us to be communications experts and the safety of event participants may depend on our expertise. It is therefore vital that a public event NCS is selected from the pool of those who either have the art or the skill and have demonstrated that in the club’s informal practice nets.

Think of a net controller as the conductor of an orchestra. The conductor stands front and centre and directs every stroke of a violin bow, every beat of a timpani, every brass section note. The timbre of the whole performance is controlled to such an extent that, to the music aficionado, the same piece of music, played by the same orchestra, will have a different overall quality if directed by two different conductors.

The conductor plays a vital role throughout the entire performance; he does not sit down and wait for the musicians to ask for assistance. He does not pack up and go home when he thinks all is going fine and the musicians can finish on their own.

Before I go on, I would like aspiring conductors (well, public event NCS operators) to do this one small thing in order to understand the vital role they will be called upon to perform. First, choose a day when the weather is not favourable; maybe a humid, rainy day. Find a remote intersection away from home. Choose an area where there are no washrooms and no refreshments. Park up and turn on your radio. Make sure you are alone. For the next five hours sit and listen for the repeater. If you wish you can call on the repeater and see if anybody wants to chat. When the five hours are over you can pack up and go home. This exercise is a simulation of a public event in which the NCS lacks the art and skill required for the job.

My friend Wayne had the knack of keeping his volunteers engaged with regular radio traffic and more. Announcements every few minutes of the purpose of the net which also served to advise others that the repeater was in use; check-ins of every volunteer around the course every fifteen minutes to ensure everybody was safe, secure and happy. There was never an unanswered call to net control. NCS Wayne was always there; he didn’t take a break to grab a sandwich or take a bathroom break. And, at the end of the event, he would set up a barbeque and cook burgers for everyone.

Georgian Bay ARC should aspire to such excellence. We have a way to go but we can do it if we try.

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