This is the second in a series of Articles I am writing to try and demystify emergency and disaster communications. This time we will talk a little about the National Traffic System.
What is the National Traffic System?
The Public Service Communications Manual tells us:
“The National Traffic System is a means for systematizing amateur traffic handling facilities by making a structure available for an integrated traffic facility designed to achieve the utmost in two principal objectives: rapid movement of traffic from origin to destination, and training amateur operators to handle written traffic and participate in directed nets. These two objectives, which sometimes conflict with each other, are the underlying foundations of the National Traffic System.“
OK, what does all of that mean? Well the NTS has a structured net schedule which operates in a cyclic fashion so that written message traffic can move through the system in the quickest possible fashion. The NTS has also developed a set of tools that standardize messages as they come into the system and to speed them through the system. Fledgling net controls can also hone their skills by calling one of the semi formal NTS nets so they will be ready when it really counts. Now most of that stuff can be kind of dry and may be the focus of a future article but for now lets go with the basics.
Who should handle traffic?
All amateur radio operators should learn the basics of how to handle NTS message traffic using the standard ARRL Message form. It doesn't matter if you move traffic on phone, CW or by digital means. NTS messages follow the same format on all three. The format that is most commonly used is the standard ARRL radiogram but that may not always be the case. This format has been used for NTS messages for longer than most traffic handlers can remember. If you look around on the world wide web you will find that there are many message forms out there but they all follow the basic radiogram format. The Red Cross health and welfare form is just a radiogram with the Red Cross header on it. The ICS-213 is different but can be adapted to serve.
Why should I learn to handle record message traffic?
Sometime, somewhere you may find yourself in a position where you don't have telephone or cell phone access and you will have the need to move information from point A to point B. It may just be a message to tell loved ones that their family is ok and will contact them soon or it could be a list of supplies that are needed at a hard to get to shelter. If the need for operators is for those that have traffic handling skills and you have not practiced you may find yourself sitting at the staging area playing cards for sticks of gum instead of participating in the recovery operations.
When would NTS be activated?
Well being part of ARES the National Traffic System activates any time ARES is active and can activate independently of ARES if the need to move written Message traffic should arise. During the recovery efforts in California after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 NTS moved health and welfare traffic out of the area for weeks. The same can be said for hurricane Katrina. In both cases NTS operators moved traffic for other organizations also like the Texas Baptist Men, Salvation Army, and the American Red Cross just to name a few.
Well where do I find these NTS Nets?
The best way to find NTS nets is to ask some of the folks you talk to on the air. Normally you can find at least one traffic handler in the bunch. We are lucky here in the DFW area, we have two local traffic nets everyday. If you don't know anybody that can point you to an NTS net then go over to the ARRL website and check out their free net directory. Most NTS nets can be found on 40 Meters during the day and 75 Meters at night. There are even one or two on twenty meters.
OK, how do I become a traffic handler?
Well you the truth of the matter is you already are. Being a member of NTS is like being a member of ARES. Because you are a licensed amateur radio operator you are a member of NTS. The question is are you willing to participate?
Its pretty simple
- familiarized yourself with the tools (Radiogram, ARL numbered radiogram, etc.)
- find and participate in a few nets (Local, State, Regional)
- develop your skill by self training and on air training
- maybe pass a message or two
- have a good time
Amateur radio is not “Just a Hobby” sometimes we have to do a little work to accomplish our goals.
That doesn't mean we can't have fun while we do it.