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Amateur Radio

Simulated Emergency Test: October 2018

Date: Saturday, October 13

Note: In Ontario the Simulated Emergency Test will be held on Saturday, October 13 but at Emergency Operations Centres that are located in Municipal offices, that can’t get access on the weekend, the SET will also be held on Wednesday, October 10.

The Simulated Emergency Test is a North America-wide exercise in emergency communications, administered by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and the RAC Emergency Coordinators and Net Managers. Both the Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) and the National Traffic System (NTS) are involved. The SET weekend gives communicators the opportunity to focus on the emergency-communications capability within your community, while interacting with NTS nets.

RAC administers our Canadian SETs. Among other objectives we aim to strengthen the relationship between ARES and served municipalities and relief agencies. It is vitally important that this be done at the local EC level.

The deadline for receipt of all reports is January 31, 2019.

Note: Please use the SET Report Form. No other format is acceptable for reporting SET activities.

After their chosen SET weekend, participating ECs, Net Managers or others must complete the SET forms online. Please send a copy to your Section Manager (SM) and to your Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC) or Section Traffic Manager (STM) as applicable. Please see the SET Report Form to submit an email copy for your own records.

Purpose of SET
  • To find out the strengths and weaknesses of the ARES, NTS and other groups providing emergency communications.
  • To provide a public demonstration to served agencies, such as the Red Cross, of Emergency Preparedness and, through the news media, of the value to the public that Amateur Radio provides, particularly in time of need.
  • To help Radio Amateurs gain experience in communications using standard procedures and a variety of modes under simulated-emergency conditions.

The scoring format reflects broad objectives and encourages use of digital modes for handling high-volume traffic and point-to-point welfare reports out of the affected simulated-disaster area. Participants will find SET an opportunity to strengthen the VHF-HF link at the local level, thereby ensuring that ARES and NTS are working in concert. The SET will give all levels of NTS the chance to handle exercise-related traffic.

Test messages should carry the word “TEST” before the precedence; that is, “Test Priority” on phone and “TEST P” on CW. The text of such messages should also begin with the words “TEST MESSAGE.”

Preparing for SET

Emergency Coordinators

  • Sign up all available Radio Amateurs in the area under your jurisdiction and work them into your SET plans. Make special efforts to attract newly licensed Amateurs.
  • Call a meeting of all ARES members and prospective members to briefly outline (no details) SET activities and to give general instructions. Do not divulge the exact time or nature of the test to them at this time. This should come as a surprise. Take this opportunity to register new ARES members and get up-to-date information on others. Hold an on-the-air meeting if it’s not possible to meet in person.
  • Contact served agencies and explain the intent and overall purpose of the SET. Offer to send test messages to other branches of their agencies and invite officials to your ARES meetings and SET operating sites.
  • Contact officials of any adjacent communities having no active Amateurs and offer to provide representation in Amateur networks for them as well.
  • Arrange publicity in local newspapers and radio/TV stations by preparing an announcement and/or inviting the press to observe your group’s SET operation.
  • Set up liaison with one or more NTS local/section nets (if you don’t already have liaison) so you will have an outlet for all messages out of the local area.
  • Formulate your plans around a simulated disaster. Possible “plots” include: a flood, a serious fire, an ice storm, a missing person, a serious accident (automobile, bus, aircraft, for examples), a broken gas line, a tornado and so forth. Elaborate on the situation by developing a scenario but please be realistic.
During the SET
  • Announce the emergency situation. Activate the emergency net. Dispatch mobiles to served agencies.
  • Have designated stations originate messages on behalf of served agencies. Test messages may be sent simulating requests for supplies. Simulated emergency messages (just like real emergency messages) should be signed by an authorized official.
  • Emphasize tactical communications for served agencies.
  • As warranted by traffic loads, have liaison stations on hand to receive traffic on the local net and relay to your section net. You should also be sure that there is a representative on each session of the section net to receive traffic going to the local area.
  • Operate at least one session (or substantial segment of a session) of the local net on an emergency-only basis. Or, if a repeater is on emergency power, allow only emergency-powered stations to operate through the repeater for a certain time period.
After the SET

An important post-SET activity is a critique session to discuss the test results. All ARES members should be invited to the meeting to review good points and weaknesses apparent in the drill. Emphasize ways to improve procedures, techniques and coordination with all groups involved. Report your group’s effort to RAC and TCA and include any photos, clippings and other items of interest.

National Traffic System

The main function of NTS in an emergency situation is to tie together all of the various local activities and to provide a means by which all traffic destined outside of a local area, section or region can be systematically relayed to the addressee.

NTS routing should be followed. A valid exception is the handling of emergency traffic which should be routed as rapidly and efficiently as possible, bypassing various levels of nets when delivery can be expedited. Another exception is when one station is loaded down with traffic for one region or section. At the discretion of the Net Control Station (NCS), the station may be directed to bypass a normal channel and go directly to a lower (or higher) echelon net.

The interface between NTS and ARES lies in the liaison function between local nets and other NTS nets, particularly at the section level. Responsibility for representation of the local network on the section net lies with the local net manager who may or may not be the EC. Although we usually think of ARES members being the representatives in section nets, it is equally valid to expect NTS personnel to act as liaison to local nets.

At least one net session or substantial segment of a session should be conducted on emergency power. Plan a surprise session or two. Advise the NCS just before net time. If the NCS is unable to operate on emergency power, then someone else must be net control. Only stations operating on emergency power may report in during this time.


One of the first steps on the way to a successful SET is to try to get as many people involved as possible, especially new Amateurs. In a real emergency, we find Amateurs with all sorts of varied interests coming out of the woodwork. Let’s get them involved in SET so they will know more about how emergency communications should be handled. Promote SET on nets and repeaters. Sign up new, enthusiastic Amateurs. Many of those offering to help will be inexperienced in public-service activities. It’s up to you to explain to them what’s going on and provide them with useful roles. They may like it so much that they will become a permanent fixture in your ARES or NTS group.

Written by

Canadian amateur radio operator since 2007. Operating on the VHF/UHF bands and local repeaters in the Durham Region area. Husband and the father of four.

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