I am a software developer. In software, we have what we call “Design patterns” which are software patterns that we can use to solve common programming problems in clean ways. There are a huge number of these patterns, but they all share a common theme: They are tested, widely used, and solve a particular class of problems in a solid way.
Similarly, sometimes we talk about anti-patterns. An anti-pattern is a “common response to a recurring problem that is usually ineffective and risks being highly counterproductive” (from Wikipedia). In other words, it’s a response or solution to a recurring problem that seems reasonable but is actually problematic.
I am very much a process-oriented person. Whenever I spend a lot of time doing something, I can’t help but try to identify what went well, what went poorly, and how it could be improved. It’s of particular note that even very experienced hams often find themselves using anti-patterns such as these.
Here are some patterns and anti-patterns that I have observed in my area. Perhaps they will help you!
Anti-pattern: Saying your own call sign first when making a call
“This is KD7BBC calling AC7DM”
“This is KD7BBC to net control”
“This is station 5 calling net control”
“This is net control calling station 10”
These are some examples of the type of syntax I have been hearing more and more in my area. I don’t know if this is common elsewhere or just here in Utah County. First of all, this is not in any way illegal — in fact, you aren’t obligated by law to put your call sign there at all, as long as you ID every 10 minutes and when you’re done.
Rather than going into all the reasons why people may think this is a good idea, let me give you a few reasons why it creates confusion when used:
- People tend to not listen until they hear their name. If you say their name second, they may not have caught who you are, forcing them to ask.
- If other operators aren’t paying attention, they may not realize who is calling whom.
- It’s not natural conversation. You would not normally see someone walking up and saying “This is Richard Bateman calling, hi Terry!”
Pattern: Always indicate first who you are calling, then who you are.
“AC7DM from KD7BBC”
“Net control station, this is KD7BBC”
“Net control, this is KD7BBC with runner times to report”
“Station 7, this is Station 5”
As soon as AC7DM hears his call sign, he will immediately start listening to what is on the radio and will realize that I am calling him. He’s my father, so he may ignore me, but he’ll listen and realize I was calling him!
If you need further convincing, this is so standard that there is a question in the Tech pool about it. Question T2A04 suggests an appropriate way to call someone when you know their call sign as “Say the station’s call sign then identify with your call sign”.
Anti-pattern: Taking the time to have a quick conversation or find information before responding.
This is a common mistake made by new NCS operators in particular, but it can be made by anyone. When someone asks you a question, it’s easy to think “Oh, I have the answer to that right here I just need to grab the correct page.”
If it takes you 30 seconds to find that page, that is 30 seconds that the other station is wondering “did they understand the question? Did their radio turn off? Why haven’t they responded?”
Pattern: Always respond to a query immediately, even if it’s just to say “stand by”
If you can respond off the top of your head, then do so immediately. If you can’t, say “stand by” to let them know that you are finding the information. If it will take you a few minutes then let them know “I will need a minute to find that. Please stand by”.
Similarly, the other station should respond appropriately: “Copy that. Standing by”. Or perhaps “Copy that, we’ll do ____ and get back with you in a few minutes”, or “Copy that, just let us know when you find it.” The important thing is that any time a message is sent on the radio, there should be a response to confirm that they received the message.
Sometimes there may be so much going on that it’s difficult to respond. Remember that as hectic as things may be where you are, whoever is calling can’t see or hear any of that. Try to take a second to say “Stand by station x” or something similar so that they don’t keep calling you or wondering if their radio is even working.
There is a common convention that using the word “break” during an event indicates emergency traffic; if you hear that, respond immediately, and not just with “stand by!”
Anti-pattern: Use comfortable every day or “cool” phrasing on the radio
This is a hard one, because humor and variation have a place in ham radio. However, when you’re conveying important information you need to be very careful and very concise.
Yesterday I was NCS for a 100K and had one particular incident that nailed this home. We had a difficult time communicating with one of our stations, and the steam on his signal made it very difficult sometimes to understand what he was saying. In one case, after hearing him repeat something three times I finally asked an operator at another aid station to relay to me what his message was. The message I couldn’t hear was that he had understood my message to him.
In this case, he wasn’t using slang or trying to be funny, he was just answering the way he would if someone were talking to him. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but it was something like “okay, yeah, I heard what you said and will take care of it”. The problem was that since his response was longer than I expected and had a lot of words I couldn’t quite copy what he was saying.
Pattern: Use appropriate voice procedure and procedure words
The specific procedure words that will be used in your area will vary, but the purpose does not. Procedure words are words or phrases such as “Copy that”, “affirmative”, “negative”, or “roger” in order to succinctly convey information. Some people feel weird using procedure words, like they are trying to mimic a movie, but there is a good reason for using them.
In the example above, if the other ham had simply say “Roger, I copy” or something similar I would most likely have been able to make out enough of what he was saying to realize that no response was required from me and that he had received my message. If we had had clear communications it wouldn’t have mattered, but under the circumstances it would have saved everyone time.
Procedure words don’t have to be off of a list, but they should be spoken clearly and generally should be a longer form of a word where possible.
For example, “yes” is very succinct, but “affirmative” is much easier to understand through a lot of static. Edit: A commenter pointed out that some consider that “affirmative” or “negative” sound too much alike, and so “Yes” and “No” would be better. If you use “Yes” and “No”, make sure you pronounce them fully and possibly even a little bit slowly so that there is enough of the word to hear over poor transmission quality. I personally prefer “understood” to “roger” but either generally work.
Focus on the purpose
In all things, don’t focus on doing things because they are what you learned you should do. Focus on improving communications. Everyone will have a different opinion on what this means, and no two nets will be exactly alike. I’ve tried to present things in this post that will be universal, but always be ready to adapt to the communication style of whomever you are talking to.
Most importantly, remember that the operators aren’t the ones who are important — the people we are serving are the ones that matter. Solve their problems and you’ve done your job.
Bragging rights come later 😉
By Cory August 3, 2014 - 22:46
Very valuable and relevant tips – thank you! and well said.
Here’s a few others I’ll probably think of more later
Roger – who was he?
Agreed on slang and vague terms “No problem” – does that mean there was no problem, that it no longer exists, or that you will take care of it?
*** Never assume RX was received!, ask for confirmation if they don’t ack ***
If your message has detailed specific information such as a phone number, address run her number etc. ask for a readback to make sure that the specifics were copied correctly – ” can you read that back to me please”, or, “can I get a readback on that last transmission.” Ensures you were correctly heard.
Try to respect the privacy of patients runners etc. if something is of a personal nature and there is another way to send that it’s something to think about… Just goes back to being friendly and professional considerate of those we serve. But if it’s necessary for the urgent welfare of the person then do what you need to do. Just keep it in mind.
If you loose comm, try moving back to the position you last had a good signal.
Have cel #s before event if possible and alternate frequencies (band plan) so you can switch if comm is lost. Plus txt messages uses less bandwidth and has retry built-in, so it can sometimes get through when voice calls can’t.
In a real emergency especially in the mountains it’s best to establish all forms of possible communication at first contact so that if comm is lost due to propagation changes, weather, dead cell phone battery, antenna location etc. you established options at the beginning of other methods to try to contact them (such as at the top of an hour WILDERNESS protocol or whatever) – kind of like when you’re on a tech-support call and they take your phone number so that if your phone call gets dropped they can call you back
It’s good to have a backup everything – even if it’s a smaller set it sure can prove invaluable such as backup antenna, batteries, alternate power source different band radio such as 70cm and or GMRS etc. not only as a backup but also a different frequency can propagate and go through walls or bounce off canyons differently if the primary stops working
Keep a pen and notepad by your radio in your chest pack etc. with a backup mechanical pencil. As Benjamin Franklin said “a good memory doesn’t equal pale ink.”
Headlamp and flashlight, Sunblock, Tylenol, water bottle, jacket, hat, Folding chair, binoculars. Sharpie and masking tape for making signs, name tags, etc. Basic tools and Duct Tape for the rest.
Thanks for y’all’s service as a radio operator – we all learn and hone skills at each event, no matter how long we’ve been doing it – so don’t hesitate to volunteer, to learn from others, and share what you’ve learned….
By kd7bbc August 3, 2014 - 22:52
Cory – all good thoughts and points. Doubtless any of us could list pages of such things, so i tried to restrict myself to a few key antipatterns. I may do some followups later.
By Rod Crichton August 4, 2014 - 03:06
Very interesting glad I am not the only one thinking like this . I have been saying this the last 40 years always to be told I don’t know what I am talking about by others in the encomms community the patterns you describe I was taught at the age of 8 when learning to pass messages as a cadet for St.John Ambulance. I too seek perfection and constant improvement. Kindest Regards & Strong Signals Rod
By W2LHM Craig Moyer August 4, 2014 - 08:33
Bravo!!! I think we tend to be a little too wordy on the air. If you monitor public service comms, police and fire are almost always short and succinct.
By EmComm Anti-Patterns | Winnebago County ARES/RACESWinnebago County ARES/RACES August 4, 2014 - 08:50
[…] Continue Reading… […]
By Bryan August 4, 2014 - 09:05
I’ve only had my license a couple months, so thanks for reaffirming a lot of what I studied. One thing I read when preparing for the tests was that “affirmative” and “negative” sound more similar to each than “yes” and “no” do and so a “yes” or a “no” is preferred when answering a yes-or-no question.
See this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procedure_word#Negative
By kd7bbc August 4, 2014 - 09:08
Interesting. I could see how that could sometimes be the case, I suppose. My experience has been the opposite, but if you are going to use “Yes” and “No” make sure it’s fully pronounced and not in any way clipped. In all cases, the important thing is to make sure that the person on the other end of the connection has the best chance of understanding you.
By James August 4, 2014 - 09:17
Nicely done! I agree with everything you said. This seems like a great jumping off point for collecting more patterns and anti-patterns. Keep adding to the article.
By Dan Eliason August 4, 2014 - 14:52
Good stuff. And a nice reminder to us old radio users who are new to the ham world. I spent the better part of a 1/4 century flying airplanes and ALWAYS said the ID of the person or facility I was talking to first and then said my own ID. But…last month in my first go as ANC, I said them backwards, even after being reminded not to. What was the reason for that (well, in addition to old age -:)
I think I know why novices give own ID first. We are not exactly sure who we are attempting to contact–but want to be prompt so use what we know best first (i.e. our own call sign).
Point learned is that many of us tend to engage the mouth a few milliseconds before the brain is fully functional. Maybe a reminder to self is that while promptness is a virtue in the business accuracy, and standardization, are also very important.
Rule of thumb: Take a breath before speaking and let the brain get up to speed
By EmComm Anti-Patterns | HamStudy.org Blog | Sioux Empire Amateur Radio Emergency Service August 6, 2014 - 07:35
[…] EmComm Anti-Patterns | HamStudy.org Blog. […]
By Arthur Feller, W4ART August 6, 2014 - 08:23
By Justin - KD0WNE August 6, 2014 - 08:41
This type of clear communication means the world when it comes to getting information relayed back to an EOC / Net Control and is at the core of all things EM, regardless of being on the radio or in person.
Excellent information for new and old HAMs alike. I’m definitely going to share this article with some of the new CERT folks in my area that just got HAM licensed! Thanks to all the other commentators for the additional info.
By Dave NF2G August 6, 2014 - 15:02
I think the callee-first style is in imitation of what people hear on scanners. Only hams usually give the called party’s callsign first. Just about everybody else in 2-way radio says “me to you” when initiating a call.
By kd7bbc August 6, 2014 - 15:04
Very interesting observation; you may be correct!