Public Service – Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ – For Volunteers 

Last Updated: 10/28/2017

We set our public service schedule of events to serve in any year, early in year (Jan. or Feb.) If you would like to request our club’s assistance for your event, please download and submit This Form.   Please check our schedule for conflicts. Our Board of Directors meets ONLY once-a-month, and will consider any newly received request. (Allow plenty of time, for consideration of your event.)

Q – What is a public service event?     A – Ham radio operators provide volunteer communications support for various activities, including foot races, hikes, bicycle rides, fairs, parades, and other public gatherings, to supplement the communications available for an event, in the interest of the safety of the participants and staff in the event, or in the interest of the safety of the general public;  and to practice our communications skills.

Q – Can I hire MARS to provide communications?   A – With limited exceptions, FCC Part 97 Rules prohibit amateurs from being compensated for using amateur radio, or for using amateur radio for anyone’s business use.  MARS recruits our volunteer operators for events run by, or benefiting, local community-based non-profit organizations, and where our communications skills and equipment will be put to good use.  Hams who volunteer to perform other functions for an event, such as driving a sag or patrol vehicle, may be reimbursed for expenses related to the non-radio volunteer duties, if offered.

Q – What about donations to clubs?   A – Most clubs can accept donations, as long as there is an understanding that the donation is made to the club in general, and not as a payment for providing services at an event.  The Marin ARS has built relationships with many of the community organizations who run the events we serve.  Many make a donation, some do not.  But we have chosen events that we serve, based on the need for communications to promote the safety of the participants and staff, and to serve our community. ( Of course, it costs us to keep up the equipment, so donations to the club are welcomed. Editor.)

Q – Do all events qualify for MARS support?   A – The Marin Amateur Radio Society chooses to provide support for events run by, or benefiting, local community-based non-profit organizations, and where our communications skills and equipment will be put to good use.  The guidelines we use in choosing an event to support, are based on existing commitments, the dates and times requested, our ability to recruit sufficient volunteers to serve the event, a review of the sponsoring organization, our assessment of the need for communications to promote the safety of the participants, the public, and the event staff, and with regard for FCC Part 97 Rules.  (Generally, hams should avoid using Amateur Radio in support of events, where the organizer has a monetary interest. This includes “Good Causes”. See the FCC Part 97 Rules. Editor.)

Some deserving events are not served, either due to conflicting dates with other established commitments or other amateur radio events,  a lack of available volunteer operators, because our small club does not have enough time to recruit enough volunteers, because our schedule is already full, because an event or the sponsoring organization does not fall within our established guidelines or FCC Rules for radio support; or because the event falls outside our repeaters’ reliable coverage area.  We reserve the right to decline any request for communications support for any reason.

Q – How does MARS chose events to serve or list?    A – The Marin ARS has built relationships with many of the community organizations who run the events that we serve. We have chosen events that our club serves, based on the need for communications to promote the safety of the participants, staff, and the general public; and with regard for FCC Part 97 Rules; and where our communications skills and equipment will be put to good use.  We generally provide support for about 10 events each year, recruiting communications volunteers for those events.  We normally put together our list early in the year, and begin recruiting volunteers to staff the events. Sometimes, we need to contact adjoining clubs for resources to serve an event.

When a new request or new recommendation comes in, the Public Service Committee gathers information, assesses the existing commitments, and makes a recommendation to the Board of Directors. The previous year’s supported events are also evaluated, by our Public Service Committee, to determine if any event has changed in a way where it is no longer a good fit with our volunteer services or our guidelines. Our Board of Directors (which meets once-a-month) makes the final decision to offer support for an event, based on the recommendation of our Public Service Committee.  The earlier we receive a request, the more time we have to consider the request, gather information, and recruit volunteers, and the more time we have to get a decision from our Board.

Generally, hams should avoid using Amateur Radio in support of events, where the organizer has a monetary interest. This does include “Good Causes”, and service to government. See the FCC Part 97 Rules. Under FCC Part 97 Rules, to serve an event where someone has a pecuniary (monetary) interest, amateurs must find that the overriding concern is the safety of the participants, staff, and the public; and that the communications could not be provided, routinely, by another radio provider.  Editor.

We reserve the right to decline any communications request for any reason; including, but not limited to; that a request does not conform with our noncommercial status, that conflicts with any provision in FCC Part 97 Rules, that a request occurs on a date that has already been reserved for another activity, where our schedule is already full, where a request is received without sufficient time in to recruit volunteers to staff an event, where we determine that our communications skills will not be put to good use, or where the event fails to meet the minimum requirements established by our insurance carrier or our Board of Directors. We may also limit the total number of events that we agree to staff in any given month, or annually. We reserve the right to give preference to local events and local community-based non-profit organizations that we have prior positive experience with, and where, in our opinion, our volunteer communication services provide the greatest public good.

Some deserving events cannot be served, either due to conflicting dates with other established commitments, a lack of available volunteer operators, because an event or organization does not fall within our established guidelines; or because the event falls outside our repeaters’ reliable coverage area.   Some worthy events that occur in Marin County, and events supported by adjoining ham radio clubs may be listed on our site as Non-Marin ARS Sponsored Event volunteer opportunities.  MARS members are encouraged to check out these events, and their sponsoring organizations, and if available, to volunteer.  (Other clubs may have different guidelines and / or have different resources available. editor.)

Q – May another amateur organization use the MARS (K6GWE) repeater systems for communications support of a Non-MARS event?  A – The ham organizer for the other event must obtain permission from our Trustee of License, a minimum of 60 days prior to the event, and MARS must not have scheduled a conflicting use for the repeater. The Board may authorize the event’s inclusion on our Public Service calendar as a Non-MARS sponsored event. Contact Trustee

Q – How about RACES Drills? A – The RACES Officer in charge should contact our Trustee of License, a minimum of 30 days before the drill, and MARS must not have scheduled a conflicting use for the repeater. The Board may authorize the event’s inclusion on our calendar as a RACES Drill.     Contact Trustee   NOTE: RACES does have an agreement to use the repeater system during declared emergencies. During declared emergencies RACES needs to inform about repeater use the Trustee of License, as soon as possible.

FAQ – For Volunteers 

Q – I’ve never done this before, do I need any special training?   A – We hold  an orientation session at the beginning of the public service season, for new people, and returning volunteers.  Normally, new people are partnered with an experienced ham. We plan to hold an on-the-air briefing before events. Review the communications protocols below. Familiarity with controlled net operations and the Incident Command System are plusses. We encourage volunteers to serve at Net Control to learn.

Q – What equipment do I need?    A – That depends on the event, and your assignment.  It can be as simple as a handheld and a spare battery.  Some locations require a high power mobile and a gain antenna. We have created location pages for most of the commonly staffed areas on an event, with recommended equipment to staff the station. You should let the organizer of the event know what your communications capabilities are.

Q – May I accept payment?   A – With limited exceptions, FCC Part 97 Rules prohibit amateurs from being compensated for using amateur radio, or for using amateur radio for anyone’s business use.  If an event organizer offers payment, it should be politely refused.  However, if an event organizer provides food for all volunteers, you may accept; or provides a uniform for volunteer staff (t-shirt or hat), you may wear that to identify you as part of the event staff (they usually don’t want them back after the event). Hams who volunteer to perform other functions for an event, such as driving a sag or patrol vehicle, may be reimbursed for expenses related to the non-radio volunteer duties, if offered.

Q – What about donations to clubs?   A – Most clubs can accept donations, as long as there is an understanding that the donation is made to the club in general, and not as a payment for providing services at an event.  The Marin ARS has built relationships with many of the community organizations who run the events we serve.  Some make a donation, some do not.  But we have chosen events that we serve, based on the need for communications to promote the safety of the participants and staff, and to serve our community. ( Of course, it costs us to keep up the equipment, so donations to the club are welcomed. editor.)

Q – What should I expect?    A – Events differ in character as much as people do.  However, you are acting as a volunteer communicator. And your assignment from us will be to communicate.  Most event communications are operated as directed nets. Review the communications protocols below. Please arrive at your assigned location, and be set up, by your assigned time. Check in with Net Control. Check out with Net Control at the end of your assignment. See more specifics below:

Fixed Locations:  (Aid Stations or Check Points)  Please arrive at your assigned location by your assigned time, and set up your equipment.  Check in with the person in charge of your location and identify yourself as the radio person. Check in with Net Control on your assigned frequency.  Pass messages to Net Control as needed. Monitor for traffic from Net Control.  Typical messages might include arrival of the first event participants, supply requests, participants who drop out, transportation requests, arrival of the last participants, etc. At the end of your shift, or when your assigned location closes, check out with Net Control.  In events with sweeps, the radio volunteer normally waits for the final sweep to be sure that no participant is left unattended. (Sometimes volunteers assigned by the organizer, happen to also be hams. If so, please let us know, so we can include you in the roster and inform you of the frequencies used to support the event.)

Course Monitor:  Sometimes we are assigned to locations, where we monitor the progress of participants, without any additional event volunteer support.  Please arrive at your assigned location by your assigned time, and set up your equipment. Check in with Net Control on your assigned frequency.  Pass messages to Net Control as needed. Monitor for traffic from Net Control. Typical messages might include arrival of the first event participants, supply requests, participants who drop out, transportation requests, arrival of the last participants, etc. At the end of your shift, or when your assigned location closes, check out with Net Control.  In events with sweeps, the radio volunteer normally waits for the sweep to be sure that no participant is left unattended. (Sometimes Course Monitor volunteers assigned by the organizer, happen to also be hams. If so, please let us know, so we can include you in the roster and inform you of the frequencies used to support the event.)

Event Radio Trail Sweep Communicator :  Some trail events and some bike events have one or more willing hams hike or ride with the event sweep. These special volunteers provide communications for the sweep safety team, the event sweeps make sure that the last participants in an event are safe and accounted for. Please arrive at your assigned location by your assigned time. Check in with Net Control periodically, and as necessary. Check in with the ham radio volunteer at all fixed location and course monitor locations. Carry an extra battery. Check out with Net Control at the end of your assignment.

Event Radio Trail Hiker/Bike:  Some trail events and some bike events have one or more willing hams hike or ride to independently patrol the course. These special volunteers independently patrol the course to assure participants in an event are safe or accounted for. They report any issues that they encounter.  Please arrive at your assigned location by your assigned time. Check in with Net Control periodically, and as necessary. Check in with the ham radio volunteer at all fixed location and course monitor locations. Carry an extra battery. Check out with Net Control at the end of your assignment.

Radio Sag Communicator:  These volunteers ride with a sag vehicle to provide on-the-course communications for bicycle events. Please arrive at your assigned location by your assigned time, set up your radio equipment in your assigned vehicle, and check in with Net Control.  Check in with the ham radio volunteer at all fixed location and course monitor locations. Some sags or patrols carry APRS tracking units. Check out with Net Control at the end of your assignment.

Radio Equipped SAG or Patrol:  These hams also volunteer to drive as support vehicles for bicycle rides, provide assistance to participants, provide on-the-course communications for bicycle events, and monitor the progress and safety of riders.  Some sag vehicles act as event course sweeps, escorting in the final riders. Some sags or patrols carry APRS tracking units.  Please arrive at your assigned location by your assigned time, and check in with Net Control. Check in with the ham radio volunteer at all fixed location and course monitor locations. Check out with Net Control at the end of your assignment.   SAGs (support & gear) have the capability to transport riders and bicycles. Patrols ( including motorcycles) lack the capacity to carry bicycles and/or passengers.  Hams who volunteer to perform sag or patrol functions for an event, may be reimbursed for expenses (gas) related to their non-radio volunteer duties, if offered.

Net Control:    Net Control volunteers coordinate the radio traffic, interface with the event organizers, and generally provide information and direction to radio volunteers in the field.  Net Control stations may have more than one frequency in operation at the same time.  On some events, where APRS units are in use, one Net Control operator may be assigned to monitor APRS equipped units.

General:   Dress for the expected weather.  Bring snacks and water / beverages.  Remember sunscreen, a hat, paper and pencil, your radio, a spare battery, etc.

Communications Protocols: 

EMERGENCY TRAFFIC ALWAYS HAS PRIORITY!  All stations not involved with the emergency need to stand by, until the emergency traffic has been handled.  ( Unless there is another emergency.)  When breaking in with an emergency, say “Emergency”.

Most event communications are done in a controlled net format.  Stations direct their communications to Net Control, and get traffic from Net Control. Please refer to the event radio frequency plan for your assigned frequency for your location or assignment. Please check in with Net Control at the beginning of your assignment, and check out of the net at the end of your assignment.  If you need to be away from your radio to attend to something, please notify Net Control when you leave, and when you return. (Please remember that Net Control may need to monitor several frequency channels and/or interface with the organizers or participants. Net Control may need to prioritize traffic. [See examples below.] Please be patient.)

We use tactical identifiers when passing traffic. (” Net Control this is Muir Beach.”) Please listen for, and respond to, traffic directed to your tactical identifier.  Please use your tactical identifier when directing traffic to Net Control, or other stations on the event net.  We use our tactical identifier, plus our FCC callsigns at the end of an exchange to indicate that we have no further traffic to pass (or our callsigns every 10 minutes for a long conversation). (“Muir Beach, KA6BQF) Follow FCC Part 97 Rules.

Listen before transmitting.  Think, then push to talk, then talk.  Compose your message (in your head, or on paper), before keying the microphone.  Pause a second or two after keying the microphone to allow the repeater system components to activate.  Wait for the squelch tail(s) to drop before beginning a reply transmission.  (Sometimes when we have remote bases or cross band links in use, there are several squelch tails that need to drop.)

Typical messages that you would send might include arrival of the first event participants, supply requests, participants who drop out, transportation requests, arrival of the last participants, etc.

Follow FCC Part 97 rules, and direction from Net Control.

Traffic priority (examples):

EMERGENCY – Accident with injuries, injury to participant, injury to volunteer, immediate threat (drunk or threating driver)

PRIORITY – Accident without injuries, lost participant, mechanical breakdown on course, safety hazard, potential threat, ill participant

HIGH – Running out of water, supplies did not arrive before check point opened, minor injury (can be handled by first aid), participant requesting transportation from course,  first participants arrival

MEDIUM – Food supplies running low, participant requesting transportation from check point, course marking mistake (that cannot be field corrected), request for more volunteers, weather changes that affect participants, arrival of SAG vehicles, last participant location

LOW – Requests late in the event that are logistically impractical, participant progress requests

 

Updated: 10/09/2017  by KA6BQF

More questions?  Contact   ka6bqf@arrl.net