B’ham Metro Area Emergency Practice Nets Are in Trouble

I’ve learned from hard experience that when you are new to a group, it’s not a good idea to come sweeping in with suggestions and concerns, especially concerns which can be interpreted as criticism. The best thing to do is to work as a volunteer, make contributions, and wait until people get that you’re not a troublemaker. I’ve been licensed now for 4 years and my primary volunteer activity in ham radio (if you don’t count spending a very hot weekend as the food captain at a Field Day) has been to call nets. I like calling nets. Currently, I’m managing two nets and calling four regularly. None of that is to self-congratulate–it’s just a statement that I hope I have established the right to express a concern.

The VHF (and one UHF) net scene in the Birmingham metro area is in trouble. Not all the nets, but a lot of them are in trouble.  When I got licensed, the Shelby County net was impressive. Ran like a machine. Things happened and one day it wasn’t there. Then a fine guy–a ham operator in Jefferson County we all know and love–stepped up and calls it weekly, in spite of devoting an ENTIRE evening EVERY week to another net.

The fine guy who was net manager for Sylvan Springs had to step down because of work. That happens and is to be respected.  But no one was willing or able to step up and that one sputtered for a few weeks and then died.

David Hanna, W4NCS, who had worked hard at the local nets, went suddenly silent key and left a wife, young child, and an empty chair at some of the local nets.  David had managed BARC’s net. Not to get into the details of all that, but the club didn’t address that promptly and by the time someone stepped up to temporarily manage it, he found there was no schedule and no remaining net control operators.

ALERT is doing okay but, as of next week, it will be down to 2 net control operators. HCARC’s nets are reliable, and manned by two operators, but the numbers are usually somewhat low. It’s a specialized club, so that makes sense.

And so on. The following statement will undoubtedly aggravate some people, but that doesn’t make it any less valid of an opinion.  One of the most baffling things to me is that, as a general rule (meaning there are exceptions), the officers of some of the local ARC nets DO NOT CHECK IN TO THEIR OWN NETS. How would that be interpreted as anything other than a lack of support or investment in their nets? I don’t see how nets can be maintained without the interest and the support of its leadership. Please.  Go ahead. Argue with me.

Who cares about all this? Good question. I just keep thinking about how often the ham radio community speaks proudly about how ham radio is a critical part of the response to an emergency.  We often say that’s why we have practice nets. But I wonder if it’s crazy for me to ask if we have enough trained and experienced net control stations to really be of help the next time we have a major tornado outbreak. Maybe we will have enough. I don’t know.

Ham radio operators are volunteers. ARC officers are volunteers. Net managers are. Net control stations are. Here’s the thing about volunteerism. People are busy. I am jealous of my own free time and, accordingly, don’t give enough of it away.  I also don’t show up to the every-other-week ARC club meetings. Bad on me.

But here’s an ugly truth. Any organization that does not support its volunteers will soon find it has no volunteers. It’s not that volunteers need to be patted on the back and acknowledged to continue to be a volunteer. They need to be recognized and acknowledged to continue to be a volunteer for the organization they volunteer for. If they don’t get that support, they will volunteer elsewhere. There’s no shortage of places to volunteer. If someone wants to be a volunteer to help people in the wake of a natural disaster, there are plenty of ways to do that. This is how someone who MIGHT have been a net control operator at the scene of a disaster, ends up dipping up soup and bringing in water and blankets. Because that’s a way to be helpful.





2 thoughts on “B’ham Metro Area Emergency Practice Nets Are in Trouble

  1. I’ve been licensed since 1991 and I am an Extra. When it comes to amateur radio, there’s almost nothing I haven’t tried. Without any doubt, nets are the least enjoyable activity I have ever done. More often than not they’re a cliquish and boring waste of time.

    I have seen no relationship between how often someone checks into a net, and their operating skill during a real emergency or public service event.

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