The Official Relay station provides an alternate means of communication between the NCS and responding stations on the net, regardless of the type of net. This function becomes critical in disruptions caused by interference, atmospheric conditions and other situations beyond the control of the NCS.
To best perform the Relay Station should be remotely located from the NCS station so as to minimize the disruption affecting the NCS.
To adequately serve, the Relay Station operator needs to be prepared to carry on a continuity in operations just as if nothing untold has occurred. In daily on-going net operations this means being prepared with the usual roster/rollcall, standard operating procedures and a familiarity with the typical NCS procedures. In order for the station to undertake a seamless operation in the unexpected moment, it needs up-to-date directories, maps, listings, SOP's and a full understanding of the Net's overall purpose.
Top performance comes from careful observation of the nuances of the net operations over time, as well as practice and continued self improvement. This requires careful monitoring and record keeping. Relief and standby operators may be called for in some extended operations and need to be considered as well as these other factors.
Operations alone is but part of the preparation. Equipment must be considered. An emergency power source is a vital requirement for lighting, radios and life support for the station personnel. An adequate emergency food and water supply is an obvious requirement in an extended incident where commercial power or facilities may be disrupted.
While not all relay stations may have multi-band, multi-antenna, multi-operations facilities, such can come into play in certain situations.The more versatile the station the greater the likelihood the net will be well served. For example, the California Emergency Services Net utilizes both SSB and Amtor modes. In addition, the NCS can be involved in monitoring not only the main frequency, but off-channel nets or sub-nets as well. So, simultaneous multiple channel monitoring is an important factor, as is the ability to operate on or monitor two or more frequencies simultaneously.
The stations usefulness is enhanced with multi-line phones, FAX and Packet for rapid transmission of data in a variety of modes. While some of these may not be useful in certain emergencies, one or more are frequently in operation.
A further usefulness of the Official Relay Station is the addition of equipment, with appropriate licensing, to operate on government frequencies. The State of Nevada, for instance, assigned a portable on California Operation SECURE system.
This article is based on experiences as an Official Relay Station with the California Emergency Services Net, as Deputy Chief Radio Officer of L.A. County Disaster Communications Service, as a Region Radio Officer and extended military experience. It is intended to assist any Net Control Station in obtaining reliable backup to essential communications in an emergency.
In emergency communications there are times when the only reliable communication path is via a relay station. Howard Shepherd, Manager, MacArthur Relay and frequent Alternate Net Control for the California Emergency Services Net, offers a perspective of how Official Relay stations serve a vital purpose:
---Howard Shepherd, W6US State OES Official Relay Station, MacArthur, California Emergency Services Net Alternate Net Control
CA State OES began the Bulletins in the early 1950's to assist agencies and radio operators to become more familiar with RACES. They were issued periodically until 1985, at which time they began to be issued weekly over voice and digital radio systems of Amateur Radio and in print. Originally intended for California, increased demand, and a 1988 request by the ARRL for national distribution, led to their eventual worldwide distribution.