Tropical Storm Network Standard Operating Guidelines

Important Notice: For a PDF version of the latest Tropical Storm Network Standard Operating Guidelines, including our  frequency/mode matrix, please request an RRI radio operator registration form.


Preface:

Tropical weather events regularly impact a large portion of the United States and Canada.  Tropical storms can develop into hurricanes, major winter storms, which propagate up the Eastern Seaboard of North America, major flooding disasters or other significant meteorological events.

In addition to preparing for communications outages, Radio Relay International networks are available to provide supplemental interoperability between served agencies, facilitate the delivery of overflow message traffic from commercial or government networks or collect weather data or situation reports during a major event. Situation reports may include reports of widespread utility disruptions, highway closures, evacuations, significant damage to communities and related information of interest to emergency response and relief agencies.

 
I               Why use RRI?

In recent years, the density and reliability of government and commercial telecommunications infrastructure has improved dramatically.  However, outages and even widespread isolation of communities have occurred. It is therefore important to not only exercise our survivable networks, which operate without infrastructure, it is also important to stage our resources to ensure that operational readiness is in place. While it may be tempting to utilize the Internet or cellular mobile networks to originate weather data or situation reports to served agencies, these latter actions do nothing to exercise networks or stage survivable resources so that they may perform effectively in the event they are needed. Therefore, RRI encourages all radio amateurs to utilize our networks to facilitate such public service activities. We will then be staged for rapid response when “all else fails.”

 
II             Tier One Response:

During the period leading up to impact, RRI members are asked to report weather conditions on an hourly basis and situation reports (SITREPS) as needed for use by served agencies.  This "ground truth" information will be utilized to better understand the extent of storm effects and improve initial response during the early phases of any potential disaster. RRI members are caution to avoid emulating “broadcast techniques” such as those often heard on the wide-coverage 20-meter radiotelephone nets during which radio amateurs replicate information commonly available via broadcast media. In other words, the emphasis should be on collecting information in the field and conveying that information TO the appropriate served agency.

The following guidelines are intended to ensure a high level of quality control and consistency in the reporting process. Such measures ensure that the information is conveyed accurately and easily harvested and consolidated by served agency personnel.          

 


A             Weather Data: 

Real-time weather reports transmitted hourly from locations within the affected area may be requested.  Therefore, we have set criteria for two thresholds, which should trigger the transmission of a weather report.  These are:

  • Rainfall in excess of 1-inch per hour or storm total precipitation greater than or equal to three inches.
  • Sustained wind speed in excess of 30-mph and/or gusts in excess of 40 mph.


A complete weather report will consist of the following: 

  • Storm total rainfall measured to the nearest 100th of an inch. 
  • Measured wind speed and maximum gusts observed within 30 minutes of observation (if available).
  • Barometric pressure (submit only if barometer is calibrated and adjusted to mean sea level).


 
Message Format:

Radiogram format provides all of the necessary accountability and network management information required for this task.  An example of a weather report in radiogram format might be:


22 P W4ABC  8   MYRTLE BEACH SC 1300Z OCT 5
NWS LTX

HORRY COUNTY RAIN 650 WIND 47/65 PRESSURE 2934

WILLIAMS
FIRE CHIEF

 
Explanation of above:

  • The message serial number is assigned by the originating station for administrative purposes.
  • Message precedence is "priority"
  • Station of origin is "W4ABC"
  • Group count (check) is "8"
  • The city (or township) in which the observation was made is "Myrtle Beach, SC"
  • The observation was made at 1300Z on October 5 (remember the new radio day starts at 0001Z)
  • The observation was made within the NWS-LTX County Warning Area (CWA) and is therefore addressed to that NWS office. However, such traffic may be routed via the National Hurricane Center (NHC) when appropriate.
  • Myrtle Beach is located in "Horry County."
  • Rainfall total is 6.50 inches, sustained winds are at 47 mph with gusts to 65 mph measured, and barometric pressure is 29.34 in HG
  • The information was provided by the Fire Chief ("Williams").  It could have been provided directly by the radio amateur himself, a nearby cooperative weather observer, or another individual providing the weather data. Regardless of source, the last name (and title, if appropriate) of the actual observer should appear in the signature.



When submitting a weather report, please observe these guidelines:


  • Messages containing any one element are acceptable.  For example, if one's observational capabilities are limited only to rainfall measurements, then the message text should be limited only to a report of storm total precipitation accumulated since the start of the reporting period (to be specified).


  • If barometric pressure is to be provided, be sure to calibrate your barometer BEFORE the storm arrives.  This can be done by referencing official barometer readings from nearby locations and interpolating as required. Calibration is best done during settled/stable conditions with a shallow pressure gradient.


  • Even if the Internet is available, please use RF methods.  The purpose is two-fold.  First, we want to activate networks and facilitate dynamic response so that the necessary connectivity is already in place to facilitate the transition into operational messaging should the need arise. Likewise, please keep in mind that local APRS, VoIP nodes and ISP connectivity may fail during a major storm.

 
Please follow the above example message format and sequence as closely as possible. This makes logging and transfer easier for all involved. 



B     Situation Reports (SITREPS):

RRI and other EMCOMM members are encouraged to report significant storm damage, disruptions to infrastructure, significant flooding, levy breaches and the like.  In order of priority, this information will originate from:

Emergency Services Personnel:  This includes information provided by the local EOC, fire service, department of public works or similar responsible agencies/parties.

First-hand observations:  In this case, the radio amateur reporting an observed event should exercise discretion.  For example, a flooded basement would not meet the reporting threshold, but a river above flood stage, which is inundating a community or blocking a major state or federal highway, may be significant.  Likewise, one tree uprooted may not meet the reporting threshold, but a large area of heathy, large trees uprooted and/or blocking roadways or rail networks may be significant.

 
An example of a SITREP report might be:

23 P W4ABC 30   MYRTLE BEACH SC 2130Z OCT 5
FEMA
NWS LTX

 
SITREP HORRY COUNTY STATE HIGHWAY   23 IMPASSIBLE BETWEEN ROUTE 10
AND US HIGHWAY 51 DUE   TO WASHOUT  X  SAINT JAMES
HOSPITAL EVACUATED DUE TO FLOODING    X  FIRE STATION THREE EVACUATED

WENDEL WILLKE
HORRY COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGER

Explanation of Above:

  • Message serial number is 23
  • Message precedence is "priority"
  • Group count (check) is 30 groups/words
  • Message drafted and presented for transmission at 2130Z on October 5
  • Message addressed to both FEMA and NWS
  • Brief, concise summary of recent events beginning with the phrase "SITREP"
  • Official source identified and accountable for content


 
When originating a SITREP, please follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid hearsay.  Confirm any third-party reports with the source before originating a message to FEMA and NHC.  The preferred source of information will be via reliable agencies and vetted individuals at the local level.


  • If the report is in response to a first-hand observation, ensure that the event being reported is significant enough to warrant attention.  Report significant flooding, damaged/destroyed or blocked roads, widespread damaged or inoperative infrastructure, evacuations, disruption to critical services (hospitals, fire, police), etc.


  • Be brief and concise.  Avoid abbreviations.  Instead, spell out all but the most obvious acronyms or abbreviations.  Limit punctuation to the "x-ray" for "period."


  • Try to build a relationship in advance with local agencies to collect and forward this information when necessary.


  • Again; use RF.  The idea is to not only provide a good quality, accurate data set, but also activate and exercise the network during this preliminary process so it can quickly and seamlessly transition into operational message traffic duties.


 
III            Tropical Events other than Hurricane

 
A             Winter Storms - Snow

As stated in the preface, tropical events often exhibit other effects. Examples include tropical depressions, which transition into major winter storms impacting utility services and transportation networks across wide areas of the Eastern Seaboard. In other cases, tropical depressions may stall or propagate slowly, thereby causing significant flooding events. In such cases, served agencies may request activation of our network to collect “ground truth” information or SITREPs.

In the event of non-hurricane events, such as a major winter storm, the weather data format is essentially identical. However, certain terminology changes pertaining to precipitation type may be necessary. In addition, snowfall events require a mean (average) value; the procedure for determining this being covered in a latter portion of this document.

 
Sample message indicating Snowfall amount:

22 P W2ABC  8   PERTY AMBOY NJ 1300Z OCT 5
NWS PHI

MIDDLESEX COUNTY SNOW 650 WIND   47/65 PRESSURE 2934

STEVENSON

 
One will note that the precipitation type is changed to “snow.” Snow is typically measured to one tenth of an inch. However, an accuracy level to one quarter inch is acceptable.  RRI volunteers are encouraged to melt precipitation to determine liquid equivalent (equivalent in liquid precipitation). The same message with liquid equivalent might be as follows:

 
22 P W2ABC  10   PERTH AMBOY NJ 1300Z OCT 5
NWS PHI

MIDDLESEX COUNTY SNOW 650 LIQUID   073 WIND 47/65 PRESSURE 2934

STEVENSON      

 
Here are the basic rules for snowfall reports:

  • The snowfall amount should reflect the total snowfall from the current storm.
  • Note that no decimal point is included in the amounts. It is understood that the last two digits within the precipitation or pressure values fall after the decimal points (i.e. 6.50 inches; 0.73 inches; 29.34 inches Hg)
  • Snowfall observations should be based on an average if possible. For example, take five measurements across a yard or grassy area and then determine the average of these measurements.
  • Snowfall measurements are best taken on grassy areas that are protected from drifting by low shrubs, fences and other obstructions, which break up wind patterns. Avoid areas close to roofs and walls, which tend to be impacted by drifts.


 

B     Winter Storms – Mixed Precipitation

Situations may arise in which an observer experiences both rain and snow. In such cases, it may be best to use the term “MIXED” combined with a liquid equivalent value. In other words; “MIXED 230 LIQUID 060….” For example:

22 P W3ABC  10   MYRTLE BEACH SC 1300Z OCT 5
NWS LTX

HORRY COUNTY MIXED 230 LIQUID 060 WIND 47/65 PRESSURE 2934

STEVENSON

 


C      Winter Storms - Ice Storms

In the case of ice storms, the combination of ice accumulation and wind speed information is of significant interest to emergency management because it indicates the potential for widespread damage to utility infrastructure.

Ice accumulation is often best measured on wires, tree branches of other objects. However, be certain to measure the radius of the ice accumulation on such objects and not the diameter. One quarter inch or greater accumulation is the reporting threshold for ice accumulation.

An example of an ice storm report might be:

 
22 P W8ABC  6  MATEWAN, WV 1300Z DEC 5
NWS-RIX

MINGO COUNTY ICE 150 WIND 15/20

STEVENSON

 
Explanation of message format:


  • The observation was made in Matewan, WV.
  • Matewan, WV is in the Charleston, WV National Weather Service CWA (NWS-RIX)
  • Matewan, WV is in Mingo County, WV.
  • Current ice accumulation from the storm is 1.50 inches.
  • Average wind speed is 15 mph, gusting to 20.
  • The observer did not report barometric pressure. While he/she is at liberty to include pressure, it is typically not as critical during these weather events. In all cases, pressure is optional.


 

IV            Network and liaison structure:

This radiogram traffic may be originated via any one of the following methods:

 

  • Section and/or local traffic nets using digital, radiotelephone or radiotelegraph modes may be activated to collect weather data and SITREPs from the field.  A liaison station may then be assigned to transfer message traffic to one of the assigned RRI liaison stations, who will be responsible for collecting the reports and delivering them to the appropriate agency. The default RRI frequency/mode matrix is included with these SOGs.


  • If an observer does not have access to an operational section net, either within his section of an adjacent section, he may inject his report directly into the upper echelon RRI networks specified in the frequency/mode matrix.

  • Be sure to check the latest RRI bulletins for the specific operational frequencies and networks. Generally, the following bands are assigned for this purpose:


 
Daytime:  20, 40 and 30 meters
Nighttime: 80, 40 and 30 meters

A specially assigned key station will be assigned to receive reports originated via DTN (RRI Digital Traffic Net).  More than one key station may be assigned, with the duty roster being sequenced by schedule. The address of this key station may change depending upon the duty roster, so be certain to check the latest RRI bulletins. Please note that DTN routes by zip-code. The zip code provided for message routing may be OTHER THAN that of the agency to which the message is addressed.

Again, please note that if the primary target for a given time-period is unavailable, message traffic may be transmitted to one of the alternates, regardless of time-period.

When originating reports via the manual-mode watch-frequencies, please use the following methods to request assistance or list message traffic:

  • Radiotelegraph: "CQ RRI QTC ___ (indicate number of messages and precedence in file)"
  • Radiotelephone: "CQ RRI"


 Please note that some frequency flexibility may be necessary.  The station maintaining the radio watch is encouraged to periodically transmit a net call, particularly if he has moved from the published QSX frequency to avoid interference.  For example, a CW operator might transmit "QSX RRI de W0ABC K"

 

V             Tier Two Response:  Operational Support

At any point, the Tier One reporting operation may transition into a support operation.  Priority will be given to any operational message traffic.  When a circuit/net is not being utilized for priority reports or priority operational messages, it may be utilized for welfare message traffic per usual RRI policy. 

During the initial 72-hours after land-fall, the origination of disaster welfare inquiries originating outside the disaster area and addressed to individuals within the affected area is discouraged.  However, when circuit capacity is available and priority traffic has been cleared, welfare messages originating from within the affected area to points throughout the United States and Canada may be originated.


VI            Individual Preparedness


RRI members should prepare now for emergency operations.  This includes:


  • Prepare and test generators and other standby power sources.
  • Ensure adequate message forms are on hand.
  • Familiarize oneself with disciplined, structured net procedures.
  • Establish contact with one's emergency communications coordinator (as appropriate)
  • Ensure weather instruments are calibrated and secure.


 

VII          Bulletins: 

 
E-mail broadcasts to RRI leadership and members will announce when operations will commence and areas from which weather data and SITREPs are requested.  If for some reason the tropical storm weakens significantly or does not make landfall, the operation can be cancelled.

Net Managers should issue concise bulletins using "QNC" techniques as appropriate.  This anticipates early Internet outages in the affected area.  The "QNC" will indicate mission status and provide additional guidance, particularly at the local and section level.

 

VIII         Key Stations and Others Delivering Messages:

 
Radiograms delivered in print (e-mail, FAX, etc.) should display in all capitals when practical.  All other message content such as notes, contact information and so forth may be in mixed case.

When delivering message traffic received manually via FAX or e-mail, please insert three blank lines between each radiogram listed.  Type ten words to a line for message traffic transcribed using a word processor or "mill," or five words to a line for message traffic transcribed by hand.  Typewritten or word processor methods are preferred for such delivery methods to ensure readability.

All traffic delivered should be reviewed and checked for completeness.

All message deliveries should be prefaced with, or otherwise indicate that the reports were received via Radio Relay International.

All message deliveries should include contact information for the delivering station when appropriate.

 

IX            Records and Reports:

 
Net/Node Managers and those stations clearing traffic via one of the "watch frequencies" should file an after-action report with the TSN Network Manager. Please register with RRI for complete details.
 
The report should indicate the total number of messages of each precedence handled during the course of the operation.  An example of such a report might be:

 
24 R W2ABC  10  PERTH AMBOY NJ OCT 12
WB8SIW
MARION IL 62959
618-555-1212

HURRICANE CAMILLE REPORT X EMERGENCY   0 PRIORITY 25 WELFARE 7

JOE SMITH W2ABC

 
The Radio Relay International North American Response Plan Mode/Frequency Matrix is available to registered RRI radio operators. Please note that DTN (digital) operations will require routing to one or more specific “key stations” depending upon time of day. These target stations will be identified in operational bulletins.

 
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Section Nets are encouraged to collect reports, which may be forwarded by a manual mode liaison station or Digital Relay Station using the RRI frequencies/nodes specified in the frequency/mode matrix provided in Appendix A of the SOGs. In the absence of an active or functioning section network, individual RRI or EMCOMM stations may inject traffic directly into the RRI system.