LOGGING AND RECORD KEEPING
Modified from a Waller County ARES training article
written by Christine Smith, N5CAS (sk).
What if you are the Net Control Station in charge of the net? How about a SAG wagon or Rest Stop communicator? We need to have logs for these positions just like you would keep a log of contacts on your home station such as for contesting, DXing, etc.
An accurate record of formal messages handled is very important. This information can be recorded on a tablet but a printed copy of the ICS-214a Individual Activity Log should be used as it would be required in an actual disaster event. Lost or misdirected messages can be tracked down later on and a critique of the operation afterward can be more accurate and useful for training if logs are maintained properly. Your logs should include enough detail to be meaningful later on, especially the message number, date, origination time, originating/receiving stations and a brief description. The time on your messages would be logged as the local date, time combination. There should be no confusion when deciphering them later for any reason. With some agencies, your log becomes a legal document and may be needed at some later time should an investigation occur. In this case, logs should be completed and turned in to the appropriate person for safekeeping and review.
What to Log:
Log all incoming and outgoing messages. Log the name of the sender, addressee, the station that passed the message to you, the message number, the station to whom the message was sent or the person to whom it was delivered and the times in and out.
Also, log which operators are on duty for any given period by date and time assigned and relieved and record any significant events at your station. These might include changes in conditions, power failures, meals, equipment failures, and so on.
In addition to the log, copies of all messages should be kept and catalogued for easy retrieval if needed later for clarification or message tracking. Some operators record when the message was received and forwarded/delivered and to/from whom directly on the message form itself though the log entry will suffice if there is no hard-copy message. This helps speed up tracking later on. Never rely on your memory. Keep the written copy of each message in numerical order for future reference. Messages received/sent electronically via Winlink Express or other messaging system should be kept in a folder identified by the event name & date.
What about informal messages, should they be logged? This is usually up to the stations involved and depends on the circumstances. Even informal messages can contain important details that may be need to be recalled later. Logging these incidental messages is good practice. Emergency or Priority messages of any kind should always be logged. Many net control operators like to log every message or exchange no matter how inconsequential. Others like to log only those with potentially important details but, again, practice makes perfect.
On a net with little traffic, all information can be included in one chronological log. If, however, a large number of messages are being handled and you have a second person to handle logging, separate logs can make it faster and easier to locate information if it is needed later. You might keep one log for incoming messages, one for outgoing messages and a third for station activities. The ICS-309 Communications Log is designed to record inter-operator communications. It can also be used to track messages by entering the message number and subject in the Subject block.
The NCS will also need to keep a log of which operators are assigned to each station and the times they go on and off duty. The ICS-204 Assignment List is designed to keep this information. Information logged should include date/time of personnel change, call sign, name, phone#, location, and a list of usable bands the volunteer’s equipment includes. These would be used for reference of who you have available and their capabilities when the need arises for someone either near a specific location or with some specific equipment that might be needed.
For a busy net, you might want to keep a separate Station Status List, which would list the tactical call sign, the FCC-call sign, and assigned location. When a person is called from the Volunteer List, they would be added to this list to easily reference the tactical call and where the volunteer was assigned. If done electronically, this information is easily searchable on the ICS-204 form.
The third list they have is an Operations Log. This would be your general logging sheets for messages passed, the time received and time sent, and the message number. During a busy event net you might want to note the information on the message itself (as mentioned above) and then put onto this log as time permits.
Who should log:
At the net level, logging can be handled in several ways. If activity is low, the net control operator can handle logging. In a busy net, a second person can keep the logs as the net’s “secretary” and act as a “second set of ears” for the NCS. The logger can be at the NCS or they might be listening from a different location.
If a backup Net Control Operator has been appointed they should keep a duplicate log. If they need to “take over” the net at any point, all the information will be at hand thus preserving the continuity of the net. We practice this on our nets with our “backup net control operator”.
In a fast moving tactical net, keeping a log while on the move may be impossible. In this case, the net control station may decide to keep one log detailing the various informal messages passed on the network though a ‘secretary’ is advised to share the workload.
Logging is a good position for a trainee with limited experience or an unlicensed volunteer. Two experienced and licensed operators can also alternate between on-air and logging duties to help combat fatigue. Online net control operators must announce transfer of net control every time their are relieved.
Writing Techniques For Message Copying and Logging
Your logs should be clear and legible to be of any use. Print in neat block letters on lined paper or a pre-printed log form. A firm writing surface will help. Keep both pens and pencils on hand since each works better under different conditions. Some operators prefer special “space” pens that will write on wet surfaces and at any angle. You should also have a pencil sharpener or knife in your “ready kit.” Logs should be kept in spiral bound notebooks to prevent pages from becoming lost. In the case of pre-printed log sheets, a three-ring binder works well. If more than one log is kept, each should be in its own notebook or clipboard to prevent confusion and accidental entries.
In fast-moving situations, it can be difficult or impossible to keep a log of any kind. If a message, exchange, or event should be logged, try to do it as soon as possible afterwards or ask the NCS to add it as a notation in his log.
We discussed earlier in our message handling the fact that we should never be the “author” (or create) agency-related official messages. However, there are some cases such as messages that deal solely with communication such as messages about net operations, frequencies and requests for relief operators, radio equipment, supplies, food and water for emcomm personnel, etc. In these instances you do have the training and authority to generate the message. These messages should also be logged so there is a record of when a request was sent if there is any question after you have been relieved from your shift.
After Action Report
After an event has closed, volunteers will be required to file After Action Reports which would include logs and messages described above.
NOTE: All forms and logs indicated above can be found in the Winlink Express messaging system. All ARES members should have this system loaded on their computers and are encouraged to explore the provided templates.
That concludes tonight’s training. Are there any questions, comments or suggested additions to this material?
Thanks, this is (callsign) clear to net control.