Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Plain Talk about Plain Language

Bryce, K1GAX Maine ARES SEC

In the ICS/NIMS world, the emphasis is on the use of plain language for all message handling and communications. The use of codes are discouraged due to the probability of misunderstandings and lack of standardization. We, as ARES members have to conform to the to the plain language concept to ensure our communications are clear and fullyunderstood by everyone.It should be remembered that there are, on occasion, others listening toour communications (or perhaps even communicating with us) and that they may not understand our codes and jargon. Even within the amateur radio community, there are those that do not understand all of our codes and jargon. We, as hams, have our own "unique" set of codes and jargon. Hams have the tendency to carry over codes (the "Q" codes) used in CW toour normal day to day on the air conversations and in some cases, we have changed the meaning of the "Q" codes to reflect what we are saying invoice communications. Some examples of the changed "Q" codes are: QSL Classical meaning (in CW): "Can you acknowledge receipt?" or "I can acknowledge receipt."Common voice meaning: "Do you understand?" or "Yes" or "Roger"QTH Classical meaning (in CW): What is your position Latitude/Longitude?" or My position is Latitude/Longitude."Common voice meaning: "What is you location?" or "My location is."("What is your home QTH?" or "I'm at the home QTH")QSO Classical meaning (in CW): "Can you communicate with _____ directly or by relay?" or "I can communicate with _____ directly of by relay."Common voice meaning: A two way contact or conversationQSY Classical meaning (in CW): "Shall I change frequency to transmission on another frequency ( ___ kHz)?" or "I will change frequency of transmission to ____ kHz."Common voice meaning: Let's change frequency to ____ or I am changing frequency to ____." ("Let's QSY to '88' (meaning 146.88 repeater) or "I'm going to QSY to '88'.") (Has even been modified to a change in location("I'm going to QSY in the house.").You can see that the "Q" codes we use so frequently may not mean what they originally meant and besides, these were CW abbreviations for use on just that, CW. Many hams use the various other "Q" codes in regular conversation. At times, newer hams have no idea what they are talking about.Perhaps the "10" codes would be better used? Surely, the public service community has a standard for all "10" codes. Not true! The lower "10"codes mean about the same thing everywhere (through about 10-30), but above that they can have many different meanings. For example; 10-55 inMaine means a motor vehicle accident (usually followed with "with PI"(personal injury) or "with no PI". Believe it or not, this "10" code means something different in each of the New England states. That's not to mention the rest of the country. In Massachusetts, 10-55 means"Officer shot or stabbed", in St Lucie County it means "Car to Car", inVirginia it means "Intoxicated Driver", in Howard County it means"Officer being followed by an auto". As you can see, there's no standardization here.It is clear that codes or signals have no standardization and canactually lead to confusion or misunderstanding if used in disaster communications especially where agencies from many parts of the country or another state are responding. One other problem encountered in the use of codes and signals is that they may actually slow down the flow oftraffic. Some one from a served agency listening in to the flow of communications may stop the operator to ask what was being said. The receiving operator then has to stop and explain it. A receiving operatori n taking notes on a tactical message may have to stop and look up the meaning of a particular code or signal or even stop the transmission to ask what the sender is talking about. This only slows down communications. In writing things down, the receiving operator has totake the extra time to translate what was said before forwarding it to others at his or her served agency.As one can plainly see, codes and signals really have no place indisaster communications. The Federal government realized this and within ICS and NIMS requires communications to be in plain language that everyone can understand no matter who they are. We need to practice plain language in our ARES communications! I have heard time and again the old line that it's hard to break old habits. I don't agree with this. Our ability to adapt and change is what makes we humans different from the animals. It just takes an effort and thought on our part to change the way we do things.

73, Bryce, K1GAX

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