The North Okanagan Emergency Communications Group (NOECG) is a loose association of amateurs who are interested in providing emergency communications abilities to the residents, and first responders, of the North Okanagan Regional District (NORD). While supported by and operating under the umbrella of NORAC, amateurs do not have to be members of NORAC to participate.

The NOECG is the successor to earlier groups with similar purpose that have existed in the Vernon area. During 2010 several things happened which were of significance to the Group. First, the NORD began to come together and co-ordinate its emergency planning and response efforts under one roof, with Brent Watson (Vernon) at the helm. This has had the pleasant result of giving us only one agency to deal with, or represent ourselves to, instead of seven. The second thing is that we produced a formal plan ('Emergency Communication Plan') more or less in the format currently expected by our various governments. It has been accepted by NORD, and also by the RCMP.

The plan breaks down our communications into four functions. Voice (Tactical) commuinication, APRS, data communication, and traditional formal messaging.
Two events occurred in 2010 allowed us to demonstrate our value in providing tactical communication. First, the Tolko fire, where we were able to provide voice communication between the EOC and the Incident Command, at a time when no other decent communication option was available. Secondly, during an exercise at Silver Star we provided voice communication between the mock EOC and the Reception Center, and the ESSC. In providing this communication we followed the practice of allowing the responders to do the talking, and used tactical call signs. While we would make (and conclude) the calls, the responders themselves were able to the talking. Since they were then responsible for the content, we did not need to keep any audit trail - no records required - so this system was (and remains) a real advantage to both parties.

We have also concluded an agreement with our local Emergency Support Service (ESS) group to provide voice communications to ESS personnel who are called out on level 1 emergencies, such as house fires, in areas without known reliable cell phone service. Please see 'AR and ESS Agreement'. To implement that agreement we developed a call out Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for those callouts, the 'NOECG-ESS Callout Procedure'.

We can now expect to be called out with the first responders on ANY emergency in the North Okanagan Regional District that require an Emergency Operations Center (EOC), as well as on any activation of a Reception Center (separately from the low level ESS callouts). We will be expected to immediately establish voice communication between the Incident Commander and the EOC, and to add a third station at the Reception Center as soon as it may be mobilized. This communication is for operational traffic between the responders. We will use tactical call signs and let the responders do the talking.

Our second priority is to be alert for additional tactical voice communication stations/channels, arising from either the Incident Commander or the EOC operations/liaison staff, and to provide them as required.

The functions of backhaul voice and data (to higher level EOC's), and formal messaging (both evacuee and EOC), are considered as separate functions, and we have set a rather arbitrary notification requirement of twelve hours between notification and earliest commencement of those functions. The clear implication is that for tactical voice we are expected to hit the ground running. It is important to break any mental mindset any of us may have that we should do the talking and can only use amateur call signs. It is quite in order, and essential to those we are supporting, to use tactical call signs and to let them do the talking. We establish voice communication, monitor the channels, and initiate and conclude calls. All the content between the start of the call and the sign off should be carried out by the responders we are assisting, or 'shadowing'.

We welcome any radio amateur who wishes to help, and has at least a VHF mobile or VHF handheld (with a reliable battery pack!). This is our first requirement and does not require any special ability beyond what we all demonstrate - the ability to talk on the radio! Development of expertise in digital communications, both VHF and HF, capability in formal messaging, and APRS capability, are all areas in which need to develop further. If you have read this far and are not currently a member of the group, live in the North Okanagan Regional District, and are interested in helping, please let us know:

  1. If you have current PEP cards, and if so their expiry date (If you don't have PEP cards, we can get them for you)
  2. If you have had any courses in the Incident Command System (if you haven't, going through our power point presentation should suffice, or we can get you the materials)
  3. Your best contact information - cell and other phone numbers, address
  4. An idea of your equipment, particularly VHF and UHF portables (and batteries), mobiles, dual band or X-band capability
  5. Any restrictions on your involvement
  6. What interest/capability you may have in the 'secondary' functions - in particular digital data modes, APRS, formal messaging.