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How we do it (MidWest SSTRC)

Howdy,

I wanted to see how things compare with other spotter
groups and give folks some insight on our group.
Maybe give someone an idea or two and get
a few for ourselves as well.

During a net or active weather event we have a number of
positions/duties that are performed.

1. MOD (Manager On Duty.) This person watches the weather
and activates the group if needed. They run the show.
These people have have extensive backgrounds in all aspects
of weather related items, nowcasting, forecasting, radar, net control
etc. They must be able to do all other duties and available to do so.
Each person has a 12 hour shift.
Must be IS-100, IS-700 and IS-0271 certified.

2. NCO - (Net Control Operator) This person runs the nets
on both the ham side and the business band side. One for each.
They have been trained in controlling the nets and enforcing
strict protocols for radio usage during a weather event.
The traffic cop on the air.

3. RO - (Relay Operator) This person is responsible for monitoring
the radio frequency and takes the spotters severe weather reports.
They then relay them to the local WFO via their VHF backbone radio
system. This is a direct link to the WFO. If no "backbone net" is in
place they would then call the WFO directly.
Many times this person is located in the counties EOC.
Non-Severe reports are submitted via eSpotter.
This person would monitor the WFOs radio backbone
and relay any information or request the WFO might have for us.
The NWS backbone is made up of three VHF repeaters
system throughout SC WI. This backbone is operated
by SWARA at the WFO.

4. RP - (Radar Person) This person is very well trained in reading
radars and vocalizing what they see to the spotters in the field.
Using GR3, GR2 and/or WeatherTap. This also includes using
satellite images and SPC information.

Many times we do not have everyone available and the MOD may
have to do one or two more of these duties shown above.

Static spotters are the backbone of the system. But we also
field many "Storm Trackers". These folks are mobile and in pairs. They
must be of a certain training level before we allow them to go mobile.

MidWest is a combination of two spotter groups.
The Madison Area Skywarn Team and the Madison Area Science
and Technology spotter groups merged to form MidWest SSTRC.
A great combination of scientific minds and experienced spotters.

Our spotter levels are Basic, Advanced or Certified.

Basic is just that. Attended a NWS Basic spotter class
within the past two years.

Advanced spotters attend a 18 hour course conducted by
Madison Area Science and Technology or a similar coarse.
They must pass the written and oral exams.

Certified is for the Advanced spotter. They are taken
out during an event and their performance noted.
Safety, field knowledge and practices are noted during
these events. It may take one event or it may take three.
Once we feel certain they have what it takes they
are then certified.

MidWest is not member driven, instead a Board of Directors
oversees all aspects of MidWest. Insuring we maintain
the high standard folks have come to expect from us.

We have 4 ham repeaters that can be linked into one system.
We also have a business band repeater system for the non-hams
to use. This system also allows us to talk directly with the counties
EOC and for internal communications and coordination.

We use a reporting protocol named TLCS.

Time
Location
Condition
Source

Example of a MidWest spotter report:

At 7:45pm, 5.5 miles SouthWest of Madison, Dane county - tornado.
Tornado is to my South West.

Short and to the point. This report is then relayed to our WFO
just as it is shown above.

No other information is supplied unless the WFO asks for it
or the MOD requests it.

All non-severe reports are submitted via eSpotter.

It takes a ton of time and effort for these folks to learn this all and
to get it down pat. We practice TLCS every Wednesday night
during our ham and business band nets.

We have special speakers at our meetings several times a year.
Ranging from UW researchers to local mets. We even have
some of the best storm chasers come and talk to us.

For a member to remain "active" they must attend at least
one meeting per quarter and participate in the nets. Otherwise
they loose their ID and become inactive.

We also have a DAT (Damage Assessment Team) These people
are trained in assessing storm damage. The local WFO requests
the DAT activation and lets us know where they want us to go.
This is something new for us as 2010 is our first year fielding
a DAT. We are very excited about this.

One key element is we activate prior to any warning.
We try to put people in place to meet and greet the storm
cell(s) as they enter our area or form.

To many times I see groups that activate after a warning is issued.
This is way to late in the ball game. We must be the source of the warning to be truly affective.

The radio protocols keep the nets clean and clear. We do not tolerate
"rag chewing" during active nets. We also have members that
are control operators for the repeater so our bite is much worse then
our bark when it comes to insuring the repeater or the net is not abused
and the protocols enforced.

MidWest did not use the ham side of things until a few years ago.
We mostly used our business band radio system. But the
ham repeaters have allowed us to do more with less. This has
increased our reach and effectiveness.

We strive to take Skywarn and the spotters in our areas to the next
level. Attempting to be ahead of the curve. Learning all the time
while sticking with tried and true methods of storm tracking and reporting.

Thats enough for now.

Got any ideas? Suggestions?

What does your group do that might help other groups with their efforts?

We are all in this together. The old ways of the past are slowly
being pushed aside and a new, smarter, faster, more involved and better trained breed of spotter is emerging.

Is your group stuck in the past or moving forward?:eek:

Tim
 
Tim,

Have you given any thought to "out-sourcing" the RP job? With Echolink, chat boxes, etc., you could have any good radar person fill that role.

In my world, there are few storms (except tropical systems), so I've joined a merry band of chasers across the Southeast. We use cell phones or other communications to discuss radar trends, nowcasts, etc. Over the years, I've frequently manned the RP job so others in neighboring states could chase.

In a formal SKYWARN group, we had a TV meteorologist (licensed as a ham operator) drop-in and update a cell's progress, etc. He was watching radar and doing live cut-ins on TV, so wasn't always at the RP "post" for us. As coordinator (your MOD), I would update spotter positions, nowcast, and relay info to NWS. The TV met wasn't there to nowcast necessarily, but to offer opinion on overall strength, etc. On the big weather days, I would go to his station (where we had a ham radio installed), help him, and nowcast. That was a great experience --- thanks, Rob H.

Like you, our RP and met's would scramble (next day or when clear) to the site for damage assessment. This gave them a good amount of feedback when compared to seeing "it" on radar.

Today in Jacksonville FL, we have two levels of activation: informal & formal. The informal activation is for single t'storm warnings, whereas the formal net comes up with tornado or hurricane watches, etc. The net control operator is the Moderator, so to speak. We have NWS in our backyard and will often run the formal net from there. We do have two RP's in our group and we'll comment on how things are going, etc. Training requirements are not specifically stated, but Basic & Advanced classes are offered frequently. Orientation to the ham radios at NWS is a separate event, usually done 1-on-1.

I'm sure much of what I offered is repeated across the world, but you asked.....

Tim, I'd like to see any documents (e.g., training, evaluation) you'd be willing to share...
 
"Have you given any thought to "out-sourcing" the RP job? With Echolink, chat boxes"

We have, but we have not put Echolink up yet. To busy
putting two more up this year and linking them.

I think we will be getting into VOIP or some sort of Internet
based real-time like Echonet. I could see it being of use if used
correctly. We have some areas that might benefit from such a system.

What we think is common knowledge is many time not all that common.
So repeat away. Everyone does something slightly different and it is those
items that "fine tune" a person, a groups performance and effectiveness.

Sounds like things are going in a positive direction in your area.
If I can be of any help, please let me know.

The Echonet is something I have messed with but I might bend folks
ears on hearing how it works for others and how they set it up.

Thanks!

Tim
 
Tim...

(this also covers some comments on the 'SN Icon' thread)

It looks like your program was designed by bureaucrats in Washington.

We have a wide area repeater that covers a good portion of Central Texas, most of it in rural areas south of the DFW complex. We are out of normal repeater coverage for the DFW area.

We have ten or more very active mobile spotters with APRS trackers and five that can stream and my list of spotters that have checked into the weather nets is about 150.

We encourage all of them to attend a NWS spotter training session and most of our regulars do (it is a social event for us) but we accept reports from anyone in a critical area.

Many of them are farmers/ranchers who eat or starve based on the whims of the weather and have been intense weather watchers since they were gleams in their daddy's eyes.

You do not have to be an OU graduate to recognize when a big dose of hail is about to steal your annual income or a prolonged drought is going to starve your cattle.

Our net control operators (we have five regulars and several backups scattered over the thirteen county primary coverage area) have several online resources including radar displays, usually GRL3, and APRS display programs (aprs.fi and UIView plus SN).

Our core spotters and NCO's have been doing this for years and set the standards for the net. We have very few problems with bad reports.

Our best tool, other than the wide area repeater, is Echolink, which for some reason you have chosen not to implement.

Echolink allows FTW to talk directly to the spotters and redirect them to critical locations and this is done quite frequently.

Before Echolink, the NCO received a report, passed it to another person in contact with the weather office who then passed it to the severe weather met who then responded or made a request back down the chain. Each county had its own system to contend with. Needless to say the system was slow and subject to errors as it passed from ear to mouth several times.

When I became aware of Echolink, I had a discussion with the lead ham at FTW, Mike Heskit, and we started playing with it. I believe we were the first spotter group to start using it. It is now the primary tool for spotter communications for FTW outside of the DFW area.

I expect that one of the hams at FTW will read this and they can make comments on the value of EchoLink.

A system that passed through night before last can be used as an example of our operation.

We stared watching the system as it crossed into the Abilene/San Saba area and three of our mobile spotters were on the road, each had APRS and Video Streaming capabilities, to the western edge of our coverage area. FTW was watching them on SN and established the Echolink connection. We use this connection as a key to change from informal to formal weather nets.

BTW, most of our mobile spotters have already passed the SN test. We were the victims of a malicious SN report a couple of seasons ago (bobbie cookie) and one of the reasons Tyler is concerned about certification.

FTW started communicating with the spotters directly and was able to view the hot spot with video streaming. (This was at night and what appeared to be a wall cloud was highlighted by lighting. I believe it was scud.) It was without rotation and just high wind and rain was the result. The spotter, one of our best, made the call.

The system seemed to be dying and the far west spotters headed home. The line regained intensity and we activated three more mobile spotters of which I was one; I passed net control to another NCO.

The system developed a hot spot on its southern end that none of the mobile spotters could get to. We requested stationary spotters in the counties involved to check in and we had two responses. FTW talked directly with the spotters and told them what they were looking for...

The system rolled onto the east into one of our most rural counties; I (I was back as NCO by this time) made a request for any ham in the area to check in and was a little shocked when one of our spotters responded; he had not been heard from in a year or so.

This ended the session that had started in mid afternoon with the spotter/chasers heading out about eighty miles west of our repeater and the NCO's watching the system. FTW came in with Echolink and pretty much directed the spotter activity from then on until we ended with the stationary spotters seventy miles to our east around 11:00 PM.

We don't have to vet the reports or the spotters, FTW does that as needed. We do a face to face a couple of times each year so most of us know each other as individuals as well as voices...

Let me clear up our net operation a little. The NCO keeps track of the weather system and the spotters and accepts routine reports (FTW hears them via Echolink). FTW talks directly to a spotter in or near a hot spot when they need detailed information. We eliminate the middle man in the critical situations if possible.

Overall I think that our rural area wide area net is one of the best, if not the best, in the country. It is relatively unstructured and that is what is best for our group. If we implemented a plan such as yours we would lose most of our spotters.

I would check out also since there is no way I would want to keep up with the paper work nor run a grade book on spotter reports...

With that being said, the hams in the DFW proper area are much more structured (RACES) and that works for them.

Our folks are not welcome to make reports when passing through the area because we don't have a RACES number.

Organization has its rewards but I believe in the KISS system unless there is a dire need to change.

(you can search on my name to find related dissertations)
 
"It looks like your program was designed by bureaucrats in Washington"

No, it is was designed by people with years of spotting/tracking/reporting knowledge and "hands on" experience. Including the input from our
local WFO's WCM, Local Mets, County EMM, ARES/RACES, SWARA,
Sulcom and members of our Board of Advisor's.

No one from Washington.

Sorry, I didn't insult your program, is there a reason for insulting ours?


"Echolink allows FTW to talk directly to the spotters and redirect them to critical locations and this is done quite frequently."

We do the same thing but with a phone patch/autopatch system. Sound quality is better over all and they
don't have to be in front of a PC to do it.

"Our folks are not welcome to make reports when passing through the area because we don't have a RACES number."

Any licensed amateur radio operator may submit a report
via our repeaters.

But we reserve the right to submit or not submit a report.
I can only think of a couple of times we have done this
in the past 5 years. Both had valid reasons. The reports
were discussed with folks at a later date. In one
case the person was banned from the repeater and a complaint
filed with the FCC.



"It is relatively unstructured and that is what is best for our group."

What ever works for you.

"I would check out also since there is no way I would want to keep up with the paper work nor run a grade book on spotter reports..."

Can't blame you there!
You may not, but someone some where will be keeping numbers on your group
performance and the WFO's performance.
We simply use their numbers as supplied by the WFO. Not much
paper work on our end except basic logging etc.



"Organization has its rewards but I believe in the KISS system unless there is a dire need to change."

I agree with this, things get easier/simpler with practice.


"We don't have to vet the reports or the spotters, FTW does that as needed."

Thats cool. But you do vet reports, you just might not call it that.
I would hope that if someone drunk submits a report that you
might questions it. vet it to some degree.


Our WFO's radio group, an ARES/RACES group named SWARA does
ask us to do some basic "vetting" of reports. So we do.
It is the WCM that wants "no report is better then a bad report"
We back them on both these counts.



Our method is not for all groups, nor is yours. Each group
must pick it methods and see what results they garnish.

Tim
 
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I've been very busy lately with our Skywarn group here in the Lansing-area. We officially cover 2 counties, and typically cover parts the third county in the Lansing area. We have 2 emergency management programs we serve directly, and a third we help. Typically we've run our operations out of the Lansing EOC the past number of years, but this year the Ingham County EOC is available for us to use as well.

We typically have one net control operator, who in the past, has had to run everything on occasion. We try to staff our EOC with 2 people, one to run net control and the other to relay reports. We've also had a third person giving radar updates, typically not in the EOC as it can get crowded if you have more than 3 people in there.

This year I am hoping we can activate both EOC's, with a person in each and maybe 2 in Lansing. That would be ideal for staffing for a Skywarn net.

Our report relay person is responsible for relaying reports via ham radio to the NWS in Grand Rapids and we have certain criteria reports we have to relay to the tri county dispatch channel on our public safety radios. We also try to utilize the NWS Chat as much as we can, although for some reason GRR has decided to shy away from NWS Chat a bit this year.

We mark all reports confirmed or unconfirmed when talking to our dispatch. Confirmed reports are reports from trained spotters. Unconfirmed reports are from those that are not trained spotters (as far as we know). There is a certain liability if someone calls in a tornado report, but isn't a trained spotter, and we choose to ignore it, which is why we've decided to pass as confirmed/unconfirmed.

We've got a number of spotters running SpotterNetwork or APRS, and have used that for positional awareness on our GRLevel3 application.

Our training hasn't been overly in depth, all of our spotters are just basic trained right now. Our WCM seemed very interested in holding an advanced spotter training class this fall, so hopefully we can get some situational awareness in terms of meteorological conditions this fall for our group.

The biggest challenges we've actually had have been mostly related to people getting too excited - "The tornado sirens are going off here!" and "It's raining hard here" or even worse "Well everything has moved out, I can still see lightning to the east, but it's stopped raining here and the sun has started to come out" reports are annoying, and as much as we try to train people not to report that kind of stuff, we always get some moron to do it (usually someone you never hear from until it storms).
 
"We typically have one net control operator, who in the past, has had to run everything on occasion"

We still have that issue as well, where the MOD wears all the hats.
Times like during the week day when most folks are working.
But for the most part we have 2-3 folks willing to help with the net
functions.

"This year I am hoping we can activate both EOC's, with a person in each and maybe 2 in Lansing. That would be ideal for staffing for a Skywarn net."

Great! Getting folks into the EOC is a great thing. Function and relationship wise. Are they open to working with your team?

"There is a certain liability if someone calls in a tornado report, but isn't a trained spotter, and we choose to ignore it, which is why we've decided to pass as confirmed/unconfirmed."

Yes there is. We also pass along any doubts about a report
if we have some. What do you do if it is an untrained spotter?
One that has not been to a class in the past two years and
unknown to you?

"Our training hasn't been overly in depth, all of our spotters are just basic trained right now."

People with a clear mind, good basic training and a will to "do it right" will do fine. They might lean on the "base" for more information as they may be
unsure at times, but time in the saddle with good guidance is the best teacher.

"The biggest challenges we've actually had have been mostly related to people getting too excited"

You mean when their voice gets high pitched and/or yell into the mic? :D

Happens to be best. Thats when the NCO comes back with a lower
tone and talks slowly. Calming the person down. But then
some still bounce off the walls...:rolleyes:

Thats why I like having a set protocol for us to use in the field.
It is something that the spotter can depend on and fall back to.
Settles them down and gives them structure during a time they need it the most to be affective.

During an outbreak when more then one item is descending from the sky
you need to be able to get the report and clear the air for the next one.


Sounds like your kicking it up a notch or two..thats good.

Being across the pond from us we see what comes your way.

Thanks!

Tim
 
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Function and relationship wise. Are they open to working with your team?

I've been invited to the emergency manager policy meetings and we have a very close working relationship with our 911 dispatch center and the emergency management departments. The meetings have also given me/us a chance to get some 'face time' with the fire chiefs and other important people (like rdale :cool:) which I actually think has helped improve our credibility.

What do you do if it is an untrained spotter? One that has not been to a class in the past two years and unknown to you?

Then it's passed as an "unconfirmed report", simple as that. We've decided we don't want to be the 'spamfilter' due to the liability reasons, and thus we just pass every report, and just tag confirmed or unconfirmed on it. Pretty simplistic in my opinion.

You mean when their voice gets high pitched and/or yell into the mic? :D

Exactly, and it's been on more than a few occasions people who should know better (on October 18, 2007 we had reports of tornado sirens going off from someone who was my assistant with Skywarn earlier in the year, and someone who had helped multiple years in the past with Skywarn training)

We definitely have been trying to stay on top of things, and most importantly, do what our served agencies are asking of us. I ruffled some feathers when I 'officially' mentioned crossing into our west adjacent county a few miles since part of the actual lansing metropolitan area falls in that county, and most of the spotters living in that area report on our nets anyway.... I don't understand the 'territorial' nature, considering we're reporting to the same NWS WFO overall.

We've been trying to use as much technology as we can as well to make things easier for us all.
 
We do the same thing but with a phone patch/auto patch system. Sound quality is better over all and they don't have to be in front of a PC to do it.

A major misconception concerning EchoLink. NO ONE has to be in front of a computer to operate through EchoLink. We in the FTW NWS typically use our handhelds when operating through EchoLink. I can provide you the name of our VoIP guru who can answer any questions.
 
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