Garlic Festival Communications

Net Control Room

We are GVARC – Garlic Valley Amateur Radio Club. But you may also notice our logo has a familiar look, and our repeaters are W6GGF – W6 Gilroy Garlic Festival. The festival is our primary fund raising event. Money we earn from our volunteer hours pays for the maintenance and operation of the W6GGF UHF and VHF repeaters.

The club has a long history with the festival, providing communications support and logistics before, during, and after the festival. Each year our club members work with the rental company to set up, manage, and coordinate communications for upwards of 350+ radios used throughout the event. We also manage the central “switchboard” which is a vital component in efficiently connecting committees with each other during the event. The positions over 3 days of the festival, 2 shifts per day, include:

  • Garlic Communications Chair Person
  • 1 Net Manager
  • 4 Net Controls
    • 1 Main Net Control
    • 2 Sub Net Controls
  • 1 Emergency Net Control
  • 2 or more Communications Support people

The Chairperson is the primary liaison between the festival and the communications team. The Chairperson attends regular meetings, works with the volunteers to engineer the number of repeaters and radios needed, the radio programming, secures rental agreements, solicits volunteer staff for the event, coordinates scheduling, works on the installation of all the equipment, makes sure team t-shirts are ordered, coordinates meals, snacks, supplies, and ensures the net control room is ready to go the 1st day of the event. The Chair serves a term of 2 years as Chair and 2 years as assistant Chair.

Net Manager
The Net Manager is the shift leader and designates who will be at each position. They monitor Main net and answer procedure questions, sit in for breaks, and coordinate with the communications Chairperson. In the event of an emergency call, they monitor progress of the call and ensure emergency services are properly notified and that they arrive on scene to take care of guests. The Net Manager typically has at least 2 years of experience in one or more of the Net Control positions and may have also been a Communications Committee Chair.

Net Control
Net control has 4 positions. The Main net, 2 Sub nets, and an Emergency net position. When the festival is open, all communications are routed through Main net. Each position has a radio, and also a backup handheld radio in the event of power loss. Each station has log sheets and pencils. All communications are logged on paper and pencil. It is very simple, and extremely reliable.

Main Net
Main net is the 1st contact for all incoming radio traffic. There is one Main net radio. Main net is “traffic control”. Whoever runs Main net controls the flow of incoming communications, coordinates with the 2 Sub nets for smooth handoff to the talk channels, and is the 1st contact in the event of an emergency.

Sub Net
There are 2 Sub net stations. Each Sub net has a list of about 12-18 committees. Some of the busiest committees are listed on both Sub nets in case one of the Sub nets is busy on another call. Sub net managers contact requested committees and request them to make contact on a given talk channel per the direction of Main net.

Emergency Net
The Emergency net position handles all emergency radio calls, calls 911, and coordinates with the Net Manager during the emergency. The position also manages availability of the talk channels. This is also done in sync with the Main net manager. They work as a team to keep track of used and available talk channels to keep communications between the committees flowing as smooth as possible.

If an emergency call comes in, all other incoming traffic is halted. Main net confirms the nature of the emergency, the location, a basic description of the person needing care, and then moves the conversation to a talk channel. At that point the Emergency net position takes over, calls 911, notifies the Net Manager (if they have not already heard), and monitors the channel to be able to relay any further information to 911 if needed, and to ensure emergency services arrive at the scene. During this time, that is priority 1, so available talk channels are managed by Main net.

As an example. Gourmet Alley may call Main net and ask to speak with the water and ice committee because they need an ice machine refilled. The conversation begins with someone in Gourmet Alley switching to the Main net channel on their radio. It would go something like this…

Gourmet Alley: “This is Gourmet Alley”
Main Net: “Go ahead Gourmet Alley”
Gourmet Alley: “Please connect me with water and ice”
Main Net: “Gourmet Alley, please go to talk 4 for water and ice”

Before that short conversation is even over, the 2 sub net mangers have been listening, and whoever has water and ice committee on their list is already switching to the committee channel for water and ice and asking them to meet Gourmet Alley on talk 4.

Sub Net: “Water and Ice, this is net control”
Water and Ice: “Go for Water and Ice”
Sub Net: “Water and Ice please meet Gourmet Alley on talk 4”
Water and Ice: “Moving to talk 4”

The emergency net position monitors the hand off on the talk 4 channel on their radio and ensures the 2 parties meet. Once they have done so and moved back to their respective committee channels, he acknowledges this be releasing talk 4 to be used again for another conversation. We use a very simple process to keep track of available talk channels. We use 7 wooden blocks numbered 1-7. You simply pick up a block and place it where the net control positions can see that it is being used. When the talk channel is clear, we move it back to the pile. It is very simple, and does not required any fallible technology to administer.

If the emergency net position is busy working an emergency, the main net monitors talk channel utilization and handles talk channel availability.

Radio traffic during the festival varies from a trickle to a deluge. Emergencies also are unpredictable. Logic would dictate that after temperatures rise, and a few beers, incidents would rise. This is not always the case. Net control can get extremely busy, especially if we have a couple of emergencies at the same time. It takes calm nerves, the ability to triage incoming traffic, and being able to track requests from multiple sources simultaneously. It is also a lot of fun. It is great practice for running emergency nets, and an excellent opportunity to learn.

Join us! It is a lot of fun and very rewarding. Each spring we send out invitations to the club to volunteer for this important event. Add it to your calendar this year!