What is the National Traffic System

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What is the Radio Relay International (RRI)?

The RRI is organization an was formed in 2016 to pass written personal messages around the United States an connections thought-out the world.

Messages are sent in the standard ARRL Radiogram format, and relayed from Amateur Radio operator to another through a series of formal networks. The message is ultimately delivered to the addressee in about 24 to 36 hours by an RRI or NTS operator who lives fairly close to the recipient, either by telephone, mail, or hand delivery (uncommon).

The RRI operates every day and is used by thousands of people to send and receive short messages of a personal, non-commercial nature, such as birthday greetings, congratulations on a special event, or wishes for a speedy recovery. It’s also used by the ARRL Field Organization to send reports and operational messages. Subject to international treaties governing "third party" messages, many foreign countries also allow their hams to exchange radiograms with US hams.

Messages can originate with either hams or non-hams. Non-hams who would like to send a radiogram should contact a ham friend or neighbor. There is no charge for a Radiogram. Radiograms are one way hams serve the public, and are welcomed as a way to train new traffic handlers and keep the experienced handlers in practice. Additional information on NTS www.arrl.org/nts

During disasters or other emergencies, radiograms are used to send critical life safety and agency messages, and “health and welfare” information from disaster victims to friends and family. During these times, the RRI works in concert with the ARRL’s Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES®) and other emergency and disaster relief organizations, such as the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army. Networks are often accelerated and expanded to accommodate the needs.

How are NTS & RRI Messages Handled?

Messages are usually relayed using a system of manual "nets," (short for “networks.”) RRI & NTS nets are on-the-air meetings of message handlers at an appointed time and a designated frequency. There are four levels of nets, each covering broader territory --local, section, regional, and area. Local nets are usually on VHF, all others are on HF frequencies. Local nets relay messages to and from the Section nets; Section nets to the Region nets; Region nets to the Area nets. These nets are held throughout the day in order to move messages around the country. (Only designated operators participate in the Region and Area nets. These nets are not open for general participation.) Manual NTS nets operate in a variety of modes such as CW, voice and teletype.

DTN (Digital)

In addition to the traditional manual modes listed above, DTN operates a parallel high speed digital HF Pactor network. DTN operators use 80, 40, 30, and 20 meter HF frequencies. Designated DTN operators in each Region and Areas relay messages, either between Regions or to and from the Area stations. Designated Digital Relay Stations can also link NTSD directly to Section nets for speedy message transfer.

At the local level, packet networks may be used for collection and distribution, otherwise, traditional manual modes are used. NTS packet messages can be initiated and sent by any packet-capable operator. Messages for delivery are posted on an NTS Packet Bulletin Board System (PBBS). Messages come into the BBS from the NTSD HF network or from local packet networks in nearby sections or regions. In addition, any voice NTS messages that might not have been picked up on a voice net (see above) can be converted to digital and posted to an NTS PBBS. One of the big advantages of a PBBS is that it will hold messages for later pickup, perhaps by an NTS operator who wasn't able to join the regularly scheduled voice or CW net. You can find more information about NTS Digital here: nts-digital.net

How to get started as an NTS Message Handler

Any Amateur Radio licensee can become an NTS operator, although Technician Class licensees will likely be limited to local VHF nets. As a first step, read about general NTS system operations, standard net procedures, and the ARRL Radiogram message form (shown below).

Here are direct links to just some of the information at www.arrl.org/public-service

Chapter 1: National Traffic System (NTS) from the ARRL Public Service Communication Manual Sect. 2
FSD-218 How to fill out a Radiogram, message precedences, CW Q-signals, more
FSD-220 Operating Aid – Prosigns and prowords, phonetic alphabet, more

Tune in to a local or Section level NTS & RRI net (check the ARRL net directory) and listen at least once to the entire net. This will give you a sense of how the NTS & RRI nets are conducted. A next step might be to practice copying the messages you hear being relayed onto blank Radiogram forms. (You would do this without checking in to the net.) The copying process will help you become familiar with the Radiogram form.

When you're ready, simply check in to any local net when the net control asks for check-ins. Be sure to mention that this is your first check-in to an RRI & NTS Net. You'll generally find other operators eager to help and very patient. Remember, your participation is always voluntary. Even if you check in, you don't need to handle any traffic if you don't feel ready.

RRI & NTS message handling skills are valuable in other Amateur Radio volunteer services, such as ARES and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES), where messages are often originated and received.

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© David Struebel - WB2FTX 2012-2014