Radio Procedures

On this page:

  • Basic facts about radios
  • Procedures for speaking on the radio

 

Radios should only be used if they are necessary: in some situations other methods of communication are sufficient.

It takes time to learn to use a radio well. All staff should be taught basic radio use as an essential aid to security, in those field operations where radios are necessary.

 

Types of radio

Long-range radios are High Frequency (HF) radios, which can communicate several hundred kilometres and in some circumstances several thousand.

Short-range radios are usually Very High Frequency (VHF) radios. They can usually communicate a few kilometres directly, but using a repeater station (on a hilltop or a high building) can sometimes communicate several tens of kilometres. Typical ranges for VHF radios are:

  • Handheld to handheld: 2 – 5 km

  • Vehicle unit to vehicle unit: up to 20 km

  • Base unit to handheld: up to 15 km

  • Base unit to vehicle unit: up to 30 km

  • Base unit to base unit: up to 50 km

Some VHF radios are hand-held, with a small antenna: these are often carried by humanitarian staff. Larger radios, either VHF or HF, are mounted in vehicles or in buildings, with larger antennas.

 

Care of a radio

A radio battery needs to be recharged regularly. Some kinds of batteries should be fully discharged before they are recharged, or the life and power of the battery will be reduced. It is good practice to carry a spare battery, fully charged, to enable an immediate change of batteries when the first one runs out.

Radios are expensive items, attractive to thieves and to unscrupulous soldiers. All staff should sign for receipt of their radio and be warned to keep it with them at all times.

 

Programming radios

Many modern radios need to be programmed before they can be used. A technician will normally do this. The radio is tuned to the frequencies in use by humanitarian organisations in that area, plus one or more frequencies specific to your organisation.

Often, humanitarian organisations will share one or more radio channels. A UN agency may make available two or more of its channels, for use by all humanitarian organisations. If so, one channel is likely to be designated as the ‘calling’ channel, and another may be designated as the ‘security’ or ‘emergency’ channel.

 

Procedure for speaking on the radio

It is important to follow the standard procedure for speaking on the radio. Only one person can speak at one time, and while doing so he or she prevents anyone else from speaking. Unlike a telephone, anyone with another radio can hear what you are saying. Therefore bear in mind the following principles of radio use:

  • Clarity

  • Brevity

  • Security

Do not use the radio like a telephone. Work out what you want to say before transmitting. The following procedure words (known as prowords) are some of those commonly used:

 

Proword

Meaning

HELLO

I am calling (then insert the callsign of the person or station you are calling)

CALLSIGN

The ‘radio name’ of a person or station. (Usually composed of letters and numbers, e.g. A21 (pronounced “Alpha Two One”). Actual names of people or organisations are not used.)

THIS IS

My callsign is…

I SAY AGAIN

I am repeating what I have just transmitted

READ BACK

Please read back this entire transmission exactly as you heard it

ROGER

I understand what you have just said

SEND

Please send your message

OVER

This is the end of my transmission and I expect you to reply.

OUT

This is the end of my transmission and I do not expect you to reply. (“OVER AND OUT” is never used.)

WAIT

I must pause for a few seconds. Please wait. (Other users should not use the radio channel in the meantime.)

WAIT OUT

I must pause longer than a few seconds; I will call you back. (Other users can use the radio channel in the meantime.)

CORRECT

What you have just transmitted is correct.

WRONG

What you have just transmitted is incorrect

CORRECTION

What I have just transmitted is incorrect – and the correct version is…

BREAK – BREAK

This is an emergency and I need to interrupt a radio conversation to send my message.

Calling another person

  • Ensure no one else is transmitting at the same time. Wait for ongoing discussions to finish completely before beginning transmission.

  • Make your message brief but precise

  • Use the standard procedure words

  • Use call signs instead of personal names. Do not identify organisations or personnel by name over the radio.

  • Begin by pressing the ‘transmit’ button and saying: “Hello [their callsign] this is [your callsign] over”. Then release the ‘transmit’ button immediately.

  • After they respond (perhaps by saying “[Their callsign], send over”), you press the ‘transmit’ button, say your callsign again, send your message, and end with “over” or “out”. Release the ‘transmit’ button.

  • After the initial call in a conversation, it is normal for each transmission to begin with the callsign of the person speaking, but in some cases this is not necessary. Local practice varies.

  • Break the message into sensible passages with clear pauses between

  • Maintain clear speech with normal rhythm and moderate volume

  • Hold the microphone approximately 5 cm from your mouth

  • Avoid excessive calling. Use radios for work-related purposes only.

  • Never transmit specific security-related information or travel plans or discuss transfer of cash or goods

 

Phonetic alphabet

When spelling letters on the radio, or using letters in callsigns, the international phonetic alphabet is used. All radio users should know this alphabet by heart:

A

ALFA

B

BRAVO

C

CHARLIE

D

DELTA

E

ECHO

F

FOXTROT

G

GOLF

H

HOTEL

I

INDIA

J

JULIET

K

KILO

L

LIMA

M

MIKE

N

NOVEMBER

O

OSCAR

P

PAPPA

Q

QUEBEC

R

ROMEO

S

SIERRA

T

TANGO

U

UNIFORM

V

VICTOR

W

WHISKY

X

X-RAY

Y

YANKEE

Z

ZULU

 

Power supply

Radios cannot operate without power. In most humanitarian situations, mains electricity supply is either non-existent or unreliable. Therefore you are likely to need a generator and a fuel supply for the generator, to power larger radios directly and to power battery chargers for battery-powered radios.

Ensure you keep all your batteries fully charged so that, if an emergency occurs, all power fails and your generator breaks down, you can still communicate.

Generators should be sited far enough away from offices and accommodation to reduce the noise disturbance that they cause. If they can be housed in an outhouse with sufficient ventilation, or a wall built around them, so much the better. They are valuable, so secure them with strong locks and prevent public access to them.

When using unreliable mains electricity or a generator, electronic equipment can be damaged or destroyed by power surges. It is vital to connect a surge protector between the power supply and your radios, battery changers and computers.

Generators need regular maintenance from a competent technician.

 

In emergency

The standard radio emergency call, primarily used for shipping or aircraft, is “MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY”, followed by your callsign three times, followed by your location, a brief description of the emergency, and what assistance you need. In practice aid workers rarely use this procedure, but use plain language and/or an immediate incident report.

 

Duress codes

Duress code words are generally innocuous words or phrases selected for use over the radio or telephone to indicate that the speaker is in a threatening situation but not free to communicate. All staff should be informed of the duress code word(s).

 

Do

  • Get trained in radio use before starting – practising with a colleague can help

  • Think before you speak

  • Be very brief

  • Only use a radio when there is no other suitable method of communication

  • Know which is the calling channel and which is the emergency channel

Don’t

  • Don’t mention sensitive information on the radio

  • Don’t touch an antenna when a radio is transmitting (there can be a risk of burns)

  • Don’t use a radio close to fuel when it is exposed to the air, for example when filling up a vehicle (there can be a risk of igniting fuel)

This is an extract, with minor adaptations, from the ECHO Generic Security Guide for Humanitarian Organisations, © Copyright the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid – ECHO. Available here as a free download online, in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.

Tags: Advocacy