Safety, Training

Safety Watch: Good Radio

By By Terry Terrell | December 1, 2012

Even with today’s advancing technology, good radio communications, absolutely vital to safe operations, sometimes seem to have become a lost set of arts. Radio traffic in all helicopter communities, to include operationally ancillary activities, should be made consistently effective through both precision and concision, taking advantage of at least a moderate degree of standardization among users. Countless procedural refinements aimed at maximizing radio effectiveness have been developed since Marconi’s first transmitted words, but the following short list of radio use “tips,” taken as specifically pertinent to helicopter users, has developed:

1). Always begin initial radio calls, and all subsequent radio transmissions, with the recipient’s identity, followed by the sender’s (YOUR) identity. This procedure is fundamental to correct radio use, despite the reverse order of radio party identification commonly heard in some helicopter utility radio environments, to specifically include medical radio networks familiar in EMS operations. Correct order, beginning with the recipient’s identity, serves to alert the recipient at the beginning of the transmission, so that what follows is most reliably heard by the recipient. Having the recipient’s identity called first, before the caller’s identity, will maximize the chances that the recipient will be alerted when he hears his “name,” and then pay attention to the identity of the sender, and to the rest of the message.

2). Always acknowledge transmissions. Human communication, via radio or otherwise, always requires a transmission and a reception. A transmission alone does not constitute communication. So always get a read back, or a “Roger,” after you have made a transmission. Otherwise, you can’t be certain that your transmission has been received. Conversely, always return a Roger, or a read back, after receiving a transmission.


3). Use effective radio vocabulary. Correct radio use language and phrasing conventions exist for a set of very specific reasons, partially growing out of the reality that radios in the early days were subject to being plagued by excessive static, signal strength variability and assorted other impediments to clear transmission quality. Operators, accordingly, quickly learned to keep their transmissions short, and delivered with exaggerated pronunciation clarity. Even today, our best radios and systems cannot always guarantee perfect transmission fidelity. And with many radio networks, getting a word in edgewise can sometimes be difficult, so completing a transmission without interference can be a challenge, and brevity can become a vital asset. All radio communications should be as brief and as simple as possible, so that radio transmission time can be minimized and so that misunderstandings, and the necessity for repeat transmissions, can be curtailed. Phonetically clear and distinct lingo should be consistently used whenever possible, so that transmission content accuracy can be maximized even if radio reception and clarity are poor. Within EMS helicopter communities, as an example of radio communication necessary as an indirect but crucial component in helicopter operations, medical radio messages cannot always be short and simple, but certain fundamental radio vocabulary terms can be used on behalf of minimizing wasted radio time. The best radio vocabularies take advantage of very distinctive phonetic sounds, not easily confusable, and understandable with minimal misinterpretation, even if transmissions are garbled.

Useful Radio Lingo:

ROGER: “I hear you clearly, and I understand you.”WILCO: “I hear you, I understand, and I will comply with your request.”REQUEST YOU: This preface is used when you are asking that the recipient of your transmission accomplish something at your request.AFFIRMATIVE: Even though it may seem unhandy, it is the least misunderstood way of answering yes.NEGATIVE: As above, but for no.ONE FIVE FIVE POUNDS, ONE TWO MINUTES, or MINUTE THREE THREE: Meaning “a hundred and fifty five pounds”, “12 minutes”, and “33 minutes after the hour.” This method and style of verbalizing numerical values has proven to be the most understandable alternative, and it’s obviously axiomatic that accurate communication of numbers can often be operationally critical.

4). Break up long radio transmissions. If they are necessary, as when conveying medical information via utility networks, transmissions can be broken into several shorter segments. This will allow assurance that transmissions are being received and understood, and, in case otherwise, will minimize wasted time caused by having to start over later. (Also, it will give the recipient an opportunity to speak.) A useful lingo device for breaking up long reports is the phrase “HOW COPY SO FAR?,” which can be inserted after a moderate portion of your report, and periodically, if necessary, thereafter.

These tips are tried and true. Good radio technique not only enhances effectiveness (and, ultimately, safety) of all operational participants, but can breed more of the same, since others often tend to imitate good technique and improve their own radio skills.

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