CISA Exercise story

My November 20 CISA Exercise story

Just when you think all will be flawless and all bases are covered…. you don’t.

I packed my satchel for transport to Harris County Homeland Security Office of Emergency Management (TranStar) to conduct the exercise. Included in my packing was my:

busted screen laptop – to have computer access just in case the login at TranStar had been changed

mouse – I am not a finger pad person. Mouse and keystroke shortcuts for me

AC adapter – for the laptop

my thumb drive with the STX leadership contact information and password file – to send the 3 secret words to the leadership for the exercise

my ATT hotspot – just in case I couldn’t get access to TranStar internet

the power cord for charging the hotspot

my TranStar access badge – Or you don’t get into the radio room.

my ARES badge – to represent our volunteer group while in the building

printed net control script –

I was to be joined by Sean Ramsey KG5IRM, EC for Harris NW Unit, Anthony Morones W5LIC, Harris SW Unit member and new guy to ARES.

Here is the assignment plan. I would be the starting net control, Sean would be the Winlink message sender, Anthony would record the net participant responses to the 3 questions on sticky notes for Sean to process at his own speed. We would rotate jobs as the event progressed.

All 3 radio operators were to arrive at TranStar at 11:30 am for the noon start time. I headed for TranStar intending to take the Old Katy Road Exit off Loop 610. Having recently moved back to the Jersey Village area of Houston after a 10-year absence, I had not approached TranStar from the northwest direction in quite some time. Mentally, I knew where the exit was, but that was before the great freeway expansion. My exit was gone. I had to go towards the Galleria area and turn around.

Back on track, I arrived at 11:40. We see a local radio club leaving the building, after their meeting adjourned. Some told us that we missed the meeting. Some said “Oh, that’s right, the WinLink Exercise is starting soon.”

Access to the building was flawless. They have a COVID screening station staffed 24-7. All 3 of us passed without issue. We had successful access to the grand TranStar radio room. Sean took the position with the Winlink designated radio. Anthony took the station that connects to Coast Guard and The American Red Cross radios. I took station 2 on the opposite side of the room. I give Anthony a quick tour of the 3rd floor areas of interest which include the exit, restroom, office supplies, and lunchroom where we can get bottled water.

I cleared the local repeater with an announcement for the upcoming net. Next, I started my computer for access to my Winlink account. I successfully accessed the TranStar open internet. The Winlink program successfully starts on the laptop. Now the trials and tribulation begin.

I attempt to send a trial message via Winlink. It is blocked by the TranStar network. Anticipating as much, I turn on my hotspot and retry. Success! After some trouble with logging into his personal email, Sean has successfully set up the computer station and Winlink related radio. Anthony is ready to copy the information. Now all we need are the 3 questions.

At high noon, and not having received the 3 questions, we change jobs to start the local net. Sean, now as net control, puts the net on hold until we receive the questions. I monitor my phone and Winlink station. Anthony is looking at all of the radio toys in the room and absorbing all of the surroundings in anticipation of his first ARES exercise.

At 12:07, the Section Manager and I exchange phone calls. Did we miss something? We ponder all of the things that could have gone wrong to delay the 3 questions transmission. We reflect on our personal failures in exercises. We have all had failures. Just wait, it will get fixed.

At 12:20, we receive the 3 questions, no wait, now it is 4 questions.

Being in the same room as I am, Sean is good to go for the local net. He announces the questions and restarts the net. The voice net turnout is much lower than I expected.

I begin to frantically prepare to forward the 4 questions to the ARES leadership via email. My standard method of doing this requires the Microsoft family of Word, for the message, check. Excel file for the email data, check. And finally, Outlook as the email client. Not check. Oh fudge!  That program is only set up on my home computer. The clock is ticking. Millions of ARES participants are waiting for instruction. What to do now.

Using my laptop and Yahoo! email:

At 12:32, I send a reply to the West Gulf Division (WGD) leadership that I have received the questions.

At 12:34, I begin to send the information to the STX ARES leadership. I tried to send it to all 150+ emails at the same time. Yahoo just gave me the busy buzz spin. Failure! What to do now?

At 12:35 I receive a reply from some of the WGD leadership that they have not received the information. Please forward. I did. Success!

From 12:38 to 13:53 I chop the message into 8 target groups and send the information. Success!

At 12:39 I forward the information to the WGD leadership. Success!

At 12:52 I begin to receive replies that they have the information now.  Success!

I receive several emails and phone calls regarding the progress of exercise. This included our West Gulf Division Director.

At 13:56 I receive the message “We have met our objectives”. However, we continued until the 3PM cutoff.

Looking at the questions, our respondents need to learn to only give what they are asked for:

Amateur Radio Callsign:


Zip Code:

Current Temperature:


The callsign: response was nearly 100% correct. A few had to put some dashes and numbers. There were a couple that were not call signs at all.

The city: Sometimes they included the state. They didn’t ask for the state. Come on now. Tighten up.

Zip Code: Response flawless

Current Temperature: I knew this would be a problem. Some folks include both body and outside temps.


At 15:00 we are finished with the exercise. A little sprucing up of the radio room, the “leave it like you found it” rule is always in effect. We headed out the door, down the elevator and waved goodbye to the COVID screener lady.

The next day we receive a report of the exercise activity from exercise coordinator Lee W5LHC.

The report is posted on the IO Group website. An email is sent to the STX leadership with a link to the posting.

For several days, I receive emails stating that there are a lot of messages from participants that were not on the list. I add them to the list and repost. I do not know why they were not included as I believe that the report was generated directly from WinLink.

In conclusion, I will add that I was very careful to have what I needed for the exercise. I added extra items in case that there was a failure with equipment that was out of my control. All was OK except for the Outlook email client problem. Lesson learned.

This is why we do these exercises. No matter how long you have been doing routine practice with communications, failure is inevitable. Overcoming that failure is part of the challenge and fun of being in ARES.

Take yourself outside of your home or car comfort zone and see how you do. I guarantee failure over time and challenge you to overcome it.

Hope to see you soon out in the volunteer world. COVID cautious and family first please.

Thank you TranStar, a partner with ARES, serving our communities.



Jeffery A Walter – KE5FGA