The ARRL Simulated Emergency Test is a nationwide exercise in emergency communications, administered by ARRL Emergency Coordinators and Net Managers. Both ARES and the National Traffic System (NTS) are involved. The SET weekend gives communicators the opportunity to focus on the emergency communications capability within their community while interacting with NTS nets. SET weekend is usually held in October, and is announced in QST.

Purpose of SET

  • To determine strengths and weaknesses, in an exercise environment, of ARES groups at local and section levels.
  • To provide a public demonstration of Amateur Radio Service capabilities to partner organizations and agencies during times of emergency or disaster.
  • To help radio amateurs gain experience in communications using standard procedures and a variety of modes under simulated emergency conditions.

SET Format

The SET can be organized at any level within the ARES organization structure. It can be organized by an ARES group or as part of a larger exercise designed by a partner organization or agency. The exercise should have a defined timeframe and follow standard exercise protocols and practices. The exercise may focus on any event that would potentially require an Amateur Radio response, e.g. hurricane, 911 outage, flood, etc. Participating groups should focus on testing/utilizing a variety of Amateur Radio modes and bands, accurate handling of disaster-related messages (tactical as well as health and welfare), and utilizing the public information officer function of ARES.

SET Date

The official SET weekend is the first full weekend of October; however, ARES groups are free to conduct their SET any time during the calendar year. The activity period should not exceed 48 hours. The deadline for receipt of all reports is early February of the following year, i.e. 2014 SET reports are due February 3, 2015. All SET reporting forms will be available on the ARRL website.

Preparing for SET

Specific skills are required to design an exercise properly. It is not something that everyone knows how to do instinctively. Your SET should be designed by someone who has exercise design training, such as Independent Study course IS-139: Exercise Design, available online at no charge from FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI). Employees of your local or state emergency management agency may have this or more extensive exercise design training and can be a valuable resource.

  • Emergency Coordinators sign up all available amateurs in their area and incorporate them into the SET plans. They should make sure to include newly-licensed radio amateurs as well as veteran amateurs. Well in advance of the SET, the Emergency Coordinator (or a person he/she has designated) should:
  • Determine whether there is a district or section scenario relevant to the local jurisdiction.
  • Identify skills, techniques, and modes that are important to the local jurisdiction that ought to be exercise or tested.
  • Consider which partner agencies or organizations might be interested in participating.
  • Develop a scenario that will use those skills and make the event interesting for the participants.
  • Identify a set of specific activities to be performed during SET, as well as those activities listed on the SET scorecard.
  • Prepare a briefing that can be used to solicit participation of ARES members and prospective members.
  • Prepare another briefing for the EC and Assistant ECs to use when explaining the goals and objectives of the SET to partner agencies and organization representatives. This briefing should have absolutely no jargon.

Publicity is arranged, in consultation with an ARRL Public Information Officer, in local online, print, and broadcast media. Appropriate use of social media outlets is also encouraged. Be sensitive to the concerns of any served agency partners regarding publicity. Coordinate with their public information officers — don’t make your ARES group look good by making your served agency partner look bad.

During the SET

The “emergency” situation is announced and the emergency net is activated. Stations are dispatched to partner agencies and organizations. Designated stations originate messages on behalf of served agencies. Test messages may be sent simulating requests for supplies. Simulated emergency messages (just like real emergency messages) should be signed by an authorized official. Tactical communications for served agencies is emphasized.

After the SET

An important post-SET activity is an after-action review to discuss what occurred. All Amateur Radio participants should be invited to the meeting to review good points and weaknesses apparent in the drill. Prepare an after-action report indicating areas needing improvement, areas of strength, and lessons learned. This can serve as input to the next year’s SET or to other events the jurisdiction might run.

The EC, or his/her designate, should complete the SET report forms and submit them to ARRL headquarters in a timely manner. The after action report should also be submitted with the report form. Submissions can be made via email to


One of the first steps on the way to a successful SET is to try to get as many people involved as possible, especially new hams. In a real emergency or disaster a local EC, like their counterparts in other organizations, may be inundated with spontaneous unrequested volunteers. It is important to have a plan on how to deal with these volunteers. Simply telling them to go away is not acceptable. Get them involved in SET so they will know more about how emergency communications should be handled. Promote SET on nets and repeaters, and sign up new, enthusiastic Technicians.