The Greater Houston Simplex Network had its beginnings in a double set of emergencies. The Brazos Valley Amateur Radio Club (BVARC) had been running a noon daily repeater net, lead by John K5LKJ, which he had developed to “use amateur radio to help relieve the ill effects of cabin fever created by the COVID-19 virus emergency.” It was “conducted for the fun and enjoyment of all amateur radio operators in the greater Houston metropolitan area.” This Stir Crazy Net ran throughout the pandemic and continues to operate to this date.
In mid-February 2021 the Stir Crazy net was conducted by temporary Net Control Operators. During this time, severe cold lead to increasing electric demand and decreasing supply decreased lead to electrical blackouts and extended outages. Several Houston area repeaters, including emergency service resources, lost power and became inoperable for a about a day. The BVARC 146.950 repeater was knocked out of service on February 15, when the back-up generator failed to start.
The Net Control Operator assigned for that day was Mark N5PRD, who learned of the outage about 5 minutes before the he was to call the net for that day. Shortly after noon, when the net should have begun, an attempt was made to conduct the net in simplex mode using the normal repeater output frequency. Unprepared for this circumstance, Mark not unable to be accomplished in a timely fashion, and the daily net remained inactive. The result is a on a day when the net might have been of most service, it was unable to occur.
This experience led to the beginnings of a practice net to prepare for future outages the club repeater. Several experiments were held to determine the feasibility and interest in developing a simplex net. The outcome of this effort was the development of a clearer set of best procedures and practices. Much was learned and extensively discussed by enthusiastic amateur radio operators who participated. Some were newly licensed hams, some were experienced in HF nets, and some had experienced in emergency service. Together they recommended procedures intended to make the net better after each experiment. The challenge of operating a relay simplex network over a large area continues to add to lessons learned with every net.
The value of this simplex net has been the continuing development of better practices and procedures, and a platform for amateur radio testing and operator training to prepare for local or area wide emergencies. The Greater Houston Simplex Network is being developed as an affiliation of clubs in Houston and the surrounding area.
Operators have had opportunities to study the reach of their radio setups, and the result is that many have taken steps to improve their stations to better prepare for the future emergencies which may come. The net becomes stronger the more hams become involved. Overall, as is the pattern for all of ham radio, the Greater Houston Simplex Network, usually called, the Thursday Night Simplex Net, provides an opportunity for hams to enjoy test their radio systems, improve their stations, and enjoy personal growth in the amateur radio hobbly, against the day they may be needed for emergency service.