ICS 213 Sending Protocol

Both the sending and receiving operators should have a common understanding of the ICS 213 format and sending protocol so they work together effectively. The principles for the on-the-air protocol are:

  • The content of the message is relayed in sequence: top to bottom, left to right.
  • It takes longer to write a message than it does to read it. Therefore, the sending station needs to pace the reading of the message so that the receiving station has the time to cleanly and accurately write the message down.
  • Each exchange on the radio consists of the originating operator reading one phrase or sentence from the form over the air, the receiving operator writing down the phrase or sentence.
  • The originating operator may break up long sentences into phrases of about five to six words followed by the PROWORD “WAIT 1” releasing  the PTT (Push-to-talk) switch pausing for about one to two seconds listening for a request for a repeat.
  • If the receiving operator is new to message handling and has  a good copy, he/she can respond during the pause with the PROWORDS  "ROGER OVER"  signaling to the originating station to resume reading the next phrase. This is especially helpful after copying unusual or difficult words. Skilled receiving operators may respond with "ROGER OVER" while writing the last words to cut down the overall time. The two operators may adjust this exchange according to how well they are passing the message and experienced operators may eliminate the WAIT 1 pause altogether.
  • The originating operator should make an effort to spell out unusual names and words using the PROWORD  "I spell" followed by the spelling. The phonetic alphabet used is the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Phonetics.
  • Punctuation’s are important! In the message, the originating operator should say each punctuation, such as a period, comma or question mark. Do not say "X-ray" as a replacement for the period at the end of the sentence.
  • If the receiving operator has a problem, they may request a "fill" (selected repeat of the missed item, short for fill in the blank) by using the PROWORDS "word before", "word after", "all before" or "all after" and call out the word or phrase to help locate the section following the end of transmission by the sending operator.
  • Although not written on the form itself the sending operator should indicate the end of message with the procedural phrase "End of Message".
  • As operators become more experienced, and if the communications link is free of interference, they can forego the pause between phrases. There is no need to pause when sending the salutation portions of the message at the top of the form (Incident Name, Date and Time, etc.) these are commonly copied items.

On-the-air Protocol

Using the sample provided, operator "A" is the originating station, and "B" is the receiving station. The following is an example exchange between two stations that are not practiced and skilled in sending messages over the radio. Experienced stations may  forgo the WAIT 1 between phrases.

    A: Copy 213, OVER.

    B: Ready to copy, OVER

    A: Incident name Bad Bug  two thousand nine zero five ten eighteen thirty-two
        To EOC John Johnson Commander From GBMC William Smith ERM
        subject Sitrep routine one zero one, WAIT 1


    A: Ten ER Docs COMMA five techs COMMA ten nurses on staff PERIOD WAIT 1


    A: Internal comm system down using hand helds and A C S to relay messages PERIOD WAIT 1


    A: Fifteen patients awaiting treatment COMMA no beds COMMA triage unit in tent PERIOD WAIT 1


    A: Need five respirators and ten cases of CIPRO I SPELL CHARLIE INDIA PAPA ROMEO OSCAR COMMA
        arrange transport with health PERIOD WAIT 1


    A: Ambos continue to arrive with transfers PERIOD


    A: Will shutdown at nineteen hundred route patients to alternates until notified by OSCAR HOTEL

If the operators were very skilled and the conditions good, Operator A may eliminate the WAIT 1 pause between sentences and phrases. 

Final Comments
If you find you have to send an ICS 213 message to another person not familiar with message handling, instruct the receiving operator to write down each word, phrase or punctuation as you say it. Instruct them to read back the phrase following the WAIT 1 pause to ensure that they copied it accurately. After a few sentences, the receiving person will catch on and may stop repeating each phrase or sentence.

Remember, during an incident the majority of traffic passed will be of a tactical nature and not require the use of the General Message form.

Some Emergency Communication groups have modified the ICS 213 to include word count checks and ARL Numbers similar to the ARRL Radiogram. Please Keep in mind that any modification to the standard ICS 213 General message format form limits it’s effectiveness and will cause confusion when attempting to use it with other agencies (FEMA, USCG, SHARES, DOD, etc.) outside of that group and jurisdiction.