Black Sky Exercise 2023


On Saturday the 27th of May the members of the East Leinster Amateur Radio Club (ELARC) conducted a Black Sky drill amongst the sunny Wicklow mountains.

Some background to the drill. A Black Sky drill is a simulation of a major extended power outage. The power outage can be either man made, such as an electromagnetic pulse, a cyber-attack on the grid or a physical attack on the power distribution network. It can also be caused by a natural phenomenon such as a coronal mass ejection similar to the Carrington event of 1849 which wiped out large sections off the early Telegraph system in the United States. Causing Telegraph stations to burst into flames. Other causes can be winter ice storms, hurricanes, or other major weather events.

These black sky events are typically very rare but have a very high impact to the electrical distribution grid.

Training Goals

This drill is a scripted, Directed Net with some specific training goals:
  • Improve operator message handling skills.
  • Become proficient with the use of the ELARC / IARU message handling form.
  • Gain experience with directed Net operating procedures.
  • Operate independently in a remote mountainous environment with battery power.
  • Work efficiently under the direction of the Net Controller and Drill Coordinator.

Operator Objectives

The club members assembled for a briefing before the drill commenced. The briefing outlined a number of individual objectives for each operator:
  • Stay safe and healthy during the drill.
  • Maintain good situational awareness of their environment and radio equipment.
  • Get on the air and stay on the air.
  • Fully participate in the drill, following the directions of the Net Controller and Drill Coordinator.
  • Contribute to the drill debrief and give constructive feedback with the goal of improving the club’s standard operating procedures for portable operations and message handling.

Drill Execution

All operators moved into their pre-assigned positions, two to four kilometers from the Net Controller’s location, then report back to Net Control with an initial radio check. When all operators were in position the Net Controller requested a full signal report from all stations to all stations. This allowed all operators to create a matrix which gave them a good picture of the net coverage and who could hear whom. With this information, the Net Controller was able to assign a backup Net Controller and communicated that to all stations.

The drill formally began just after midday with the Net Controller requesting operators to send pre-scripted call-ins to the Net with challenging messages requiring the use of phonetics and technical language. The drill continued with several sets of messages being transferred to and from the Net Controller whilst ensuring the proper transcription of messages using the standard ELARC / IARU Message Handling form. The main Net was on 4 meters, using minimal power and carefully phrasing the messages so that there could be no confusion by any station overhearing the Net.

A parallel Net was being operated by the Drill Coordinator on 2 metres which facilitated welfare and safety checks of operators. It also challenged the operators and Net Controller with parallel tasks to complete during the drill, so adding an additional level of stress to the main 4-meter net. The parallel Drill Coordinators net also facilitated some coaching and advice to operators at the remote stations.

At one point in the drill a simulated Net-Control station failure was executed, the Back-Up Net Controller realised the break in the Net and called the Net Control station. On receiving no reply, they took control of the Net smoothly and calmly maintaining continuity of the Net. A great example of situational awareness and the experience and skills required to step in and maintain an effective Net.

Drill Closure and Debrief

The final message was passed at 13:47 and the Net-Controller called the drill to a close at 13:50. With all operators returning to the Net-Control location.

After a cup of coffee and a chance to catch up with other club members, the Drill Coordinator conducted a short debriefing with some great feedback from all members. We learned a lot and succeeded in maintaining the Net to a high level of operation, with all club members continuing to operate effectively for almost two hours on portable power in remote locations.

The Net-Controller did a fantastic job of running the Net under challenging conditions with some interesting surprises thrown in by the Drill Coordinator.

We finished the day with a wonderful barbeque laid on by our gracious host for the day. After swapping SOTA and POTA stories and discussing the next club trip, we gradually dispersed in the late afternoon.

Feedback from all club members was positive, the drill had achieved its training objectives, we all stayed safe and well, we stayed on the air, maintained good operating discipline and copied all messages with near 100% accuracy.

Future Events

ELARC would encourage other clubs or groups of operators around the country to run similar training exercises / field days / drills, to improve their ability to operate with independent power in difficult conditions. We certainly believe that the club members learned a lot on the day and had a bit of fun in the process.

We would be happy to advise and assist any club or group of operators interested in conducting a similar event. Or if your interested in participating in a future ELARC training event, please contact us via our email address on our QRZ Page or in the comments below.


  1. Hi . Just passed my HAREC exam this summer and I'm looking for a local club. I'm Based in Drogheda. Are you guys looking for new members?
    Shay EI4JFB

    1. Hi Shay, we always welcome new members. Please send me an email to get a conversation going. My address is in my profile. Frank EI8HIB.

    2. Hi Shay, we're always ready to welcome new members. Please contact me via my email, listed on my profile. Frank EI8HIB


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