REPOST: Touching the Third Rail – Insurance Issues in Emcomm

(Requested Repost an article published before RSS feeds were added to the With Varying Frequency) 

The phrase third rail is a metaphor in politics to denote an idea or topic that is so “charged” and “untouchable” that any politician or public official who dares to broach the subject would invariably suffer politically.

REPRODUCTION NOTICE – This article is copyright 2007 by K9ZW.

In order to best manage discussion & comments please do not copy this article. I will prepare a version for wider publication after a period of discussion & critique. The URL to share this article is: Touching the Third Rail – Insurance Issues in EmcommYour cooperation, comments and emails are greatly appreciated!

Amateur Radio, being a genteel hobby, has few “Third Rails,” so it was with some apprehension my agreement to look into one of the known issues, “Insurance & Emcomm,” for our local club.

The Issue was whether & when did our local ARES / RACES / SKYWARN members have insurance coverage, what was the exposure of the Radio Officers “controlling” member activity, and what was the exposure of the Club itself.

DISCLAIMER – It is extremely important that readers understand that my opinion is not an expert opinion, that actual coverages may change, and that unless you see a Certificate of Insurance naming YOU as an additional insured that your best assumption is that you have no coverage beyond your personal insurance. This is a classic “YMMV” (Your Mileage May Vary) issue where the consequences of “running naked’ (going uninsured) outweigh accepting anything less than written certification of coverage.

What Self Insurance Means

For this discussion it simply means that if you injure someone, get sued, have an accident, hurt yourself or die while participating in an Emcomm exercise that the ONLY insurance you MAY have is what coverage is allowed under your own PERSONAL policies.

Responsibility to a “Greater Social Good” vs “Responsibility to Family”

Each Emcomm responder has a number of considerations concerning Insurance Responsibility. Without Society, or the idea of a “Greater Social Good” we would live in an anarchy and it is a social tradition to help those in need.

There is a balancing “Responsibility to Familythat acknowledges an individual’s need for self preservation of themselves & their resources, as they can be seen as holding these in “trust” for the benefit of their immediate family. In simpler words “Consider the risk to yourself and your estate in light of your family’s needs.”

In many cases, specially in Drills, “Responsibility to Family” vastly outweighs an responsibility to a “Greater Social Good.” The exact balance depends on the situation and the individual.

Emcomm & Insurance – In Harmony or In Conflict?

Many Emcomm operations ignore insurance issues. This can be due to coverage they have obtained or a tacit (silent) acknowledgement that volunteers are uninsured.

Obviously Emcomm groups exist to respond to needs. Understanding and defusing issues concerning Emcomm & Insurance should be part of their preparation of volunteers.

The issues are complex, so here is what was found:

The ARES/RACES Problem

Though in many locations ARES & RACES are operationally combined, sharing the same officers, volunteers & equipment, from an insurance view they are very different:

ARES ARES Logo

ARES participants, whether on drill or responding to an actual emergency, are generally responsible for their own insurance issues.

RACES RACES Logo

RACES participants on a Government Call Out are insured through the Government Agency calling them up.
RACES participants on a drill appear to be responsible for their own insurance, unless called out by the Government Agency they serve.

SATERN and Other “Owned” Groups SATERN Logo

In most cases a group sponsored by a major emergency response group, such as The Salvation Army’s SATERN and Other Radio Amateur Groups operating under that parent group’s auspices will not be insured under either ARES or RACES, but rather any insurance coverage would either flow down from the parent group (if offered) or possibly be accessible if the call out is in response to a Government Official Request.

Other Radio Groups (REACT, SKYWARN & Similar)
REACT Logo SKYWARN Logo

Like “Owned” groups, these groups need the volunteer to investigate whether they are covered by any group insurance. SKYWARN’s net briefings and announcements make it clear that Storm Spotters are NOT insured by SKYWARN.

Cooperative Insurance Issues (Red Cross/ARES)Red Cross Logo

Some Red Cross Chapters have offered to enlist ARES members as Red Cross volunteers to gain access to the Red Cross insurance for volunteers. This does bring up issues outside of insurance, such as who is ultimately in control of these “dual hat” volunteers? (Many would say that as the Red Cross is insuring them, they are assets of the Red Cross first).

Other issues would be if an ARES group is responding to a wider emergency, would Red Cross be able to reallocate ARES team members by virtue of their also being Red Cross volunteers? And if those volunteers would refuse Red Cross control, claiming to be ARES members, would their Red Cross insurance coverage stop when the Red Cross control stops?

It is also worth noting the Red Cross coverage for Volunteers is secondary to personal insurances, and almost trivial in dollar amout of coverage.

Radio Officer Issues:

If you are a radio officer, dispatcher, or someone who assigns volunteers their Emcomm duties, your insurance issues are more complex. You need to consider your “exposure through leadership.”

What if a volunteer is hit by lightening, will their family’s attorneys blame you & will you potentially have to defend yourself, or even make good a judgement? What if a volunteer has a wreck causing property damage, injuries & loss of life – will you be brought into the suit(s) due to your leadership?

What if you get tired and simply make a mistake, injuring someone or causing a loss? Are you covered?

What if one of the above happens and it is only a drill – only practice – are you covered then?

For those in the positions of leadership these issues are, and should be, a real concern. Some organizations are very clear, everyone is covered, leaders are covered when volunteers are not, or that there is no insurance coverage. Whether coverage is “all the time,” actual emergency only, or nonexistent should be made clear as well.

Radio Club Issues

The issues for a club are even more complex, as the club may be a sponsoring organization for several Emcomm groups and have several scenarios where members may be operating during the same emergency under different insurance coverage!

It is also usual for a club to have attachable assets, numerous members not involved in the club’s Emcomm efforts, and some level of share equipment, resources, training & structure.

Many clubs do have some level of coverage through club insurance, but I was unable to obtain an actual policy to read, so it is unclear whether programs like the ARRL’s club insurance provide significant protection for the non-Emcomm portions of a club in the face of a claim.

My Findings

Were presented to the local club as a series of “White Papers.” They echoed my notes above, that:

  • ARES volunteers are almost never covered by any radio group insurance
  • RACES volunteers are covered by Government Insurance if called out by the Emergency Government, but are otherwise apparently not covered by insurance.
  • Red Cross/ARES dual membership might provide some limited coverage through the Red Cross, but at the expense of significant question as to which leadership volunteers could respond to while maintaining insurance coverage.
  • Fully Owned Groups tended to have some coverage for Volunteers.
  • Other Groups tended to have no coverage for Volunteers.
  • Leaders usually had no additional coverage addressing their leadership risks, if any coverage at all is in place.
  • The Club itself might have some liability coverage through its ARRL policy, but that coverage was not explored.

My Decision

In the process of preparing the research for this it was obvious the consideration of these issues were very stressful for all involved. Though accredited for Emcomm and Emcomm instruction I have distanced myself from Emcomm operations, as I could not bind insurance to plug the gaps in personal coverage, and what I could purchase was more expensive than what I was willing to pay.

Though I would respond to RACES in actual official Government call out, that is the limit of my present involvement.

While regularly taking Red Cross training, the limited coverage for through the Red Cross for volunteers, the time commitment to train for another group, and questions of survivability of the Red Cross coverage if deployment issues arose lead, makes the “dual membership” option unsuited for me.

Our club is aware that volunteers appear to have coverage only when officially called out under RACES, or when members who have chosen to become “dual hat” members Red Cross & ARES are called out working for the Red Cross. We have the best possible situation where our local Red Cross director is a licensed radio amateur, an active club member & a club officer.

I’ve purposely avoided the added complexities of issues like Subrogation (where an insurer may cover a loss, but then looks to the parties it thinks are responsible for the loss to recover its costs), uninsurable risks, and other complex issues.

In the end YOUR decision is personal and dependent on local situations.

73

Steve
K9ZW

REPRODUCTION NOTICE – This article is copyright 2007 by K9ZW.

In order to best manage discussion & comments please do not copy this article. I will prepare a version for wider publication after a period of discussion & critique. The URL to share this article is: Touching the Third Rail – Insurance Issues in EmcommYour cooperation, comments and emails are greatly appreciated!

DISCLAIMER – It is extremely important that readers understand that my opinion is not an expert opinion, that actual coverages may change, and that unless you see a Certificate of Insurance naming YOU as an additional insured that your best assumption is that you have no coverage beyond your personal insurance. This is a classic “YMMV” (Your Mileage May Vary) issue where the consequences of “running naked’ (going uninsured) outweigh accepting anything less than written certification of coverage.

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One thought on “REPOST: Touching the Third Rail – Insurance Issues in Emcomm

  1. Bill says:

    Hi Steve,
    Your post is very important and all should pay attention to it. If we are single, and have no dependents, that is one thing; but you have a family (I do), you are not just leaving your own butt hanging out there. It’s theirs, too, if you are the main breadwinner and get hurt or killed.

    I have been a RACES officer as well as an ARES EC (Jefferson County, CO) and I am amazed when I look back at the crazy things we have done, that could have resulted in injury to one or more parties. Even, as you mentioned, a perfectly random natural act (lightning) to which we were exposed on more than one occasion putting up temporary antennas and so forth.

    While I would be sad to see hams cowering behind their couches to avoid any sort of public service activity at all, examination of individual and group exposure to potential loss and liability is a very smart thing to do these days.

    Any insurance experts out there that would describe some policies that we as individuals or groups could buy, either as a group annual thing or a one-time event type of indemnification?

    All the best,

    Bill K0ZL

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