Do You Like ARES? A Question Posed.

About three weesk ago in the midst of separating the physical property of the departing emergency communications group from our main radio club the DEC suggested that the local radio club had a dislike for ARES.

More correctly he asked us why the club had concerns about ARES?

With the para-professionalization, the creation of the communications foot soldier, through the organize groups there emerges a natural conflict with the hobbyist ham interested in more than one aspect of the hobby.

The paraprofessional is interested in what classes they taken, the drills they have participated in, they’re ranking within the organization, and their served agencies.

The hobbyist usually has much wider interests, perhaps working DX, or collecting counties, trying to work all states, experimenting with a new digital mode, home brewing their own equipment, they be perhaps working QRP, or collecting by IOTA islands, or any one of 1000 other interests. Within the group of interest may be in interest in emergency communications, but this usually is not the overriding reason why they’re participating in the hobby.

Perhaps the para-professionalization is a manifestation of the black box — appliance user — mentality. This isn’t necessarily bad, and I do not mean it to be pejorative, but it is a mentality where results become the focus with less interest or joy is put in the process of getting there.

The amateur radio traditions of a full interest group usually include many of the traditions that led to the technology that an emergency group uses. Search and rescue is often practiced by foxhunters. The digital modes first came from experimentation — an application of commercial grade technology at the hobbyist level. The ubiquitous repeater was a technological brainchild with a more general use.

Amateur radio has always been ready to provide community service in time of emergency. However historically it tended to be a self led effort, rather than a served agency structured effort. There is little doubt that over time the pendulum both ways between ad hoc and formalize emergency communications by radio amateurs, but for some years the ARRL seemed to be solidly in control of training, doctrine, and coordination of the organized radio amateurs emergency communication experience.

That dynamic has certainly changed. With the FCC speaking out on employee/employer situations and the announced restructure of the league emergency communications courses along government lines, the pendulum has swung to one side very far indeed.

While part 97 does provide for expediency based utilization of frequency allocations during a true emergency, it is very clear that it never subordinates one amateur to another, or one group of amateurs to another.

This fundamental, basic, obvious equality of each individual amateur in the eyes of the FCC seems to escape some of the people involved in emergency communications. Of course there are exceptions, the presidential level decree to activate the radio amateur civilian emergency service being one, or the expediency based justification for extraordinary operation in a true emergency being another, but during drills, day-to-day operations, or even in planning one amateur is equal to another.

This DEC was clear that the emergency communications organizations are never answerable to a club. Likewise a club is never answerable to an external organization of fellow hams. Even our work with repeaters is called “coordination” and acknowledges that there are possibilities outside of being dictated to.

So back to the question we were asked. I would answer “it really doesn’t matter, as in a nonemergency situation they have zero effect on my participation in this hobby.”

Outside of the true emergency, in which case again as a radio amateur responding to an emergency I to would be allowed any and all use of frequencies or techniques to prevent the loss or risk of loss of life — let me emphasize there is not a monopoly unless the very high level directive ordering non-radio amateur civilian emergency service stations off the air is given — that every amateur and non-amateur has the same in emergency right to operate.

Again outside of that limited situation where the government has taken over control of the airwaves every amateur is created the same right the FCC and remains the same.

It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.” — Voltaire

This may be an inconvenient truth and one that causes much argument, as a drill is not an emergency, a plan is only a plan and a nonemergency. In the end it is the able and willing radio amateur that makes both emergency communications on amateur frequencies and general club activities a possibility.



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5 thoughts on “Do You Like ARES? A Question Posed.

  1. Kevin O'Dell says:


    I agree with you to an extent. First, emergency communications is just another avenue that hams may want to follow, and there are ham clubs devoted entirely to Emcomm, just like there are clubs devoted entirely to DX. There are hams out there that only explore one aspect of the hobby……Emcomm or otherwise. If Emcomm is the avenue that gets them licensed, then GREAT! They may then go on to find other areas of the hobby that they enjoy.

    Second, the reason for the shift in training and the focus on ARES being more “paraprofessional” is the fact that more and more emergency communications situations are in the control of organizations that will only work with outside organizations that have trained personnel.

    You are correct that in the view of the FCC, we are all equal. But in the view of emergency served agencies, we are not. If you don’t have training and never participate in a drill. Don’t be put out if, in the event of an emergency, you are not accepted as a volunteer radio operator. It has nothing to do with your skills, it has to do with the fact that you are an unknown quantity to the people coordinating the emergency relief efforts.

    If we train alongside these professionals, then we get to know each other and develop a trust relationship. There was a case locally where in an emergency, one of our ops was asked to fill in for about 30 minutes in a dispatch roll, why, because that organization trusted our people and understood our skill set. Otherwise, that dispatch position would have gone uncovered for that half-hour. It wasn’t done on amateur radio, but it worked.

    Embrace ARES and Emcomm as just another aspect of this great hobby that some people follow with a little more passion than others…..just like you may be a “Big Gun” contester or homebrew fanatic…..we all have our different passions…….just recognize that some might be a little more zealous than others.

    Kevin O’Dell, N0IRW
    Oklahoma Section PIC
    ARRL Public Relations Committee

  2. Joel says:

    Following up with what Kevin said – as a former local emergency management professional, and now a Federal one, understanding the skills of the people who show up to help in an event is key. I could reel off stories of all of the in-all-likelihood fully qualified medical personnel who were put in a queue following 9/11 until they could be verified, and now that same spotlight is shifting over to EMCOMM.

    There is a concern, which I share, that the FCC and FEMA requirements may reduce the number of volunteers and this is something that we all need to work on. What we need to do is make sure that the right set of minimum requirements (training, exercises, deployments) are developed, as well as the correct alternatives and grandfathering where experience is at least as valuable as training.

    Joel – KB3QKK

  3. k9zw says:

    Hi Kevin N0IRW and Joel KB3QKK

    First I want to thank you both for taking the time to comment! Much appreciated!

    A couple thoughts to banter about.

    The “qualification process” is nothing to do with actual skills, rather it is a combination of “quality assurance” and training on served agency issues.

    Setting a threshold to volunteer that has more to do with non-task “nice to have” requirements centered on the served agencies foibles most certainly will diminish the number of available volunteers.

    There is also a potential dilution issue, where if a volunteer has a personal limit to the amount of training time they will invest, that their radio skills may suffer as actual radio skills become the least important focus in the new scheme of things. Hence we now have the option for non-Licensees to become Emcomm & Emcomm leaders.

    I offered to do personal Emcomm training during Katrina (I was a Level I, II & III instructor/mentor/field examiner under the old ARRL program) and was rebuffed as the desire for known long-term ARES participants was considered to preempt highly skilled personnel who volunteer to meet a specific need. This displacement of accomplishment & skills in favor of documentation & perceived risk reduction at all costs, will be magnified under the new programs.

    More to come on the whole topic and most certainly welcome your ongoing comments & thoughts!



  4. Vance A. Smith says:

    Let me see here all hams are created equal, wow! I do believe that the under statement of the Year. I Know Some real em commer’s / ARES that have only one goal and that to take over the world of emergency communication. I’m an EC for ARES and I believe it’s a good job to have but when it comes down to it. It’s how well you Know Your local Government Officials and How well you work with them that makes or brakes any hope in being a leader in a real emergency Communication group in your local area. But one thing that most new em commers try to do is take over the Job of the Police,Fire, Sheriff and Ambulance and Local Goverments by telling them we can do this job or that job, but i Know new em commer or Self Appointed emergency Managers that just flat get in the way and cause more havoc that it’s worth or just site seeing and taking Pic’s like it was a vacation.

    #1 Golden Rule Is to Help Establish Commutations For ALL Local Government public service Groups in a disaster or an emergency.
    ( GOTA ) Get Them On the AIR ( GTOTA )

    #2 Golden Rule Help to relive Common basic communication traffic away from the Local governments so they can do their job in restoring order to life. (And not get in the way) and to provide basic amateur radiogram service into and out of and affected area For the PUBLIC.

    #3 Help provide information to the local Emergency Managers before during and after a Disaster or Emergency . help Be the Eye’s and Ear’s of info into office of the EOC.

    And Yes there is a up rising against em commers/ARES I have seen it right here in my own back yard and the biggest thing I hear, Is that’s em commers/ARES going to far deep into emergency end of it. we don’t need ham radio operators riding with the police,fire trucks are the army. the biggest complaint i hear a lot of is why dose he have bird’s, oak leafs or stars on his badge. I Know that command is Important but Do not Intimidate Other Hams that may have the skill’s to help you get the job done we must work togather.

    ARES must get back to basic Radio Operation 9/11 is over and it might happen again but until then we need to keep it simple.Train in the things we know like radio repair , quick antenna installation , back up power for radios at the EOC. Radio/antenna Service Checks for local Governments Install Radio’s in Volunteer Fire Dept. fire trucks. things that matter in everyday life. Here in Southern Oklahoma Em comm is used very little and dose Know one any good most of the time. it provides nothing on a regular day to day operations of ham radio.

    I think Em Comm and ARES have a place in everyday life but it needs to get out of the middle of the road get back in line with what works with everyday happening in a given area of the world. every place is differant in the kind of emergency or disaster in a given area.

    Basic Stuff to help bring back the volunteers to the ARES and not get to deep into DEEP SIDE OF PUBIC SERVICE Side re-train hams on how to get, gain and keep the trust of the Local Goverment officals and turly Volunteer to help your local community in times of need and on a daily basis.

    Some Em commers are in just to deep and i don’t think you could bring’um back to life if you got out.

    FAMILY’s 1st HAM RADIO OPERATORS 2nd then we volunteer for our community and country and enjoy what we like to do with ham radio.

    Vance A Smith
    President S.O.A.R.E.S.S.S.
    GMRS – WQKC313
    ARES Love Co. E.C

  5. Orion - KE7VLC says:

    Well I participate in my local EMCOMM group on a regular basis. The main reason for this is the same reason in the USCG we had fire drills, flooding drills, and mass conflag drills. It’s so we are prepared when the actual event happens. If you are not prepared, meaning, you haven’t tried to use your HT in over a year, or it’s been several years since you put up your dipole antenna, or you have no idea the lingo that a EMT uses or Fireman uses on his daily job, how can you assist when the event actually does happen. It would make the EMT and the fireman work that much harder to help you do your job or explain why you shouldn’t be that close to a building or road. Essentially you become the weakest link in the chain and might put the other person at risk.

    At the same time I get frustrated with those people who think of themselves as superman or as a fireman and show up at a scene to “lend a hand” and it just hampers the rescue effort even more. Essentially one more person they have to keep an eye on. I don’t like the “whackers” any more then the next guy. To me it’s fun to train with these professionals, and it does make me feel good that at the end of the day I might have helped save a life and/or property….but lets get real here. If you are not called out to assist then just stay where you are and wait to be called upon.

    So I can see both sides of the fence, since I am sitting on top of the fence on the issue. I think that the ARRL has advertised EMCOMM too much but then again it might be a good thing.

    Orion – KE7VLC

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