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Author Topic: EMCOMM Volunteering  (Read 3054 times)

Posts: 28


« on: May 16, 2004, 05:48:06 AM »

If a well-organized national group were to offer "meaningful" certification as a 'communications volunteer' how many of us would take the time to become certified.  If once certified, would you be willing to travel (no out of pocket costs to you) to assist distant communities during times of natural or man-made disasters?

The ARRL has its classes, but in my humble opinion, that's not the same as certification.  Certification should include course work, actual experience and testing by a panel of experts.  

If certified volunteers existed, would you be more or less likely to request volunteers to supplement the hams in your area during actual emergencies assuming that you would retain full control of requested assets.  Would a single point contact make requesting assistance easier for the SEC/DEC/EC?

What levels of certification would make sense?  

I believe that 5 levels make sense:

This person would understand net procedures, would be good as a shelter ham mostly just passing and filtering traffic pertaining to the post assigned.

Staff Communicator
This him would have experience as a Communicator, and with a combination of additional course work and experience would be comfortable working with agency or civil staff.  This person would possibly be a "shadow ham".  Ideally this person either through life experience or work experience would be comfortable working with senior agency/civil staff.

Net Controller
This ham would have progressed through the communicator, staff communicator certifications and with additional course work and experience as a net controller in training.  This ham would be capable of managing intense net traffic including traffic relating to serious or life threatening injuries.  This ham would be able to solve minor problems during actual emergencies or events with little or no outside assistance.

Master Communicator
This ham would have progressed through all the lesser certifications and would have the ability to work with the agency/civil planning departments on event or EMCOMM planning.  This person would have extensive experience as a ham and a background in project management.  This ham would understand RF propagation, all modes and the capabilities of various bands and modes.

Field Engineer
This ham would have virtually no contact with agency or civil staff.  He/she would have an extensive understanding of RF, communications systems, VHF/UHF repeaters and all support equipment.  This person would deploy as required to setup or fix equipment.  This person would understand cloning requirements and programming of commercial and amateur equipment types.

Re-certification would require actual experience and course work on an annual or bi-annual basis.  Experience points would be from actual emergencies, public service events, or sanctioned drills.

Your comments are appreciated.

Rick Aldom


Posts: 2008

« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2004, 06:41:51 PM »

<< If a well-organized national group >>

What group?

As a disaster response professional with one of the major served agencies, I expect the local ARES group to vet any operators they send my way. I do not normally use drop-ins unknown to me or the the SEC, no matter what 'paper' they might have.


Posts: 3203


« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2004, 12:06:14 AM »


Are you saying that the ARECC Level 1 Certification card that I have in my wallet means nothing?  If so then just who is a valid qualifying authority?

Dennis - KG4RUL

Posts: 2008

« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2004, 11:32:06 AM »

What I said was that I normally don't use walk-ins unknown to me or the SEC.

There are very few hams who have passed the various ARRL courses that are unknown to their SEC if thay are at all active.


Posts: 1045


« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2004, 12:04:14 PM »

This is the way that our state working group looked at it:

•   Local and Regional Field Teams of support personnel working from home stations and field deployed personnel having physical endurance, portable radio equipment, food, water, and supplies to provide rotating shift support communications for 48 hours without power or re-supply.  They can go anywhere in their District to work under harsh conditions of weather and terrain.

•   State Disaster Support Teams having off-road vehicles that can handle rough terrain and fire roads.  Their in-vehicle radio equipment, food, water, and supplies support communications for 48 hours without power or re-supply.  They can deploy anywhere in the state and work under harsh conditions of weather and terrain.

•   Field deployed setup teams of – usually four volunteers – skilled at setting up, starting up, and establishing communications at served organizations.  They have equipment and supply to support operations for 24 hours before relief.  They have drilled at the organization and are familiar with the organization’s equipment, staff, procedures, forms and terminology.

•   Home and Field Deployed voice traffic communicators relieve the voice-traffic members of the setup teams.  They have equipment and supplies for 12 hours of service before relief. In most cases they have drilled at the organization and are familiar with organization’s equipment, staff, and terminology.

•   Home and Field Deployed packet traffic communicators relieve the packet-traffic members of the setup teams.  They have equipment and supplies for 12 hours of service before relief. In most cases they have drilled at the organization and are familiar with organization’s equipment, staff, and terminology.  In some very long emergencies, not all team members will have drilled at the organization they are assigned to.

•   Home and Field Deployed Network control operators and liaisons. Net controllers manage tactical, formal and emergency messaging between local Operations and Logistics nets.  Liaisons serve as “go-betweens” among multiple, simultaneous, statewide voice and digital coordinated networks, supporting field deployed units, interoperating between local FM repeaters, wide area coverage HF and 2 meters SSB and digital networks control station (NCS) so that traffic flows efficiently.  All communications move at the direction of the appropriate NCS.  All traffic is logged. Home and field deployed stations require independent power and at least 48 hours of food, water, and supplies.  Field deployed stations may be located at governmental emergency operations centers (EOC) or properly outfitted home stations.  

•   Home and Field Deployed Relay Station Operators enable communications between deployed units beyond repeater coverage or which lack digital or HF capability for wide area coverage.  HF and 2 meter SSB and digital modes are used for communications across the state or between regions, whereas FM portable-mobile relays are used when distance, building or terrain blockage makes direct communication impossible between locally deployed units.  This latter situation is often an “accidental” assignment, where one person in a better operating location can hear both sides of the conversation when the parties can’t hear each other, and steps in to relay information.  Formal relay stations are field-deployed on mountain tops or other good locations, or may be home-deployed hams with powerful stations, good antennas, and emergency power who can reliably contact distant repeaters, use direct FM simplex or SSB.  Home relay stations require 48 hours of emergency power, water, food and supplies, 2 meters FM and either 2m SSB, digital capability, or 40 and 75 meters HF.
•   Cross- band / mode relay stations and control operators of automatic, unattended digital or remote-base voice links.  Their purpose is to link groups who must operate on different radio frequencies yet must communicate with each other.  For example, search and rescue teams may use smaller, lighter VHF  equipment in the field but need to communicate with support people at a great distance.  A VHF or HF signal may be “patched” to the commercial switched telephone network or relayed via a repeater or other mode that can go the distance.  In urban emergencies, UHF4 is often needed for building-to-building and floor-to-floor signal penetration, but may need to be “cross-banded” via a repeater to communicate with the other emergency teams or hospitals outside the incident area.

•   Home Deployed Logistics Station Operators
usually serve in rotation on a logistics net, spending 1 hour rotations as NCS, and other times assisting the duty NCS with scheduling, handling message traffic, situation briefings and making phone calls or sending email to support deployed field operations, which can interfere with an NCS emergency traffic load.  The logistics station and its operators often take the logistics traffic from the NCS and handle it on a  “side” frequency to minimize congestion on the LOGNET, if busy. These stations require independent power and at least 48 hours of food, water, and supplies.  LOGNET stations may be deployed at governmental emergency operations centers (EOC) or at properly outfitted home stations of FCC-licensed operators.  

•   Repeater Control Operators. When repeaters are needed for operations, logistics or emergency traffic, the FCC still requires them to be controlled by an FCC-licensed amateur.  Control operators are needed to optimize repeater functions and controls to enable efficient emergency net operations. Voice IDs and announcements are turned off, repeater ID is CW only at 20 wpm. Squelch tails are shortened, courtesy tones eliminated or abbreviated and time-out timers are turned off or reset.  Continuous tone-coded squelch can be activated or reset. In addition, control operators can activate remote receivers, voters and linking systems to enable wide area coverage.  Control functions are usually conducted over a phone line, but may be accomplished remotely using a link-control frequency on 220 band or UHF.  Control operators need control codes, test equipment, emergency power and supplies for 48 hours of independent operation.

•   Electronic maintenance technicians are volunteers with electronics training, diagnostic skills, portable test equipment, supplies, and transportation to service equipment at the communications sites.

•   Field-Deployed Logistics Staff.  All EmCom volunteers are expected to arrive on a duty station with 12 to 24 hours of water, food, clothing, etc. When replacement supplies are needed they will normally be provided by the served organization.  However, when travel is safe, volunteer logistics staff will re-supply operators deployed for the incident.

•   Radio Officers are responsible for the emergency callout, deployment, and assignment to served organizations, scheduling of shifts, dispatch of supplies, and calls for maintenance. Outside of emergencies, most of their time is spent in planning, agency liaison, training and evaluation of volunteer emergency operators in their assigned geographic area.  They also maintain contact with the organizations having an MoU or SoU and periodically checking amateur radio equipment permanently installed at agency sites.

•   State and Deputy State Radio Officers
During a communications emergency, these officials coordinate regional and statewide response and direct asset response and re-supply to the local and district Radio Officers and work with government emergency officials to maintain communications, and follow the flow of network traffic looking for problems. They provide supervisory oversight to keep the EmCom  organization together, negotiate agreements with served organizations, plan and deliver training, set up and test equipment, and recruit new member volunteers.


Posts: 185

« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2004, 03:29:39 PM »

To borrow from Will Rogers:

"I don't belong to an organized emergnecy group; I'm in ARES."

I know the Red Cross has their own radio system someplace in low-band VHF, and I know Salvation Army has their own group, too (SATREN) but ARES seems to be different at the local level anyplace you go. Probably to fit local conditions.

It wouldn't be a bad idea for a nationally-accredeted communications worker. They could work under the national disaster response teams with standardized communications and standardized protocols no matter where they were sent. Red Cross's DAT workers with the top training are sent to other areas for shelter  operations and assessment, so why couldn't a certified radio operator be sent when requested or required. Think "mutual aid."

But who is going to decide the national protocol and what standards will these operators be required to meet? There's the rub. That's where politics intrudes and must be swatted down firmly.

It's worth doing more thinking....

73, Pete KA3RFE

Posts: 828

« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2004, 04:34:07 PM »

Rick, if I understand you, you are proposing something akin to the way rescue dogs are nationally deployed. When a situation comes up, the owners and dogs fly in from wherever they are since local resources can be expected to be near zero.

IIRC there's a FEMA national program under way now with four national centers to train more rescue dogs, who will live with first responders, so this will be less of an issue over time and more "pairs" will exist.

But for radio?? I don't know that the analogy holds. Ideally an EMCOMM volunteer is something of an "intelligent phone booth", if I can put it that way without meaning insult to anyone. (I was a phone booth this weekend, I'm not putting anyone down.) We've already got ARES and RACES and REACT, there are plenty of phone booths. Not to mention, state militia (aka National Guard) are supposed to have this capability and use it during formal disasters. Now, there's an underused resource.

One would hope that the traditional local-regional-state level outreach would be able to provide enough radio personnel for whatever crisis was happening, without having to fly in national resources. Yes, uniform national programs would be nice. Among other things, someone who had ust moved, or was passing through, could show up and say "I have xxxx Do you need operators?" and someone could put some faith in what they knew.

But I'm not sure that's going to be worth the effort and investment, as opposed to the options today. Where did you expect to get funding? Why would you think "yet another volunteer group" so to speak, would improve over what's here today?


Posts: 536


« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2004, 11:22:30 AM »

As has been stated by others, the ARECC courses are excellent for EmComm theory training and attitude adjustment.  But once a person takes them, they still need to sign up with their local ARES/RACES group and be trained in the actual hands-on duties and become familiar with the agencies and communications plans and equipment in their area.  

If an EC or SEC needs additonal outside operators in an emergency, they normally ask adjoining area EC's or SEC's to send trained (and sensible) folks to assist. These are normally through the ARESMAT teams.

Even for big operations such as 9/11, individual hams volunteering had to be recommended by their local Section Manager or SEC before they were accepted in NYC.

Carrying a ARECC card in your wallet is a very good thing, but it's not the only thing that matters for Emergency Communications.  The most important things are the capability to be self-sufficient and the maturity and attitude to do what it takes to help the served agency and not just "play with radios".


Gary Wilson, K2GW

Posts: 28


« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2004, 11:56:25 PM »

I would like to thank all who have responded to the questions I posted.  

I would like to offer some thoughts as well.  The ARRL course work is a good start, but without incorporating an experience requirement it falls short as many of have noted.  It's not likely a ham that is unknown to the EMCOMM manager will be accepted in times of need.  But, having posted on this forum before, I know that in many cases around the country, after a major incident or event, the local resources are significantly depleted.  It's the nature of the beast.

I think one reason they are not accepted may be the fact that many local managers don't trust out of area hams.  Being an EC for Maricopa County, Arizona, I can feel their pain.  On the other hand, if I have a major disaster to manage that will last a couple of weeks, I will have a hard time filling the roster and I have a large roster to draw from.

I haven't met in person Charles Harris, but based on the posts he has made (and some emails between us), and his impressive background, I'd utilize him in a minute.  I would feel confident that he would bring his considerable knowledge, and leave his ego at the door.  That is something I would strive to do as well. Lets face it, there will be times that we need help, and need it now, yet there is that reluctance to even ask for help.

Is that reluctance because we will look bad?  I hope the hell not, because in the end if you can't man your commitments you will look worse.  Is it too time consuming to find help from around the country?  I would wager it's far too hard to track down qualified people in a short amount of time.  When a hurricane strikes the coast, how many volunteers short are you?  Did you get a few days warning?  If you live in the tornado belt, you might need the help without any warning.  Who will you turn to?  These are questions that I think need to be answered before Amateur Radio will fully be accepted into the civil communities they serve.

All of these tasks require funding, and the items I have just outlined would require a lot of it, yet the interesting part is we have an in place infrastructure that even our government envy's!  Even though we lack the funds to fully support such an effort, we could start by drafting a national training plan, proposing a structure which will facilitate sharing resources and embrace the sharing of ideas and approaches that will allow hams from around the country to be accepted.

Again, I'd like to thank those who took the time to respond, and note that no responses were flamethrowers as I have seen on other hot topics.


Rick Aldom
EC Maricopa County, AZ

Posts: 59

« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2004, 01:24:40 PM »

How many hams short in a Hurricane?

I'd LOVE to say none, but in the district, we can, in theory, need up to 120/shift!!!! - figure we would need 300+ operators

I'm NOT sure how many folks we have in the district, but I'd guess around 90.

What is worse is that in a Hurricane situation, we would not be able to call on the area right around us.

I'd guess there are going to be more than a few shelters without ham radio operators

Tornado?  I could probably get you 8-10 guys in the county in 30 minutes - Not sure district wise.  I KNOW I'd get at least 6 without even hitting the phone tree

Recruiting is a big part of the job - In fact I have to call a few people tonight

Posts: 1045


« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2004, 03:24:12 PM »

For amateur radio EmCom to be effective during the response phase to disasters you must have pre-planned with local emergency management and set up an alerting infrastructure to enable you to identify the needed resources where ever they are, and get them to where they are needed.

During the flood which occurred in the City of Franklin and Southampton County, Virginia after Hurricane Floyd in 1999 Virginia, there were less than a dozen hams in the city and surrounding county.  This clearly was inadequate for a long term event.

Also, you must assume that amateurs in the affected area will need to take care of their own properties and families first.  They will probably not be available to assist with comms until the initial response phase has passed and operations have started to transition into the recovery phase.

For Floyd Virginia RACES mobilized operators from all over the state.  A total of 149 amateurs provided over 9500 operator-hours of communications assistance at local EOCs, shelters, command post, staging areas, logistic base and the disaster field office.  When the Franklin EOC was flooded, they assisted in relocating the public safety comms center so that everything was not lost.  

We always get a warm welcome when we go back to Franklin.  The City is hosting another RACES training session there on October 16th.  They have alot more licensed amateurs there now, including the three 911 center shift supervisors. And they have a very well equipped amateur station at the EOC with VHF, UHF, HF, voice and data.  

While the flood and evacuation we dealt with in Northern Virginia during Isabel wasn't as severe or prolonged, we had a million people without potable water or AC powder for over a week, and several hundred homes which were damaged and uninhabitable in the flooded area, which required sheltering.  Amateurs from ARES, RACES and MARS all worked together cooperatively in our EOC, at the DFO and in Red Cross shelters.  Everyone was adult, competent and professional.  They worked together and got the job done.  I was on a paid duty status with my agency and didn't participate in amateur radio.  Instead I was the beneficiary of their good work, working two 12-hour shifts as public works logistics section chief in the EOC during the response and later in the field as a debris clearance operations officer.  I'm proud as a county employee and as an amateur that the various groups in Northern Virginia didn't let club politics and organizational bickering get in the way of doing the job.  It can be done.

Multi-jurisdictional planning and standardized training that goes beyond the city, county or District is essential.  That way Emergency Managers know that everyone understands how the program works and is reading from the same sheet of music.  If you group doesn't train and drill with contiguous jurisdictions, that would make a great foundation for a SET.  If anyone would like to review the SET which we ran a few years ago which prepared us for Isabel, I'd be please to send our Hurricane Tony Exercise to anyone who wants to contact me off-list.  

Posts: 13

« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2005, 07:59:00 PM »

I know every area is different but here in Kentucky the state Emergency Management office has directed all county EM directors to bring amateur operators into the emergency services plan. As with fire and rescue,EMS,SAR and all other EM response teams we are taking the NICS(incident command system)course. From what I've seen in my time in Search and Rescue, knowledge of the ICS carries a lot more weight than anything else. After all, what good is having radio skills if you don't understand the operations plan of the served agency? And with the new Homeland Security program all Emergency Services agencies nationwide must operate with ICS or not be eligible for Federal funding.
Not that I think the idea of EmComm training is unfounded(I'm totally in favor of it)but the ICS training is first priority to be accepted by the people we need to work with. any communications training will be icing on the cake and really mean more to the ham community than it will to EM folks.

Larry Brown
Trimble Co. Emergency Search
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