One of the reasons ham radio exists is to fill a very specific need — emergency communications. Each year, many amateur radio operators step up to assist a number of organizations with public service communications, whether it’s in their city, region, or perhaps even an international event.
One of the many activities you can get involved with amateur radio once you are licensed is to lend your new-found radio interest to your community. This typically takes place at the city or county level.
All it takes to volunteer with a group is the willingness to serve and to be licensed. You may not even need your own radio equipment if an organization has its own gear to be used for events or emergencies (and that’s not unusual so it can control what frequencies and bands are used).
Here’s a look at various organizations that need hams to assist with emergency communications — both in training and actual events. You can join on a local basis, receive training and be on the front line for emergencies and other public service events.
ARES — Amateur Radio Emergency Service: This is a trained corps of hams who have volunteered for emergency communications and public service. ARES is organized by the American Radio Relay League and typically has ARES members on the county and state level. ARES members are noted for having responded to the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Michael.
More here: https://www.arrl.org/ares
RACES — Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service: This organization actually is operated under the auspices of city, county and state and federal governments. RACES members have to be registered with their local RACES group in order to assist the governmental agency or unit pressing them into service. If the stuff really hits the fan, like war breaks out, the president of the United States can shut down all hams and allow only RACES-registered stations on the air to assist wartime efforts. Often times, ARES and RACES are the same organization, with the difference that RACES exists to serve government. Oh, and by the way, RACES is pronounced RAY-seez. Just a ham quirk!
Additional info about RACES: https://www.qsl.net/races/what.html
Skywarn — Each spring, thousands and thousands of hams are trained by regional National Weather Service staffers in an effort to utilize hams and other volunteers in the field to observe hazardous weather conditions. In some areas, Skywarn uses ham radio networks and repeaters to relay essential weather observations straight to NWS meteorologists as an extension of their eyes and ears.
Read more: https://www.weather.gov/skywarn/
CERT — or Community Emergency Response Teams: CERT members are a part of their local emergency management teams. CERT volunteers are trained to respond to emergency situations and also can support their communities during non-emergency events. CERT members are able to take advantage of training through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. While there are more than 2,700 CERT programs in the United States and more than 600,000 CERT members across the nation, not all CERT groups utilize radio communications for operations. Those that do may simply use Family Radio Service handheld radios, while others, such as the teams assisting the Los Angeles Fire Department, have organized amateur radio operators and networks to assist operations. Check your local CERT team for more information.
Read this: https://www.ready.gov/cert
American National Red Cross: Ham radio is a vital part of the Red Cross and many local chapters have teams of hams ready to assist them in disaster and emergency response. While the Red Cross has its own nationally licensed VHF public safety frequency, it uses hams to take the load off that channel and give it much greater range during disasters. For those very reasons, ham radio and the Red Cross go well together. In 2017, 50 hams from the mainland United States were deployed to Puerto Rico to help set up communications networks after the island sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Maria.
Here’s how ham radio is used by the Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/local/california/southern-california/about-us/news-and-events/news/disaster-services-technology.html.
You can volunteer here: https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.html
SATERN — The Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network: This is another organization that uses ham radio operators to assist with disaster communications between its posts, typically on a more local basis. Health and welfare message handling is the primary activity of these team members.
The facts: https://qso.com/satern/
AUXCOMM — or Auxiliary Communications: This is a new arm of state emergency management entities with a mission to train as many amateur radio operators as possible to work and train with public safety personnel. Members are highly trained in emergency management operations such as the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS). A few states have implemented this program.
REACT — or Radio Emergency Associated Citizens Teams: Originally formed in 1962 to have teams monitoring citizens band Channel 9 for emergency and motorist assistance calls, today’s REACT teams have broadened their communications cache to include not only CB and other personal radio services, but amateur radio, too. Most teams employ ham radio in one way or another.
Here’s background: https://reactintl.org/about/
Local ham clubs: We can’t forget all the local and regional ham radio clubs that get involved in various civic duties. Some clubs function to assist ARES and RACES operations in their areas while others use club members for public service events such as providing communications along parade routes or for marathons, some as big as the New York and Boston marathons. Hams often are behind the front line in large-scale events and that ham helping out could be you!
Find clubs: https://www.arrl.org/find-a-club
Ham volunteers provide a number of services for agencies and can receive free training that makes them more proficient operators. Past large-scale ham involvement included the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001, the 2003 North America blackout, Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005 and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017. Once licensed, you could be the next ham helping with a disaster, parade, marathon, wildfire or other events.