How will we the Amateur Radio Emergency Service®(ARES®) be used by the disaster relief agencies? It is simple to answer that. It all starts with how the National Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the ARRL and the served agency reads. Plus, if a Statement of Cooperation already exists between the local served agency and ARES® is agreed to will determine how ARES® will be used. Usually, the regional office for the served agency will give their specifications for the type of amateur radio stations will be given. The local offices will also have an input. Especially if they are going to put up some funding to purchase the equipment for a permeant radio station for their office. In the case of the American Red Cross station here is El Paso the specifications included that it must be capable of sending messages and forms using the Winlink 2000 (email via amateur radio) system. Any portable station brought in by ARES® will have to meet the same specifications. For a permanent station the served agency may specify what equipment will be ordered then it is up to ARES® to make sure that the equipment gets installed and made operational.
After the station equipment has been installed and made ready for use the question becomes when will amateur radio operators be used? First off, the served agencies and ARES® are not first responders. This means that any activations would likely not happen until sometime well into the recovery phase of the incident or disaster. There will be plenty of time for any coordination talks between the served agency and ARES® Emergency Coordinator (EC) to take place. Normally if the served agency’s primary method of communication is intact, they would not need to call in ARES® resources. When the primary communications become overloaded or completely fails then they would call in ARES® operators. When the ARES® operators arrive on site they will be expected to communicate with the designated destination operator on amateur frequencies. The ARES® operator could be tasked to operate the agencies radios on non-amateur frequencies. This would be in accordance with the MOU or Statement of Cooperation and the agency would also take care of the licensing authorization.
In large scale disasters or events preexisting relationships between the served agency and ARES® are crucial until help can arrive. In these instances, most likely local communications will be down. The other thing that will be impaired will be transportation routes. They will most likely be closed with down trees and power lines. So, evacuation and help arriving will take some additional time. Amateur radio can bridge the “last mile” until the help arrives. Bridging the last mile is an important concept in emergency communications. The “last mile” is defined as the path across an area where conventional communications have been disrupted or overloaded.
Another thing to remember is that what may work in one area may not work in another area. ARES® groups can adapt to different situations on the fly. In the end ARES® operators are responsible for reestablishing lines of communications out of and into a disaster area. It is also an ARES® responsibility to help ensure that the served agencies end goals are successively achieved. Keeping open lines of communication will make this possible.
The terms ARES® and Amateur Radio Emergency Service® is both registered trademarks of the American Radio Relay League, Inc. and are used by permission.
Questions and comments are always welcome and encouraged. Send email to the address shown below.
Lew Maxwell, KB5HPT
Amateur Radio Emergency Service
DEC, District 6, WTX Section