Osceola County Florida Amateur Radio Emergency Services

What is a HAM?

Amateur Radio is an immensely important and valuable emergency management resource. There are Amateur Radio operators, popularly known as Ham Radio operato rs or simply Hams, in every county of the United States. There are countless examples of Hams providing essential communications during disasters, when all ot her lines of communications have failed.

Becoming an Amateur Radio operator is not as simple as buying a two-way radio and turning it on. All Hams are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. Licenses are issued to individuals who, through rigorous testing, have demonstrated their knowledge and expertise in r adio theory and procedure.

The use of special frequencies, including 2-meter repeaters which are most widely used by ARES/RACES groups, is regulated and standardized using protocols established by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). In every corner of the nation, Hams participate in local clubs which own and operate these repeaters that enhance and extend radio communications.

For local and state emergency management coordinators, the presence of trained Amateur Radio operators using their high-quality radio gear is nothing short of a Godsend. Surprisingly, though, Hams have not been implemented into planning and preparedness in many communities. This is oversight is often due to a la ck of understanding or confusion with Citizen Band radio operators and their national organization, REACT.

The nationally organized emergency management applications of amateur radio include the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, or ARES (pronounced AIR-ease), and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, or RACES (pronounced RAY-seize). RACES is an activity of the Federal Emergency Mana gement Agency. It was orignially established to enable an official network during national security crises. As planned then, only Hams trained and enrolle d in RACES would be permitted to operate during such disasters. With the end of the Cold War, the role of RACES has evolved, emphasizing all-hazard measures. Any local or state emergency management agency can establish a RACES organization of local Hams.

ARES is set up as part of the ARRL. ARES organizations operate in support of state and local emergency management. ARES teams participate in severe weather observation (Skywarn), search and rescue operations, support of major public events and just about any situation where reliable communications links are needed to replace or augment normal emergency communications systems. In some areas, ARES and RACES are combined.

The American Red Cross has relied heavily upon Amateur Radio for years. The ARC has found Hams to be extremely helpf ul in support of its human welfare mission.

Experienced emergency management professionals know that everyday communications links (e.g. land & cellular telephones, public service radios) may not exist during major emergencies. Almost certainly, Hams will be up and ready to serve. As one individual put it, "HAM" stands for "Helping All Mankind".