What Do Ham Radio Operators Do in Emergencies?

Depending on the nature of the emergency, hams volunteer to perform a number of functions:

  • They “shadow” government and agency officials. Shadows ride “shotgun” in officials’ vehicles, follow them on foot and keep them in touch, typically via VHF/UHF repeater systems.
  • They set up and operate base stations at shelters, command posts, emergency operations centers, agency headquarters, hospitals, and the like, providing communications among the various agencies and their officials out in the field (who are being shadowed by a ham).
  • They operate in local, regional, and national traffic nets which move information in the form of “radiograms” into and out of disaster areas.
  • Besides voice communications, they use digital communications to move data about victims, supplies, etc. accurately by radio; use Amateur TV to provide live video imagery to aid in damage assessment and recovery; and save the world from alien invaders with the Morse Code (just kidding).
  • They remain flexible and adapt to changing circumstances as needed, always carrying a large “bag of tricks” (jump bag).

Hams have been providing these types of services to the public since 1913. Emergency communications is the first of the founding tenets of the Amateur Radio Service as codified in the FCC rules.

What are ARES and RACES?

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) both have very similar goals: to protect life and property during an emergency. Membership in the ARRL or any other organization is not required for either, just a valid Amateur Radio license (Technician or higher for RACES).

In Westchester County, New York, the ARES and RACES are organized as essentially one group of people. There are technical and legal differences between the two services, outlined below, but, by and large, it is the same group of Amateurs. Following is a brief description of ARES and RACES.

Participation in ARES and RACES is voluntary and you may quit at any time. You must be pre-enrolled in RACES in order to participate in RACES activities. While it makes sense to join ARES before you are needed, there is nothing to prevent you from offering your services at any time to aid in an ARES emergency response. Joint membership in both ARES and RACES is encouraged.

ARES – The Amateur Radio Emergency Service

The American Radio Relay League administers ARES (although you do not have to be a League member to participate). Any member can activate the ARES group. ARES provides emergency radio communications to a number of client groups, including local government, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and others.

RACES – The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can provide matching funds to support a local or state government’s use of RACES. However, RACES is a local or state government service — there is no Federal RACES. Only the RACES Radio Officer of a local government civil preparedness agency can activate RACES in times of emergency. In our case, the local government agency is the Westchester County Office of Disaster and Emergency Services (ODES).

During times of war (when the President invokes War Emergency Powers), normal Amateur Radio Service operation is silenced and RACES stations are limited to a pre-defined set of operating frequencies that are within the normal Amateur bands. RACES may also be used for non-wartime emergencies which can include natural or technological disasters such as fires, floods, earthquakes, chemical spills, and nuclear power plant accidents.

During all times that Amateur stations are operating under RACES rules, they may only communicate with other RACES stations, and only for the purpose of conveying official civil-preparedness emergency communications.


If you are a licensed Amateur Radio operator, live or work in Brevard County, and are interested in becoming an ARES/RACES volunteer, please contact:Bob Jones N6USP or
Ray Kassis N4LEM
ARES Emergency Coordinator, Brevard County Florida.

or, use our convenient application form.

How Does My Organization or Agency Request ARES/RACES Services?

If your organization’s emergency preparedness planning includes the need for emergency communications, please contact either the ARES EC/RACES Radio Officer above.

Also, please note that Bob, N6USP  may be contacted regarding public service communications for events such as walkathons and parades in which the safety of members of the general public participating in or viewing the event could be aided. (FCC rules prohibit Amateur Radio communications from being used to directly benefit your charitable organization’s fundraising efforts.)