DEVELOPING AN EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

When talking to amateur radio operators about increasing emergency communication activity, one of the most common complaints heard is:

“Nobody wants to do anything! Until something actually happens.”

Getting hams to participate prior to a major incident is going to be a tough nut to crack. For decades the ham community has had the “We’ll come when we are called” mentality. With the advancement of other communication technologies, if we sit on the sidelines waiting for “the call” we will be waiting for a call that will never come.

As hams we are competing with the big commercial radio companies that spend millions of dollars in advertising and marketing to convince the Public Safety folks how reliable their systems are. Also as hams we know that no radio system is 100% reliable, hence our mantra of “When all else fails”.

So how do we get more amateur radio operators involved? The answer is simple, DO SOMETHING! It could be something as simple as performing simplex testing some cold winter evening. Find out who can talk to whom. Then some Saturday morning plan another simplex test where an operator acts as a base station and other operators could go mobile and test the range of simplex operations.  Be creative, think outside the box and make it a learning experience.

Don’t get discouraged if only two or three hams participate, actually that is what should be planned for. Just keep doing it. The more Radio-Active you become, the more people will want to get involved and this especially holds true for the newly licensed hams.

Another point to bring up when developing ad-hoc training scenarios is to focus on the 2M and 70cm operations. Stick with the bands that all license classes have access to. This affords the opportunity to get more people involved and during a major situation, all incidents are local.

Don’t get discouraged if you only have 4 or 5 people who are truly interested in doing emergency communications in your area. Those 4 or 5 people are your core. Those are the ones you can rely upon when needed and from there, over time your team will grow. So often when starting up any type of program we set the bar too high for what we consider a desirable volunteer base. Consider this counterpoint. The less number of volunteers you have in the early stages of program development will make it easier to test procedures, plans and protocols. That initial base of 4 or 5 people will be more flexible with policy changes as they know they are part of the development process. Having a fewer number of volunteers in the initial stages of team development will make it easier to plan and execute field activities. So a smaller number at the onset could be better.

Since we are talking about volunteer numbers, a bigger team does not always equate to being a better team. Strive for quality not quantity. I know of EmComm Groups that have dozens of radio operators on their team. Those groups have no training standards, they rarely conduct any sort of local training activities short of a monthly social hour they call a training meeting and most of those volunteers are ill prepared to support emergency communications during a major incident.

If a few hams complain that your training standards are too extreme, simply ignore them. To be quite candid, those are not the type of people you would want performing emergency communications when life and property could be at risk.

Another complaint heard from people interested in developing an emergency communication group is that they can’t find a served agency to work with. Just because you can’t find an EMA or Non-Profit to support initially should not be an excuse not to develop a team, in reality trying to find a served agency to work with before you have a group established is like putting the cart before the horse. I often tell people that before you can reach out to a potential served agency and sell them on the idea of using amateur radio for emergency communications you must have more than just an idea for sale.

Public Safety, Emergency Management and Non-Profit staff members are already overburdened with work. When someone approaches them with an idea, they see additional tasks added to their already busy schedule. If you approach them with a basic operations plans and a simple list of capabilities, you’ll increase your chances for some follow up discussions. Essentially you have to show the prospective agency what you have to offer them. Also, start off small. Select a single task or function you are able to perform for the served agency. Master that particular function and in time you will find the served agency asking for help with other functions.

Establishing a viable Emergency Communications Group is not hard work, but it does require consistency. Just keep active; as soon as a newly established team or group becomes dormant the battle is lost.

Set three simple goals for the first year of group development.

  1. Recruit 4 or 5 people than can be relied upon to help establish your group.
  2. Develop a basic Operations Plan.
  3. Conduct two (2) field activities.

Good luck in developing your Emergency Communication Group, together we can expand our capabilities, functions, and activities within our communities.

As a helpful resource, I developed a generic Policy and Procedure Manual template that could be used by local ARES/EmComm Groups to help them develop their own manual.

http://centralillinoishams.org/EmergencyCommunicationTeam-POLICY-AND-PROCEDURE-MANUAL.pdf

This P&P manual was developed back in 2015 which is before the ARRL/ARES started making changes to their training standards. Feel free to use this as a guide when developing your own local policies and procedures but note that some of the information may not be applicable due to various changes over the years.