Many are familiar with the term Mutual Aid. Police and fire departments have them, Emergency Management has them. Even some non-profits have cooperating arrangements with other disaster relief NGO’s.
But how many Emergency Communication Groups or Teams have some form of mutual assistance arrangement with other Ham groups? Some areas have a fully developed ARESMAT (Amateur Radio Emergency Services Mutual Assistance Team) Program while other areas have yet to formulate this type of program.
It is of paramount importance to establish these working relationships prior to a serious incident or disaster. Not just something on paper but to take the time to work and train with your mutual aid partners. No single amateur radio EmComm group is going to have the resources to handle a major incident in their area. This is especially true if an incident lasts for several days and requires 24-hour operations Cooperative training in advance can make an operation run smoother.
The biggest deficiency when establishing mutual aid agreements is in the area of training standards and field experience. When working with another group or team you may not know the skill level of the out-of-area radio operators. This is where cooperative training exercises coupled with the sharing of policy and procedure documents can help fill this potential gap. This also helps groups and individuals to learn additional skills and to share ideas with each other.
Groups should also share membership rosters to include individual qualifications of the radio operators as well as their radio capabilities. Having this shared information in advance of an incident can also make the deployment process run much smoother while the out-of-area radio operators are en route to the staging area.
Developing mutual assistance agreements can be as simple or as complex as both groups agree upon and it is advisable to set up these agreements with as many other groups as possible. Here again, this can be important during long duration operations.
If your current Group or Team does not have any mutual aid arrangements in place. The time to develop those plans is now. Waiting for a major incident to happen before calling for back up can create confusion and make all parties concerned look less than stellar.
The most important part for developing a solid mutual aid agreement is to keep the lines of communication open. The more information each partner has, the more informed they can be when responding to a call for help.