What Do Ham Radio Operators Do in Emergencies?

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

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 (part 97, title 47 of the US Code of Federal Regulations).

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. For more detailed information, see the ARRL Public Service Communications Manual (PSCM).

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 (which is authorized by part 97 of the FCC Rules). 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  Emergency Management (OEM).

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. [See page 10 of the PSCM] 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.

What is the relationship with WECA?

Most Westchester County ARES/RACES members are also members of the the Westchester Emergency Communications Association (WECA), which is an American Radio Relay League Special Service Club (a "ham" club). However, Westchester ARES/RACES does not require one to be a WECA member in order to be an ARES/RACES member.

WECA provides the Amateur radio facilities (fixed and portable repeaters, digipeaters, communications van equipment, etc.) and the all-volunteer technical and administrative personnel to maintain them at a constant state of readiness for use when needed in an emergency. But WECA is also much more - see the WECA home page for more details.

Westchester ARES/RACES coordinates the organization and training of the volunteer Amateur Radio operators who have registered their willingness to serve. ARES/RACES operators generally use WECA equipment in fulfilling their duties as well as equipment put at their disposal through the generosity of other Amateur Radio repeater operators (for example, NWARA's WB2IXR/R in Yorktown Heights).

How Do I Join Westchester ARES/RACES?

If you are a licensed Amateur Radio operator, live or work in Westchester County, and are interested in becoming an ARES/RACES volunteer, please contact:

Tom Raffaelli, WB2NHC


RACES Radio Officer

ARES Emergency Coordinator, Westchester County

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 WECA's Public Service Director 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.)

Some detailed information for current or potential members of Westchester County ARES/RACES can be found in the following handbook: