All amateur radio work is volunteer; that's part of the definition of "amateur" in this context. However, work is work, volunteer or not, and requires insurance. Some kinds of amateur radio work are covered by personal or organizational insurance (ARES), other kinds by (in this state) government insurance ( RACES). When a flood, earthquake, large fire, hurricane, or other event results in a formally declared disaster, the response to it becomes a governmental action--and all responders must be covered by government insurance.
These two amateur radio functions, ARES and RACES, have been joined in Santa Clara County since 1978. We found it inefficient to have a group of trained, competent, action-ready amateur radio operators who technically could work only as long as an event remained undeclared... and a separate group of equally ready operators who technically were not permitted to enter a disaster response until the a formal declaration was made. In theory, RACES operators would physically displace ARES operators as soon as the declaration came through, sending ARES operators home while the event continued. This seemed a rather self-defeating waste of time, energy, and available resources. At the same time, such an action would leave RACES operators struggling to "come up to speed" on the existing response structure for that event, while dealing with the new issues that seem to arise every minute during a disaster.
That was the theory, and one that would seem to introduce unnecessary problems. In practice, most amateur radio operators in this County historically have been members of both ARES and RACES. The way it usually worked is that those who started on an event stayed on the job when a disaster was declared, leaving only when replaced at the end of their shifts.
Combining these two organizations simply recognized this accepted practice, simplifying the administrative issues of dealing with both sides of emergency amateur radio communications. Currently, each city in Santa Clara County has an ARES Emergency Coordinator position, and the person in that position is also that city's RACES Radio Officer. (An exception is Gilroy, which has as of 1996 put a new aspect of radio communication, the Auxiliary Communications System (ACS), in place.) At the county level is the ARES District Emergency Coordinator who is also the RACES Chief Radio Operator.
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This page was last updated 2/20/05