Santa Clara County ARES®/RACES
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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

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What is ARES ?  
What is RACES ?  
What is ACS ?  
Why ARES/RACES in Santa Clara County ?  
How Do I get started?  
Your question could be here, but you have to ask it first...  

Q: What is ARES?
Amateur Radio Emergency Services, or ARES, is the field arm of the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL). The League deals with all aspects of Amateur Radio, including legislation, licensing, and contests; the ARES branch specifically handles field communications, particularly during emergencies. When you hear in the news that Amateur Radio operators were part of a search and rescue operation, assisted in getting aid to a ship in trouble at sea, or provided communications for a Red Cross shelter, you're hearing about an ARES function.

ARES volunteers also offer a splendid community service by providing free administrative communications at planned events, such as air shows, parades, and bike rides. In addition to helping the community through such service, experienced and inexperienced operators alike can use such events to refresh and polish their emergency-response skills. (To find out more about upcoming planned events in Santa Clara County, check out the connection for Training.)

ARES operators provide their own insurance.

You become an ARES amateur radio operator by joining ARRL, but a "Ham" does not need to be a member of ARRL to participate in ARES. If you become an Emergency Coordinator (EC), you do need to join ARRL.

Q: What is RACES?
Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services, or RACES, is the amateur radio emergency service recognized by the FCC in Part 97 and functions as a communications resource within the Federal Emergency Management System (FEMA) Incident Command System (ICS) structure. When a governmental entity (that is, a representative of the City, County, State, or Federal government) requests amateur radio assistance, the response is through RACES. This is because governmental activation alters several aspects of disaster-response funding, including insurance coverage. Governmental requests usually involve a disaster or other wide-reaching emergency. When you hear in the news that amateur radio operator are assisting officials within an officially declared disaster zone, such as in the aftermath of a hurricane, earthquake, flood, you're hearing about a RACES function. RACES operators are covered in California by Disaster Service Worker (DSW) insurance. This is a variety of Worker's Compensation.

You become a RACES amateur radio operator by signing up for DSW and registering with your local RACES organization--or, in Santa Clara County, your local ARES/RACES organization. (The procedure for signing up for DSW is part of the ARES/RACES Policies and Procedures Manual.)

Q: What is ACS?
The Auxiliary Communications Service (ACS) is a program created by government's disaster or emergency management office to supplement its emergency communications with unpaid staff. Skilled and dedicated people, licensed and unlicensed, can be recruited to serve in one or more of four categories: administrative, management, technical, and operations.

In California, ACS was expanded from the original RACES program, incorporating civilians who were not amateur radio operators, in emergency communications response. California State ACS serves as an educational and training forum to assist all those interested in emergency communications, to serve State government in time of need.

The ACS provides tactical,logistical and administrative support and communications for all government communications systems. This includes operations on equipment and frequencies of ANY authorized equipment or frequencies in support of ANY need by government that might be in any way connected with an eventual emergency.

This includes: cellular, computer, email, facsimile, Internet, interpersonal, microwave, radio (police, fire, amateur, other), satellite, telephone, television, video conference, in-office support of personnel, operators of equipment and systems.

ACS has its genesis in units originally designed for radio communications by amateur radio operators on FCC authorized frequencies. This organization, known as RACES(Radio Amateurs in Civil Emergency Service) became widely known nationwide. Dramatic changes in technology and expansion of governmental Public Safety systems indicated the need for a broader service.

In 1993, the State of California,recognizing that a larger volunteer effort was needed that did not require the sole use of an amateur radio license, created the Auxiliary Communications Service (ACS), which provides the RACES function at the State level. Local communities are encouraged to adopt the State ACS model into their current RACES plans. Some units have become ACS in identity, while others have retained their RACES name and operate under ACS guidelines.

ACS makes possible the effective management and utilization of personnel from Amateur Radio, Civil Air Patrol, the Military Affiliate Radio System, Special Emergency Radio Service, REACT and others, in support of civil defense and disaster response and recovery. Activities include much more than operations on selected frequencies of a single service.

ACS resources are normally mobilized at the same time as are other public safety resources responding and reacting to an incident; and not later, when it may be too late to effectively and efficiently, or even possible, to do so.

ACS resources can be utilized in an agency on a day-to-day basis for familiarization for potential emergency response. This includes use of non-amateur frequencies (i.e.; government) for day-to-day government activities in any way related to emergency communications. Participants in an ACS are expected to be more than just operators of radios in a call me if you need me situation or an it may never happen here scenario. They are skilled professionals who work as unpaid staff with the local emergency management agency to enhance its response and recovery in any possible emergency. This includes preparation of plans, systems and personnel for response to any kind of situation or incident.

Q: Why ARES/RACES in Santa Clara County?
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.

Q: How do I get started?
First, get your amateur radio license. There is an license exam just about every weekend somewhere in the Bay area. There is also a ham cram at least once a quarter (a one day class, usually on a Saturday, with a test at the end of the day). The Licensing section of the ARRL website (") has a search tool for locating amateur radio license classes and exam sessions. Check our Training and Events page for links to local organizations which conduct ham crams and licensing exams.

Next, contact your city/agency Emergency Coordinator (EC). A list of the city Emergency Coordinators, including their e-mail addresses and phone numbers can be found here. Your EC can give you more information about weekly nets, meetings and other local activities.

Next, create an account in the Training and Events Database. The Training and Events page includes a link to the Training and Events Database. Go to the database, click on the "New user? Join us..." link and create yourself an account. After you have created an account, you will be able to sign up for training classes, drills, public service events, and more.

Next, take the Introduction to Emergency Communications class and the Fundamentals of Emergency Communications class. These can both be found on the Training and Events page of this website. The Introduction class will acquaint you with basic net procedures, operating modes, equipment, and local emergency communications organizations. The Fundamentals class builds upon the Introduction class and covered the basics of field operations and message passing. These classes are offered several times each year.

Most important, get on the air and join in the fun. Check out the many different training, drill and public service activities in the Training and Events Database. Sign up and have some fun!



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This page was last updated 15-Jul-2022