What is the difference in ARES and RACES?

This is a commonly heard question. ARES is sponsored by ARRL, and is the emergency section of the NTS (National Traffic System), which is also an ARRL entity. ARES groups, and members, are registered with ARRL. The structure and operation of ARES is not regulated by government, except at the local level, and then only when the local ARES group has entered into an agreement with some local authority. Local ARES groups make presentations and offer their services to various local agencies and organizations. For example, ARES group may have a formal (written) understanding with local law enforcement, local civic groups, etc. Walk and bike marathons frequently utilize ARES communications teams, and these give valuable non-emergency practice to the group.

On the other hand, RACES is structured and regulated by the FCC. RACES groups are activated as needed by the local Emergency Manager (usually the Fire Marshall, etc) When a RACES group is activated, the member volunteers will be under the authority and jurisdiction of the local Emergency Manager, and he answers to FEMA. Amateurs must be registered with the local Emergency authority before they can participate in RACES drills and operations. When the RACES group is activated, the member/volunteer RACES amateur operator falls under special rules. For example, his amateur station suddenly becomes a RACES station. He may not communicate with any non-RACES station (on designated RACES frequencies) during the activation. Even the amount of time RACES may drill is regulated, to one hour per week. One advantage of RACES is that it may be the only form of radio available to hams during a national wartime emergency, when presidential orders will cancel all non-official radio communications.

As you can see, ARES is a bottom-up, grassroots organization, and as such is much more flexible. RACES is an official, top-down emergency radio service, which, in a major emergency, will be tightly controlled by FCC and FEMA. Each has its place, and the ARRL recommends that local groups form both ARES and RACES groups. When an emergency begins to unfold, the ARES group activates and implements predetermined plans to assist local agencies. If the situation escalates and the Emergency Manager needs to activate RACES, the same people, already operating in ARES, simply switch hats (and maybe frequencies) and begin official operations in RACES.

“What is BCARES and are you a member?”

Bucks County Amateur Radio Emergency Services (BCARES) is a volunteer organization which serves the public good by providing Amateur Radio communication to our local service organizations, our community and governmental agencies who may request our assistance. Help may be requested in the form of a public service event, where BCARES members can develop and hone their communications skills. We could also be called upon to provide critical communications support during a natural or manmade disaster. Because we are licensed radio operators, who learn and train together, organizations such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and National Weather Service – SKYWARN program can rely on us as a truly organized and professional resource which can be counted on in times of need. FEMA, PEMA and our local EOC know and have seen the importance of having such a special reliable resource available to supplement their incident command efforts during crisis time.

On October 1 2005, I took over as the ARES® Emergency Coordinator for Bucks County and I am hoping, with help from volunteers like yourself, to put ARES® back on track as a disciplined, trained and structured community service organization. This is required of us in order to better cope with the complexities of dealing with emergencies in today’s world and as required by the agencies which we will serve.

I have selected a very special group of Assistant Emergency Coordinators to work with me in many different capacities, overseeing areas such as communications, organization, technology and logistics. With their help, we are now moving forward. BCARES now has a website. I encourage you all to visit our site often. It will be filled with current and timely information, training and net schedules, on line BCARES applications as well as important related communications and emergency links. A weekly net runs Wednesdays on the Warminster Amateur Radio Club’s repeater 147.090 / pl 131.8 . I thank the Warminster Club and its members for the use of their machine. Monthly meetings are held the 2nd Tuesday of odd-numbered months, where business and most importantly, educational training sessions will be conducted. Check this site for times and dates.

Finally, we will be working closely with the leadership and members of RACES, meeting and training together to avoid duplication of efforts and needless waste of personal time. It is our goal to have ARES® and RACES wearing the same hat, with two brims, determined by the needs of our community and their requests for help.

I invite you all to join Bucks County ARES® - BCARES. If you need an application, you will be able to sign up here on line. We need your help and participation. Don’t wait for a Rita, Katrina, an ice storm or flood to get involved. Join now, get the appropriate identification and required training needed to participate with our community agencies who we will serve in time of need.

We are BCARES…. are you? – Bucks County Amateur Radio Emergency Services

Harris Stein-NY3H
ARRL – Emergency Coordinator 2005-2008
Bucks County Amateur Radio Emergency Services