NNY Section Emergency Communications

When All Else Fails... Amateur Radio

"The President can make you a General, but only Communications can make you a Commander ."
-General Curtis LeMay

"No matter how big and powerful government gets, and the many services it provides, it can never take the place of volunteers."
-Ronald Reagan

Check out the ARES Section Emergency Coordinator's Blog for quick updates.

Aside from being a great hobby, Amateur Radio is a valuable communication resource in emergency situations. Hams also provide communications during many major community events.

While there are other radio communications services available to the general public (CB, FRS, GMRS, MURS), none are nearly as powerful and versatile as ham radio.

Cell phones, while handy, have many limitations and don't always work in an emergency. Cell phones rely on cell towers and other communications infrastructure. Operational range of a phone is limited to within a few miles of a tower. Damage to any component of the cell network can render your phone useless. Because Amateur Radio is independent of infrastructure such as phone lines, Internet connections, cell towers, microwave links, or fiber optic cables, hams can continue to effectively communicate in an emergency or disaster situation even if all other commercial and government systems fail. With a little preparation, you really will be able to communicate "when all else fails."

If you are completely unfamiliar with Amateur Radio, here is a great introduction.

We encourage you to get your Amateur Radio license and become involved with emergency communications preparedness. Ham radio is a lot of fun and it could save your life in an emergency. Please contact the ARES Emergency Coordinator in your county, or your local club, for more information. You can also contact NNY Section Emergency Coordinator .

NNY Section is holding an online license prep class in February and March of 2024.

New York State Citizen Preparedness Corps Training is available online. This is not a radio communications course but it provides some guidelines for emergency preparedness, including developing your own Family Emergency Communications Plan. But the plan relies solely on the telephone and Internet for communications. What happens when the phones and Internet don't work? If your family was prepared with radio communications that didn't depend on phone lines, Internet connections, or cell towers, you could still communicate.

Amateur Radio is the most powerful personal radio communications service available, but you can start with simple, inexpensive FRS (Family Radio service), GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service), MURS (Multi-Use Radio Service), or even CB. You and your community should develop a Family and Community Emergency Radio Communications Plan utilizing these services.

Amateur Radio is recognized by the Federal Government as a valuable emergency preparedness resource. This is emphasized by the Basis and Purpose statement in FCC Regulations Part 97, which establishes and governs the Amateur Radio Service.

FEMA has specifically included Amateur Radio in the latest National Incident Management System (NIMS) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Functional Guidance. The guidance, which provides a framework for communications resources within incident management, officially includes support from amateur radio operators as a component.

In May 2023, The ARRL announced an updated Memorandum of Agreement between ARRL and DHS/FEMA to enhance cooperation for emergency preparedness. ARRL has also been elected to serve on SAFECOM, a group of national thought leaders and officials within the emergency communications and response space that works to set standards used at every level. The program is managed by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), an agency of the US Department of Homeland Security.

The Incident Command System Communications Unit (COMU) structure now includes the Auxiliary Communications function and Auxiliary Communicator (AUXC) position, created specifically to specifically to incorporate trained and qualified amateur radio operators in emergency preparedness and response.

Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®):

Amateur radio operators in ARES use their training, skills, and equipment to provide communications during emergencies and at planned community events such as races and parades. Hams serve their communities when storms or other disasters damage critical communication infrastructure, including cell towers, and wired and wireless networks. Amateur radio can function completely independently of the Internet and phone systems. An amateur radio station can be set up almost anywhere in minutes. Hams can quickly raise a wire antenna in a tree or on a mast, connect it to a radio and power source, and communicate effectively with others.

ARES is an ARRL program consisting of licensed amateurs who have volunteered for communications duty in the public service. ARES groups provide communications at public events such as parades and marathons as practice for emergency communications when disaster strikes. ARES is open to all licensed amateur radio operators. Please contact your county coordinator or NNY Section Emergency Coordinator for more information.

The ARRL Public Service Communications Manual Methods and Practices Guidelines

All NNY ARES members should review the latest ARES Manual . Please note in particular the section about the relationship between ARES and RACES.

The National Traffic System Methods and Practices Guidelines is the working reference manual on Traffic Net and Message Handling Procedures in the NTS. Chapter 9 also provides guidelines for Tactical and Public Service Nets.

The ARES Plan defines 3 levels of qualification for ARES members in an attempt to standardize training. Please note that while this specified training is not mandatory for membership, it serves a definite purpose. Agencies having Jurisdiction (AHJs) such as county Emergency Management Offices are looking for standard qualifications. At the most basic level, they are looking for volunteers who know and can work within the structure of the Incident Command System.
spacer20ARES Standardized Training Plan Task Book (fillable PDF)
spacer20ARES Standardized Training Plan Document (Word)
spacer20ARRL website - Emergency Communications Training

Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES):

RACES is established by federal regulations to provide emergency communications for civil preparedness purposes. RACES is sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Operations are conducted by amateur radio operators using their primary station licenses. RACES is organized primarily at the local (county) level. Unlike ARES, RACES only exists in a county and individuals are only a member of a county RACES group if authorized by the county office of emergency management.

New York State RACES frequencies are 3993.5 and 7245. The NYS RACES weekly net is 9:00 AM Sundays on 3993.5. With digital following on 3583.5 dial frequency, 1500Hz audio center. Initial mode Olivia 8/500, then MFSK32 and THOR22. The net is open to all Amateur Radio operators.

SKYWARN® is a volunteer program with between 350,000 and 400,000 trained severe weather spotters. These volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service. You don't have to be an amateur Radio operator, but during severe weather incidents, radio may be the only way to report your observations.

Amateur Radio and the Incident Command System Communications Unit (COMU):

FEMA Region 2 Webinar: Amateur "HAM" Radio for Emergency Managers

AUXCOMM (Auxiliary Communications) is now a recognized component of the NIMS/ICS Communications Unit (COMU). AUXC (Auxiliary Communicator) is an ICS position. Auxiliary Communicators are considered Technical Specialists, as illustrated in this COMU Org Chart.

AUXCOMM was created specifically to include Amateur Radio operators in the Incident Command System Communications Unit. Being a fully credentialed Auxiliary Communicator is your ticket to participate in a planned event or unplanned incident that is being managed by any government agency having jurisdiction (AHJ). Auxiliary Communicator is a recognized position in ICS. While "ARES" and "RACES" are extremely valuable resources, they are not specifically incorporated into the ICS structure as functions or positions.

To become a credentialed Auxiliary Communicator you must attend the training course and complete the Position Task Book.

The AUXCOMM course deals with interoperable communications and how volunteer Auxiliary Communicators operate within the Incident Command System. It consists of lecture, discussion, and tabletop exercises. It is not a radio course. It is assumed that the amateur radio operator already knows the technical stuff and general communications procedures.

AUXCOMM and other Communications Unit training is periodically offered by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) Office of Interoperable & Emergency Communications (OIEC). Right now there are limited opportunities to take the AUXCOMM course, but DHSES-OIEC is working to make additional sessions available at various locations.

spacer10November 14-16, 2023 Course Announcement and Description Check the NYSDHES-OIEC website for more information.
spacer20AUXCOMM Student Guide
spacer20Auxiliary Communicator Position Task Book
spacer20Field Operations Guides (NIFOG & AUXFOG)

COMT (Communications Technician) is an ICS position that may be of interest to volunteer amateur radio operators with advanced technical knowledge and experience. Much of the material in the COMT Pre-Study Guide should be familiar to experienced hams with General or Extra class licenses.

RADO (Radio Operator) training may also be helpful to volunteer emergency communicators since public safety radio protocols differ somewhat from amateur practice.

These COMU courses are not primarily technical training in radio communications. For Amateur Radio operators, this training takes place during routine operations and periodic exercises. The basic objective of all COMU training is to make sure that everyone involved in incident response understands the organizational structure, uses standard terminology and procedure, is operating with the same procedures, and sees more of the "big picture."

A direct benefit to volunteers of taking the classes and completing the position task books is they are then credentialed to nationally recognized standards.

More information about the NIMS/ICS Communications Unit is available on the NYS DHSES OIEC Communications Unit (COMU) and CISA Communications Unit Training Resources websites.

Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS):

MARS is a volunteer civilian auxiliary, similar to the Civil Air Patrol and Coast Guard Auxiliary. MARS members are licensed Amateur Radio operators who have volunteered to provide contingency communications on behalf of the Department of Defense and other U.S. Government users in support of national security and disaster relief missions. MARS will typically be active in large scale disasters or other emergency situations. Training nets are held daily and there are quarterly national DOD communications exercises involving MARS. Communications take place on government frequencies outside the ham bands using both voice and digital. Hams may communicate directly with MARS stations on the 60 Meter interoperability channels.

The Federal Government (DOD) considers Amateur Radio operators to be a valuable communications resource for Homeland Security and Disaster Relief missions. The DOD has designated MARS as the method of interoperability with the Amateur Radio Service.

MARS operators are specifically tasked with contacting amateurs on amateur frequencies to gather the necessary information needed for damage assessment and other relief efforts. This activity is a component of most quarterly DOD/MARS national communications exercises. If you hear operators asking for information, please respond. MARS is always looking for additional members with an interest in disciplined structured HF communications. MARS membership is open to all amateur radio operators. No military experience is required. Please contact NNY Section Emergency Coordinator for more information.

spacer20Amateur Radio and AUXCOMM support to the DOD presentation January 17 2022 by US Army NETCOM
spacer20Message sent from Northcom to Amateur Groups during the 2022 ARRL/ARES Simulated Emergency Test

SHAred RESources (SHARES) High Frequency (HF) Radio Program:

SHARES provides an additional means for users with a national security and emergency preparedness mission to communicate when landline and cellular communications are unavailable. SHARES is not open directly to individual amateur radio operators, but many organizations utilize amateurs as the primary operators, because of their radio knowledge and skills. Hams may hear and communicate with SHARES stations on the 60 Meter interoperability channels, or through SHARES operators who are also hams. SHARES provides interoperability for government agencies and others which do not have their own inherent HF ECOMM radio system.

spacer20SHARES: The Federal Government’s Plan-B HF Communications System (Aug. 2018 Spectrum Monitor)

National Incident Management System (NIMS) / Incident Command System (ICS)

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is required for all public agencies in the United States for both planned and emergency events. NIMS guides all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to work together to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to and recover from incidents.

The Incident Command System (ICS) defines the procedures and organizational structure used to manage emergencies as well as planned events. All volunteer Amateur Radio emergency communicators should be familiar with NIMS and ICS.

Recommended reading: This ICS Review Document (extracted from the ICS 300 course) provides a good overview of NIMS and ICS concepts, ICS organizational structure, position titles and responsibilities.

Many government and volunteer emergency response agencies including New York State RACES require volunteers to take the following FEMA independent study courses. They are also prerequisites for most in-person FEMA ICS training such as AUXCOMM. These relatively short online courses are available to the public at no cost and are listed as requirements for ARES Level 2.

Complete list of FEMA independent study courses

NIMS/ICS Training Resources:

FEMA independent study courses are available online. Advanced in-person training is offered by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES). Check the training calendar at https://www.dhses.ny.gov/dhses-training/. Training for Communications Unit (COMU) positions is conducted by the NYS DHSES Office of Interoperable and Emergency Communications (OEIC).

Additional information:
National Interoperability and Auxiliary Communications Field Operations Guides (NIFOG & AUXFOG)
National Incident Management System (NIMS) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Functional Guidance
Cyberspace & Infrastructure Security Agency - Emergency Communications
National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP)
  NECP Spotlight: Auxiliary Communications (AUXCOMM) Training
National Preparedness Goal
New York State – Statewide Communications Interoperability Plan (SCIP)
PACE Planning for Emergency Communications
The Amateur Radio Service is established, defined, and governed by the Code of Federal Regulations,Title 47, Chapter I, Subchapter D, Part 97

For more information, please contact Section Emergency Coordinator .