Q: I would enjoy reading an article about the similarities and differences between the ARES® groups and the RACES groups. I am part of an ARES® group, but I really don't know why ARRL has two organizations that seem to be doing the same thing. -- Mike Sallee, KC9FWL, Bloomington, Illinois
A: After World War II, it became evident that the international situation was destined to be tense and the need for some civil-defense measures became apparent. Successive government agencies designated to head up such a program called on amateur representatives to participate.
In the discussions that followed, amateurs were interested in getting two points across: First, that Amateur Radio had a potential for and capability of playing a major role in this program; and second, that our participation should be in our own name, as an Amateur Radio Service, even if and after war should break out. These principles were included into the planning by the formulation of regulations creating a new branch of the amateur service, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, RACES.
RACES is administered by local, county and state emergency management agencies, and supported by FEMA. It is a part of the Amateur Radio Service that provides radio communications for civil-preparedness purposes only, during periods of local, regional or national civil emergencies. These emergencies are not limited to war-related activities, but can include natural disasters such as fires, floods and earthquakes.
RACES operation is authorized by emergency management officials only, and this operation is strictly limited to official civil-preparedness activity in the event of an emergency communications situation.
Amateurs operating in a local RACES organization must be officially enrolled in the local civil-preparedness agency having jurisdiction. RACES operation is conducted by amateurs using their own primary station licenses and by existing RACES stations.
The FCC no longer issues new RACES (WC prefix) station call signs. Operator privileges in RACES are dependent upon, and identical to, those for the class of license held in the Amateur Radio Service. All of the authorized frequencies and emissions allocated to the Amateur Radio Service are also available to RACES on a shared basis.
While RACES was originally based on potential use for wartime, it has evolved over the years, as has the meaning of civil defense (which is also called civil preparedness), to encompass all types of emergencies.
While operating in a RACES capacity, RACES stations and amateurs registered in the local RACES organization may not communicate with amateurs not operating in a RACES capacity. Such restrictions do not apply when such stations are operating in a non-RACES--such as ARES®--amateur capacity. Only civil-preparedness communications can be transmitted.
Test and drills are permitted only for a maximum of one hour per week. All test and drill messages must be clearly so identified. With the approval of the chief officer for emergency planning and applicable state, Commonwealth, district or territory, however, such tests and drills may be conducted for a period not to exceed 72 hours no more than twice in any calendar year.
ARES® and RACES
Although RACES and ARES® are separate entities, the ARRL advocates dual membership and cooperative efforts between both groups whenever possible for an ARES® group whose members are all enrolled in and certified by RACES to operate in an emergency with great flexibility. Using the same operators and the same frequencies, an ARES® group also enrolled as RACES can "switch hats" from ARES® to RACES and RACES to ARES® to meet the requirements of the situation as it develops. For example, during a "nondeclared emergency," ARES® can operate under ARES®, but when an emergency or disaster is officially declared by a state or federal authority, the operation can become RACES with no change in personnel or frequencies.
This situation is still not well understood and accepted throughout the United States; both ARES® and RACES still exist, separately, in many areas.
Where there is currently no RACES, it would be a simple matter for an ARES® group to enroll in that capacity, after a presentation to the civil-preparedness authorities. In cases where both ARES® and RACES exist, it is possible to join both or to be involved in either. As time progresses, the goal would be the merger into one strong organization, with coordination between ARES® and RACES officials using the same groups of amateurs. In some sections of the U.S. today, the ARES® structure has also been accepted as the RACES structure.