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ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) and RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service) are not the same. Many people are misinformed or misunderstand the crucial differences between RACES and ARES.
RACES and ARES are both important and worthy of volunteer participation to make them effective. Both have their roles. There is not, and should never be, an adversarial relationship between them or their volunteers.
Like the Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) and other Amateur Radio Operator dependent organizations and services, RACES and ARES can co-exist and complement each other.
Ideally, ARES personnel should also be enrolled with the local Emergency Management Agency and their Amateur Radio Station registered for use in RACES should the need ever arise.
The confusion, misunderstanding and myths are so prevalent, we feel there is a need for a long, detailed review of the facts to dispel urban myth and folklore:
RACES is not an organization; it is a reserve radio service with very specific operating criteria created after World War II (WWII) to support Civil Defense efforts during the Cold-War period, when significant concern of a nuclear war and other tensions existed.
During the post-WWII years and throughout much of the Cold War, people joined a local Civil Defense organization. Some served as Auxiliary Police Officers, Auxiliary Firefighters, First Aiders, Air Raid Wardens, and some as Radio Operators. Amateur Radio Operators often registered their Ham stations, thereby allowing them access to RACES should it be activated to exchange official governmental (not public, Health and Welfare or non-governmental messaging).
RACES was never intended to be an organization unto itself. It was not designed to be an autonomous entity affiliated with a Civil Defense organization. It was intended to be the radio communications component of Civil Defense to achieve the mission of the Civil Defense program.
It remains a capability available to Civil Defense (now known as Emergency Management in most places) officials to utilize their volunteers who have Amateur Radio licenses to engage in official government emergency communications under certain conditions as authorized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Stated another way, RACES is a radio service using amateur stations for Civil Defense (governmental) communications during periods of local, regional, or national civil emergencies. RACES is provided for in 47 CFR 97.407 and 97.111(a)(4), often referred to simply as “Part 97” of the FCC rules and regulations governing amateur radio in the United States.
Part 97 language includes the following: During the threat of war, or a state of public peril or disaster or other national emergency, or in order to preserve the neutrality of the United States, the President may suspend or amend, for such time as seen fit, the rules and regulations applicable to any or all stations or devices capable of emitting electromagnetic radiations within the jurisdiction of the United States as prescribed by the FCC, and may cause the closing of any station for radio communication.
In other words, the Amateur Radio Service, the service that Hams use daily and during emergencies, disasters and special events could be shut down during times of national security concerns, emergencies, or disasters, should the President feel it prudent to do so. To date, no President has. However, if one had done so, RACES could be utilized by Civil Defense (Emergency Management) officials and would be the only part of Amateur Radio allowed to operate during the period.
The word “service” in RACES refers to the categorization of users of the radio spectrum that have a common, specific radiocommunication purpose. A few examples of other services according to the FCC are the Aeronautical Mobile Service, Land Mobile Radio (LMR) Service (including Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services), Family Radio Service (FRS), Multi-use Radio Service (MURS), General Mobile Radio Service and, of course, the Amateur Service. Bottom line - RACES is an FCC-regulated radio service, not an organization.
Hams operating in RACES do not join RACES, they register, then operate in RACES according to the Part 97 rules governing RACES. This is the same as a person becoming an Amateur or GMRS Radio Operator. They do not join the Amateur Radio Service or GMRS, they get an FCC license and operate in that radio service in accordance with the applicable FCC rules.
To operate under the RACES authority, a station must first be registered with a with Civil Defense (Emergency Management) organization. Amateur radio operators operating under RACES authority may only communicate with:
A RACES station licensed to a Civil Defense organization
Other RACES operators
Certain US government stations authorized to communicate with RACES stations, and:
Stations in a service regulated by the FCC when authorized by the FCC (e.g., Police or Fire Radio Service), according to FCC Part 97.407(d).
There does not need to be any group or program specifically called RACES for there to be communications in RACES. ARES members can provide communications in the radio service known as RACES, if they meet the individual (personal) enrollment and station registration requirement of the Emergency Management organization.
RACES stations may only transmit messages related to: 1) Impending danger to the public or affecting national defense during emergencies; 2) The immediate safety of individuals, the immediate protection of property, maintenance of law and order, alleviation of human suffering and need, and combating armed attack and sabotage; 3) The dissemination of information to the public from a local Civil Defense organization or other government or relief organization and; 4) Communications during RACES drills, according to FCC Part 97.407(e).
RACES is operational only when it needs to be. That is, to communicate with Federal Government stations, or when the Amateur Service has been ordered off the air, and a Civil Defense (Emergency Management) official has directed participating stations to engage in official government emergency communications.
Additionally, RACES drills and tests cannot exceed a total time of one hour per week. With proper authorization, such drills and tests may be conducted for a period not to exceed 72 hours and such drills can occur no more than twice in a calendar year according to the FCC in Part 97.407(e).
Hams that consider and identify themselves RACES “members” and participate in a Field Day, Simulated Emergency Test or other exercise in the Amateur Radio Service are doing so as Amateur Radio Operators, not as RACES operators. If the RACES operators communicate with non-RACES operators or to non-US Governmental stations, the activity is not a RACES activity, it is an activity that any Ham can do using the Amateur Radio Service. The activity is not a RACES activity, it is an Amateur Radio Service activity.
If a Civil Defense (Emergency Management) official directs that RACES conduct an exercise, then the FCC rules regarding RACES and the exercise restrictions apply. If, however, Hams enrolled as volunteers of an Emergency Management Agency, with their station registered with that Emergency Management Agency for the purpose of RACES use, are merely participating in an exercise that happens to involve the Emergency Management Agency, then they are operating in the Amateur Radio Service as Hams, ARES, etc., not as RACES and therefore the RACES exercise restrictions do not apply.
To be authorized to operate in RACES, an Amateur Radio Operator must be directed by a Civil Defense (Emergency Management) official to engage in specific official governmental emergency communications (97.407(d) with another RACES or FCC authorized station (not an Amateur Radio Station) according to the FCC in Part 97.407(c).
Enrolling the licensed Amateur Radio operator and registering the station are the only requirements that FCC rules require to establish eligibility to operate in RACES.
Amateur Radio Operators operating within RACES but outside of the boundaries set forth in Part 97.407(e) are conducting unauthorized and/or illegal acts.
ARES is an organization, not a service.
ARES operates in the Amateur Radio Service and serves the public via governmental and non-governmental agencies and organizations. ARES consists of individuals who apply their specialized knowledge and skills in telecommunications for public service during an emergency, disaster, when supplemental (auxiliary) or special event communications are needed.
When a person volunteers with ARES, the person registered with (“joined”) ARES and operates in accordance with the FCC rules governing the Amateur Radio Service, the GMRS, FRS or MURS rules as applicable.
The Amateur Radio Service, GMRS, FRS and MURS are services in use daily and during emergencies, disasters, and special events. Accordingly, ARES can be operational before, during and after an emergency or disaster.
The exception is when a President decides to shut down these radio services during times of national security concerns, emergencies, or disasters. To date, not since the creation of RACES has any President done so. If it ever happens, ARES would be unable to operate. But, RACES could be utilized by Civil Defense (Emergency Management) officials and would be the only part of Amateur Radio allowed to operate during the period.
ARES can handle all emergency and critical messages, including those between governmental and non-governmental agencies and organizations.
To operate as part of ARES, an individual and his/her station register with the local/area ARES group. In Northwest Indiana’s Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Jasper and Newton Counties, ARES District 1 (ARES D1) is the official ARES group ().
As stated above, “There does not need to be any group or program specifically called RACES for there to be communications in RACES. ARES members can provide communications in the radio service known as RACES, if they meet the individual (personal) enrollment and station registration requirement of the Emergency Management organization.”
ARES D1 personnel operate in a variety of radio services and modes, in accordance with the applicable FCC rules. Interoperability with governmental and non-governmental agencies and organizations exists by design (i.e., on purpose). For example, ARES D1 personnel operating under the authority of a US Governmental station may also interoperate with a station operating in RACES. ARES D1 has access and authority to operate at least three US Government stations. They are dispersed in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
There are no FCC imposed time or other limits on ARES training, exercises, or tests. A station operating with ARES may communicate with any Amateur Radio Station.
The ARRL (which oversees ARES) and FEMA (which oversees RACES) recommend Amateur Radio Operators register for ARES and RACES to ensure operation during times when only RACES is authorized, should that ever occur.
RACES is structured, rigid and must be authorized to operate by a local Civil Defense (Emergency Management) official. ARES can be activated by an ARRL official such as the local ARRL ARES Emergency Coordinator (EC) or District Emergency Coordinator (DEC).
ARES has much more flexibility because its primary purpose is to serve the emergency communications needs of many agencies, not just governmental agencies.