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Emergency Communications Training — What Is It and Why Should I Take It?
Emergency Communications, training consists of a series of courses designed for amateur communicators. After successful completion of these courses, the participant can be credentialed in Amateur Radio emergency communications. Credentialing is a process used to demonstrate education, basic knowledge, understanding and skill in a subject area.
With the exception of those amateurs registered with RACES organizations or served agencies such as the Red Cross, amateur emergency communicators have not been expected to have formal training (Red Cross communications training usually dealt with the use of their message forms). Many amateurs thought that the basic skills they learned through everyday communications, contesting and public service events included everything they needed to be an effective emergency communicator. This may have been the case in the past, but it left a very poor image of Amateur Radio with our served agencies.
Amateur Does Not Mean “Not an Expert”
The world expects those who present themselves as an expert or capable of doing a certain job task to be competent in that task. For instance, if a volunteer fireman comes to your aid, you would expect that person to be knowledgeable in fire fighting and rescue skills and able to safely use his equipment. The firefighter must participate in training and practice to be able to do the job and be able to show proof of that training. We hold our volunteer firefighters to a high standard. Why should we not also expect our volunteer emergency communicators to meet designated standards?
Agencies that use the services of our volunteer communicators expect them to meet certain standards and be able to show proof of training. By using credentialed volunteers, the served agency has more confidence in, and higher expectations of, the service being provided. In this day and time, it is just no longer acceptable to do otherwise.
We All Benefit from Training
What are the benefits to all this effort? The benefits to the individual amateur may not seem to be very significant, especially given all the work and effort (not to mention testing jitters and expense). There are many community benefits. First, your community will have trained and credentialed volunteer emergency communicators. During a disaster, communications blackout or public service event, these are the people your community can count on for help. Our Federal, state and local governments also benefit by having access to a pool of trained, credentialed and ready volunteers to provide communications in case of disasters like hurricane Katrina.
“But wait,” you say. “The government has RACES that fills this role.” It is true that RACES fills the local government’s emergency communications needs in many local areas. This has worked very well in the past, and can continue to do so in the future. Amateurs registered with a RACES sponsoring organization usually get training specified by their RACES sponsor. One drawback, however, is that RACES groups are limited to their sponsoring organization’s geographic area and responsibility, usually that of a local government’s emergency management agency. By making emergency communications training available to any interested amateur operator, the pool of available emergency responders becomes much larger.
In addition, a nationwide organization such as ARES is not restricted to a local area. These volunteers have the freedom to go wherever needed, while maintaining their organized structure. By having a set of nationally standardized basic training requirements, served agencies, as well as local, state and federal authorities can be assured of having access to qualified amateur operators during an emergency. These are operators who have demonstrated that they have met certain basic qualifications and can fit into emergency operations wherever needed.
The individual amateur operator benefits by gaining additional knowledge and training from the courses taken and the additional experience gained. There is the added benefit of self-satisfaction of having completed the training and obtaining the certification certificates. Additional opportunities open up for these amateur operators through assisting other hams with training and testing exams.
What Training Is Available?
How do you go about getting this training? There are several ways to obtain the certification for the three levels of the ARRL Emergency Communications Courses. First, and often the most criticized for various reasons, is the online course. This method, while usually thought of as the most expensive way to complete the training, ensures an excellent educational experience. One alternative is traditional classroom training with a “traditional” test. Another is a hybrid course that is composed of classroom training and online testing. The least expensive might be self-study and then taking the certification exam at a traditional testing session.
Online courses and testing are a bit expensive for the average volunteer. The Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium offers these online courses and testing. The CDLC uses volunteer instructors (mentors) to keep the costs as low as possible, but still there are expenses that have to be covered. If you are a person who can complete a self-study course on your own, then do so, but for those who need interaction with other students, an instructor or mentor, then one of the other training methods might be more appropriate.
Other required courses can include FEMA training. The Federal government frequently imposes various requirements upon the State governments. By doing so, they receive federal funds. In order to promote standardized training of emergency responders, including amateur operators, the Federal government imposed a training requirement upon the States; this must be included in their emergency management plans. This requirement calls for all emergency responders to be familiar with the basic concepts of the Federal disaster response plan, as well as training in other areas that the responder would be responsible for.
This is where the FEMA IS-100, IS-700 and IS-800 courses, as well as the EmComm courses come into play. Various courses are required, depending on the level of participation in the disaster management program. For instance, basic responders may only be expected to complete the IS-700 course and Level 1 of the communications course. The county Emergency Coordinator and higher officials might be required to take all three levels of the emergency communications courses and additional FEMA courses.
Amateur Radio and EmComm — Looking Ahead
The future of Amateur Radio response in disaster situations is as bright as it ever has been and there may be even more opportunity in the future. A recent Federal appropriations bill included Amateur Radio operators in the classification of “first responders,” along with fire fighters, police officers, emergency medical services and others.
In order to fulfill our full potential, we as Amateur Radio operators must get prepared, stay prepared and project a trustworthy image to the public, government agencies and the various served agencies. Being “officially” trained and credentialed is a significant part of these preparations. It is also important to register your credentials with your local emergency communications group so that the information will be readily available for an immediate response. You should participate to whatever extent you can in your local emergency communications group, applying the concepts learned in the various courses.
It is not expected that those without credentials would be excluded from the disaster response, but it is almost a certainty that without credentials you will not get the best assignments.
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