Office of Emergency Management Deputizes Hams

Arlington OEM Deputizes Ham Radio Group to Assist with Emergency Communications
Feb 15, 2007 News Release
Government Technology Magazine online

Twenty-five volunteers have graduated from a year-long course of weekly radio communications exercises and stand ready to assist Arlington County Government with crisis communications and response.

The local Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) volunteers have received their RACES certificates of graduation from Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management. The certificates qualify them to help in emergency situations such as weather catastrophes and terrorist attacks.

Each graduate passed a County-authorized character/background check, attended emergency communications classes developed specifically for Arlington County volunteers and participated in regular weekly radio communications exercises managed by the OEM Emergency Support Function team. After more than fifty weeks of exercises, the group has achieved the first level of competence required. Additional training and exercises are required to maintain active Arlington RACES affiliation.

Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) initiated the program as an all-volunteer auxiliary communications service to support the government’s need for public safety radio communications during emergencies, in case the county’s public safety radio communications system is damaged or inoperative.

This program, Northern Virginia’s first and only government OEM-led radio amateur volunteer group, serves as a model of public-private emergency communications cooperation. Eleven other local government jurisdictions across the nation, including Delaware; Georgia; Illinois; Maryland; New Jersey; Tennessee and South Carolina have requested RACES training materials.

Amateur radio, often called “ham radio,” has consistently been the most reliable means of communications in emergencies when other systems failed or were overloaded. Ham radio operators are skilled at quickly setting up communications systems and establishing networks during major emergencies. During the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, ham radio played an important role with disaster relief when other systems failed.