Washington County ARES

The ARES® Identity Crisis
by: Brett Pruitt, K7BDP, Utah Section Emergency Coordinator


Since 1935, emergency communicators have a proud history within amateur radio. The first local Emergency Coordinators were appointed in 1937. Following World War II, the position of Section Emergency Coordinator was created. In 1951, the AEC became the Amateur Radio Emergency Corps. In 1963, AREC was made the Emergency Division of the Amateur Radio Public Service Corps. And in 1978, ARES became the official emergency communications arm of amateur radio. However, the renaming of ARES isn’t the identity crisis we’re discussing.


The identity I write of should be one of an independent cohort, working in partnership with public and private entities to better prepare for disasters and emergencies, and augment communications capabilities in the event of a disaster or emergency. But lately, all I see within ARES is COML, COMT, and AUXCOMM. I see subordination to government agencies, and the almost total loss of anything resembling where we came from and who we are – or, rather, who we used to be. I understand what is happening. I don’t understand why it is happening.


Perhaps radio operators are chasing titles that supposedly set them apart (read: above) their peers. This is as farcical as believing an Amateur Extra class licensee is automatically a better radio operator than a General class licensee. Balderdash! Perhaps it’s a desire to have a patch or a badge and look official. Perhaps it gives some a sense of belonging to something that they attribute as special, or better than the others. Whatever the reason, and I’m sure the reasons are varied, ARES must reclaim the identity it has forgotten – and that starts from the top – ARES leaders.


When I took my second ARRL field position in ARES, Emergency Coordinator, there was a myth floating around the local ARES Group. This myth claimed that only the county emergency manager could activate the local ARES Group. This myth was further enhanced by the notion that any other agency within the county – governmental agency or NGO – had to request the assistance of  ARES through the county emergency manager. Nothing in any existing memorandum of understanding, nothing in the ARRL EC Manual, nothing in any document that I could find anywhere justified this myth. On the contrary, everything I found contradicted this.


So I set a meeting to let the emergency manager know that we were not abandoning him, but I was reclaiming my ARES Group. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but regardless, I went into the meeting knowing that my ARES Group would be mine by the end of it. What did I get from the emergency manager? Relief. He was relieved that he didn’t have to manage this group of volunteers anymore – as if he didn’t have enough on his plate. He was relieved to know that I was in charge of my team. He was relieved to know that he didn’t have to become an expert in radio communications because that was our job, and we were there to assist him if he called upon us. He was relieved to have a reliable partner he could count on, rather than another responsibility he had to tend to.


Once I reclaimed my team, off I went, meeting and liaising with other government officials, private organizations, other volunteer organizations, to explain who ARES was and what we could offer them. I joined the local emergency planning council; attended meetings with the regional health department and local hospitals, liaised with the Medical Reserve Corps, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), and other volunteer organizations in my county. Introductions were made. Relationships were built. Trust was earned. And an identity was rediscovered, not just by our ARES Group, but by our served agencies. ARES was a partner – a respected partner at that – retaining our own autonomy while offering a needed, specialized skill to anyone who requested it. 


I get it. We have to speak the same language as our served agencies. NIMS is that language and we all should be well versed in the NIMS and ICS protocols. But that doesn’t mean we have to give up who we are to do it. American Red Cross uses NIMS and ICS, and yet they maintain their identity as the American Red Cross. The Coast Guard uses NIMS and ICS, and yet they are still the Coast Guard.


We are partners with, not volunteers for. ARES members are partners with our served agencies. COML’s and COMT’s are volunteers for FEMA. I’m not saying one can’t be both. I’m not saying one shouldn’t be both. I am saying that they are two separate things: non-overlapping magisteria, if you will. AUXCOMM is not ARES, and ARES is not AUXCOMM. And while we’re at it, RACES is not an organization. It is a set of rules by which a station operating within the Amateur Radio Service may operate under certain conditions – but I’ll save that for another article.


ARES is autonomous. ARES is a partner. ARES assists existing disaster response organizations – both government and non-government organizations, but ARES remains its own. We do not belong to an emergency manager. We are not the Sheriff’s auxiliary communications team. We do not belong to FEMA. We do not belong to RACES. We are ARES.


Train like it matters. So that when it does matter, you’ll be ready.


comunicare certo




Dixie Amateur Radio Club, PO Box 2196, St George, UT 84771-2196

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