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The History of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service

Amateur radio operators belonging to ARES (and its predecessor, the Amateur Radio Emergency Corps) have responded to local and regional disasters since the 1930s, including the attacks of September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina.[2] During the Katrina event more than one thousand ARES volunteers assisted in the aftermath and provided communications for the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and other individuals related to the relief effort.[2] After Katrina Hancock County, Mississippi had lost all contact with the outside world, except through ARES operators who served as 911 dispatchers and message relayers.[3]

ARES has deployed for a variety of other emergencies and disasters, including the 2003 North America blackout.[4] The blackout covered a wide geographical area of North America. In the United States its scope included Cleveland, Detroit, and New York City. Landline telephones and cell phone systems were overloaded and Amateur's ability to operate off the grid was put to the test. On Long Island in New York many pieces of health and welfare traffic were passed on VHF and HF nets. Because some television and radio stations had gone off the air amateurs helped fill the lack of information.[4] This was not the first time that amateur radio operators assisted during a blackout in New York City. On a warm evening of July 13, 1977 lightning caused a power outage across the city and most of its suburbs. Radio operators started communication nets on simplex and on a repeater located in the Chrysler building.[5]


ARES groups are volunteer amateur radio operators who come together for the common purpose of providing emergency and/or auxiliary communications service to public safety and public service organizations. Most individual ARES units are autonomous and operate locally. Although the Amateur Radio Emergency Service is a program (and trademark) of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) in the USA, the structure is more supportive than directive in nature, providing mostly for mutual aid in the event of large-scale emergencies. As long as local units are operating in the best interests of Amateur Radio in general and the ARRL in particular, intervention from the national organization is minimal. The government expresses little governance of ARES (other than the FCC regulations--47 CFR Part 97-- which regulate all of Amateur Radio) and local authorities only passively regulate ARES groups by way of formal understandings.[6]

ARES groups are generally organized by city or county and are made up of volunteers from the local area. The only requirements to join ARES are a willingness to serve and a valid amateur radio license.[6]

Groups are organized locally by the person holding the position of Emergency Coordinator (EC). The EC maintains full responsibility for organizing the local groups and serving as their leader during operations. The EC is an ARRL or RAC member, and is generally the point of contact for those wishing to perform Emergency Communications in their local area. He/She may appoint one or several AECs (Assistant Emergency Coordinator) to oversee certain geographical areas, or he/she may appoint by function such as the SKYWARN severe weather spotting network, Net Managing, Training Direction, or Public Information, or maybe a mix of the above (i.e. whatever works locally). Some members may be appointed as Official Emergency Stations and are trained to serve specific duties such as being a net controller during emergencies.

The next higher level of coordination is the optional District Emergency Coordinator (DEC). This person coordinates the operation of several local county or city ARES groups and reports to the Section Emergency Coordinator in those sections where the span of control would otherwise be too large. A DEC may have one or more Assistant District Emergency Coordinators serving him or her.

Leading the structure is the Section Emergency Coordinator, or SEC. This person is appointed by the elected Section Manager and is responsible for emergency communications in his/her section. An SEC may have one or more Assistant DECs serving to assist him/her. In the U.S., a Section is one of 71 geographic administrative areas of the ARRL. It is either a state or in more densely populated areas of the U.S., a portion of a state.

In Canada, the ARES is coordinated overall by the Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) Field Services Organization which has eight (8) Sections: Alberta, British Columbia/Yukon, Manitoba, Maritimes (consisting of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), Newfoundland/Labrador, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan. As is the case in the U.S., each Section is managed by an elected Section Manager.

In Canada, the ARES logo is a registered trademark of the Radio Amateurs of Canada Inc.(RAC).