21 Things to Do: Join SkyWarn, ARES, or RACES

21 Things to Do After Getting Your Amateur Radio LicenseOne of the principles upon which the amateur radio service is founded is that, when needed, amateur radio operators will provide public service and emergency communications. Part 97.1 (a) reads:

Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

Think of it as part of the price you pay for the privilege of being granted an amateur radio license.

One way to get involved with public service and emergency communications is to join SkyWarn (http://www.skywarn.org). SkyWarn is a volunteer program run by the National Weather Service with more than 290,000 trained severe weather spotters. These volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service.

Not all of these weather spotters are amateur radio operators, but a good many are, and using amateur radio is a great way to report severe weather. When severe weather is imminent, SkyWarn spotters are deployed in the areas where the severe weather is expected. A “net” is established on one of the local repeaters, and all of the SkyWarn spotters who have amateur radio licenses check into that net. The net control advises the spotters when they might expect to see severe weather, and the spotters, in turn, report conditions such as horizontal winds, large hail, rotating clouds, and even tornadoes.

To become a SkyWarn spotter, you must take a class that teaches you the basics of severe weather, how to identify potential severe weather features, and how to report it. The classes are free and typically last about two hours.

Another way to become involved in public service and emergency communications is to join an ARES/RACES group. Although technically these are two separate services—the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) is run by the ARRL, while Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (http://www.usraces.org/) is a function of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) —the amateur radio operators who typically take part in one also take part in the other.

To participate in RACES, you’ll need to to take some self-study FEMA course in emergency preparedness and emergency-response protocols. Classes may or may not be required to participate in ARES. These requirements are set by each individual ARES group. To get involved with either ARES or RACES, ask your local club members when they meet. You can also contact the Section Manager or Emergency Coordinator for your ARRL section. To get in touch with those people, go to http://www.arrl.org/sections and find the section that you live in.

If these formal organizations aren’t for you, you can still participate in public service activities  through your club. Our club, for example, provides communications for a bike tour with more than 1,000 riders and covering dozens of square miles. Our organization is a lot less formal than SkyWarn, ARES, or RACES, but the public service that we provide is just as valuable.

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