Is amateur radio’s focus on emergency communications “over the top”?

On the HamRadioHelpGroup, one ham asked:

Over lunch today I read the September issue of QST, which is heavily EmComm oriented.  Articles were interesting, but the Opinion piece on page 98 seemed a little over the top to me.

Has this focus of this intensity always been a part of ham radio and I just wasn’t expecting it?  How has it evolved over the years?

Another replied:

From Part 97 of the Code of Federal Regulations…

Sec. 97.1  Basis and purpose.

The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:

  1. 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.
  2. Continuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
  3. Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art.
  4. Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.
  5. Continuation and extension of the amateur’s unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

I think that 97.1(a) addresses your question.

To that, I replied:

Providing emergency and public-service communications has been a part of amateur radio since its beginnings. Some hams are extremely focused on this, and I applaud them. In my opinion, the piece referred to in the latest QST was not over the top.

Hams do sometimes go overboard on this emcomm thing, though, acting as if it’s the only reason that ham radio exists. It’s not. That’s why I’m glad that Tim posted Section 97.1 here. As you can see, the rules describe five different “purposes” for amateur radio. Emcomm might be the first, but it’s only one of five. We need to keep in mind the other four as well.

What do you think?

 

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Comments

  1. O QUE EU ACHO ?
    ACHO QUE A MAIORIA DOS RADIOAMADORES DO MUNDO TODO ESTÃO SE TORNANDO INCONSISTENTES EM SEUS QSOS.

    SÓ FALAM BOBAGENS, SÃO MUITO MAU INFORMADOS E SEM NENHUM CONHECIMENTO TÉCNICO.

    A DECADÊNCIA NO RADIOAMADORISMO ESTÁ A CADA DIA TOMANDO UMA VELOCIDADE NUNCA ANTES OBSERVADA EM TODA HISTÓRIA DO RÁDIO.

    E TUDO ISSO É MUITO TRISTE E LAMENTÁVEL.

    É O QUE EU ACHO, AFIRMO E PROVO.

    ANTONIO.

  2. I prefer to think of hams as additional coverage, not the last resort. The police aren’t going to come crawling to us looking for a comms link (especially as we try to add their 800MHz systems to our trailers). But they can look to us to quickly provide “eyes on the ground” at more locations than they could possibly field.

    We’re not the last resort as much as we’re filling temporary gaps in the public service network.

  3. “Hams do sometimes go overboard on this emcomm thing, though, acting as if it’s the only reason that ham radio exists.”

    Hams go overboard on other things. Some go overboard on National Traffic System work, on moonbounce, on repeaters, on CW, on DX, etc.

    The American Radio Relay League does a good job painting the whole hobby and this one month the focus was on emergency communications. Stay tuned to QST for the topic of the month next month. http://www.arrl.org

    73

  4. Absolutely, and I’ve been thinking about posting something similar to my blog for awhile now. Emcomm is all well and good, but it seems like no one or very few pay any attention to other points in Section 97.1.
    2) Continuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
    3) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art.
    4) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.

    Shame that few try to improve the technology and are content with simply buying an HF radio and using ancient modes to talk to people in other countries merely for bragging rights.

  5. Absolutely, and I’ve been thinking about posting something similar to my blog for awhile now. Emcomm is all well and good, but it seems like no one or very few pay any attention to other points in Section 97.1.
    2) Continuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
    3) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art.
    4) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.

    Shame that few try to improve the technology and are content with simply buying an HF radio and using ancient modes to talk to people in other countries merely for bragging rights.

  6. Bob, KG6AF says:

    I’ve been a ham for 46 years, and having participated in EmComm only sporadically, I really don’t have a dog in this fight.

    I can’t say I’ve seen much change in the emphasis on EmComm from the mid 1960s until now. Overall interest has waxed and waned a bit over time, perhaps, but not much. What has changed, it seems to me, is the attitude of people who aren’t interested in EmComm. It used to be that hams who weren’t enthused by EmComm expressed their disinterest by not participating in EmComm events. Lately, however, there has emerged a small (I think) but vocal group of hams who are not only disinterested in EmComm, but feel that an overemphasis on it is actually harming amateur radio. I’ve seen precious little evidence to support that belief, but I’ve certainly seen it expressed repeatedly.

    Why is this happening? I think it’s one symptom of the increasing Balkanization of the hobby, in which hams embrace one facet of amateur radio while rejecting the others as illegitimate or trivial. Don’t do CW? You’re not a real ham. Don’t operate HF? Not a real ham. Don’t operate Olivia on 20 meters? Not a real ham. (OK, the last one is mine. Mea culpa.) In short, the ever-growing number of operating options we have in amateur radio–far greater than when I was first licensed–is both a blessing and an affliction. It makes the hobby more interesting, but opens the door for intolerance of those who don’t choose as we do.

    I don’t think that the most recent QST’s emphasis on EmComm proves anything other than that, from time to time, QST does special-interest issues. That’s fine with me.

  7. Dan KB6NU says:

    These are all interesting observations. Thanks!

  8. John Pawlicki (K8AG) says:

    My opinion is EmComm in Ham Radio is pushed because we need to feel needed. I believe the overwhelming majority of hams consider ham radio as a hobby. It is more “how” we communicate (QRP, Solar Powered, Moon Bounce etc.) rather than “that” we communicate. But EmComm gives us the reverse situation where “that” we communicate is more important rather than “how”. It serves a real tangible purpose.

    And of course if the Mayans were right EmComm could be very important in December. ;-)

    73, JP, K8AG

  9. David Brodbeck says:

    I think the focus on EmComm is partly a political expedient. We face a lot of pressure from commercial interests who would like to have our spectrum reallocated. In the current era, when people are thinking a lot about disaster response and terrorism, EmComm is an easy sell.

  10. David expressed my thoughts exactly. If it weren’t for the public service aspect of amateur radio, would 144 MHz and above have been auctioned off to the higher bidder? It happened with 220…

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