Tuesday, October 24, 2017
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Chris Williams                               CERT & Citizen Corps Coordinator       (614) 794-0213

Amateur Radio Emergency Communications

Amateur Radio 

Emergency Communications


FCEM&HS Assessment Center

Emergency Communications is a system of coordinating people and transmitting information to first responders during an emergency. Emergency Communications includes:

  • The communication method or mode
  • How the communicators organize themselves
  • Techniques for effective communication in an emergency
Why is emergency communications important?

During an emergency, effective communications is one of the greatest logistical problems. Without effective communications, first responders, including CERTs, will not know where to respond or what to expect. Without well-coordinated communications, an emergency response organization will be unable to effectively coordinate its resources. Without clear communications, responders may misunderstand a situation, responding to the wrong location or responding unprepared for the actual situation. Worse, if communications fails, first responders may find themselves in danger for which they are unprepared. 

Successful communications is essential to successful emergency response, while problematic communications may actually make the situation worse. Effective, clear, organized communications is essential in an emergency response. 

CERT volunteers will be part of a communications network when participating in an emergency response, whether you are serving as a runner or coordinating multiple teams as a Net Control Operator.  Having some basic familiarity with communications modes and techniques and an overview of how CERTs fit into the communications plan will go a long way towards ensuring that CERTs remain a part of the solution, rather than complicating the problem. (Source: CERT Emergency Communications)

Statistical information on the count of active FCC licenses held by individuals, as reported by FCC’s public data files.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and operates as an independent U.S. government agency overseen by congress.  The agency is directed by five commissioners who are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  The president also selects one of the commissioners to serve as chairman.          

Bureau and Office staff regularly join forces and share expertise to fulfill responsibilities such as:

  • Developing and implementing regulatory programs;
  • Processing applications for licenses and other filings;
  • Encouraging the development of innovative services;
  • Conducting investigations and analyzing complaints;
  • Public safety and Homeland Security

FCC/FEMA Tips for Communicating During an Emergency

The FCC develops and maintains rules and regulations for title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).  (Source: www.fcc.gov)

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Ohio Emergency Management Agency (OEMA) Communications Branch

Communications is in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) 5502.21 under civil defense – the control of emergency communications, lighting, and warning equipment systems.

ORC involving amateur radio:

Space Weather Links:

Amateur Radio Emergency Communication Organization Types
What Types of Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Organizations are Available?

Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) – The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment, with their local ARES leadership, for communications duty in the public service when disaster strikes. (Source: www.arrl.org

The Central Ohio Amateur Radio Emergency Service (COARES) is the ARES organization in Franklin County.


Skywarn – The Skywarn Spotter Program is a nationwide network of volunteers trained by the National Weather Service (NWS) to report significant weather.  Anyone is welcome to participate. 

The HAM radio network, which serves the Wilmington, Ohio forecast area, is set up to facilitate a four stage process.
1. The front lines are the HAM radio operators (HAMs) in the field.
2. HAMs will radio in their reports to their regional net controller in either Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati, or West Union.
3. These net controllers will then relay the information to the Wilmington net controller.
4. The Wilmington net controller will then pass the reports to the operational staff at the National Weather Service.  The Wilmington net control station is located in the NWS building near the operational floor. 
(source: www.erh.noaa.gov/iln/

NWS Storm Prediction Center

The Central Ohio Severe Weather Network (COSWN) is the Skywarn Net Control Station for Franklin and surrounding counties.


The Central Ohio Radio Club (CORC) – CORC owns and maintains several Central Ohio amateur radio repeaters and associated peripheral features that are available for use by members and other amateur radio operators.

While CORC is primarily a repeater and social club, we have always recognized the potential value of our systems to the public in emergency situations and for public service/charitable events. CORC makes their equipment, skills and expertise available in the form of hardware and software and not as amateur radio operators. It is CORC's belief that the Central Ohio Amateur Radio Emergency Service (COARES), Central Ohio Severe Weather Net (COSWN), Central Ohio Traffic Net (COTN) and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) are far better qualified to train amateur radio operators to provide emergency and public service communications than CORC. CORC encourages their members to participate in these organizations. 


Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES)RACES is a radio communication service, conducted by volunteer licensed amateurs, designed to provide emergency communications to local or state civil-preparedness agencies.  It is important to note that RACES operation is authorized by emergency management officials only, and this operation is strictly limited to official civil-preparedness activity in the event of an emergency-communications situation. (Source: www.arrl.org)

RACES is not a volunteer group in Franklin County.  RACES is an umbrella plan of which FC CERT, COSWN, the Central Ohio Traffic Net (COTN) and COARES will combine as a civil preparedness service when The President of the United States invokes a national emergency under the War Powers Act. RACES may be activated by the FCEM&HS Director according to CFR97.407.  RACES is reserved for incidents should FCEM&HS need to empower and authorize FC CERT, COSWN and COARES to transmit essential communications during declared county-wide emergencies and disasters and no other conventional means of communication to include regular amateur radio services are available. The Central Ohio Radio Club (CORC) owns a network of repeaters to support any RACES activations pending the federal and/or state government has not already taken control of the repeater network.  Other local governments may have a dedicated RACES group beyond their ARES and/or Skywarn organization(s).

The Franklin County Amateur Radio Club (FCARC) - W8THV is the club station at FCEM&HS and is charged with overseeing Franklin County RACES. FCARC and RACES has affiliated, background checked and credentialed membership consisting of COARES, COSWN, FC CERT, CORC and other emergency communications specialists and enthusiasts ensuring the emergency readiness of the FCEM&HS radio equipment in the Assessment Center. Contact Chris Williams, CERT and Volunteer Coordinator at the contact information listed in the left column.

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Emergency Communications
Role of CERT in Emergency Communications

Intra-Team Communications

One communications function that you will participate in during an activation is intra-team communications.  Effective intra-team communications allows volunteers to quickly and effectively communicate to one another.  It is a critical component of tasks such as light search and rescue.  Intra-team communications may be as simple as sending runners from one group to another, or may involve the use of handheld radios and transmitting using Net Control Protocols.

Communicating Up to the Next Level

One of the most important roles that CERT volunteers fulfill is acting as “eyes and ears.”  CERT volunteers, working alongside professional emergency responders during an emergency, are expected to be able to communicate back to the professionals.  In this way, the professionals can be dispatched to where they are most needed, and the CERT volunteers act as “force multipliers” for the professional responders.

However, each volunteer cannot simply radio all emergency personnel at the moment he or she needs them.  This would rapidly devolve into chaos.  Instead, each CERT and jurisdictional office of emergency management has its own protocols for how emergency response groups coordinate communication.  This is called the communications plan, and it defines who talks to whom.

Communications promotes safety

One of the most important functions of communications is to promote safety – both the safety of the responder as well as the safety of the individual affected in an emergency.  An effective communications network allows:

  • A responder to quickly call for help when it is needed.
  • A responder to notify other of potential safety concerns in the area.
  • A team leader to keep track of volunteers; this is called accountability.

(Source: CERT Emergency Communications)

Where does CERT fit in Emergency Communications?

Franklin County CERT works within the current networks of amateur radio.  Storm and damage reports are transmitted to the Central Ohio Severe Weather Network (COSWN) who is our Skywarn network.  Safety, Health, and Welfare reports are transmitted to the Central Ohio Amateur Radio Emergency Service (COARES) who is our last line of defense when all other lines of communication fail. Communications needing 911 services are attempted through the normal communication method first.  Once all other methods of communication are exhausted, amateur radio contact should be made to a Net Control Station.

Emergency Net Station Types
What Types of Emergency Nets Are Available?

Tactical Net—The Tactical Net is the front line net employed during an incident, usually used by a single government agency to coordinate with Amateur Radio operations within their jurisdiction. There may be several tactical nets in operation for a single incident depending on the volume of traffic and number of agencies involved. Communications include traffic handling and resource recruiting.

Resource Net—For larger-scale incidents, a Resource Net is used to recruit operators and equipment in support of operations on the Tactical Nets. As an incident requires more operators or equipment, the Resource
Net evolves as a check-in place for volunteers to register and receive assignments.

Command Net—As the size of an incident increases and more jurisdictions become involved in the incident, a Command Net may become necessary. This net allows the incident managers to communicate with each other to resolve inter- or intra-agency problems, particularly between cities or within larger jurisdictional areas. It is conceivable that this net could become cluttered with a high volume of traffic. It may also be necessary to create multiple command nets to promote efficiency.

Open and Closed Nets—A net may operate as an open or “free form” net, or as a closed net where a net control station (NCS) is used to control the flow of transmissions on the channel. Typically, when the amount of traffic is low or sporadic, a net control isn’t required and an open net is used. Stations merely listen before they transmit. When a net is declared a “closed” net, then all transmissions must be directed by the NCS.
(source: ARES Field Resource Guide)

Communications Unit Leader
Communications Unit Leader – Is responsible for developing plans for the effective use of incident communications equipment and facilities; installing and testing of communications equipment; supervision of the Incident Communications Center; distribution of communications equipment to incident personnel; and the maintenance and repair of communications equipment. (Source: www.osha.gov)

Communications Unit Leader Links:

Central Ohio Traffic Net and National Traffic System

Central Ohio Traffic Net (COTN)

The Central Ohio Traffic Net (COTN) is the means by which local amateur radio operators serve the public by relaying messages on the public's behalf. COTN is one of many local nets throughout the United States, organized into the National Traffic System (NTS), a part of the Field Organization of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).

National Traffic System (NTS)

The National Traffic System (NTS) is a structure that allows for rapid movement of traffic from origin to destination and training amateur operators to handle written traffic and participate in directed nets.  These two objectives, which sometimes conflict with each other, are the underlying foundations of the NTS. (Source: www.arrl.org)

Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and NTS / COTN

Who alerts or activates NTS nets in a disaster and who determines which net or nets should be activated? ARRL Emergency Coordinators in disaster areas determine the communications needs and make decisions regarding the disposition of local communications facilities, in accordance with the need and in coordination with agencies to be served. The Section Emergency Coordinator, after conferring with the affected DECs and ECs, makes his recommendations to the Section Traffic Manager and/or NTS managers at section and/or region levels. The decision and resulting action to alert the NTS region management may be performed by any combination of these officials, depending upon the urgency of the situation. (Source: www.arrl.org)

ARRL Radiogram

The standard ARRL message format is used to send written amateur radio messages throughout the National Traffic System (ARRL NTS) and independent nets. The format is standardized in order to provide a uniform means of originating, handling, and tracking messages. 
A message is considered a “formal” radiogram when it is completed with a correctly formatted preamble, address, text and signature. Stations in the system are not obligated to handle incomplete or improperly formatted messages. (Source: www.arrl.org)

ARRL Message Format

ARRL Radiogram


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