ARES® and AUXCOMM IN NORTH CAROLINA
ARES® is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League as a public service activity that encourages amateur radio operators to use their skills and equipment in community based events. ARES® has been in existence for over seventy-five years but its importance and usefulness varies considerably across the country.
In some parts of the country, severe weather events are relatively infrequent and there are few opportunities for amateur radio operators to participate in emergencies. In other areas, unfortunately, disasters occur often and the need for trained communicators to effectively assist Emergency Management became increasingly apparent. However, ARRL for decades did not require a uniform training regimen that prepared amateur radio operators to operate with the emergency management community.
To date, ARRL still requires no program of training for ARES® volunteers. In many parts of the country, due to the limited or non-existent training, from ARRL, many emergency managers remain reluctant to use ARES® volunteers during emergencies. Even today, ARES® groups generally are not automatically included when State Emergency Operations Centers are activated. As a result, many ARES® groups operate independently and focus on public service events like bicycle races and marathons.
Because ARES had increasingly become out of touch with the expectations and training requirements in the Emergency Management community, ARRL in January 2019, adopted the ARES Strategic Plan that charted future improvements to the ARES® program. However, FEMA ICS training remains optional for Level 1 participants. Only leadership positions at Level 2 or Level 3 are urged to complete certain FEMA training but no deadlines are established for completion. In 2018 ARRL published an ARES Position Task Book to record skill sets and courses taken by the ARES® member. To date, no state has recognized the ARRL ARES Position Task Book. In 2018, ARRL also created ARES Connect (a database system to track member training and to record member contact information). ARES Connect is used by a minority of ARES groups across the country. Nine county ARES® groups in North Carolina use ARES Connect. Groups using ARES Connect generally report that it is cumbersome and poorly documented.
AUXCOMM is a public safety program created by the Department of Homeland Security to insure that there are adequate numbers of trained communicators available to assist Emergency Management when needed. Large scale disasters involve the disruption of normal communications such as cellular, wireline telephone and internet. Emergency managers stated they want a go-to pool of trained personnel they are familiar with and who understand how emergencies are handled and who have demonstrated the ability to work within the Incident Command System. Homeland Security developed the AUXCOMM program to provide Emergency Management with personnel capable of quickly placing in service alternate capabilities when normal communications are disrupted as well as being able to establish disaster communications in the field.
Keys to the usefulness of AUXCOMM to NC Emergency Management include the following:
a. AUXCOMM has a standardized organizational structure that insures that communications personnel effectively operate within the Incident Command System in conjunction with other public safety agencies during emergencies.
b. There are standardized operating practices that insure common terminology and practices across the United States.
c. A formal nationwide training curriculum that is taught by qualified and credentialed instructors who offer a standardized 20 hour curriculum.
d. A credentialing system that provides documentation of training, demonstration of skills and records of experience during exercises and actual emergencies.
On May 11, 2005, Governor Michael Easley proclaimed the National Incidence Management System as the standard for use by emergency agencies in North Carolina. In 2010, State ARES® leadership was informed by NCEM that amateur radio would comply with ICS or be dropped from the North Carolina Emergency Operations Plan. NC ARES® leadership made the decision to embrace the ICS training requirement and remain as a partner with NCEM despite ARRL HQ staff insisting that ARES® did not and would not involve a mandatory ICS training requirement.
In nearly fifteen years since the Governor’s proclamation, tens of thousands of North Carolina emergency responders have completed and have documented training in the Incident Management System. Over 900 North Carolina amateur radio operators have completed and submitted documentation of the same ICS courses taken by fire, police and EMS personnel.
The bottom line is that North Carolina Emergency Management has incorporated AUXCOMM into its communications plans and activates AUXCOMM during each state-level standup of the State Emergency Response Team. AUXCOMM is integrated into Emergency Support Function 2 along with other communications professionals including 911, cell and wireline companies and broadband providers.
Groups that do not embrace the ICS training will not likely be activated during a declared disaster. Local ARES® volunteers without ICS training are typically limited to non-emergency roles.
The training requirements include completion of the following on-line courses (available at https://training.fema.gov/is/):
ICS 100, ICS 200, ICS 700 and ICS 800
The NC AUXCOMM database contains training records for hundreds of licensed North Carolina amateur radio operators who have completed the required ICS courses. Some also have completed the advanced ICS 300 and 400 Incident Command courses. Approximately 200 North Carolina amateur radio operators have completed the 20 hour classroom-based AUXCOMM course taught by DHS credentialed instructors or federally-trained state sponsored instructors.
In September 2019, North Carolina became the first state to adopt the Homeland Security AUXCOMM Position Task Book. Shortly thereafter, North Carolina adopted a state supplement that requires that NC credentialed AUXCOMM operators have demonstrated skills in use of the statewide VIPER 800 MHz communication system, use of Winlink on SHARES channels to pass traffic to the State EOC, as well as using the WebEOC Resource and incident Management software. Currently, approximately over 100 amateur radio operators are working on obtaining full national and state credentialing as AUXCOMM communicators in preparation for them being activated by NCEM in emergencies. Over half of the fifty NC credentialed Type III COML personnel are AUXCOMM members.
Any amateur radio operator who has completed the four ICS courses is invited to register in the NC AUXCOMM database and become a part of NC AUXCOMM. There is no discrimination within AUXCOMM towards any club, group, or individual who is willing to complete the required training. Registered AUXCOMM operators will be notified and invited to enroll in the AUXCOMM courses that are offered at locations around North Carolina. Completing these training steps is necessary for ham radio operators to be recognized as part of the statewide ESF-2 public safety communications team.
Any amateur radio operator who completes the mandatory training is welcome in NC AUXCOMM. Any radio amateur who does not wish to participate in Auxcomm may apply for membership in ARES through the Branch Auxcomm and ARES Coordinator listed below.
Approved: September 17, 2021
Marvin K. Hoffman, WA4NC, COML
NC ARRL Section Manager
Tom A. Brown, N4TAB, COMC, COML
NC Auxcomm and Section Emergency Coordinator
North Carolina Emergency Management Areas