When I started this tour I had in mind the comment we sometimes hear from out-of-state that "the RACES Bulletins don't apply to us because nothing ever happens around here. Or because everything always happens out there in California".
Fortunately, there is a work-a-round in an emergency for which they are unprepared. What then happens is that they reap the benefits of mutual aid, neighboring governments helping neighbor governments; which includes paid and volunteer staff ready, willing and able to work in other jurisdictions than their own when requested and authorized.
Even so, however, there are places where neighbor helping neighbor seems to fall down. In one area I was appalled to learn from a deputy sheriff search and rescue coordinator that he is subject to arrest if he sets foot in a particular neighboring county on a SAR mission. In any language, that's hard to take. To a lesser degree one occasionally hears something similar in communications, where more enlightened and intelligent volunteers suffer such restraints and sometimes throw up their hands in disgust and take there desire to serve elsewhere.
I don't wish to imply that our RACES and other volunteer government communications programs were not free of this in California before the State Legislature undertook to turn this around. Following authorizing legislation the State Office of Emergency Services initiated a full-time volunteer communications coordination effort in 1985 that has paid dividends ever since.
Our State cannot tell the counties what do any more than counties can dictate to cities. Therefore it is important for state government to maintain a full-time leadership role to maximize the positive and productive use of unpaid communications professionals in government service. It is such commitment to a program that makes ACS, RACES or similar communications reserve a success --- not disasters.
On the same multi-state RACES program trip I had the opportunity to talk with and meet several county radio officers. Almost all of them receive the RACES Bulletins by packet radio, by mail, and/or by computer disk. They had established successful programs under their emergency management officials. Some called it RACES. Others called it the Auxiliary Communications Service, the Sheriff's Communications Reserve and by other names. All agreed that their programs either always or finally succeeded for several reasons, as given in the next Bulletin.
The Radio officers said that their programs succeeded because:
- It is clearly established that the county official is in charge -- not an outside organization.
- They train in and perform some duties other than two-way radio because that is what is needed by and useful to the local government.
- The radio officer is accepted as regular staff and attends staff meetings, goes to the agency office regularly, and actively seeks new and expanded ways in which the volunteers can serve the agency and local government. In other words, the RACES (or by whatever name) is not a declared disaster-only operation. Unfortunately, that last interpretation of the RACES is still widely misunderstood and propagated by those with a different agenda.
A few reported that their packet bulletin board did not carry the RACES Bulletins and that the reason was unknown. I suggested they contact their BBS sysop to work backward through the delivery system to identify the drop out. The RACES Bulletins are by and for all communications volunteers in government service --- and not just hams, either.
Some disaster management officials with whom I spoke said they have a fine RACES group but never heard of and saw the RACES Bulletins. I pointed out that the RACES Bulletins are addressed to the official and not the messenger (recipient station). If the official claims to have a fine group but isn't getting the mail because it's not being forwarded -- well, there seems to be a problem with the messenger, does it not?
We solicit your comments, views, input, suggestions, ideas and reports.
--- Stan Harter, CA State Office of Emergency Services