Ever see that question in the eyes of someone who has just heard that term, possibly for the first time?
Well I do, far too often. At State OES there is a constant stream of officials from an agency somewhere around the country. Sometimes the introductory remarks of the staff person that brings them in will include a phrase like "this is our RACES". All too often, I perceive the visitors mental question, "RACES, what's that?". Sometimes it's very obvious and asked out loud. Other times it may remain unvoiced. It is usually accompanied by a slight change in the way their head is held as their "body language" projects that mental question to a phrase that has little or no meaning to that person.
Those who work with people are aware that interpersonal communication is fragile. That process begins with a thought in your mind; then you express it in words so I become aware of it as well. My senses hear or see what you say, along with what you don't say, which usually shows up as unspoken "body language". In response my mental process INTERPRETS that sensory input and the result becomes your "message" as I received it. It may be close to what you had in mind as you spoke your words, but it may be so far removed from what you had in mind that you'd never believe it could be that different. If somewhere along the way something in your words or your silent body language triggers another image or thought in my mind, I may be totally distracted and never hear the rest of what you say. In a way it's a wonder we humans communicate to any great degree at all. Probably even marvelous .
At State OES we've begun a long-term process of reforming the way we describe the service that is rendered by those who have FCC licenses issued under the Amateur Radio Service provisions. In describing the Auxiliary Communications Service we have begun to eliminate the word "amateur" entirely . It can be done by reference to the section, or by referring to FCC licensed specialists whose activities are limited to non-business, non-pecuniary service.
Is that important? Yes. Even though there are areas where "Amateur Radio operators" is a term that is highly regarded, there are hundreds more where the term deprecates and has unfortunate consequences to the emergency communications concept. As mentioned in part one, there are far to many instances of people "turning out the lights" of their minds when the term "amateur" is in the conversation, no matter how correct it is in its definition under the FCC regulations.
People who open a business often learn the importance of the right name immediately. "Silvia's Silk Screening" soon may become "Superior Silk Screens". The same thing applies to the world of "Amateur Radio". Too many people associate "amateur" with unpleasant experiences they or someone they know have had: interference on the TV, unsightly antennas, messy property, loud and boisterous mannerism, and so forth. Oh, yes I know there are places where "Amateur" has important and accepted meanings and you may well be proud of that fact. However, the point is that is not universal by any means, and this seeks to point out that critical fact.
One way to overcome the problem is to rename the emergency communications unit of a government. It could be a DCS (Disaster Communications Service) unit. It can be an AUXCOM unit. It can be an ACS, Auxiliary Communications Service, like the one we have at State OES. Any of these can incorporate the RACES and be less confusing. The goal is to overcome the hurdle of miscommunicated ideas. RACES is confusing to many - one person wanted to know why we had a 'racist unit'! So, you see, it pays to apply your ingenuity to the process and solve this "communications" problem!
Cary Mangum, LL.B., JD., W6WWW
State OES Chief Radio Officer