Probably the biggest problem with these bulletins, and one that may never be resolved, is misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the written word. What is intended by the writer and how it is interpreted by the readers may not be the same. When RACES seminars are conducted in person it is much easier to clarify issues that arise over such misinterpretation as well as others.
The current RACES BULLETIN series began in 1985. It was the first effort to document program issues, ideas, definitions and guidance since 1960. They went national in 1989 at the request of the ARRL. In response, you have rewarded us with positive feedback, input and support from all over the U.S., Canada and Australia, for which we are most appreciative.
Semantics is the basis for the majority of misunderstandings or disagreements. Semantics: the definition of words. A word that means one thing in one part of the country can mean either nothing or something else altogether in another part of the country. Let's discuss some of the common position titles most of us have heard at one time or another. Some of the titles apply to paid staff, others to volunteers, and some are held by both.
CIVIL DEFENSE. This term is still used by many jurisdictions. In others it has been changed to emergency services, emergency management, disaster preparedness or similar name --- but it's role is still the same. In some jurisdictions the civil defense official is principally a planner and delegates all or most activities to departments in the jurisdiction. In other jurisdictions the position has command and control authority and responsibility. The CD official may directly supervise the RACES program in some jurisdictions. In others it has been delegated to another department head. The final authority and responsibility, however, always rests with the civil defense official.
COORDINATOR. This is probably the most misunderstood word in this field. It is a common title in California but prohibited in Hawaii government. It appears that most coordinators are facilitators and have no authority. For those coordinators who indeed have authority to provide direction and control, we feel they should have another title. In the future we shall provide you a very illuminating article written by a newspaper reporter on the public confusion over the title coordinator. To add to the confusion, some coordinators are really planners who are neither facilitators or managers.
EMERGENCY COORDINATOR OR "E.C.": The title of a volunteer appointed by the American Radio Relay League, an association of Amateur Radio operators who sponsor a special interest group called the ARES or Amateur Radio Emergency Service. The ARES provides vital health and welfare communications and support to disaster relief agencies such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and others. In some cases an ARES EC may develop an agreement specifying that ARES people will "switch hats" to provide RACES support to a local government agency. Where the EC is the RACES Radio Officer it takes an exceptionally well qualified person not to confuse those two distinctly different roles: the RACES is only Public Safety communications and the ARES is predominantly public service. The title Emergency Coordinator is also used by some jurisdictions in another context and has no connection with Amateur Radio.
DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS. Until the mid-Seventies this was a common title in government circles for the individual in charge of public safety communications systems, operation, direction, maintenance, procurement, planning and budgets. Then the title began to shift to an entirely different occupation -- that of public information and public affairs. Thus began the shift in semantics from COMMUNICATIONS to TELECOMMUNICATIONS.
RADIO OFFICER. There has probably been less confusion over this title than any other because it has been in the FCC Rules since the 1950's. The Radio Officer is responsible to the civil defense director for the RACES program. Some governments make a distinction between a Radio Officer and a RACES Radio Officer. A Radio Officer is also the RACES officer and is knowledgeable of all the public safety communications systems in his or her jurisdiction. The radio officer may indeed be employed to be in charge of those systems. A RACES Radio Officer, on the other hand, is responsible only for the RACES. We encourage the recruitment and assignment of a full spectrum radio officer whenever possible. To be effective, any radio officer must be interested in far more than the four walls, the floor and the ceiling of the Emergency Operations Center.
TELECOMMUNICATOR is a more professional title adopted an increasing number of jurisdictions for what they used to call DISPATCHERS. They operate the public safety communications centers public safety answering points for Nine-One-One. They should be made aware periodically of your jurisdiction's RACES program and how Amateur Radio phone patches work.
RACES: The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service. The RACES is a program established by any jurisdiction's civil defense official by appointing a radio officer, preparing a RACES Plan, and training and utilizing Amateur Radio operators. The latter are screened for loyalty and reliability prior to taking and signing an oath. The RACES is not a condition; it is a program and unit of local government providing public safety communications. Thus the RACES is not a club, association, or self-governing body.
AUXILIARY COMMUNICATIONS SERVICE: The name adopted by those jurisdictions who have chosen to use a wide spectrum of volunteer telecommunication experts and other workers in government service. This might include commercial radio technicians and engineers, the RACES, Civil Air Patrol communicators and other unpaid professionals. In some jurisdictions it includes public safety and government communications as well as liaison with any agency that has a bearing on emergency response.
An ACS has four elements in which interested volunteers serve according to their skills and interests: administrative, clerical, operations, and technical. In our State ACS we have radio operators, heavy equipment operators, tower climbers, computer disk message writers, messengers, photographers, pilots, electricians, generator mechanics, computer programmers, plan writers, instructors, EBS specialists and radio announcers, personnel records management, clerical help, managers, shift supervisors, installers as well as communications and electronics technicians. Again, the RACES is but one part of the Auxiliary Communications Service. The ACS is a broad spectrum service to government supplementing all aspects of emergency response communications, not just operating radios in the field or at an EOC which has been considered by some to be the only role of the RACES.
Amateur Radio operators have a tendency to use terms that are meaningless to others with whom they work (which leads to confusion) and even cases where Amateurs are not used due to that confusion. Accordingly, over the past two years a concerted effort to avoid certain words has paid off in many areas in those organizations cognizant of this aspect of interpersonal communication.
Astute Amateurs do NOT say to the sheriff's deputy at the roadblock "I'm a ham radio operator in the RACES, or the Vista Radio Club." Rather, they reply "I'm with the Vista Country Emergency Management Agency reporting to my duty station."
Here, our State Auxiliary Communications Service participants make a conscious effort to avoid these terms: Amateur, ham, ARES, ARRL, DEC, EC, RACES, SEC, section or emergency coordinator, and volunteer. Instead, they say they work for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. If needed, they add that they work for the Telecommunications Branch. Rarely is it necessary to indicate in what capacity; but if needed, they are FCC licensed communications specialists, not Amateur Radio operators.
Recognition of how Amateurs deprecate themselves by their own terminology was emphasized by a California Department of Forestry official who pointedly requested that "Never say you are just a volunteer, or an Amateur. Say you are a CDF Fire Information Officer, for that is what you have been trained for, and are in fact."
The words YOU use DO make a difference in how YOU are perceived by other people. A poor choice of words (no matter how highly YOU think of them) can unknowingly convey a concept or picture that is totally at odds with what you THINK you conveyed!
Series authored by Stanly E. Harter, originally titled "From My Lookout". Edited for digital transmission. Uploaded by unpaid [volunteer] professionals in public safety and public service telecommunications.