- Active involvement of the program participants in the on-going week-by-week, or day-to-day, life and affairs of the agency.
- Careful selection of the Radio Officer for skills of management and vision as to the utilization and capabilities of the program.
- Acquiring the special know-how that enhances the use of a volunteer program.
- Asking for help, whether in procuring the right Radio Officer, preparation of written position descriptions or general statement of standards and expectations for participants.
- Requiring ongoing training and participation in emergency services nets using agency facilities for operator familiarization and equipment testing; such as the State OES nets.
- Expecting program participants to equal or excel over that of paid staff.
- Realization of the importance of a communications reserve under agency direction. A constant complaint from those involved in emergency response is that "communications always fail" when least expected, and when least prepared for that happenstance.
- Activating a portion of the emergency communications unit personnel at anytime that paid staff is involved with a potential or existing emergency.
- Train participants not to mention government frequencies on-the-air as they may be confidential. Instead refer to the channel number if required to change the frequency. Also train to refrain from making comments on-the-air pertaining to public safety such as police or fire communications overheard on scanning monitor receivers.
This SUCCESSFUL standard came from the County of Orange RACES unit via its April '93 newsletter, "NETCONTROL" : [rephrased]
"Setting requirements of participation and adhering to them, including removal of any who fail to participate in most activation's and drills, or are inactive. RACES is a reserve public safety communications organization that owes the public a well-trained and active group. Being untrained or "unpracticed" could cost a life during certain types of emergencies and the RACES unit cannot afford to take that chance."
"It is realized that other commitments involving job, family and other matters must be made. If, however, those commitments are more important to you than RACES and prevent you from full support of required activities, then you should not be a RACES member. If you do not put all RACES drills and scheduled activation's on your calendar, you should not be a RACES member. If you put scheduled RACES activities on your SOCIAL calendar, to be at a lower priority than activities on your "important stuff" calendar, you should not be a RACES member. RACES is NOT a social activity (even though association with fellow RACES members is enjoyed by many of us more than with anyone else). RACES is a commitment to provide the very best in government-supporting (sometimes life-saving) communications, through continuous practice (by drills and reporting to all activation's) and efforts toward improving ourselves and each other technically and operationally."
Successful emergency communications units have their counterpart in those that FAIL. While we may not want to look at the reasons, it is instructive to do so:
- One of the prime reasons RACES units fail is the attitude in local government to the effect that "we have good radio systems so we don't need anything else."
- A second reason is that of mental approach to the use of the unit, in that the local attitude is one of "we will call you out if all other communications fail."
- Local officials do not realize the significant difference between a disciplined unit such as SAR and an undisciplined unit with which it may have a communications memorandum of understanding (MOU) [if that be the case.]
- Not acquiring the knowledge of "how to" work with an in-house communications unit.
- The improper choice of the person for the Radio Officer.
- Not realizing the importance of, and knowing how to discharge a Radio Officer that is not fulfilling his/her purpose.
- An unsatisfactory past experience with a volunteer in one capacity or another.
- Not having an adequately prepared RACES plan.
- Inadequate staff. In such a case the local official, often wearing many "hats", feels there is no way to undertake a RACES program. In some cases that may be an accurate assessment, yet there are those where undertaking a RACES program even in face of an inadequate staff and too many "hats" helps to remedy the very problem.
- Delegation of RACES program coordination to a technically oriented person rather than to one oriented to administration and management of operations.
To some degree, reasons that the creation, care and maintenance of an emergency communications unit fails is a reflection (as in a mirror) of the reasons for those that are imminently successful. Active involvement is the opposite side of neglect. Knowledge is the opposite of not caring enough to become knowledgeable. It's really up to the paid staff of the agency to learn what it takes to make a unit successful. In every instance that has been done it has more than paid off, and handsomely, at that.
Want help? The Auxiliary Communications Service at State OES Headquarters is available to assist a jurisdiction upon request. [Thanks to Orange County RACES for the material and ideas. End.] Suggested by an article in the County of Orange RACES publication, "NetControl".