There is often more than just one reason, so it is likely an interplay between several. Anyone of them can be the main problem; yet solving one may solve others as well.
By the way, the idea of a "call out" is fraught with misunderstanding. To many people it means the whole ball of twine is needed and the whole crew is to hold the kite string. In other words, it means that the entire unit is activated and put to work. It frequently doesn't work that way and units that don't get activated or called upon seldom grasp the following three essential fundamentals:
- an enmasse call out is not how getting "called upon" works in today's real world;
- the more likely need is for a few key people early on, not later when its too late;
- the real potential for being "called upon" (as contrasted with a "call out") lies within many months of work and liaison long before there is ever a need.
What to do when the agency officials have had an unfortunate experience with volunteers or a "ham" who was a real amateur in the true meaning of the word? Ah, this one is the hardest of all situations to tackle.
We begin by trying to understand the perspective of the person who had the unfortunate experience. Only if we are able to "put ourselves into the other persons shoes" can we really come to grips with the situation. IF that can be done, then what is discovered usually offers a clue to the approach to follow.
Sometimes, however, what one states to be the "reason" isn't really that at all. In the early years of my career in the real estate field there was a class where the instructor said she'd learned that most house sellers seldom ever state the true reason for their placing it on the market until they'd been asked the same question at least four times. She felt that by the fourth response they were getting down to the true motivation. So it is with most of us, we have "reasons" we logically assign for doing something, but down deep there may be a reason that is so well hidden we've forgotten it; and it remains hidden until someone gently coaxes it out as did the real estate teacher.
Knowing this, we can apply it to the agency official who, claiming one reason for not using an emergency communications reserve, may have one or more other reasons. In some agencies it is entirely possible that the person is carrying so many "hats" that there is literally no time to devote to the problem. Just last week we heard of a county that closed its office of emergency services due to budget restraints. What response capabilities exist will now be under the fire marshal. In that case the fire marshal is a FCC Amateur Radio Service licensee. Thus there was a happy solution but it doesn't always work out that well.
One way of approaching a person with too many jobs is for the Radio Officer to ask if there is some way he/she can alleviate some of the tasks along the line of their own experience, skills and talents (such as administrative, management or such.) When we strengthen others, give them opportunities to grow and expand, to reduce their stress, we are helping in ways that are productive when least expected. Forget about feathering ones own cap or whether it fits ones own ego structure. Find a task that needs to be done and do it. Wasn't it Kaiser of ship building fame in WW2 who said "Find a need and fill it"?
Until there is established rapport between the agency and the Radio Officer, it is unlikely there will be a request to "activate the RACES". It isn't likely to happen until the agency people perceive a benefit not unlike the one that the sheriff gets when he calls out a Search and Rescue unit.
The time to build rapport is long before there is an emergency. It begins by the Radio Officer going into the agency regularly to become acquainted on a work basis, not over a cup of coffee. The Radio Officer MUST prove quiet professional interest in the agency. It is done by doing tasks at the agency one or more days each week for several hours. If the Radio Officer cannot do that, then the Radio Officer should find those who can and delegate that role in order to build the needed relationship.
Do whatever task would help out, no matter how remotely connected; for radio communications do not occur until there is successful interpersonal communications. Do whatever professional standards would permit but never cheapen one's self or the unit. Do anything of interest to self, or someone in our unit, whether it be to install a radio in a truck, layout a brochure, clear up the file system, or fix a computer problem. If you can't fix it, find a volunteer computer specialist and solve the need.
What does all this accomplish? It puts the volunteer unit leaders in the agency long before there is ever a possible need for a "call out". It shows the agency benefits. You see, in many agencies, when it comes to communications, they don't know what "communications specialists" do. They don't know if they need a "shadow", a backup radio, or people at a particular place with handheld radios reporting on levee conditions, etc. They don't know what they need until you supply it for them and they realize they didn't have it before. The day comes when the agency person says "Joe, can your people do......?" And the response is "Sure, how soon do you need it and where?" Then the Radio Officer makes certain it gets done even if there isn't an inkling of how to do it at the time. As a doer, the job gets done. THEN, they know! After that, the no "call out" problem is usually replaced with an active involvement. The agency and the unit move into the future, enjoying it together!
Let's assume that there is an emergency in progress in the local community and the unit hasn't been "called upon to help". What can the Radio Officer do besides wait?
Assuming a relationship has been established but not that described in bulletin 353, go into the agency as soon as possible! Arrive at the agency in clothes similar to what the others are wearing. As Radio Officer you don't know? Well you've not been there enough and that is the real problem! If they wear sport shirts, okay. If they wear a tie, you wear a tie. Leave radios, swatches, radio club clothing, badges and other ornaments in the vehicle. Go in looking like a professional of equal status with the staff. BE PROFESSIONAL, but quietly. Softly does it. Don't arrive with the idea that you are THE solution to their problem. With that attitude YOU will be the problem, and they don't need another one! Size up the situation and at an appropriate time and place quietly ask "How can I help?" Or, modify it with, "Would it help, Mary, if I did such and such?" Expect an answer in response, but recognize they may be under high stress, shorthanded, foul tempered and just balled out by the fire chief for not doing something that wasn't their job anyway.
Once you've got a job to do, whatever it is, DO IT one thousand percent, no matter how far removed it is from operating a radio! In one such situation it was three days before the question "Could you use the radio to....? Before that it was just helping, none of which was communications related on the surface. Yet, it was helping the agency and was therefore indirectly related by way of interpersonal communications as well as people helping people in time of stress.
In writing this, it is recognized that there will be some who won't understand it and will misinterpret it as "polishing the apple", which it is not. It is the very opposite, demonstrating professional competent ability to assist where assistance is needed. It is the basis upon which trust can be built between the Radio Officer and the agency. What is important is that it's necessary to instill respect, reliability and quiet confidence in the minds of the agency people before they may want the unit people around. This is one way of doing that.
End of series by Cary Mangum, LL.B., JD., W6WWW, Chief State Radio Officer.