Mutual aid can be both relatively simple and extremely complex at the same time. Mutual aid as a matter of neighbor helping neighbor seems obvious. For decades Fire and Law Disciplines have used "Mutual Aid" as the way they handle the situation when additional resources are needed in response to a fire or law support situation.
Communications, however, is not a discipline in the same way as are Fire and Law. Within both Fire and Law agencies there are various communications systems, often specific to the respective agency. As most communicators know, there have been cases where the different responding agencies (fire and/or law) have been unable to talk to their counterparts from another agency/discipline.
The word "discipline" means to train, form educate, instruct, drill; which in the case of "Fire" or "Law" means that each of these disciplines (organizations) trains their personnel in the situations specific to fire or law, and to their own communications systems.
Rarely does the "outside" communicator from an EMCOMM unit get to use the Fire or Law systems - that capability being normally restricted to actual members of the fire or law agency. (An exception is where those trained as "shadows" to a fire or law chief are handed the agency radio and have the permission to use it as directed. Another exception can be where a county may use FCC Licensed Amateur Operators as limited dispatchers on public safety frequencies.)
Although some EMCOMM units (of volunteer communicators) are sponsored by the local sheriff or fire department, one of the RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service) requirements is that it cannot be limited to just one discipline in the local government - that is it cannot serve ONLY the local sheriff or fire chief. (Otherwise, there would have to be a local RACES for Law, another for Fire, another for the EOC, etc. which is not the intent of the FCC regulations, nor of common sense.)
Why this emphasis on discipline specific communications? Well, because "COMMUNICATIONS" is not in and of itself a DISCIPLINE, but a system to support any and all agencies and disciplines of the government it serves.
It should be obvious that an EMCOMM unit's foremost activity will be to the sponsoring agency of the local government, but it's fundamental purpose is to serve broadly across the entire government. Yes, it needs a sponsoring agency, but that agency (typically the local Emergency Management Agency) recognizes the need to support agency and departmental communications needs throughout the local or state government.
When this is fully grasped by our thought process we can begin to understand why mutual aid in communications can be a complex subject.
For instance, there is a difference between government agency Mutual Aid (MA), Local Government Assistance (LGA), and Mutual Assistance as used by some Amateur Radio groups. In California this is more complex than can be covered here, so it will be the content of a separate bulletin series on these interwoven aspects of neighbor helping neighbor.
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