There is some good news to share about emergency communications readiness in Gaston County: The Gaston County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) is now also the Gaston County Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES)!
So why all the hoopla? ARES is an organization chartered under the auspices of the American Radio Relay League dedicated to providing emergency communications in times of disaster; however, if you read Part 97 of 47 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) (the amateur radio enabling rules) its basis for existence does not specifically spring forth from any particular legal statute or rule. RACES, on the other hand, is a framework for amateur radio operators to respond to civil emergencies- including war-related civil defense- that is authorized by Federal law: 47 CFR Part 97, Sections 97.3 and 97.407. If the President of the United States were ever to invoke his War Emergency Powers under 47 U.S.C. 606 (the amended version of the Communications Act of 1934), -ONLY- RACES (and MARS) stations would be allowed to transmit on the amateur bands. Even so, RACES members would only be able to operate as directed by the situation commander: be it the local emergency manager, state emergency manager, sheriff, or some other governmental authority. In short, being in RACES is not a blank check to transmit at will in times of RACES activation.
In Gaston County, on November 23, 2016, the ARES organization executed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Emergency Management Department of Gaston County (GCEMD) that officially brings RACES into existence in Gaston County and defines its purpose and membership. This MOA is official- it is signed by the Assistant County Manager, Bryant Morehead, and recorded by the Clerk of the Board of the Gaston County Commissioners. The MOA is modeled upon the ARRL’s ARES MOA with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Essentially, the MOA between Gaston County ARES and the Gaston County Emergency Management Department makes all ARES members de facto RACES members. This is important because of the following Federal Rule: “No person may be the control operator of an amateur station transmitting in RACES unless that person holds a FCC-issued amateur operator license and is certified by a civil defense organization as enrolled in that organization. ” 47 CFR 97.407(a). So now, because of the MOA, all Gaston County ARES members are now “certified” and “enrolled”. As ARES EC, I will provide a list (renewed at least annually, but can be updated at any time) of whom is on the ARES role- and therefore a part of RACES- to Mr. Tommy Almond, the Gaston County Emergency Manager or to a designee of the Gaston County Board of Commissioners.
Now that you have read all the above, it may seem like a bunch of unnecessary legal ease and bologna. Quite the contrary: this turn of events helps to place Gaston County ARES on much better legal footing, both in terms of legitimacy and in its ability to respond to certain types of emergencies. Further, the MOA helps to solidify our relationship with our served agencies, namely government entities that may be called upon to respond to man-made and natural disasters, terrorist attacks and war.
One last item to note: the Gaston County Emergency Manager has the final say who is on the list of members. If anyone becomes a security concern or is otherwise eligible to be excluded by operation of law, then the County Emergency Manager can remove them from the list. And, also, of important note, is that GC RACES will serve in times of disaster “at the will and pleasure” of the County Emergency Manager, and at “his or her direction”.
We have a great foundation for ARES in Gaston County due to the hard work of our members who have in the past laid a solid foundation through building radio infrastructure and relationships with those we would serve. This is a new chapter in the Gaston County ARES, and I look forward to working with everyone as we continue to improve our readiness and relationships with our served agencies, so that if the time should come, we can deliver vital communications in the service of the citizens of Gaston County.
73 de AJ4JZ
Gaston County ARES EC.