What is the most important job of an ARES Emergency Coordinator? Some will say it’s responding to emergencies, or writing emergency plans. Others will say it’s recruiting ARES members or installing radios at served agencies. There are dozens of answers and all are important. One, however, really stands out.
What’s the EC’s Job #1? I say it’s giving your ARES volunteers something to do on an ongoing and frequent basis. Why? Because the quickest way to lose volunteers is to not use them. This is the “use-it-or-lose-it” fitness maxim applied to another kind of muscle—volunteer power.
If you aren’t regularly exercising your response capability, I’d suggest that you really don’t have one. Your ARES group may look good on paper, but how will it perform in the field?
“But, we don’t have many emergencies around here,” I can hear you saying. Not all of us live in tornado alley, where spring days often end with SKYWARN call-outs. Hurricanes are a fact-of-life in our Gulf and Atlantic coasts and hams are part of those preparedness efforts. Earthquakes threaten our Pacific Coast, especially California. And if it’s not an earthquake, it’s wildfire—and hams respond to both.
However, if you don’t live in a place where the big hazard is well-known and frightening enough to focus your efforts on, it may be hard to have an ongoing mission to keep your volunteers energized. If that’s the case, you need to find something for your people to do. It doesn’t have to be directly emergency-related, though that would certainly help.
If you are searching for activities, first make sure Amateur Radio is included in scheduled emergency drills in your area. Second, if you have Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) where you live, link up with them. CERT is a natural partner for Amateur Radio and many groups do a great deal of training. As do Search-and-Rescue (SAR) teams.
The bike ride, marathon, Christmas parade, and other community events aren’t emergency-related, yet provide useful training. Anything that gives you a reason to place people in the field and support them with a net is close enough to a real event to be useful. Maybe a local Scout troop could use Amateur Radio support for one of its events. My local CERT group is now providing canteen service and air bottle filling for the fire department. This is a wonderful assignment and it is being coordinated using Amateur Radio.
I haven’t even mentioned ARRL events, such as Field Day and theSimulated Emergency Test, that are intended to offer emergency communications training. And if you are out of strictly ham ideas, how about training for the Incident Command System, CPR, and advanced first aid? You can also develop your own drills and exercises, just to test various elements of your ARES emergency plan.
The point I want to make is that active, engaged volunteers are what we need. If we aren’t doing something big every quarter and little things in between, our volunteer resource is not as robust as it should be. A good Emergency Coordinator must work hard to create activities to keep ARES members trained and interested. And that’s the kind of ARES members that will be there—skilled and ready—when we need them.
(Originally published in the January 19, 2011 issue of the ARRL ARES E-Letter. Editor Rick Palm, K1CE, does a great job and I try to support him by sending in occasional essays that I’d otherwise run here first).