In just about all areas of public safety, training and certification plays an important role in making sure that the people you trust with critical tasks in emergency situations are able to perform. They have to have to knowledge necessary to make informed decisions, but they also have to have some amount of experience executing their duties before it becomes a life-or-death situation. It is for this reason that police and fire are constantly training to increase their effectiveness, which often involves a periodic recertification.
Amateur radio operators looking to help with emergency communications usually expect to interact with various public safety organizations for planning, training, and of course, actual emergency situations. Unfortunately, we rarely hold ourselves to the same standard of those that we hope to serve. There are some standardized training courses available via the ARRL, but they don’t require you to own or have ever operated a radio, nor do they require you to do anything other than sit in front of a computer for a web course. The material in the course is good, but reading through it does not mean you are magically able to execute in an emergency.
Can you imagine if the only bar for being a police or fireman was a voluntary web course? I don’t think that people would be willing to place their lives in the hands of such individuals, yet we do exactly that when we secure ourselves as the backup communications provider for a police, fire, or medical agency. Can’t we do better? I think we can.
Over the past couple of months, I have been working with a few highly-skilled people to develop a program called Oregon ACES. The idea is to define several levels of training and certification for amateur emergency communications personnel, to provide those courses and a certification registry for those who have taken them, as well as promote frequent training opportunities in the area. We have already enlisted a healthy list of supporters in Oregon, including multiple city and county emergency management departments, other volunteer groups, as well as a couple of counties in our neighboring state of Washington. Additionally, we have nearly completed the process of being accredited by the NRCEV, a national group that recognizes local training programs and certifies participants with additional credentials.
We recently published our basic course outline, and have it open for public comment. If you’re interested, please look it over and use the linked form to provide feedback about anything we missed or should elaborate on. Even if you think it’s good as-is, let us know. The idea here is to provide a healthy amount of classroom instruction, as well as some mandatory group and individual skills demonstration. The basic level is aimed at a volunteer who is likely to be in the field with just a VHF/UHF handheld radio and maybe an auxiliary power source. The advanced and other certifications will include things like HF, digital modes, and other topics.
Many existing hams involved in emcomm will wonder something along the lines of “How is this different from the ARRL course?” or “What relation does this have to ARES?” The FAQ page should answer all of those, and if it doesn’t, let me know.
By the way, you do not have to be in Oregon to provide feedback on this program. We’ve already received comments from Washington, Pennsylvania, and Texas and would welcome any others!