New Plan Aligns ARES with the Needs of Served Agencies

The new ARES Plan adopted by the ARRL Board of Directors at its Annual Meeting in January represents an effort to provide ARES with a clearly defined mission, goals, and objectives; specific training requirements, and a system for consistent reporting and record-keeping. The Board’s Public Service Enhancement Working Group (PSEWG) spent more than 3 years crafting the ARES Plan which, ARRL officials believe, provides a much-needed update of the program’s role in public service and emergency preparedness in the 21st century. Concerns focused on bringing ARES into alignment with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS), and creating more consistent and standardized ARES training requirements. Given dramatic changes and upgrades in national, regional, and local emergency and disaster response organizations, ARRL faced a major challenge, said ARRL Great Lakes Division Director Dale Williams, WA8EFK, who chaired the PSEWG.

“If we didn’t address these issues, such as training standards and organizational management, ARES faced the very real possibility that it would no longer be viewed as a valid and valuable partner in emergency and disaster relief situations,” Williams said.

With input from ARES members and a peer review team, and the assistance of emergency response officials with some partner organizations, the PSEWG came up with a plan that provides guidelines to ensure that ARES remains a service of organized, trained, qualified, and credentialed Amateur Radio volunteers who can provide public service partners with radio communication expertise, capability, and capacity, Williams added.

A drafted ARES Plan was circulated among ARRL Section Managers (SMs) and Section Emergency Coordinators (ECs) to gather feedback. During the comment period from August through October 2018, the PSEWG heard from 55 ARRL Sections, representing 40 states — more than 125 pages of feedback in all. The PSEWG expressed appreciation to all who submitted comments and ideas.

The PSEWG reviewed every comment and suggestion, identifying about a dozen key items commonly cited by those in the Field Organization to improve the plan.

Based on input from ARES participants, the training requirements in the final ARES Plan consist of the free FEMA Professional Development Series. The series comprises these independent study (IS) courses: 120.c, 230.d, 235.c, 240.d, 241.b, 242.b, and 244.b (as they may be amended), as well as the ARRL’s EC-001 and EC-016 emergency communication courses. As part of adopting the ARES Plan, the ARRL Board approved a proposal to make the ARRL EC courses free for ARES members.

The plan highlights some additional training programs that ARES participants are encouraged to consider taking, but that are not required, such as AUXCOMM and training courses like ICS-300 and ICS-400.

The ARES Plan outlines a three-tiered membership structure based on increased responsibility levels and accompanying training requirements. Although the tiers are not a required path, they serve to define three distinct ways to participate in the ARES program; it’s up to the participant to determine his or her level of involvement.

The ARES Plan points out that public service events such as parades and marathons are within the realm of ARES activity and are, in fact, a key part of it, because such events are an integral part of effective training.

In recognizing the local and regional nature of emergency communication needs in disaster response activations, the Plan notes that training requirements are ultimately the responsibility of the Section Manager, with each SM approving training for local ARES teams, as local conditions and needs dictate.

The ARES Plan also highlights the relationship between ARES and the National Traffic System (NTS). The PSEWG indicated that it will continue moving forward with efforts to find ways to refine and strengthen that relationship.

While the intent of the ARES Plan is to align the ARES organizational structure with the NIMS and ICS systems, Williams noted that, within the ARES structure, the Emergency Coordinator (EC) will continue to lead the ARES team locally during an incident, while the District and Section Emergency Coordinators will continue to serve as resources and support for the EC. (The emergency preparedness staff at ARRL is in the process of updating the EC manual.) The ARES Plan stresses that ARES participants are not first responders, and it encourages ARES leaders to develop and grow their group’s partnerships with state emergency management agencies and officials. Williams said the adoption of the ARES Plan is not the end of this process.

“ARES cannot remain stagnant only to be updated once every few generations,” he said. “The ARES Plan, and the ARES program, must be able to evolve.” Williams added that the ARRL Headquarters emergency preparedness staff will review the program annually to ensure its continued relevance.

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