Background & Authority
Founded in 1952, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) is a public service provided by a reserve (volunteer) communications group within government agencies in times of extraordinary need. During periods of RACES activation, certified unpaid personnel are called upon to perform many tasks for the government agencies they serve. Although the exact nature of each activation will be different, the common thread is communications. As constituted, RACES was an adjunct of Civil Defense. In 2007 Civil Defense including RACES became adjuncts of Homeland Security.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides planning guidance and technical assistance for establishing a RACES organization at the state and local government level.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for the regulation of RACES operations. RACES is administrated by a local, county, or state agency responsible for disaster services. This agency is typically an emergency services or emergency management organization, sometimes within another agency such as police or fire.
ACS, in its RACES and other reserve emergency communications functions, provides a pool of emergency communications personnel that can be called upon in time of need. ACS/RACES groups across the country prepare themselves for the inevitable day when they will be called upon. When a local, county, or state government agency activates its ACS unit, that unit will use its communications resources (RACES, if necessary) to meet whatever need that agency has.
Traditional RACES operations involve emergency message handling on Amateur Radio Service frequencies. These operations typically involve messages between critical locations such as hospitals, emergency services, emergency shelters, and any other locations where communication is needed. These communications are handled in any mode available, with 2 meters FM being the most prevalent. During time of war, when the President exercises his War Emergency Powers, RACES might become the only communications allowed via amateur radio, using specific amateur frequencies set aside for wartime RACES use. ACS provides greater flexibility than RACES for non-wartime emergencies, on any amateur frequency designated in the local, county, or state ACS (or RACES) plan. Activating under the FCC’s restrictive RACES Rules is not always necessary when using Amateur Radio Service frequencies for emergency communications. For example, ACS communicators may need to communicate with ARES or other radio amateurs who are not government-certified to operate in a RACES net. ACS personnel also might become involved in non-amateur public-safety or other government communications, Emergency Operations Center (EOC) staffing, and emergency equipment repair.
Who can participate in RACES?
Cape May County RACES participants are licensed Amateur Radio Operators who have a desire to serve the public utilizing their skills and knowledge of the hobby of amateur radio.
All applicants for Cape May County RACES shall be free of felony convictions and are subject to a background check by the New Jersey State Police. RACES personnel are different from the average Disaster Service Worker in that:
- They have access to valuable government property;
- May serve in areas where access is restricted to personnel requiring law enforcement background clearances and;
- Are highly visible to the public where their deportment and actions must reflect favorably upon their office at all times.
Cape May County RACES has a participation policy. Operators are required to participate in 7 RACES nets annually to maintain good standing. Absences may be excused if a request is made in advance of the net.
How is RACES Utilized?
A “State of Emergency” does not have to exist or be declared to activate RACES. Every effort is made to use the organization’s resources as frequently as possible to maintain both personnel and equipment in a continuing state of readiness and proficiency. Any responsible government official may request RACES-ARES to assist in a special communication need.
The primary RACES station is located within the Cape May County Office Of Emergency Management, Yorktown Road in the Cape May County Airport Complex. RACES operates over 20 additional stations throughout the County, located in various Municipal EOCs, Fire Depts., Nursing Facilities, Woodbine Developmental Center and private homes. These stations provide communications to the County EOC, Area EOCs, and between municipalities during a disaster. These stations are managed by a RACES Operator under the direction of the RO or DRO.
How is RACES Activated?
A call-up roster is maintained at the OEM. The OEM is staffed 24 hours per day and the call-up roster is activated by the County Communications Officer or his designee. Any competent government official, be it a Peace Officer, Emergency Manager, or Fire Chief, may request a RACES call out. RACES may self-activate a radio net call-up during significant events such as a major storm in order to maintain readiness. Alertness and responsiveness is key to the RACES function. Members may monitor local agencies through the use of scanner receivers, amateur equipment or other devices.
RACES operators are required to maintain a minimum standard of participation. This consists of participating in monthly training nets, exercises or emergency call-ups & deployments. A total of 7 participations from any of the three possible activities is asked for each calendar year.