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Amateur Radio Info & Exams - Public Service and Emergency Operation

Amateur Radio has several Community Service roles, also called "Pubic Service".


In most countries groups can be called out, or "activated" by both government agencies, and non-government organisations, such as the Red Cross.

In Australia there are "WICEN" organisations in each state and major territory. WICEN once stood for Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network, as they were sub-committees of the state or territory WIA branch. They are now more independent.

In addition to responding to call-outs, many groups also support "Fun Runs" (is there is such a thing?), walks, cycling events, canoe paddles, car rallies, and horse and motorcycle enduros. Many supported events raise significant funds for medical and community development charities.

The US system is a little unusual, as there are two significant services, and several smaller ones.

ARES is the Amateur Radio Emergency Service is a service of the ARRL. It supports non-government agencies during disasters. Note that these groups obtain routine communication systems from normal commercial providers.

RACES, which stands for Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, supports various government agencies, such as state, territory, city or county emergency operations centres. It is also a system where if the Amateur Service is closed down by executive order, typically due to a major war or nuclear strikes, that the government can continue to use Amateurs to assist in the civil response.

Amateurs listed to be activated by RACES are often also ARES members.

SATERN, the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network is a system to pass messages supporting their operations during disasters, and passing health and safety messages (information about disaster survivors' welfare).

SKYWARN is a storm spotting service of the National Weather Service. It tracks the movement of tornadoes and severe storms.


Formal messages are written on message pads, which may generate carbon-less copies. This includes a preamble recording the originating and destination people or positions, time and date, priority, and stations involved in its passing, to help track messages.

The words in the message body are counted, this being recorded as the "count", which helps to ensure a word is not missed.


Each emergency communications support group has a series of pronounceable words as part of voice procedures.

The two in the exam are "Priority" and "Emergency", used before your callsign if you have urgent traffic.

"Urgent" in used in WICEN for similar traffic.

Remember also that an unfit or unwell person taking part in a "fun run" can suddenly lead to the need to document times ambulance was requested, and similar information, lest the coroner requires it.

Official phonetics are used to ensure names are sent correctly, the need to use them is in the exam, but you don't have to demonstrate you know them. You can find them here.

Note that the SOS, Mayday, and Pan Pan are not used in such nets, but for situaltions, such as coming across a serious road accident while travelling.

Other public service

Outside the exam, many Hams also volunteer for Scouting & Guiding movement events, such as "Jamboree on the Air", or JOTA; at regular Jamborees, and also at weekly meetings while members are studying for their licence and/or Communicator badges.

Relevant Questions

Actual exam questions, from the published NCVEC Technician pool.

T2C01 [97.103(a)]
When do the FCC rules NOT apply to the operation of an amateur station?
A. When operating a RACES station
B. When operating under special FEMA rules
C. When operating under special ARES rules
D. Never, FCC rules always apply

FCC rules always apply, answer D.

What is one way to recharge a 12-volt lead-acid station battery if the commercial power is out?
A. Cool the battery in ice for several hours
B. Add acid to the battery
C. Connect the battery in parallel with a vehicle’s battery and run the engine
D. All of these choices are correct

Using a vehicle's charging system is one way to charge a battery, if no other means is available, answer C.

What should be done to insure that voice message traffic containing proper names and unusual words are copied correctly by the receiving station?
A. The entire message should be repeated at least four times
B. Such messages must be limited to no more than 10 words
C. Such words and terms should be spelled out using a standard phonetic alphabet
D. All of these choices are correct

Say you are in a town called Canowindra, NSW, which sounds like "Canoundra", then say, "The location is Canowindra - I spell: Charlie Alpha November Oscar Whisky India November Delta Romeo Alpha - Over". Use proper phonetics, answer C.

What do RACES and ARES have in common?
A. They represent the two largest ham clubs in the United States
B. Both organizations broadcast road and weather information
C. Neither may handle emergency traffic supporting public service agencies
D. Both organizations may provide communications during emergencies

Both provide emergency communication support, answer D.

T2C05 [97.3(a)(38), 97.407]
Which of the following describes the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES)?
A. A radio service using amateur frequencies for emergency management or civil defense communications
B. A radio service using amateur stations for emergency management or civil defense communications
C. An emergency service using amateur operators certified by a civil defense organization as being enrolled in that organization
D. All of these choices are correct

All these are true, answer D.

Which of the following is an accepted practice to get the immediate attention of a net control station when reporting an emergency?
A. Repeat the words SOS three times followed by the call sign of the reporting station
B. Press the push-to-talk button three times
C. Begin your transmission by saying "Priority" or "Emergency" followed by your call sign
D. Play a pre-recorded emergency alert tone followed by your call sign

If you are at a "fun run" and one of the participants collapses, and so needs medical assistance, notify Net Control by using "Priority" or "Emergency", followed by your callsign (or tactical callsign), answer C. The exact pro-words (pronounceable words) used by your organisation, and position relative to the callsign may vary.

Which of the following is an accepted practice for an amateur operator who has checked into an emergency traffic net?
A. Provided that the frequency is quiet, announce the station call sign and location every 5 minutes
B. Move 5 kHz away from the net's frequency and use high power to ask other hams to keep clear of the net frequency
C. Remain on frequency without transmitting until asked to do so by the net control station
D. All of the choices are correct

The first two options are rather obnoxious, and would interfere with the net. Unless you have traffic, stand by once you have checked in, answer C.

Which of the following is a characteristic of good emergency traffic handling?
A. Passing messages exactly as received
B. Making decisions as to whether or not messages should be relayed or delivered
C. Communicating messages to the news media for broadcast outside the disaster area
D. All of these choices are correct

Emergency messages being relayed should be passed on exactly as received, answer A.

Are amateur station control operators ever permitted to operate outside the frequency privileges of their license class?
A. No
B. Yes, but only when part of a FEMA emergency plan
C. Yes, but only when part of a RACES emergency plan
D. Yes, but only if necessary in situations involving the immediate safety of human life or protection of property

Operation on either Amateur bands outside licence privileges, or even on marine or air frequencies, is only permitted during dire emergencies, answer D.

What is the preamble in a formal traffic message?
A. The first paragraph of the message text
B. The message number
C. The priority handling indicator for the message
D. The information needed to track the message as it passes through the amateur radio traffic handling system

This is the addressing and other information needed to track the message, answer D.

What is meant by the term “check” in reference to a formal traffic message?
A. The check is a count of the number of words or word equivalents in the text portion of the message
B. The check is the value of a money order attached to the message
C. The check is a list of stations that have relayed the message
D. The check is a box on the message form that tells you the message was received

This is the number of words or numbers, etc in a message body, answer A. "There are 258 persons at this location." is 7 words.

What is the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES)?
A. Licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment for communications duty in the public service
B. Licensed amateurs who are members of the military and who voluntarily agreed to provide message handling services in the case of an emergency
C. A training program that provides licensing courses for those interested in obtaining an amateur license to use during emergencies
D. A training program that certifies amateur operators for membership in the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service

ARES consists of amateurs who are registered for public service, answer A.

On to: Propagation - How radio waves travel

You can find links to lots more on the Learning Material page.

This has taken a fair bit of work to write, so if you have found this useful, there is a "tip jar" below.

Written by Julian Sortland, VK2YJS & AG6LE, January 2018.

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