In volunteer support of the citizens of San José, California

History of RACES

We have a rich History at San Jose Races. Here is a brief history followed by a very well written article by Carl Bechtle, N6ZFI.

Founded in 1952, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) is a public service that provides communications personnel to government agencies in times of extraordinary need.  During periods of activation, RACES 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.

The FCC is responsible for the creation and regulation of RACES operations, administration of the service is the responsibility of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration.  FEMA is charged with the task of administrating RACES groups because of its role in national disaster preparedness and disaster aid and recovery.

Due to the structure of FEMA, each RACES group is, in turn, administrated by a local government agency responsible for disaster services. San Jose RACES operations are under the direction of the San Jose Fire Department.

The importance of RACES operations cannot be stressed enough. The Amateur Radio Regulations, Part 97, Subpart F, were created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to describe RACES operations in detail. Although no longer issued, special licenses were issued in the past by the FCC to government agencies for RACES operations.

RACES provides a pool of emergency communications personnel that can be called on in time of need. RACES groups across the country prepare themselves for the inevitable day when they will be called upon. When a local, state, or national government agency activates a RACES group, that RACES group will use its resources to meet the needs of that agency.

These communications are handled in any mode available, with 2 meters FM being the most prevalent.  Other tasks that RACES personnel are involved with may not involve amateur-radio communications. For example, RACES communicators may become involved in public-safety or other government communications, and emergency equipment repair.

Whatever need arises, trained RACES personnel are ready and prepared to help.

When traditional communications fail….

Carl Bechtle, N6ZFI

Traditional communications may become overloaded or damaged when natural or man made disasters occur. Additionally many popular forms of communication will not work in unforeseen or remote locations.

In 1952, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES). The Service authorized licensed Amateur Radio Operators, affectionately known as “HAM’s”, to supplement the two-way radio communications used by Federal, State, and local governments during “war emergency, civil unrest, or natural disaster.” Over the years, RACES organizations have proven themselves to be a valuable assets. Nationally, Amateur Radio communications have been successfully used for emergencies such as earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, power outages, floods, victim searches, air crashes, and many others. To satisfy unique needs, local governments typically create and train their own RACES organizations. San Jose RACES was created over 40 years ago and is one of many RACES organizations throughout the United States. Individual RACES organizations work together to form an organized communications network of two way radios.

San Jose RACES has a dedicated radio room as part of the City’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC Radio Room enables the Emergency Operations Center to communicate with other Amateur Radio Stations throughout the City. In the hours and days following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, San Jose RACES operated its equipment 24 hours per day for nearly a week. In some affected areas, Amateur Radio was the only means of two-way communication during the hours immediately following the earthquake. The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake demonstrated the need, the use, and the value of Amateur Radio to the City of San Jose, and greatly facilitated the approval of previously planned upgrades to the City’s Amateur Radio equipment. The EOC Radio Room is equipped with commercial radios which operate on multiple frequencies and gives the City of San Jose an excellent local and world-wide Amateur Radio capability.

San Jose RACES is a key element of the San Jose Prepared program. When activated, San Jose RACES responds by staffing the EOC Radio Room with several licensed Amateur Radio Operators. This staffing enables the Emergency Operations Center to communicate directly with neighborhoods and mobile units in the affected areas. Depending upon the emergency, San Jose RACES may also assign its members to fixed locations or may assign its members to “shadow” key individuals. Some examples of fixed location assignments are neighborhoods, observation posts, Evacuation Centers, Shelters, Command Posts, Information and Assistance Centers, Hospitals, staging areas, supply centers, and cooperating agencies. Some examples of key individuals who may be assigned “radio shadows” are fire and police command officers, city officials, and building inspectors. Amateur Radio operators on field assignment bring and use their own radio equipment. In recent years, San Jose RACES assisted with emergency communications for the Alviso Floods, the downtown floods, and of course the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

San Jose RACES members perform other assignments during times of emergency as well. Some members may serve as “Radio Dispatched” Runners and Couriers. Other members may perform important reconnaissance and patrol duties such as conducting preliminary damage assessments known as a “Windshield Surveys”. Windshield Surveys gather specific data about an affected area and communicate the data to the Emergency Operations Center. At the Emergency Operations Center, the data is combined with other information. The combined data is used by the City to determine the extent of the emergency, and to determine the type and quantity of outside assistance needed, if any.

San Jose RACES’ primary mission is to provide additional, backup, and alternative two way communications during times of emergency. San Jose RACES members train for their mission by attending monthly meetings, by attending specialized classes and briefings ,by participating in City training exercises, and by providing Public Service communications. Organizations donate their time and operating expertise to community events such as walks, runs, marathons, bicycle rides & races, parades, fairs, festivals, and other similar events as long as the event is non-profit. San Jose RACES is no exception and often participates in community events when requested by the person-in-charge of the event. The requesting organizations benefit from the added communications capability and the San Jose RACES members benefit from the opportunity to use the same equipment and procedures used during an emergency. At a typical Public Service event, one might find Amateur Radio operators at Event Headquarters, Rest Stops, Information Booths & Message Centers, Medical Aid Stations, and Lost & Found; or, one might find Amateur Radio Operators working with the Event Director, course safety observers and individual event officials.

San Jose RACES members are active in other ways as well. They installed Amateur Radio Antennas at all the Fire Battalion Headquarters. The help new HAM’s get started. They staff Information Booths at community events and help implement the San Jose Prepared program. In fact, many San Jose RACES members were early advocates of the San Jose Prepared program and were among the program’s first graduates.

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