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Although the main purpose of Amateur Radio, otherwise known as Ham Radio, is fun, it is called the "Amateur Radio Service" because it also has a serious face. The FCC created this "Service" to fill the need for a pool of experts who could provide backup communication services in times of disasters and emergencies. Countless lives have been saved where skilled ham radio operators act as emergency communicators to render aid, whether it's an earthquake in Italy, a flood in India or a hurricane in the U.S.
In times of crisis and natural disasters, ham radio sometimes is the only surviving means of communication. They can relay messages through their radios over long distances when telephones and power lines fail or are overloaded. Sometimes they are the only way government officials can get messages to disaster ravaged parts of a remote area.
Ham radio operators have been and still are a very important factor in providing disaster communications. In the United States, they are supported by the American Red Cross, and nearly every police agency across the nation.
In the United States, two organizations of amateur radio operators exist nationally for disaster communications. They are the:
RACES is a special part of the amateur operation sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). RACES provides emergency communications for civil preparedness purposes only. RACES is conducted by ham radio amateurs using their primary ham radio station licenses or by existing RACES stations. In the event that the President invokes the War Emergency powers, ham radio amateurs officially enrolled in the local civil preparedness group would become limited to certain frequencies, while all other amateur operations would be silenced.
Any United States citizen, who possesses a valid FCC Ham Radio Operator License, technician class or higher, is eligible to become a member of RACES. The services of ham radio operators who have a Novice Class license may be used, but this is not recommended due to the privilege limitations.
The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) is a corps of trained ham radio operator volunteers organized to assist in public service and emergency communications; it is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League at http://www.arrl.org . Usually, the ARES is organized by city and county and will be affiliated with the local municipality or county government. Every licensed ham radio operator amateur, regardless of membership in ARRL or any other local or national organization, is eligible for membership in the ARES. Frequently, local chapters combine with RACES, although the functions of ARES and RACES are somewhat different. To operate during a declared emergency, you would normally be part of RACES.
Ham radio operators play a vital role in saving lives through the use of their ham radios and they are not allowed to receive any compensation. Ham Radio's purpose is to spread goodwill around the world through wireless communication, provide volunteer emergency communications in disasters, and maintain a pool of experienced and knowledgable radio operators and electronics enthusiasts.