What Are ACS and RACES?
Founded in 1952, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) is a public service provided by an auxiliary (volunteer) communications unit within government agencies in times of extraordinary need. That government unit is often referred to as its Auxiliary Communications Service (ACS) or RACES unit. During periods of ACS or 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.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for the regulation of RACES operations. RACES is administrated by a local, county, or state civil defense agency responsible for disaster services. This civil defense agency is typically an emergency management agency or bureau, sometimes within another agency such as sheriff, police, or fire. RACES is within an agency's auxiliary communications function, sometimes known as ACS (Auxiliary Communications Service), DCS (Disaster Communications Service), ECS (Emergency Communications Service), etc.
The Amateur Radio Regulations, Part 97, Subpart E, §97.407, were created by the FCC to describe RACES operations in detail. Although no longer issued or renewable, RACES station licenses were issued in the past by the FCC to government agencies for RACES operations. The agencies may continue to conduct RACES operations without these licenses, using primary or club call signs.
ACS/RACES provides a pool of emergency communications personnel that can be called upon in time of need. ACS/RACES units 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 or RACES unit, that unit will use its communications resources to meet whatever need that agency has.
Traditional ACS/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. ACS/RACES personnel also might become involved in non-amateur public-safety or other government communications, Emergency Operations Center (EOC) staffing, and emergency equipment repair.
Stations in a RACES net may communicate only with stations registered with a civil defense (emergency management) organization--in other words, only with RACES members or with members of an organization having a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the civil defense (emergency management) agency for RACES communications.. Stations in an ACS net may communicate with any amateur radio station permitted by the ACS net control.
Whatever need arises, trained ACS/RACES personnel are ready and prepared to help. ACS/RACES units develop and maintain their communications ability by training throughout the year with special exercises and public-service events. When that fateful day occurs, ACS/RACES will be there to meet the challenge.
If you want to become an ACS or RACES member and be able to participate in ACS/RACES and other government emergency communications activities, contact your county or city ACS/RACES Radio Officer or Coordinator.
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Webmaster: Ken Bourne, W6HK, Chief Radio Officer, County of Orange (California) RACES
Last Update: May 25, 2013