Introduction to Alabama

Amateur Radio Emergency Service

Mike Watkins, WX4AL Asst. SEC, South AL.



If you are new to Amateur Radio, welcome to this exciting and rewarding activity that is at once both a hobby and a public service. Just as there are many kinds of amateur radios, there are many kinds of amateur radio operators or "hams". Some simply enjoy the technical aspects of amateur radio while others enjoy communicating around the world via radio waves.

There is a segment of the amateur radio community that is dedicated to assisting in times of emergency and disaster by providing emergency communications in  a disaster area when all other means of communication have failed. That is the one capability that we amateurs excel above all in that we can communicate over a wide area with very little resources or built-up infrastructure. That is why we are such a valued asset to many response agencies like Emergency Management Agencies, Red Cross, Hospitals, National Weather Service and others.


Membership Qualification Requirements

To be a member of ARES, since it is an amateur radio activity, it does require the volunteer to be a licensed amateur radio operator and a desire to serve. You do not have to make big investment in equipment to volunteer but you are required to undergo some basic training to be qualified as a communications asset to served agencies in their facilities or to operate in the restricted areas of disaster sites.

These requirements currently include the free online FEMA courses listed on this website that you can take in your spare time. Once you have completed these courses, contact your County or District EC so that they can begin the process of acclimating you to the ARES Team environment.

If an amateur does not wish to undergo the ARES training process, amateurs can still be of assistance in times of emergency outside of disaster areas or served agency facilities. Many hams use their stations at home to pass health and welfare messages, do storm spotting for EMAs or the NWS, and other valuable activities that contribute to the overall effectiveness of amateur radio in times of public need. All amateurs are valued and every contribution is important.

If you have a desire, as I do, to get out in the field and provide a needed service to our served agencies, it can be rewarding and exciting. Your accomplishments will leave you with a feeling of having contributed to the response solution and response activities are much appreciated by the public.


The Training and Our Role

The training process isn't difficult nor are the initial training requirements long in duration. The biggest hurdle to overcome is the acclimating of oneself to the served agency environment and our special role as communicators. The difficulty arises when one places more importance on themselves than the mission assigned. Inevitable conflict arises between the served agency/ARES leadership and the volunteer who acts "unprofessional", desires to be in charge, "knows" someone in an important position and makes it known frequently or is the "constant critic" in the operational environment. There is no place in the response effort for ego or self-centered individuals who place their own image of self-importance above the mission. ARES serves the Served Agencies and we respond to requests for assistance. It is never our place to instruct Agency employees or representatives on how the Served Agency should perform their mission tasking or procedures. Having said that, an amateur may decline to carry out an assignment that is outside the scope of their mission, expertise or is something that is objectionable on the grounds of safety or moral opposition.

In these instance, immediately involve the ARES chain of command in the matter for resolution if the matter cannot be amicably resolved at the time of the request. 



For those that have been in ARES for a while, you know that we have seen many emergencies and disasters since the formation of the ARRL and ARES. Before 9/11, our organization, under the direction of the ARRL, was a stand-alone organization with Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with various governmental agencies and private organizations to provide emergency communications support. Since 9/11, we have seen a sea-change in our relationships with our served agencies. Even the agencies themselves have undergone incredible change in a post-9/11 world. As volunteers, we now have to "plug" ourselves in to the formalized response framework used by served agencies which requires some initial training and occasionally, criminal background checks for those serving in a sensitive or restricted area.

Some of you are leaders in the ARES organization as an Emergency Coordinator (EC) for your county, District EC, or Section EC. As a person in a leadership position in the ARES organization, you must display responsible and effective leadership to those subordinate to you. There are certain principles of leadership qualities that are timeless and essential to an effective organization. You must not merely lead by authority. You must lead by example and practice the habits of effective leaders. A Leader in ARES who does not embrace these principles will lead an ineffective organization that is either fractured or lethargic in response due to the over-dominance of a leader who relies on position of authority instead of doing the work required to be an effective leader by example.

There are many leadership principles that leaders of volunteers must practice constantly. A leader of a volunteer group must engage in constant team-building not only within the ARES community but with the served agencies whom the ARRL has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Leaders of Volunteers cannot order their subordinates to do things simply by command authority alone. There are times for that when a matter leaves a leader with no other workable alternative. Principles of effective leadership of volunteers dictate that as a leader, you lead by example and instill a sense of purpose in the subordinates so that they want to move in the same direction as the EC or Group Leader.

There have been many books written on Principles of Leadership. The Army, while not an organization based upon Volunteers in the purest sense, has devoted much study to principles of effective leadership. In recognition of these principles, there are eleven core principles as being commonly accepted in all walks of life.

1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement - Seeking self-improvement means continually strengthening your attributes. This can be accomplished through self-study, formal classes, reflection, and interacting with others.

2. Be technically proficient - As a leader, you must know your job and have a solid familiarity with your volunteers' tasks.

3. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions - Search for ways to guide your organization to new heights. And when things go wrong, they always do sooner or later — do not blame others. Analyze the situation, take corrective action, and move on to the next challenge.

4. Make sound and timely decisions - Use good problem solving, decision making, and planning tools.

5. Set the example - Be a good role model for your volunteers. They must not only hear what they are expected to do, but also see. "We must become the change we want to see" - Mahatma Gandhi

6. Know your people and look out for their well-being - Know human nature and the importance of sincerely caring for your volunteers.

7. Keep your workers informed - Know how to communicate with not only them, but also seniors and other key people.

8. Develop a sense of responsibility in your workers - Help to develop good character traits that will help them carry out their professional responsibilities.

9.Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished -
Communication is the key to this responsibility.

10.Train as a team - Although many so called leaders call their organization, department, section, etc. a team; they are not really teams...they are just a group of people doing their jobs.

11.Use the full capabilities of your organization - By developing a team spirit, you will be able to employ your organization, department, section, etc. to its fullest capabilities.



Welcome to Alabama ARES. Whether you are a new member or a well-established member, we hope to see you at ARES/Skywarn Forums at hamfests and well as hear you on the various radio nets around the state. The important thing for us to remember is that while we excel at communicating on the radio, sometimes the most important communication occurs when team members regularly communicate with each other on ARES matters. Team-building is vitally important to our mission and our purpose which is a fundamental component of our success and reputation as "Can Do" responders.

Mike Watkins