The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) was founded in 1952 and is a public service provided by a reserve or volunteer communications group within government agencies. In the event of an unexpected disaster or incident RACES is activated and certified unpaid personnel are asked to perform specific functions for the government agencies that they work with.
Each time RACES is activated the incident will be different with the common thread being communication. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides guidance for planning and technical assistance for establishing a RACES organization at the state and local government level.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates RACES operations. Local RACES groups are formed by a local, county, or state civil defense agency responsible for disaster services. This civil defense agency is typically an emergency services or emergency management organization and often within another agency such as police or fire.
RACES is a function of the agency's Auxiliary Communications Service (ACS), sometimes known as DCS (Disaster Communications Service), ECS (Emergency Communications Service) or ARPSC (Amateur Radio Public Service Corps). Many ACS units identify themselves solely as RACES organizations, even though their communications functions and activities typically go beyond the restrictions of RACES operations.
The Auxiliary Communications Services which is part of RACES provide a team of emergency communications personnel that can be activated in time of need. ACS/RACES units across the country prepare themselves for the inevitable day when they will be called upon. A local, county, or state government agency activates its ACS unit then that unit will use its communications resources to meet whatever need that agency has.
Other ACS units combine government RACES and non-government ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) activities and identify themselves as ARES/RACES organizations. Yet other ACS units that use amateur radio for emergency government communications identify themselves solely as ARES organizations, whether or not they activate under FCC RACES rules.
Traditional 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.
Activating under the FCC's restrictive RACES Rules is not always necessary when using Amateur Radio Service frequencies for emergency communications ACS communicators may need to communicate with ARES or other radio amateurs who are not government-certified to operate in a RACES grid. ACS personnel also might become involved in non-amateur public-safety or other government communications, Emergency Operations Center (EOC) staffing, and emergency equipment repair.
Trained ACS personnel are ready and prepared to help when there is a disaster. ACS/RACES groups 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 test.