HAM Radio 101

EMCOMM: A Look at How ARES and FEMA are Structured

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) is comprised of four levels: National, Section, District, and Local. The National level is run by the ARRL Field Services Manager, who maintains contact with the federal government and other national agencies. They make sure the country’s preparedness program is being followed nationwide.  

Section Level
The Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC) is the assistant to the Section Manager (SM). The SEC is the most important role in the Section. The job responsibilities include:

  • Encourage all groups of community amateurs to establish a local emergency organization
  • Advise the SM on all section emergency policy and planning, including the development of a section emergency communications plan
  • Cooperate and coordinate with the Section Traffic Manager so that emergency nets and traffic nets in the section present a united public service front, particularly in the proper routing of Welfare traffic in emergency situations
  • Cooperation and coordination should also be maintained with section leadership officials as appropriate, particularly with the State Government Liaison and Public Information Coordinator
  • Recommend candidates to appoint for Emergency Coordinator and District Emergency Coordinator positions to the Section Manager and determine areas of jurisdiction of each amateur so appointed. At the SM’s discretion, the SEC may be directly in charge of making (and canceling) such appointments. In the same way, the SEC can handle the Official Emergency Station appointments
  • Promote ARES membership drives, meetings, activities, tests, procedures, etc., at the section level
  • Collect and consolidate Emergency Coordinator (or District Emergency Coordinator) monthly reports and submit monthly progress summaries to the SM and ARRL headquarters. This includes the timely reporting of emergency and public safety communications rendered in the section for inclusion in QST
  • Maintain contact with other communication services and serve as liaison at the section level with all agencies served in the public interest: state and local government, civil preparedness, Federal Emergency Management Agency, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, the National Weather Service, etc. Such contact is maintained in cooperation with the State Government Liaison
  • Section Emergency Coordinators are encouraged to complete ARRL Emergency Communications training: Introduction to Emergency Communications (EC-001) and Public Service and Emergency Communications Management for Radio Amateurs [1]

District Level
Large sections are broken down into districts. The boundaries of the districts may depend on a variety of things, including repeaters or government functions. Job responsibilities of the assigned District Emergency Coordinator (DEC) include:

  • Coordinate the training, organization, and emergency participation of Emergency Coordinators in the district of jurisdiction
  • Make local decisions concerning the allotment of available amateurs and equipment during an emergency in the absence of or through coordination with the SEC
  • Coordinate between local emergency plans and communications networks within the area of jurisdiction
  • Act as backup for local areas without an Emergency Coordinator and assist in maintaining contact with governmental and other agencies within the area of jurisdiction
  • Provide direction in the formal or tactical routing and handling of emergency communications, with specific emphasis being placed on Welfare traffic
  • Recommend EC appointments to the SEC
  • Coordinate the reporting and documenting of ARES activities in the district of jurisdiction
  • Act as a model emergency communicator as evidenced by dedication to purpose, reliability, and understanding of emergency communications
  • Understand National Traffic System routing and procedures and the locale and role of all vital governmental and volunteer agencies that could be involved in an emergency
  • Encouraged to earn certification in Levels 1 and 2 of the ARRL Emergency Communications Course [1]

Local Level
The local level is typically broken up by county and run by an appointed Emergency Coordinator (EC) and any number of assistants. Job responsibilities include:

  • Promote and enhance the activities of ARES for the benefit of the public as a voluntary, non-commercial communications service
  • Manage and coordinate the training, organization, and emergency participation of interested amateurs working in support of the communities, agencies, or functions designated by the Section Emergency Coordinator/Section Manager
  • Establish working relationships with federal, state, county, city governmental, and private agencies which need the services of ARES in emergencies. Determine which agencies are active in your area, evaluate their needs and which ones you are capable of meeting, and prioritize these agencies and needs
  • Discuss planning with the Section Emergency Coordinator and counterparts in the above agencies. Ensure they are aware of the local ARES group’s capabilities and limitations
  • Develop detailed local operational plans with agencies and partners that set forth precisely what the expectations are during a disaster operation. Establish protocols for mutual trust and respect
  • Direct recruitment and utilization of ARES volunteers in response to the needs assessed by agency officials. Technical issues involving message format, security of message transmission, Disaster Welfare Inquiry policies, and others should be reviewed and expounded upon in local operations plans
  • Establish local communications networks that run on a regular basis and periodically test those networks by conducting realistic drills
  • Establish an emergency traffic plan, with Welfare traffic, utilizing the National Traffic System as one active component for traffic handling
  • Establish an operational liaison with local and section nets, particularly for handling Welfare traffic in an emergency situation
  • Quickly evaluate and respond to the communications needs of the jurisdiction during emergencies. The EC will assume authority and responsibility for coordinating emergency response and performance by ARES personnel under his or her jurisdiction
  • Work with other non-ARES amateur providers of Amateur Radio emergency communications for the good of the public and Amateur Radio. The goal is to foster an efficient and effective Amateur Radio response overall
  • Work to make the ARES program a stronger, more valuable resource able to meet local agencies’ needs. A stronger ARES can better serve communities in times of need
  • Report regularly to the SEC as required
  • ECs are encouraged to complete the ARRL EC-001, Introduction to Emergency Communications training course [1]

The modified ARES structure went into effect January 1, 2019. ARES now has three levels of participation. Membership at Level 2 or above must go through Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) training. This requirement exists to ensure that operators are familiar with Emergency Management Agency (EMA) procedures and organization during a disaster, and can work effectively with local and federal personnel and first responders.

Level 1
All ARES members start at Level 1, which requires no specific training other than having an Amateur Radio license. The training plan does suggest some optional classes for this stage. Level 1 members can participate in public service activities such as festivals, parades, races, and similar events. Some agencies and first responders may require Level 2 for operating in their Emergency Operations Center (EOC) or with EMA personnel.

Level 2
Level 2 membership is granted when confirmation is received that an operator has completed the four basic FEMA National Incident Management System (NIMS) courses: IS-100, 200, 700, and 800. To take any of the online courses, go to the FEMA Training site. A FEMA Student ID will need to be created before taking the courses. This can be found via a link on the left-hand side of the FEMA Training site.

ARES would like most members to eventually achieve this level. This means completing all the above courses and being competent operating within the Incident Command Structure (ICS).

Level 3
This is the ARES level required for ECs, DECs, and higher, but anyone can qualify. This level requires the completion of all Level 2 requirements plus NIMS ICS courses IS-300 and 400. The five full-time, on-site days required for 300 and 400 might not fit in some people’s schedules. As an alternative, the requirement can be met by completing IS-120, 230, 240, 241, 242, 244, and 288 courses online.

Questions? Share them in the comments below or email me at KE8FMJ@arrl.net.


  1. “Amateur Radio Emergency Service.” ARRL, The American Radio Relay League, Mar. 2015, http://arrl.net/files/file/Public%20Service/ARES/ARESmanual2015.pdf

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