BE Informed No. 7.0
●▬ ▬ ●●●▬
▬ ▬●●● ●
Emergency Communications ("EmComm")
John B. Johnston W3BE
Q. I overhear hams using the word "EmComm." What
does that mean?
A. It is a vernacular for "emergency
communications." In places where the FCC regulates our amateur service, those hams are likely referring to the transmission of uncommon radio communications
on our amateur service spectrum with Section 97.101(c) frequency occupancy priority over our normal amateur service radio communications. At all times and on all frequencies, each control operator must give priority to stations providing
emergency communications, except to stations transmitting communications for training drills and tests in RACES.
Our regulator has tasked our amateur service with
an awesome responsibility. It expects us to provide an alternative
to the commercial communications infrastructure impacted by an emergency. This alternative infrastructure is the network of
amateur radio operators and their stations that relay messages, build and maintain repeater stations and repeater networks,
operate HF message networks to send messages greater distances than are practical with mobile or transportable transmitters,
and develop new technologies to improve the reliability of these networks.
Q. Wow! Providing an alternative to the commercial communications infrastructure impacted
by an emergency. That is a tall order! I sure hope it has other contingency plans. How much spectrum has been allocated for
A. Absolutely none. The hams must accomplish it within the radio spectrum already allocated
for our normal Section 97.3(a)(4) amateur service communications. Whenever directed to activate their alternative to the commercial communications
infrastructure, those communications will have Section 97.101(c) frequency occupancy priority over our normal amateur service radio communications.
Q. The term "auxiliary" might be closer to reality than "alternative." Amateur radio EmComm is rarely needed
beyond a few days. Only a small portion of the VHF/UHF portions, and some HF, is used in the affected areas during and after
initial failure of Part 90 systems. Health and Welfare messaging for families is sent primarily via HF. Part 90 systems,
towers, and/or repeaters are quickly repaired or temporarily replaced by other equipment such as COLTs or COWs, cached Part
90 radios, or FEMA-loaned equipment. Power failures are the most common occurrences and temporary FEMA generators are usually
loaned out to power the Part 90 systems. Telcos normally have only 4 hours to get generator power to their key cell towers.
A. It is difficult to foresee that our eclectic amateur service systems could, even at their very best, provide but
a tiny fraction of the communications capabilities that the public and our public safety organizations are accustomed to using.
Q. What are our normal amateur service
communications supposed to be?
According to Section 97.3(a)(4), our amateur service it is supposed to be radio intercommunications carried out
by duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with
a personal aim and without pecuniary interest - i.e., amateurs - for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and
technical investigations. Section 97.111 codifies the types of transmissions authorized to our amateur stations. Section 97.113 codifies the types of transmissions that are prohibited to our amateur stations.
Q. What are uncommon "emergency communications"
supposed to be?
A. There is no definition for that term in Part 97. A usual meaning of the term emergency is a situation that poses an immediate risk to health, life, property, or environment. There is codified, moreover, Subpart E Providing emergency
communications. It authorizes a Section 97.5 amateur station to make out-of-the-ordinary communications transmissions during specific types
of emergency situations. Only on such occasions are these stations afforded Section 97.101(c) frequency occupancy priority.
In its Report to Congress, our regulator said the
value of amateur radio in emergency response situations could potentially be increased through cooperation among the Department
of Homeland Security ("DHS"), public safety, emergency management, and amateur radio emergency communications associations
and groups to develop future training protocols. It recommends that DHS work with state, local, and tribal authorities to
develop disaster area access policies and qualifications for trained amateur operators who provide emergency communications
Q. Do EmComm stations always have frequency occupancy priority over our amateur station transmissions?
A. No. Only during those times while they are actually transmitting Subpart E providing emergency communications. Section 97.101(c) says: At all times and
on all frequencies, each control operator must give priority to stations providing emergency communications, except to stations
transmitting communications for training drills and tests in RACES.
Q. What sort of emergency situations may
trigger a Section 97.101(c) EmComm priority?
A. There are four such situations.
Firstly, there is the Section 97.401 operation during a disaster ("EmComm 401") priority situation. It says: A station in, or within 92.6 km (50 nautical miles) of, Alaska may transmit emissions J3E and R3E
on the channel at 5.1675 MHz (assigned frequency 5.1689 MHz) for emergency communications. The channel must be shared with
stations licensed in the Alaska-Private Fixed Service. The transmitter power must not exceed 150 W PEP. A station in, or within
92.6 km of, Alaska may transmit communications for tests and training drills necessary to ensure the establishment, operation,
and maintenance of emergency communication systems.
Secondly, there is the Section 97.403 safety of life and protection of property ("EmComm 403") priority situation. It says: No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication
at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate
protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.
Thirdly, there is the Section 97.405 station in distress ("EmComm 405") priority situation. It says: (a) No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station in distress of any means
at its disposal to attract attention, make known its condition and location, and obtain assistance. (b) No provision of these
rules prevents the use by a station, in the exceptional circumstances described in paragraph (a) of this section, of any means
of radio communications at its disposal to assist a station in distress.
Lastly, there is the Section 97.407 Radio amateur civil emergency service ("EmComm 407") priority situation. Paragraph (c) therein says: An amateur station registered with a civil defense organization may only communicate
with the following stations upon authorization of the responsible civil defense official for the organization with which the
amateur station is registered: (more).
Take note, however, the Section 97.101(c) frequency occupancy priority for EmComm 407 is effective only during periods when the station is actually
providing emergency communications during periods of local, regional or national civil emergencies. It is not available to
stations transmitting communications for training drills and tests in RACES.
Q. Who should declare and manage an EmComm call up?
A. For an EmComm 401 disaster situation call up, the declaration and management thereof should be made by the
Alaska-Private Fixed Service authority.
For an EmComm 403 safety of life and protection of property situation call up, the declaration and management thereof should be made by the
licensees of the amateur stations engaged in that specific EmComm situation. Where the situation is such as to warrant, the Department of Homeland Security, public safety, emergency management, and amateur
radio emergency communications associations and groups might take
For an EmComm 405 station in distress situation call up, the declaration and management thereof should be made by persons having
immediate knowledge of the distressed station's predicament. Where the situation is such as to warrant, the Department of Homeland Security, public safety, emergency management, and amateur radio emergency
communications associations and groups should take the lead.
For an EmComm 407 RACES situation call up, the declaration and management should be made by the civil
defense official for the organization with which the participating amateur stations are registered.
Q. How does an EmComm station make a Section 97.101(c) priority declaration for a channel?
A. One possible good amateur practice might be for the participating EmComm station to make periodic announcements
explaining the EmComm Section 97.101(c) frequency occupancy priority and directing stations intending to transmit normal amateur communications to
stand down. For more frequent declarations, participating EmComm stations could append a suitable indicator to the call sign
at the end of each 10-minute Section 97.119 station identification announcement.
As a ham, could I be called up to provide communications during a civil disturbance?
A. Not under any obligation
brought about by having your FCC amateur service license grant. If you are also enrolled in a RACES organization, however, check with the chief officer of that body regarding any commitments
to which you may have agreed.
Q. As a FCC-licensed
ham, am I under any obligation to provide public service?
A. Yes, by accepting an FCC operator/primary
station license grant with the knowledge that in places where the FCC regulates, the rules are designed to provide an amateur
radio service having - among five principles - Section 97.1(a): Recognition and enhancement
of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect
to providing emergency communications. But chances are you are already
providing it. Our regulator's expectations should be being achieved, therefore, so long as our amateur service community is
in compliance with the rules codified in Part 97.
Some hams contend that ham radio is primarily for emergencies. That is why they got their call signs.
A. Maybe those hams must view our amateur service spectrum as the most convenient platform for their held-in-reserve
backup emergency radio systems. The phrase particularly with respect
to providing emergency communications in Section 97.1(a) is often cited when rationalizing a makeover of our amateur service into a low-cost
junior alternative to the Part 90 Private Land Mobile Radio Services.
Public safety entities normally utilize Part 90 radio systems. Part 90 has the public safety radio pool and specifically provides for the licensing
of non-federal governmental entities - including law enforcement and fire protection - as well as medical services, rescue
organizations, veterinarians, persons with disabilities, disaster relief organizations, school buses, beach patrols, establishments
in isolated places, communications standby facilities, and emergency repair of public communications facilities.
Q. Can I use my amateur station to voluntarily provide
emergency communications during public disturbances?
A. Yes, but the Part 90 communication systems and the wireline and cellular common carrier communication systems that are normally
accessible would have to become unusable in order for your amateur station to have Section 97.101(c) frequency occupancy priority over our normal
self-training, intercommunications, and technical investigations carried out by duly authorized persons interested
in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest
Could my amateur station transmit communications for an employer during a civil disturbance?
A. Yes, but only to provide
EmComm 403 essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate
protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.
Q. Don't stations engaged in a
Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) test or drill also have a Section 97.101(c) priority?
A. No, they don't. Such
testing and drilling is not a Subpart E EmComm providing emergency communications response activity. As with normal amateur service communications, whenever a
clear channel is desired, a courtesy priority can be requested over-the-air.
Q. Who can declare a Section
97.113(a)(3)(i) test or drill?
Anyone for whom some hams are willing to answer the call.
Q. How long can an EmComm response last?
A. An EmComm response should cease whenever the situational
cause is resolved and/or whenever the commercial communications infrastructure impacted by the emergency become available
again, whichever comes first.
Q. An effective
EmComm response requires the participating stations to be prepared for an unexpected Subpart E event. This requires regular
readiness testing and drilling. May the competent authorities declare a Section 97.101(c) EmComm priority and suspend all
amateur service intercommunications and technical investigations on the channels?
A. Only for a Section 97.407 RACES call up. Even then, there are time limits imposed. Section 97.407(c) says: Communications for
RACES training drills and tests necessary to ensure the establishment
and maintenance of orderly and efficient operation of the RACES as ordered by the responsible civil defense organization served.
Such drills and tests may not exceed a total time of 1 hour per week. With the approval of the chief officer for emergency
planning in the applicable State, Commonwealth, District or territory, however, such tests and drills may be conducted for
a period not to exceed 72 hours no more than twice in any calendar year.
Q. Is EmComm international in scope?
A. Not necessarily. International Radio Regulation No. 1.56 still defines our amateur service as a radio-communication service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried
out by amateurs, that is, by duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without
pecuniary interest. Section 97.117, moreover, still says transmissions to a different country, where permitted,
shall be limited to communications incidental to the purposes of the amateur service and to remarks of a personal character.
●▬ ▬ ●●●▬
▬ ▬●●● ●
December 10, 2016
Supersedes all prior editions