For fifty years I was all about me. My family. My work. My things. In the Navy at 17, then married with five children while building and operating a business... I was busy and focused on these tasks. I've always enjoyed helping others and had taken a few opportunities to do so over the years, volunteering for things like Boy Scout leader or helping a friend in need, but helping others came a distant second to helping me and mine. Then, in 2003, I retired. Our three oldest were out on their own, the two youngest were at home while in college, and my wife was working on the last few years until her retirement. Suddenly I had lots of time on my hands! What to do? I thought about all of the times and ways that my community had supported me.
In examining the many volunteer roles, all of which are deserving and greatly in demand of support, I determined that Disaster Relief and Emergency Communications were the areas where I could most contribute. Therefore I embarked on an ongoing mission to learn how to do these things, gain experience in them, and to serve whoever needs me when and where needed.
Service: I am proud of each of the roles that I am priveleged to play, but foremost of these is as a Disaster Relief Chaplain for the Alabama Convention of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and as a Disaster Action Team leader for the American Red Cross. Both of those roles put me 'where the rubber meets the road' in disaster relief - there with victims at their moment of greatest need.
This website is dedicated to highlighting the volunteer roles that I perform as a way to stimulate your interest in them and in volunteerism in general. There are many volunteer opportunities and much need for all of them, so if what you see here doesn't excite you then please continue to research other volunteer opportunities which may be right for you.
My definition of Volunteering: To give of your time and available resources with no expectation of recognition or return.
The Alabama Emergency Response Team (ALERT) is closely allied with the national American Radio Relay League's (ARRL) Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) but with a particular focus on supporting the National Weather Service (NWS). ALERT owns and operates radio station K4NWS, located inside the NWS weather station in Calera Alabama which is responsible for weather reporting in central Alabama. When severe weather is possible within our NWS coverage area ALERT operators deploy to activate and operate that radio station while other ALERT operators conduct radio communications nets from home or deploy to the field to 'storm watch' as the crucial 'eyeballs on the storm' which the NWS relies on for accurate real-time reporting of storm conditions and storm-related damage. The NWS relies on our accurate and timely 'ground-truth' reports to issue appropriate severe weather watches and warnings. Thus the volunteer radio operators of ALERT play a critical role in keeping the people of Alabama safe.
The ARRL operates the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) as an emergency communications organization. Volunteer ARES operators serve the government, non-governmental organizations, corporate entities and private citizens as emergency radio operators whenever and wherever needed. ARES operators may operate from home, from their local NWS, from their local or state Emergency Management Agency's (EMA) Emergency Operations Center (EOC) or may deploy to a disaster zone to facilitate emergency communications. A variant of ARES, the Hospital Amateur Radio Service (HARES) operates radio stations inside hospitals to assure communications during any disaster. Our motto "When All Else Fails" conveys that when all power, telephone, public broadcast and government infrastructure fails amateur radio still works. ARES is the lifeline of emergency communications and is found operating in any disaster.
The American Red Cross (ARC) and ARES interact to provide emergency communications on both an FCC-designated private radio frequency and within the Amateur Radio spectrum. The ARC provides disaster relief at any scale and for many needs. Communications within the organization and with outside agencies such as the state Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and their local Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is critical when normal communications systems are unavailable. ARC-ARES operators man shelters, deploy with feeding units, conduct damage assessments and play many other vital roles in emergency communications.
Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) and ARES interact closely to assure vital emergency communications can be conducted under any circumstances. Each Organization has its own communications systems and protocols and has a designated ARES component to help them inter-communicate.
The Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) provides emergency communications with the Salvation Army activities in a disaster. ARES operators might operate from shelters, ride along in Salvation Army Canteen vehicles delivering food and emergency supplies, or pass Health & Welfare traffic from home, among many other roles.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) is tightly allied with ARES. ARES-SBDR operators deploy nationwide as a team with mobile kitchen units set up near or even in the disaster zone. These mobile kitchens are large operations requiring fleets of vehicles and dozens of volunteers to deploy to a parking lot, set up a mobile kitchen and feeding center, then prepare and deliver thousands of hot meals and supplies daily. Teams of Disaster Relief Chaplains, Chainsaw Teams, Mud-out Teams and many others may be deployed throughout the disaster zone as well and communications at the site and with the command back home is absolutely critical to mission operations and to ensure the safety of volunteers and victims.
The Military Auxiliary Radio Service (MARS) provides emergency and backup communications for our military. MARS is needed not only as a backup to military communications systems but as expanded coverage into areas where our military may not have a presence. MARS is the High-Frequency (HF) long-distance backbone that FEMA, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security require to assure accurate timely communications. MARS operators are required to first be licensed Amateur operators but MARS operates on DOD-designated frequencies where Amateur operators without MARS licenses are not allowed to operate.
My sister had been in Guatemala during a big earthquake in 1979. Conventional communications into and out of the country were destroyed or disabled. She was missing in a disaster zone. I reached out to the American Red Cross, asking them to help locate her to find out if she was okay. Volunteer ham radio operators at the American Red Cross amateur radio station here in Birmingham Alabama working with volunteer radio operators throughout North and Central America were indeed able to find her in the remote jungle village of Bannanera when no one else could. With many thousands of people displaced in a distant third-world nation, with only a vague location of where she had last been, through the abilities of amateur radio they found her within three days of a widespread major disaster where all power and phones and infrastructure were destroyed. My family now knew where she was and that she was safe. I cannot express how important that service by volunteer radio operators was to me and my family. That experience stayed in my mind as something that I would like to do if ever I got time. It wasn't until 2003 that I got that time, and so getting an amateur radio license was my first move toward volunteer service.
Licensed as Extra Class Amateur Radio Operator W4AGA (amateur radio operators are a.k.a. 'ham radio operators' or 'hams') I learned how to perform emergency communications through first lots of listening then active participation in my local Alabama Emergency Radio Team (ALERT).
Licensing: Emergency Radio Communications requires that you obtain an Amateur Radio Operator's license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The entry-level license is the Technician License which requires just a little bit of study. The coursework for a Technician Licence is a non-technical entry-level understanding of how amateur radio works with some memorization of frequencies, rules and procedures. Most people, even people who have never operated a radio and know nothing about them, can avail themselves of free online training and pass the Technician License Examination with about five hours of study. ARRL Volunteer Examiners conduct training and testing at numerous locations on a regular basis. The exam costs $15 and can be taken as many times as a person needs, though the vast majority, even 8-year-old kids, pass on the first try.
A Technician License gives you the ability to operate on limited radio frequencies. Almost all emergency communications are done at the local level using the 2-meter radio frequency band. A Technician License gives you full access to 2-meters, so a Technician License is really all that you need to play an important role in emergency communications.
Equipment: Entry into ham radio is surprisingly inexpensive! Your Technician License limits you to portions of the Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) spectrum of radio frequencies, of which the VHF 2-meter band is where almost all emergency communications takes place. Quite nice and fully capable VHF radios sell new starting under $100 and going into the thousands. A $129 2-meter radio with a $29 antenna will give you everything you need to operate emergency communications. Many ARES and ALERT operators remain Technicians and operate quite efficiently for many years on just this basic setup.