RACES stands for “Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service,” is a standby radio service and a protocol created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC Part 97, Section 407).
The concept of a standby “Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service” to replace the conventional “Amateur Radio Service” during wartime was developed in 1952 as result of input from the American Radio Relay League and the Department of the Army’s Office of Civil Defense. During World War II, the Amateur Radio Service had been silenced and a new War Emergency Radio Service (WERS) had to be created from scratch in a process that took six months.
The resulting standby RACES service was designed to provide a quicker and smoother transition in the event the President ever needed to silence the regular Amateur Radio Service again when invoking the War Powers Act of 1941. Despite four wars involving the United States since 1952, this has never happened.
When so activated, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service will consist of only those amateur radio operators who have previously registered with State and local governments to provide emergency radio communications for them in times of emergency. Other amateur radio operations might be suspended and operations under the RACES rules might be restricted to certain frequencies within the amateur radio bands.
In addition to wartime communications, operations under the RACES rules can provide or supplement communications during emergencies where normal communication systems have sustained damage. It may be used in a wide variety of situations, including natural disasters, technological disasters, nuclear accidents, nuclear attack, terrorist incidents, and bomb threats.
In the past, actual RACES station licenses were also issued to civil defense organizations. To prevent abuse of station licenses by officials who were not licensed amateur radio operators, limitations on the duration of non-emergency operation and stations that might be contacted were incorporated into part 97.407. Such RACES station licenses are no longer issued, and any operations under the RACES rules would now use licensed amateur radio operators as control operators.
In daily practice, most amateur radio operators enrolled with their local government for possible operations under the RACES rules are also members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, organized by the American Radio Relay League. ARES provides emergency communications in the conventional Amateur Radio Service without the need for an emergency declaration from the government.
RACES volunteer operators are:
- Licensed Radio Amateurs
- Certified by a civil defense agency
- Able to communicate on Amateur Radio frequencies during drills, exercises and emergencies
- Activated by local, county and state jurisdictions and are the only Amateur Radio operators authorized to transmit during declared emergencies when the President of the United States specifically invokes the War Powers Act.