In an emergency, fire, police and rescue responders need information, even when power is gone, phone systems are dead or the Internet is down.
At those times, Parsippany’s exists to make sure that no matter what, communications go on so that citizens can be protected.
Parsippany R.A.C.E.S. (pronounced ray-SEIZE) is an all-volunteer group of amateur radio operators that is activated by the OEM Coordinator at times of need. R.A.C.E.S. is short for Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service.
Parsippany R.A.C.E.S. is part of the OEM, Office of Emergency Management. Parsippany’s Police Chief, Paul Philipps is the coordinator of the OEM.
Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service mission is to operate and maintain Amateur, Public Safety, and other communication systems, to assist government officials in the protection of life and property during emergencies.
Three recent examples where the group stepped up to serve were the October Snow in 2012, Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene. The October snow was the busiest of all because of all the down trees and power lines.
The organization, which can be found all over the nation, was founded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the civil emergency days in the 1950s in response to any threat to the nation’s nuclear defense. R.A.C.E.S. is codified by the FCC, unlike other amateur radio service groups. If there is a shutdown of radio during an emergency, under federal law, only R.A.C.E.S. stations may operate.
“We’re not as visible as the other emergency services branches, so it’s not surprising that many people are unaware that we exist or know what we do,” said R.A.C.E.S. Officer Mike Hartmann. “Our function within the town’s emergency services is to be prepared for communications emergencies, when the town needs either emergency communications services augmented in an auxiliary capacity or, in a worst case scenario, if we’re needed to replace services if communications are damaged or destroyed during an emergency.”
Hartmann said the group served in an auxiliary capacity during Hurricane Irene, as there was no loss of communication at the municipal level.
“In fact, the municipal emergency communications systems worked very well,” he said. “But in terms of manpower shortages and in terms of the need for auxiliary non-emergency communications, we were very busy. We were also busy during the October snowstorm.”
Hartmann said, “We placed 10 operators on the scene who kept up direct communications [to the emergency operations center, which is part of the OEM setup at the township’s Department of Public Works facility] in case of any trouble and also to relay logistical stuff like needing fresh supplies or sending questions and answers back and forth between OEM leadership.”
Emergency communications mobile radio trucks are available to help with the work. The group also has a collection of handheld radios to ensure that emergency responders can remain in contact with one another and with Parsippany officials at all times.
He added that during the worst of Irene, R.A.C.E.S. performed other vital services for the township as well.
“We had people out exploring the perimeter of the flooding to identify exactly how widespread it was, where the roads needed to be closed and so forth,” Hartmann explained. “We had people here, of course, manning the emergency operations center continuously throughout the entire event, monitoring the radios here and keeping OEM leadership informed about what was going on.”
Hartmann said the prerequisite for R.A.C.E.S. membership is a valid Federal Communications Commission amateur radio license at technician class or higher. Additionally, one must be 18 years of age or older and “be willing to devote a certain number of hours per month to the cause.”
Those hours include two monthly meetings (on the first and third Monday), a monthly conference meeting and occasional practice drills.
To view information on how to obtain a FCC License, click here.
“It’s important to keep our skills sharp,” Hartmann explained. “We may be called only a few times a year, but we need to be ready.”
The group also backs up responders at events such as the township’s Memorial Day parade, summer Concerts and at the July Fourth fireworks.
Of course, participants also must be willing to be available and to respond in times of emergency.
“We actively recruit, and we’re always looking for new people,” Hartman said, adding that if an interested person does not have a radio license, R.A.C.E.S. can help them achieve that. “There are sometimes organizations in the area that offer classes. This is not one of those cases where you just fill in a form and send it in to the FCC. You have to study and take a test and demonstrate certain proficiencies.”
Hartmann said that the organization has hosted such classes in the past, however, not recently. He said the possibility for that exists for the future.
“We hope to be able to do that again soon. It’s a great way to have outreach and let people know we are here, and also to encourage as many new people to get involved in Parsippany or in their own communities as possible.”
For more information on the group, visit the OEM website or send e-mail.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2014 Parsippany Focus