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ICS AUXCOMM vs. ARES and others

Jul 20th 2015, 12:04


Joined: Oct 8th 2010, 23:40
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Today is July 19, 2015, and I just walked away from an on-going training session for "AUXCOMM" by trainers who represented themselves as DHS Office of Emergency Communications (OEC)/ Interagency Career Transition Assistance Plan (ICTAP) trainers from the Atlanta, Georgia area. The three trainers were good at their job and had a very good amount of background in Emergency Management (EM) activities in their past histories. All were retired from pseudo military/contractor or public service.

AUXCOMM, or Auxiliary Communications in the new vernacular of ICS, has replaced everything that was performed by licensed Amateur Radio Operators formerly known as the "HAM guys" in most training and real world events that used the "HAMS" as extra communicators during numerous parades, celebrations, emergencies, and emergency training sessions where we were invited to participate.

Many of us have endured many, many hours on-line taking certification tests hosted by FEMA on their public sites. In the past these certifications, especially ICS-100, -200, -700, -800, have been the basis for our utility to various EOCs whose EM leads give opportunity for HAMS to help under emergency conditions within the EOC environment. There has also been, historically, an EC, Emergency Coordinator, from ARES generally, who acted on our behalf to liaise with the EM during "normal" EOC operations, to incur direction, policy and/or procedures, or other types of training that would ensure that HAMs could work in the EOC in various roles negotiated and deemed necessary to the effectiveness to the local EM being served.

As top level NRF, NIMS, and ICS systems evolve there are going to always be changes that don't "feel" right to long time HAMs. Generally, these changes are rolled in and with a little trading everyone moves forward with the changes and life goes onion the other hand there are changes that can make you wonder what just happened?

I had that experience today and I was honestly caught by surprise. I had asked around a bit once the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) offered us this training opportunity free of charge. It seemed that it was going to be in our collective "best interest" to understand how AUXCOMM was going to be implemented. Sounded great to me given my desire to perform well in the ARES environment and be a good fit with the NRF, NIMS, and ICS systems.

Clearly ARRL was interested in training HAMs in EmCOMM (Emergency Communications) under its training for EC-001 and EC-016 coursework. Just to be able to take these courses takes a bit of ICS on-line training as pre-requisites. Other works associated with ICS is required by some local ECs in order to establish a certification to operate within local EOCs, etc. Things like this would lead you to believe that ARRL has established a process for training HAMs, from within the ARRL environment that is consistent with where folks like FEMA want us all to be to suit their needs. Since we endeavor to achieve success with our "served agencies" this wouldn't seem to be inconsistent with ARRL thought on the topic.
Now, after seeing the AUXCOMM training first hand I am wondering if all is well with HAM radio as an entity that perform any thing unique or special as it pertains to emergency operations.

We wear an ARRL vest that brings attention to us as "ARRL Emergency Radio Communications" persons. That used to mean that we were ARRL HAMs that had some idea as to what to do when an emergency caused communications outages that we, with our personal equipment, could overcome on the behalf of the public which we were, and are, a part of. This hasn't really changed much in principle, but in fact, on paper and undergoing current training, licensed HAMs as well as MARS operators, CERT operators, and any unaffiliated person who shows up to an Incident Command (IC) area as a volunteer to operate radios are being lumped into a single category of resources called Auxiliary Communications (AUXCOMM).

Now I don't think there is anything wrong with knowing beforehand that can we show up either as part of an radio oriented organization or as unaffiliated persons who have some radios with them. I do wonder why anyone who has a license to operate a radio would take the time to train themselves if there is no difference between those who have training and those who don't. There is not a need to know how to act as managers of HAM type people because clearly there are higher level "COML" that are now going to do those functions for all of us. Most HAMs, as well as other radio operators, will be gathered under the AUXCOMM designation (think organization chart here) under Logistics/Communications under the latest ICS organization.

So there you are in the staging, or waiting, area designated waiting to be assigned somewhere. Maybe you’re EC, or EM, has negotiated something for you and your "teammates" to do so that it runs a bit more smoothly rather than it would for someone "unknown" to the Incident Management seniors. Your credentials must be in order, carry all those ICS certificates with you as hardcopy and softcopy! Be ready to do any job necessary given you personal ability, there will be a database which will hold your validated credentials so that the team can view them. If you never participated in an emergency prior to this, so that your ability has been "signed off" on by someone who is authorized to do so, then be prepared to get the less than optimum jobs until you achieve those creds!

Now I may be a bit sour on this topic at this point due to my abrupt departure from the AUXCOMM course. On the other hand I think I wouldn't have taken the course at all had I known that such little appreciation for my "hard" work at getting trained through other courses, mostly those required ICS courses.

I find in retrospect that nothing new is actually needed to be part of an AUXCOMM activity. There are the pre-requisite ICS-100, -200, -700, -800 courses. But as long as you have those courses plus any level Amateur Radio License from the FCC you are good to go under AUXCOMM. All that has changes has been the way you might be used, or never used. No longer will the fact that you and your club, or your ARES organization, have all this great equipment to bring to the incident, (i.e., as replacement for downed equipment) will ensure you team’s usage. You will be a resource, and your personal equipment will be tracked as a type (perhaps), so that more senior managers can assign you and your stuff to be used in the manner needed for the on-going incident. There is room for suggestions that you can offer to the broader situation, but only if the AUXCOMM management lead, or COML above that person, decides it is a fit.

Once again I find myself whining a bit about all this. Maybe we should all just do the right thing and show up with our stuff, sign into the resource pool, and sit down and wait to be used. Forget about the fact that folks like FEMA are going to bring in the entire communications infrastructure that they can to "fix" the problem. It's their job; we are there to serve them. That however has always been the case! We have always been involved in Emergency Radio Operations, as needed by the "served agencies".
Oct 12th 2015, 14:18


Joined: Apr 4th 1998, 00:00
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Thank you Rick...
I believe KJ4ZIH Rick crafted this “paper” for the “local ham” who has always tried to serve the way we want to and the way we should… without government “help.” I read it several times… and honestly it brought me to tears (on Rick's behalf). The fabric of our wonderful hobby – our PERSONAL government “of the people, by the people, and for the people (especially Radio Amateurs)” is being invaded, like everything else, by the FEDERAL government.
I am confused - even on ARRL I see AUXCOM and AUXCOMM used interchangeably... hey ARRL, GET IT RIGHT for goodness sakes. John Underwood K4EBS - 60 years of "just being a Ham" serving my great country.
Nov 20th 2015, 16:39


Joined: Apr 25th 2014, 14:30
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The highly organized response you speak of could only occur in areas where government is functioning. The typical ham responder, with or without special training, will always be needed, ready, and effective in thousands of local areas where no other help is available until after the government com centers above are established, and some Ham in a rural community center makes contact and triggers the help needed in response.

Just because we train to know how those centers function does not mean we have to only be where they are, for it is where they are not that Hams are always needed most.

Apr 11th 2016, 22:08


Joined: Apr 5th 2016, 01:36
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I attended, and thoroughly enjoyed, a three day AuxComm before HamCation.

Our trainers were experienced, qualified, and had very diverse backgrounds.

The take-aways were many and helpful; not the least of which was 30 new EM contacts from all over the nation, and a man in the DHS Office of Emergency Communications who knows me by name.

Our class performed exercises at all levels, from 'volunteer fire department lost a repeater' to 'multi-county Cat 4 hurricane recovery', where we exercised the ability to plan an entire communication response.

Officially, I am now listed as a resource in the state and national database, exactly as a MCU or cache of radios.

I wasn't hurt, and gained contacts and experiences that make me more effective at every level. Best of all, I gained credibility and certification from a federal agency that will help me work with the growing group of Emergency Managers who believe the sales hype telling them their radio and cellular systems are bullet proof.

For me, always, the bottom line is that any training I can afford is a bonus. I've never been damaged by learning something new.

May 25th 2016, 16:01


Joined: Dec 30th 2012, 18:19
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I understand that some hams with lots of experience in ARES (ARRL) and amateur radio EmComm in general feel their experience is discounted. However, I do not agree. Remember, there are a lot of hams who don't want to have anything to do with ARRL but still want to serve their community. I don't see AuxComm as anti-ARRL or anti-ARES. From my point of view, AuxComm takes this experience and focuses that experience into the ICS framework.

I have been involved in public service and emergency communications for decades. I just completed AuxComm and found it to be valuable training. Without ICS 100, 200, 700, 800 and now AuxComm, I would not have any inkling of an understanding of how Incident management works and would feel lost, even with all my experience. The 100, 200, 700, 800 courses do not cover the specifics of auxiliary communications used in an incident. They do, however, lay the groundwork for understanding ICS. AuxComm training digs into the specifics of providing ham radio communications for an incident and a better understanding of COML. I don't have a desire to be a COML but now I feel I can be more valuable in the communications framework of ICS. OJT alone won't always cut it an may in fact have you hindering an operation This training is coupled with OJT is a positive.
Aug 13th 2016, 03:55


Joined: Apr 4th 1998, 00:00
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Interesting assessment, but i think many of the key points might have been missed.

1. ARES standard approach is to provide amateur radio support. AUXCOMM incorporates all of the ESF2 (communications) function. The communications unit will need ALL kinds of communications support (call takers, data entry folks, radio operators, etc). My experience with ARES has been 'we're here to help with amateur radio' and the AUXCOMM model broadens that scope to be much more realistic.

2. A core principle in ICS is that you leave your rank/insignia/uniform at home and when assigned to a role on an incident, you operate under that structure. As a former fire captain I was assigned to many type 1 and type 2 fire incidents, but i was never a captain there, nor did i wear my captain bars. Almost an entire chapter in AUXCOMM is aimed at 'toning down' the vest wearing, flashing callsign badge wielding, car with orange light and magnetic sign driving, ham radio operator and helping him understand to leave that stuff at home, show up, sign in, and take the assignment given. It is the standard operating procedure for ICS.

3. Training should likely be thought of in two realms, administrative and functional. ICS-100,200,700 and 800 are administrative requirements. ICS 300 and 400 get a little more into function, but are administrative as well. No where, in any of those classes, do you learn how to operate your ham radio. need those admin type classes to understand how to be helpful in the ICS structure, but they literally have nothing to do with communications. On the functional side, you need hands on, proficiency based, training. You simply must be able to properly operate your radio equipment and other radio equipment as requested. Not only do you need to learn those skills, but you must practice and be able to demonstrate your proficiency at them. The ARRL EC classes are good information, however they do not require proficiency and spend a fair amount of time focusing on the ARRL/ARES structure (which is good if you use that). I took the EC-001 with an online mentor, after 5 chapters he told me I was grasping the material and could take the final test anytime. I did, passed, and received my certificate without ever operating a radio (and quite likely while sitting in my underwear on the couch). We must expect more from ourselves, if we are going to play in that arena.

The major push of the AUXCOMM concept is to get the communications resources into a managable group, under ICS, and use them where they are needed. Imagine showing up and when asking saying 'i only do ham radio', while others are saying 'i'll answer phones, run an HF FEMA net, operate the public safety trunked radio, or whatever you need me to do'. In an incident, you need skilled resources willing to serve.

Lincoln County Auxiliary Communications Service
Oregon ACES

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