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FCC Issues Public Notice on Amateur Service Communication During Government Disaster Drills

10/27/2009

On Tuesday October 20, 2009 the FCC released a Public Notice clarifying the Commission's rules relating to the use of Amateur Radio by licensed amateurs participating in drills and exercises on behalf of their employers. Entitled Amateur Service Communications During Government Disaster Drills, the Public Notice addresses participation by paid employees of organizations taking part in drills.

The Public Notice -- DA 09-2259 -- affirms that the Commission's rules "specifically prohibit amateur stations from transmitting communications 'in which the station licensee or control operator has a pecuniary interest, including communications on behalf of an employer.'"

ARRL Regulatory Information Manager Dan Henderson, N1ND, offered "This Public Notice is intended to clarify a difficult issue. A wide range of unofficial -- and frankly some incorrect -- interpretations have been offered on this topic in various public forums recently. DA-09-2259 is the official FCC notice on this issue. Though issued jointly by the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB), the Enforcement Bureau (EB) and the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) under delegated authority from the Commission, the Notice makes it clear that WTB is the Bureau at the FCC with jurisdiction over the Amateur Radio Service rules and their interpretation."

The Public Notice states that, in order to facilitate participation by employees who wish to engage in government-sponsored drills and emergency exercises on behalf of their employers, a waiver can be requested from the WTB by the government agency sponsoring the drill or exercise (and not by the individual who wishes to participate in the drill or exercise). Such a request must follow established procedures for requesting a temporary waiver of the Commission's rules. The government entity conducting the drill must include in its waiver application the following information:

  • When and where the drill will take place,
  • Identification of the amateur licensees expected to transmit amateur communications on behalf of their employer,
  • Identification of the employer(s) on whose behalf the amateur(s) will be transmitting, and
  • A brief description of the drill.

 "It should be noted," Henderson said, "that the waiver request must be filed and acted upon in advance of the drill. The waiver must be actually granted by the Commission before the amateurs participate in the drill. It is not enough to apply -- the waiver must be granted first."

The public notice also emphasizes that in an actual emergency, the Part 97 rules "provide that an amateur station may use any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and the immediate protection of property when normal communications systems are not available." In those specific circumstances, rule waiver is not necessary.

Government entities requesting a waiver for their emergency/disaster drill should submit a written request addressing the factors listed above to Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, 445 12th St SW, Washington, DC 20554, Attn: Scot Stone.

A waiver is needed only for those licensees transmitting messages on behalf of their employer during the State and local government public safety agency’s “occasionally conducted emergency preparedness or disaster drills test or drill.” This may, after analysis, turn out to be very few licenses or, by rearranging functions of participants, a waiver may not be needed. The Commission has also emphasized that only governmental agencies may apply for a waiver.

In September, the ARRL released guidelines that address numerous aspects of the issue of business communications in the Amateur Service.



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