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FCC Modifies Amateur Rules to Allow Participation in Disaster and Emergency Drills on Behalf of an Employer without a Waiver

07/16/2010

In a Report and Order (R&O) released Wednesday, July 14, the FCC amended Part 97.113 to allow amateurs to participate without an FCC waiver in government-sponsored disaster preparedness drills on behalf of their employers participating in the exercise. The FCC also has amended the rules to allow employees to participate in non-government drills and exercises up to one hour per week and up to two 72-hour periods during the year.

“Experience has shown that amateur operations can and have played an essential role in protecting the safety of life and property during emergency situations and disaster situations,” the FCC noted in the R&O. “Moreover, the current Amateur Radio Service rules, which permit participation in such drills and tests by volunteers (ie, non-employees of participating entities), reflect the critical role Amateur Radio serves in such situations. However, as evidenced by recent waiver requests, state and local government public safety agencies, hospitals and other entities concerned with the health and safety of citizens appear to be limited in their ability to conduct disaster and emergency preparedness drills, because of the employee status of Amateur Radio licensees involved in the training exercises. We therefore amend our rules to permit amateur radio operators to participate in government-sponsored emergency and disaster preparedness drills and tests, regardless of whether the operators are employees of the entities participating in the drill or test. We find that extending authority to operate amateur stations during such drills will enhance emergency preparedness and response and thus serve the public interest.”

In order to allow participation in non-governmental disaster drills -- such as those sponsored by ARES® or private hospitals -- the FCC will now allow amateurs employed by an agency participating in such a drill to participate up to one hour per week. In addition, they may also participate in up to two exercises in any calendar year, each for a time period not to exceed 72 hours. “This time limitation, which is consistent with the timeframes contained in the waiver requests filed with the Commission, should serve to further ensure the use of Amateur Radio for bona fide emergency testing,” the R&O stated. “We emphasize that the purpose for any drills we authorize herein must be related to emergency and disaster preparedness. By limiting the purpose in this manner, we further ensure that such drills will be appropriately limited.”

In amending the Amateur Radio rules, the FCC reiterated that it does not intend to disturb the core principle of the Amateur Radio Service “as a voluntary, non-commercial communication service carried out by duly authorized persons interested in radio technique with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest. Rather, we believe that the public interest will be served by establishing a narrow exception to the prohibition on transmitting amateur communications in which the station control operator has a pecuniary interest or employment relationship, and that such an exception is consistent with the intent of the Amateur Radio Service rules.”

The effective date of the R&O is to be determined and will be at some time after its publication in the Federal Register. A more detailed story will be forthcoming from the ARRL.



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