Your post was a very good assessment of amateur radio (AR) as it is today. I am 60 years old and have wanted to get my Amateur radio license since I was 10 years old. However, with what I now know was an Attention Deficit Disorder mind, I didn’t have the patience to learn the code. My grandfather (a Radio Operator on a “Tramp Steamer” in 1921) encouraged me to get my ticket, but…. (fast forward to 2002) I was a big CB op back in the middle to late 70’s and gave it up when the airways became what the Internet is now. In 2002 I was traveling a lot and wanted to get my old CB gear back out and installed. I found that the airwaves were even worse. I got interested in AR again and went to a local “Hamfest”. Within a couple of months, I had my Tech license, and within three more I was an Extra. I have enjoyed it since.
The “magic” of Ham radio is not there for most people. The idea of making contact with someone halfway around the world without wires does not hold the fascination it once did. Now kids say, “I have a cell phone, email, skype, etc. I don’t need all that gear to communicate.” No, you don’t, but you don’t realize how much “gear” that you don’t see or have to maintain for you to be able to do that. I am self contained, and I can communicate most anywhere if I need to. I’m not reliant on cell towers, land lines, servers, and other things to get my voice/text/email through, but they won’t know that until it goes down.
I will say something about “EMCOMS”, our little county in Texas was the beneficiary of DHS grants, and I built an EOC radio room with some really nice equipment. We even got three of everything. However, it is not what it was just ten years ago. If you want to be involved with an EOC for a governmental organization, you have to take HOURS and HOURS of training now. They won’t even talk to you if you don’t have all the ICS courses. Then there is the radio work itself; it’s all gone digital, so if you don’t have the latest gizmos (including a $1000 modem), you won’t even be able to communicate. It’s all done by “Airmail” now.
I gave up and walked away. I will communicate with whoever I can hear when the time comes.
As for the Amateur Radio Operators “Policing our own”, yeah, that’s true, however without the authority of the FCC to prosecute offenders, it’s worthless. Also the FCC is getting worse at persecuting the worst of them. You would be VERY lucky to have them issue a “Notice of Apparent Liability” within 4 to 6 years of the complaint being filed. This is the same FCC that wanted to close 26 field offices, leaving only FOUR for the entire U.S.
I look on AR as a communication tool and a hobby, I think it has lost it’s “service” aspect. – W.A.
o o o
Someone told me that any Ham, who joins the MARS program, can be “called up” by the branch of service he/she is associated with through MARS. This was described to me as similar to being in the ready reserves.
Comments? – RDG
HJL Responds: I have no direct experience with MARS, but looking at their websites it is apparent that it is very similar to ARES/RACES with the exception that rather than FEMA/DHS, you are working directly with the military. I noted that there are separate programs for the Army, Air Force and Navy and that there seems to be very little cross-over between them. Wikipedia notes that the Navy MARS service will be terminated September 30, 2015 though. Unlike ARES/RACES, the MARS programs utilize their own set of frequencies that are outside of the Amateur Radio bands. There is considerable archived discussion on the Internet about using modified radio equipment that is not type accepted by the FCC (meaning it hasn’t been officially approved for this specific use) in these frequencies. One of the concerns raised was that if Hams were not allowed to modify their own radios to participate and instead had to purchase type accepted commercial equipment, many would just quit, reducing the ranks of the volunteers.
This leads me to believe that like any volunteer organization, retention of membership can be a problem. I assume, in an emergency, the military reserves the right to call the members up for active duty as radio operators, but in an all volunteer force, it isn’t a likely situation. Unfortunately, I do not have any contacts who are part of the MARS program so we’ll hope that there are some SurvivalBlog Readers that can answer that.