I’m sure some of my readers are familiar with the recent FCC statement regarding Part 97.113(a)(3) but for those of who are not: Recently, the FCC stated that an employee of an agency cannot do communications on behalf of that agency via amateur radio. As always, this caused much wharrgarbling thorough the Amateur Radio community on both sides of the issue. The rule makes sense while, unfortunately, stepping on a lot of toes. By prohibiting such communications, the FCC limits the possible abuse of amateur radio frequencies for business-related traffic. However, in that process, they also make it quite difficult for licensed employees that work in the public sector (like yours truly) or for private relief agencies to assist in communications.
A few days ago, K0NR wrote a post regarding possible rule changes that might allow Hams to participate in drills on behalf of their employer, as long as the traffic is limited to disaster communications. Included in it is an interesting blurb on the olive branch the FCC made toward amateurs regarding getting a waiver for such drills:
The FCC also described a process for requesting a waiver of this rule for a specific emergency preparedness drill. A governmental entity, not the amateur radio operators involved, must apply to the FCC for a waiver in advance of the drill. According to N5FDL, the FCC intends these waivers to be for very specific events and not a regularly scheduled activity such as a weekly net. This can help facilitate a major event but is still fairly limited. I wonder how many waiver requests the FCC be receiving? I suspect there will be many.
Now, some are saying that this just isn’t good enough and are submitting a petition regarding changing the rules to provide blanket immunity to such exercises. However, I think the waiver process is a great way to finally provide a good metric on how valuable amateur radio operators are to the emergency communications landscape. All too often on NewsLine or TWIAR we hear stories about hams that were activated during a disaster. However, almost every story includes the phrase “stood by to assist” which, if you read between the lines, they did a hell of a lot of nothing. This always leads me to question how much we ar utilized or even wanted by agencies that we as a community purport to serve.
The waiver process provides a way to measure that. If hams are really important to an organization’s communications strategy, I don’t forsee a problem in getting a waiver written by an employer to participate in drills. However, if the employer really can’t be bothered to file a waiver in order for radio amateurs to participate, we have to wonder how valuable of a service that we really provide.
Jeff, KE9V, suggested taking this to it’s possible conclusion and suggested we should be getting out of the emergency communications business with the exception of when the fecal matter hits the air circulation device. Once that happens, the FCC rules are pretty open at that point. However, I don’t think public safety agencies want a bunch of folks with orange ARES/RACES vests showing up during a disaster who are not familiar with the way things work.
Of course, all of this is passing over the fact that this only affects people who are employed by the agency they want to do communications for. I’m A-OK if I want to volunteer for the New Bedford EMA. But, I guess some people want to have their cake and eat it too.