RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service)
RACES provides auxiliary communications support using Amateur Radio or other means primarily for government agencies. As a secondary resource RACES also has an antenna and communications position in each of the hospitals within Kent County.
RACES Primary Objective
RACES has 30 specific team members who are Communications only volunteers. These members may be used to connect the EOC’s, Dispatch Centers, hospitals and scenes during large scale events to provide a secondary means of communication. Also, when Dispatch is overwhelmed and has a need for someone to make phone calls (e.g., to a local energy company), our teams help to support Dispatch and EOC’s with whatever is needed.
Radio Direction Finding
Whether there’s a consistent open mic problem, a stolen radio, or a user abusing the amateur radio systems in West Michigan, the RACES team is trained in tracking down and locating transmitters. The RACES team is also trained in finding activated Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) or Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELT). This training allows us to assist with programs such as Project Lifesaver which helps to locate and return home those struggling with conditions or disorders.
Finally, during large fire scenes, which can be extremely chaotic, RACES communications team members can assist the Incident Command (IC) with monitoring of radio communications, listening for important life safety information or even provide a secondary monitoring position to allow the IC to focus on IC tasks.
Large Scale events often require more people. Our folks can be the eyes and ears of the Event Management Team. Every year, Kent County RACES provides huge communications support for Grand Rapids’ Fifth Third River Bank Run as a way to give back to a great community and assist in rapid response to medical emergencies.
SAR (Search and Rescue)
Search and Rescue team members are members of the RACES program with a specialty in locating missing persons. They have completed all of the same training as RACES members and have the same background checks and interview processes. SAR members may be called on to supplement RACES folks when needed and also work in the field in addition to their normal Search and Rescue duties. Kent County Search and Rescue team members are the highest trained Wilderness / Ground SAR members in the state of Michigan. Nearly 80% of the full members are nationally certified as of 10/1/2016 and all new members are required to become certified within 2 years of completing their probationary requirements. Our SAR program utilizes Ground SAR team members as well as K9 team members. We also have the largest Ground and K9 teams in the state. Kent County’s SAR program is broken into Ground Teams 1-4, and K9 Teams based on discipline (i.e., air scent, trailing, or human remains) while always following Incident Command System (ICS) span of control.
Search and Rescue Resources
The team consists of approximately 80 full members who have completed our rigorous training process to become members of the SAR team: Incident Command Training, Communications, Search Techniques, Mapping Skills, Physical fitness tests, and certifications in First Aid and CPR.
We also have 10 Search and Rescue focused K9s including Scent Specific Trailing dogs, Area Search dogs, Human Remains Detection dogs, and Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) dogs.
Our members come from every facet of life and provide us with a diverse set of skills and experiences. From homemakers, doctors, retired Law Enforcement, current Law Enforcement, IT, paramedics, managers, and business owners, we have one of the most diverse SAR teams imaginable. We also have access to a statewide network of SAR and K9 SAR assets to supplement our team and increase our capabilities.
SAR Primary Objective
During missing person events, we will respond and work under the Unified Incident Command. Because it is not strictly our operation, we will direct our resources according to operational plans drawn up and approved by the UIC. We will provide Ground members as well as K9 members based on the incident and available resources.
Managing the missing person event
Our Missing Person Management (MPM) team consists of 10 members who are trained and qualified to help manage the incident with the UIC. These folks fall into the Planning role and can help bring the science of SAR into the incident. The MPM team can also provide maps and other valuable resources during an incident.
Members of SAR may at any time be called upon to perform any of the RACES communications tasks. All SAR members are part of the communications program with basic radio communications skills and equipment. Many times these are the folks you will see assigned to incident command as they are familiar with working in the field and are prepared for it. If SAR is not needed on their primary missions they may also be used with permission from the Emergency manager for:
- Damage assessment after a major storm;
- Door to door canvassing of a neighborhood to check on residents;
- Evacuation of a particular area;
- Road closures, directing traffic, or power wire standbys;
- Emergency transportation of specific critical infrastructure personnel during severe winter events (e.g., doctors, dispatchers, or Law Enforcement);
- Anything else where we can assist. We can always turn the request down, but generally our people are available 24/7 to assist the Emergency Management Office with whatever it needs whenever it needs it.
While the local Skywarn is run under the Office of Emergency Management and the RACES coordinator, the federal Skywarn program comes from the National Weather Service (NWS). On average, Kent County trains 300 members of the public each and every year, including many amateur radio operators, about severe weather. These folks are included in our Severe Weather alerts and encouraged to report what they see either through the National Weather Service or via our amateur radio network during the storms. All Search and Rescue / RACES team members are required to complete the course every two years.
Skywarn Primary Objective
The Skywarn Management team is part of the RACES program and is responsible for placing weather spotters around the county during severe weather events and giving real time updates through the network of what they are witnessing. They also report damage and “ground truth” to confirm what radar is seeing. Skywarn team members can be used to report damage during the time immediately after a weather event has gone through the county.
Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES)
ARES is a national communications program through the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL). ARES members are non-background checked / non standard required amateur radio operators. These people are generally only used for public event communications where background checks and certain skills are not required. They are also used as a “pool” from which we invite people to participate in other programs and work to get to know ARES members. These folks have no identification and no background check or training requirements.
ARES Primary Objective
During Amber alerts ARES members may be called upon to monitor a particular area and radio potential sightings of suspected vehicles or persons. RACES leaders can request ARES members to set up and watch intersections, overpasses, or other areas for specific vehicles and report back to the EOC.
Things like walks, runs or other non-emergency, non-secure events where background checks are not required of every volunteer. This may also include Skywarn or severe weather events.