Amateur radio has often been described as the only fail-safe communication system in the world. When all the other forms of communication have failed, amateur radio gets the job done. Here in Colorado, wildfires are a major threat. Take thousands of acres of grassland and timber, subtract adequate rainfall, and sprinkle in massive lighting storms, and the result can be disastrous. The following video illustrates just a small portion of the importance of amateur radio emergency personnel, not only here in Colorado, but throughout the nation. [CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO]
Every amateur radio station, whether or not the operator is a member of ARES or RACES agency, should assemble an emergency responder equipment kit, better known as a "Go Kit" or "Jump Kit". Whether you are new to ham radio and have only a hand held radio, or have access to a large amount of equipment, everyone should be ready to provide emergency communications. This may be for family members, a small isolated community, local organizations to which you belong, church groups, and others who may not fall under the ARES or RACES umbrellas as they work with Law Enforcement, Military, The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and various Public Service Agencies. Encourage other hams you know to become prepared for unforeseen events as well. Remember the mess Katrina left, and Homeland Security's response? Don't count on anyone helping you or your group for at least 72 hours, and possibly longer. It may be up to you or your circle of ham friends to provide communications until help arrives.
If you decide to join ARES or RACES, you must realize that you will be responsible for completing training programs in order to participate in agency call-outs. For RACES, you will also be subject to a background check.
Go Kits have a way of expanding to many times the original size, so be prepared to provide storage boxes for the equipment and supplies. They contain not only communications gear, but personal items as well. Items should be sorted as to use and stored in separate containers. You may need to use all of the equipment, or perhaps just a small amount. The idea is to have whatever you need available and be able to access it at a moment's notice.
If you belong to ARES or RACES, they will probably have a specific list of recommended equipment for their organizations. If you are doing this on your own, at a minimum I recommend a Go Kit which contains:
If you are fortunate to have a utility trailer such as the one shown at the top of this page, it could be converted to a radio outpost or command center if needed. A camping trailer also makes a nice refuge from the weather and will provide more conveniences. It could contain a folding table, folding chairs, a sleeping bag and air mattress, antenna masting, guying ropes, portable antennas, deep charge marine batteries, solar panels or a generator, inverter, etc. I'm sure you will have no trouble thinking of items to fill the trailer.
Due to my interest in emergency communications, our 12' utility trailer has been used at times as a command post for Public Service Events and also for the ARRL Field Day. It is shown here during the annual ARRL Field Day contest in 2004 with a Cushcraft AR-270 2-meter/70 cm ground plane antenna (now replaced with the higher gain AR-270B), a 40-meter inverted "V", and a Hustler mobile antenna with coils installed for 20, 15, and 10 meters. The trailer is insulated and has a roof vent with a MaxxAir vent hood for rain protection. It also has two PVC pipes at the front that can be uncapped for running power cords and coax into the unit. The trailer comfortably hosts two operators. We now have the travel trailer shown elsewhere on this site for portable operation during ham radio events.
In case you're not convinced that ham radio can be a valuable resource in times of disaster, CLICK HERE for the video "Katrina - Ham Radio's Untold Story."