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PRB1 Presentation

What is Amateur Radio?
Why is it a Community Resource?

For More Information Contact:
Field and Educational Services Department
The American Radio Relay League
225 Main Street
Newington, CT 061111
860 594 0236 and 0272


View as a PDF file


What is Amateur Radio?

The FCC definition of the Amateur Service is "A radiocommunication service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest." Amateur Radio operators, licensed by the FCC, can be found in every corner of the US. They use Amateur Radio as a hobby and contact other Amateur Radio operators halfway around the world or even across town! "Hams", as they are known, are known for their public service activities. Amateurs may not transmit communications on behalf of their employer. For a brief overview of Amateur Radio, see the background page at There is also the PowerPoint presentation as written and produced by William J Barrett, KW1B, covering the basics of Amateur Radio. Not all the audio/video clips mentioned in the presentation are available for download. This also does not include the information on Hurricane Katrina.

Narrated by former CBS news anchorman Walter Cronkite, KB2GSD, Amateur Radio Today is a video which showcases the public service contributions made by hams throughout the country. Amateur Radio Today  is ideal for presentation at clubs, government meetings, civic organizations and any other venue where you want to vividly illustrate what Amateur Radio has to offer the public. The total running time is just 6 minutes.


Traditionally, trained volunteer Amateur Radio operators have provided communication support services to government and private relief agencies in times of major local and national disaster. Amateur Radio operators are organized through two primary organizations: Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES). In addition to assisting local authorities and emergency relief operations with radio communication services, amateurs also organize "health and welfare" networks to relay messages from victims in the affected area to loved ones in other locations.

Amateur Radio emergency communications in the wake of the World Trade Center terrorist strike made the country aware of the emergency communications Amateur Radio operators have been providing for decades. See World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks. Even before the WTC attack, ARRL was already working on preparations for the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Courses which help train Amateur Radio operators as how to best use their skills in emergencies through the ARRL Certification and Continuing Education Programs. These courses have trained thousands of amateurs. This is why the Department of Homeland Defense called Amateur Radio operators the "first of the first responders". ARRL is now an official affiliate of the Citizen Corps, an initiative within the Department of Homeland Security to enhance public preparedness and safety.


President Jim Haynie, W5JBP, signed the formal Statement of Affiliation between DHS, President Bush's Citizen Corps and ARRL during the ARRL 2003 National Convention June 21. Chief Operating Officer of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate (FEMA) Ron Castleman represented Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response Michael D. Brown at the signing. Citizen Corps Liaison to the White House Liz DiGregorio called ham radio operators the "first of the first responders."

Some emergencies where amateurs have helped out include:



Hurricane Katrina:
Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida:
SATERN Volunteers Have Pivotal Roles in Rooftop, Attic Rescues
ARRL President Urges Orderly Amateur Radio Response in Katrina Recovery
Amateur Radio Volunteers Involved in Katrina Recovery
Ham Radio Ready as Residents Flee "Potentially Catastrophic" Katrina
Hurricane Watch Net, Secure After Katrina Comes Ashore in Florida

August 2005

Wisconsin Tornado:
Tornado String Prompts Wisconsin ARES/RACES Response

August 2005

Mexican Sea Rescue:
Radio Amateurs Aid in Pacific Maritime Rescue

August 2005

Hurricane Emily: Texas, Mexico:
Hurricane Watch Net, WX4NHC, ARES Secure Emily Operations
Hurricane Watch Net Activates for Emily

July 2005

Tampere, Finland:
Amateur Radio Emergency Communication Focus of World Conference

June 2005

Amateurs Draw Praise from Drill:
Connecticut Amateurs, Others, Participate in Massive DHS Drill
This is a Drill! ARES Supporting Red Cross Participation in TOPOFF3
Amateur Radio to Have Role in Largest-Ever Mass Casualty Exercise

April 2005

Amateur Radio Receives High Level Praise:
Amateur Radio is "Poster Child" of Homeland Security Grantees Gathering

March 2005

California Floods:
ARES/RACES Aid in California Flood Response

January 2005

Indian Ocean Tsunami
Amateur Radio Praised as Lifeline in South Asia Tsunami
"Angel of the Seas": Post-Tsunami News Coverage Raises Ham Radio's Global Visibility
Winlink 2000 Helping with Southern Asia Disaster
Amateur Radio "Saved Lives" in South Asia
Asian Radio Amateurs Bridging Communication Gap following Tsunami
Earthquake, Tsunamis Hit Southern Asia; Laccadives and Nicobar Islands DXpedition in Emergency Mode

December 2004

Haitian Flood Disaster
Amateur Radio Relief Team Helps with Disaster Communications
Radio Amateur to Spearhead DERA Relief Mission to Haiti

September/November 2004

Hurricane Jeanne: Florida, East Coast
Storm-Weary Amateur Radio Volunteers Confront Hurricane's Aftermath

September 2004

Hurricane Ivan: Florida, Alabama, Caribbean
Hams' Role in Hurricane Ivan Recovery Winding Down
Hams Continue to Aid Hurricane Ivan Recovery and Cleanup
Amateur Radio Volunteers Swing into Action in Storm-Stricken Gulf Region
Hurricane Ivan Continues its March in the Caribbean
Lull Before the Landfall: Hurricane Watch Net on Hold as Preparations Continue
Florida ARES Eyeing Ivan, Hurricane Watch Net Activation Continues

September 2004

Hurricane Frances: Florida, Bahamas
Hurricane Frances Recovery Under Way with Amateur Radio Help
Prospective Amateur Radio Volunteers Being Asked to Coordinate
Hurricane Net, WX4NHC Continue Helping Forecasters Track Frances
Hurricane Net, WX4NHC Gather Weather Data as Frances Heads for Florida
Hurricane Watch Net Activating for Hurricane Frances

September 2004

Typhoon: Northern Mariana Islands
ARES Assists Red Cross in Wake of Typhoon

August 2004

California Fire Disaster
Sacramento Valley ARES Units Still on High Alert for Fire Duty
ARES on Fire Duty in Northern California

August 2004

Hospital Power Outage:Cheverly, Maryland
Hams assist hospital after telephone outage

August 2004

Hurricane Charley: Florida, East Coast US, Eastern Canada
More ARES Volunteers Urgently Needed at Hurricane Charley Ground Zero
Hurricane Charley Response Reaffirms Amateur Radio's Value
Hurricane Watch Net Still on Duty, ARES Teams at the Ready

August 2004

Hurricane Alex: North Carolina
Hurricane Watch Net Activates as Alex Upgraded to Category 2

August 2004

Near French Polynesia
Amateur Radio Facilitates Dramatic Rescue at Sea

July 2004

Fire Emergency: Nevada
Nevada Fires Make July a Busy Time for ARES Volunteers

July 2004

Illinois Amateurs Support Tornado Relief, Recovery Efforts

April 2004

Mississippi amateurs respond following Amtrak accident

April 2004

Central California Hams Respond to Earthquake December 2003

California Fire Disaster

October 2003

Hams Support Massive California Firefighting, Relief Effort October 2003
North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania: September 2003
Amateur Assistance in Hurricane Isabel Relief  
Amateur Radio Support Winds Down as Isabel Recovery Continues  
Some Amateur Radio Assistance Continues during Isabel Relief and Recovery  
Amateur Radio Responds Effectively to Hurricane Isabel  
Hams Confronting Hurricane Isabel  
Bermuda: Ham Radio Kept Bermuda Connected When All Else Failed September 2003
Montana August 2003
Montana Hams in "Heads-Up" Mode in Wildfires Response  
Montana Hams Stand Down, Remain on Alert as Montana Wildfires Continue  
Things "Heating Up Quickly" in Montana  
New York, Michigan, Ohio: August 2003
Hams a Bright Spot During Power Blackout  
Arizona Forest Fires July 2003
Texas: Ham Radio Assists Relief Effort as Claudette Hits Texas Coast July 2003

Southwest Fire Emergency: Arizona, New Mexico

June 2003

Florida Flood Emergency

June 2003

Oklahoma City Tornado Emergency

May 2003

Oklahoma State Tornado Disaster

May 2003

Middle America Tornado Disaster: Missouri, Kansas, Tennessee

May 2003

Southern and Midwest Deadly Storm Emergency

May 2003

Georgia Killer Tornadoes

March 2003

New Jersey Propane Explosion

March 2003

Pennsylvania Cold Weather Emergency

March 2003

Hams Assist in Debris Search after Space Shuttle Explosion

February 2003

Eastern US Snow, Flood Activation

February 2003

Eastern Texas Shuttle Columbia Debris Search

February 2003

Nacogdoches County, Texas Debris Search

February 2003

Space Shuttle Columbia Explosion

February 2003

Australian Forest Fire Disaster

January 2003

Arkansas, Missouri Storm Emergency

December 2002

Mississippi Tornado Disaster

December 2002

North and South Carolina Ice Storm

December 2002

Midwest Tornado Disaster

November 2002

Wisconsin Tornado Disaster

September 2002

West Virginia Flooding

May 2002

Tornado in Maryland

April 2002

Flooding in Kentucky

March 2002

World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks

September 2001

Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia flooding

July 2001

Flooding in Texas and Louisiana (Storm Allison)

June 2001

Kansas Tornado Disaster

April 2001

Earthquake in India

January 2001

Earthquake in El Salvador

January 2001

Ice storms in Southwest

December 2000

Tornado in Alabama

December 2000

Coal Sludge Spill in Kentucky

October 2000

Tornado in Ohio

September 2000

Avalanche in Alaska

March 2000

Fires in Los Alamos, New Mexico

May 2000

Hurricane Floyd

September 1999

Tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas

May 1999

Colombian Earthquake

January 1999

Arkansas/Tennessee tornadoes

January 1999

Hurricane Mitch

October 1998

Kentucky flooding disaster

April 1997

Michigan airline crash

January 1997

Pacific NW floods

February 1996

Hurricane Luis

September 1995

Oklahoma City bombing

April 1995

Georgia floods

September 1994

Los Angeles earthquake

January 1994

Malibu fires

November 1993

Mississippi floods

Summer 1993

Great Blizzard of '93

March 1993

Hurricane Iniki

September 1992

Hurricane Andrew

August 1992

Oakland fire

October 1991

San Francisco earthquake

October 1989

Hurricane Hugo

September 1989


Memorandum of Understanding between the National Weather Service and the American Radio Relay League, Inc. since 1986

Statement of Understanding between the American Radio Relay League, Inc. and the American National Red Cross since 1940 and updated 1994

Memorandum of Understanding between the American Radio Relay League, Inc. and the Federal Emergency Management Agency since 1984

Memorandum of Understanding between the American Radio Relay League, Inc. and the National Communications System since 1983

Memorandum of Understanding between the American Radio Relay League, Inc. and the Associated Public Safety Communications Officers, Inc. since 1984

Memorandum of Understanding between the American Radio Relay League, Inc. and the National Association of Radio and Telecommunications Engineers, Inc. since 2000

Memorandum of Understanding between the American Radio Relay League, Inc. and the Salvation Army Revised 1996

Memorandum of Understanding between the American Radio Relay League, Inc. and the Society of Broadcast Engineers, Inc. Since 2000

Memorandum of Understanding between the American Radio Relay League, Inc. and REACT International, Inc. (Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams) Since 2000

 Additional information on these organizations can be found on the ARRLWeb.


  • The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (US Agency for International Development)
  • The National Disaster Medical Service
  • State and local emergency management organizations
  • Search and rescue organizations
  • Police, fire, ambulance and similar groups
  • Relief organizations united in National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD)
  • Civic organizations, road races and other local functions


Since the earliest days of radio, new technology and the activities of Amateur Radio operators have gone hand-in-hand. Driven by scientific curiosity and unconstrained by bureaucracy, self-funded amateur experimenters have found better ways to utilize the radio spectrum. In professional capacities in research organizations, Amateur Radio operators work as engineers and researchers, often motivated by their early enthusiasm as "hams." Among their well-known contributions: 

  • Pioneers in early radio experimentation
  • Promoted continuous wave modulation instead of "spark gap"
  • Early explorers of ionospheric propagation for world wide radio
  • Developed use of frequencies beyond the High Frequency bands
  • Developed early mobile gear for automobiles and aircraft
  • Experimented with Single Sideband mode
  • Built first civilian communications satellite and pioneered use of inexpensive "microsats"
  • Developed early packet radio networks (wireless LANs)
  • Developed early linked repeaters (prototype for cellular phone)
  • Early experiments in digital signal processing
  • Developed new antenna configurations
  • Explored new modes of VHF propagation including tropospheric refraction, sporadic-e, auroral, meteor scatter, tropospheric scatter and moonbounce
  • Development of new digital modes such as PSK 31

Here is a good overview of the goals of ARRL with respect to homeland security. These are the comments submitted by ARRL to the subcommittee on Science and Technology of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and were prepared for hearings on Senator Wyden's NetGuard proposal and submitted on December 5, 2001. Further, the November 2001 QST article on the events of September 11 appears on the Web. The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) brochure gives a very brief overview of the Amateur Service with respect to emergency.


  • 1993: Public Law 103-408 (S.J. Res. 90): To recognize the achievements of radio amateurs, and to establish support for such amateurs as national policy.
  • 1993: Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA): "In determining whether a band of frequencies meets the criteria specified in subsection (a)(2), the Secretary to avoid...excessive disruption of existing use of Federal Government frequencies by amateur radio licensees..."
  • Public law 100-594 (S. 1048) "Government agencies shall take into account the valuable contributions made by amateur radio operators when considering actions affecting the Amateur Radio Service."


  • Amateur Radio operators are a valuable asset to the community, but they need antennas to communicate
  • Amateur Radio operators are almost exclusively located in residential areas and use radio as a personal hobby, but are often severely restricted local government zoning ordinances and by homeowners association covenants
  • Amateur Radio operators are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission do not participate in frequency auctions
  • Local zoning authorities are required to reasonably accommodate the antenna needs of Amateur Radio operators as stated in PRB-1 and various court cases
  • Amateur Radio operators are prohibited by the FCC from conducting business on the air


"When a disaster strikes...amateur systems assist with relief operations immediately. Often, it is from an amateur...that the world first learns of the disaster."

"Many of our engineers, scientists, astronauts, educators and technicians took their first steps toward their careers when they became amateur operators."

"The concept of broadcasting began when listeners overheard amateur stations exchanging weather reports and baseball scores. The first land mobile systems were built by amateurs. The first hand-held radios were built by amateurs."

"The first satellite station authorized by the FCC was an amateur station. Today, more than 30 [amateur] satellites have been launched."

"This service is ever at the forefront of communications technology."

Remarks by FCC official during an FCC hearing on Amateur Radio issues, 1990


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