Amateur Radio Emergency Communications
Amateur Radio Emergency Communications (AREC), formerly the Amateur Radio Emergency Corps, is a service provided by the New Zealand Association of Radio Transmitters (NZART) which provides trained radio communicators and communication systems for emergency situations.
"To be the preferred provider for emergency communications to New Zealand emergency services."
- To train and provide competent radio communications personnel, who are suitably skilled in assisting organisations during emergencies.
- To maintain a close liaison with the New Zealand Police for Search and Rescue.
- To maintain a close liaison with Civil Defence in New Zealand.
- To maintain liaison with other community organisations.
- To provide and maintain suitable equipment appropriate to the emergency situation.
The Amateur Radio Emergency Corps were formed in the aftermath of the Napier earthquake of 1931. Amateur Radio Operators in the area were key in the maintaining of communications between Napier and the outside world, as the Earthquake disabled the Post & Telegraph Department's communication systems. In the months afterward groups of 'Radio Emergency Corps' formed around the country with the purpose of providing the means for radio communication to any part of New Zealand in an emergency. This was eventually nationalised under the NZART. The name was changed to 'Amateur Radio Emergency Communications' in the late 1990s to better reflect the more 'modern' nature of today's communicators.
AREC Sections - attached to NZART Branches nationwide - are coordinated by a Section leader, who report to Area Managers (4 in total) who in turn report to a National Director and their Deputy. The AREC is a service provided as a component of the New Zealand Association of Radio Transmitters, which is a registered not-for-profit Incorporated Society.
As of last-quarter 2006 the nationwide Callsign Allocations of ZLxEx/ZLxExx - long recognised as 'Emergency' callsigns and administered by the AREC - were re-prefixed as ZKxEx/ZKxExx. The use of ZK by AREC stations will serve to improve the recognition of the special nature of their radio traffic, and allow Amateurs to more easily grant AREC operations priority. This move has been greeted by New Zealand Amateurs as somewhat controversial, as blocks of ZKxxxx callsign space are still occupied by Niue (ZK2) and The Tokelau (ZK3) and a perceived risk of AREC stations being confused with 'Rare DX' on HF frequencies.
These concerns were raised with the New Zealand Ministry of Economic Development (Spectrum Management Group), and in February 2007 the MeD requested that NZART place an immediate hold on the use of ZK2 and ZK3 callsigns. The issue remains outstanding, with NZART liasing with the MeD, who is in turn liasing with the administrators of callsign space for both Niue and Tokelau. In the interim, AREC are using ZK8 and ZK9 as the callsign prefixes in the ZL2 and ZL3 areas, thus removing the conflicting use of ZK2 and ZK3.
The AREC have traditionally provided resource for two complementary but separate areas:
Search and Rescue
AREC have in the last 30 years established themselves as key contributors of communications resource to the New Zealand Police.
AREC maintain ties to the New Zealand Civil Defence and Emergency Management Groups at both central and local government levels. A National Comms Plan administered by AREC prescribes Callsigns, Frequencies and Net Control stations in such a way that the AREC should be able to establish communications with any region of New Zealand required in a case of serious emergency, assuming that local AREC sections are active and able to stand up their equipment. (National knowledge of the comms plan also allows for neighbouring less-affected regions to provide overlapping assistance and/or relay over HF, VHF or UHF frequencies as required).
AREC Sections in individual areas may provide all manner of other communications and CIMS expertise - Firefighting is one example of where skilled communicators and high-flexibility radio communications systems come in handy.
Amateur Radio Operators are widely renowned for innovation in communication circles. AREC capitalises on this innovation - privately designed and built equipment features heavily in what have become tried-and-true communications solutions.
Examples of AREC equipment include:
- Portable Hand-held Radio Equipment - many AREC sections maintain a set of (usually VHF) handheld radios, generally programmed for commercial 'Emergency Services' bands for direct compatibility with Police, Defence, Maritime and other emergency services. These are usually issued one-per-search-party - AREC members themselves may not be members of the Search Party (unless they are otherwise qualified, perhaps through involvement with Land SAR or Tramping Clubs). AREC provide both the equipment and training in their use.
- Amateur Radio Fixed Repeaters - the pre-existing 'permanent' repeaters that cover much of New Zealand on both VHF (2m) and UHF (70 cm) frequencies often provide well known performance and coverage over an AREC event area. When AREC stations come up on a frequency, all other stations are required by good operating practise to give that station priority. The repeater would be left for AREC operation until the AREC event came to a close.
- Short-Term Special-Purpose (STSP) Repeaters - these are VHF or UHF repeaters designed to operate in a conventional fashion, but be highly portable. Their licenses allow them to be relocated as/when required and they can usually be transported easily in your average car. Typically these would be located on a high point providing line-of-site to a search area or emergency zone, providing enhanced range for VHF or UHF radio equipment. These may be either commercial or custom designs.
- Crossband Repeaters - Similar to an STSP, but usually based on a COTS Dualband Tranceiver with native cross-band repeat functionality. These have the advantage of being very portable - a Crossband Repeater based on a Dual-band Hand-held Transceiver can be transported, complete with antenna and mast, by 2 trampers. This would include an external 12V battery power supply capable of running the unit for a number of days. Crossband units are often inserted into areas of bush or scrub via Helicopter, with a Search Party (made up of Trampers or Land SAR volunteers and/or Police staff) conducting the actual installation.
Both of the above provide means by which VHF or UHF handheld radios can have their effective range greatly improved. VHF and UHF equipment has a significant size advantage over HF equipment, which typically requires antennas several meters long in length and are as such unsuitable for portable operation, especially in areas of dense bush.
- Portable High Frequency (HF) Radio Equipment - HF sets are considered by some as 'older technology' and are generally much less portable and flexible than their VHF or UHF equivalents, however, they are a retained capability with several distinct advantages (by virtue of not being limited by Line-of-Sight). Their use requires a little more training, and often some initial setup (typically the running out of a long-wire antenna) - but in some circumstances HF radios will be by far the better performer over VHF/UHF equipment. There is also a useful tie-in to the Mountain Radio Service. Police Search and Rescue are also actively re-introducing the use of HF radio in appropriate situations.
The combination of frequencies and equipment used in a given situation is usually determined case-by-case, or by local AREC standard practise. It has been observed that VHF/UHF crossbanding technology is more commonly used in the North Island where HF equipment is more commonly used in the South Island, however, there are exceptions to both of these.
AREC has a nationally directed training programme which is administered section-by-section through the AREC Section Leader. Generally speaking, an AREC member is expected to be an expert in the following areas:
- Radio Operation Techniques - terminology, phonetics and 'net control' skills as applicable to high-traffic, high-stress situations.
- Setup / Configuration of equipment utilised by the local AREC Section
- General knowledge of radio equipment
- Coordinated Incident Management System (CIMS) familiarity
- Basic Fault Identification and Remediation - for Radio Equipment
Other complementary skills often found within AREC members include:
- Knowledge of Civil Defence or Emergency Services Procedures
- Computing and general Communications expertise
- Data Entry / Keyboard skills
- Management / Organisational Skills
- "Be Prepared" attitude. Members are often called upon to respond at short notice and be out in the field overnight or longer.
- 4WD or off-roading experience
- Tramping / Bushcraft / Tracking & Trailing knowledge/experience
- Emergency Management skills - esp within the CIMS infrastructure.
Sports & Cultural Events
AREC regularly use volunteer contributions to sporting and cultural events as training for their communications methods and equipment. One notable event in New Zealand is the Rally of New Zealand, a World Rally Championships stage during which AREC provides a substantial number of volunteer radio operators for control, safety and results traffic handling. These events provide an excellent opportunity to practise the establishment of portable radio equipment in the field, as well as a Headquarters facility and mobile stations. Radio traffic during the course of the event provides an opportunity to practise message handling procedures both in the field and at Rally HQ.
Other events AREC may participate in include Cycle Events, Marathons, Santa Parades, 4WD events and Horse Treks, as examples. Any situation requiring reliable radio comms in a slightly unconventional environment, may be able to benefit from AREC involvement. The alternative is often the use of Cellular Phones (unsuitable in poor coverage areas) or commercial (costly) radio providers.
Awards and recognition
In recognition of their contribution to Search and Rescue, AREC were awarded the Inaugural New Zealand National SAR Award in 2001. They were nominated for the award by New Zealand Land SAR Inc. for their long commitment to SAR in New Zealand - in all classes of search.
The wording on the award is:
"The Award is presented to Amateur Radio Emergency Communications in recognition of their outstanding performance and contribution to Search and Rescue in the New Zealand Region, particularly the skilled communications personnel and technical capabilities that have established them as the preferred provider of emergency communications in support of Search and Rescue in New Zealand"
Similar Organisations elsewhere in the world
- ARES - Amateur Radio Emergency Service (United States)
- RACES - Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (United States)
- RAYNET - Radio Amateurs Emergency Network (United Kingdom)