Thoughts on ARES engagements

Last evening I had a chance to sit with the GTA Section leadership, along with the ECs of the various ARES teams in the GTA. As the new Director, Ontario South I shared my initial thoughts on a set of Three Priorities, Two Possible "Moonshots" and a May event upcoming in the region in partnership with our good friends at Radioworld. (More on all of this soon)

I'm happy to report that this initial thinking was well received by the team and even built on in the following discussions. It seems the idea of a few simple priorities is resonating well in a Section that has had good reason to be cynical in recent years. It feels like we are turning a corner, for the better, in the GTA.

The meeting also announced Hal Buller taking on a new leadership / liaison role with the Provincial EOC. I'm a big fan of Hal's - He's a retired Canadian Forces Officer, formerly the Deputy Commanding Officer with the 32 Signals Regiment here in Toronto, an experienced organizer, a strong technologist and enthusiastic Amateur. Hal is going to be a major unifying force here in Ontario and I look forward to working with him.

 We went on to discuss the recent ice storm activations and the wealth of information that came out of that experience.

I'm always impressed with Radio Amateur's willingness to help out - with other Hams, with local events in the community and in times of need, with disasters. 

We have all considered the "what if?" when we charge our HTs, pack our bags and program our radios, but I think we need to think carefully about where and how we could be employed. In impacted areas, it is unrealistic to expect ARES volunteers to immediately "bug out" in the first hour of an activation - they are naturally going to ensure their family is safe and settled - THEN 12-18 hours later, they will be available. As a result mutual aid agreements between ARES units (and even sections) are critical to providing aid to our served agencies in a timely fashion.

We also have to consider what form that help is going to take. Radio Amateurs will never be employed as first responders, no matter how well kitted out they may be.  That's OK - even more honorable as we don't seek the hero's spot light - It's simple work for the common good.

I always think of the volunteers that seem to annually provide critical labour on the banks of the Red River in Manitoba. Led by a handful of professional (and often military) engineers, a civil army fills and places sandbags to keep the waters at bay.

We will face similar structures if called upon to assist civil power. When all else fails, our biggest hurdle will not be 12 volt or SWR problems, but the very human challenge of leading an army of converging volunteers - competent hams who may have little or no emergency experience -  led by a small Cadre of ARES organizers. 

I'm not that worried about the volunteers; they are smart, generous, well meaning and skilled. Increasingly, I am seeing the Cadre thinking about how to lead and serve these volunteers to provide the best services to our client agencies. It's very encouraging.

As I have said many times before, this is not about Command and Control, it's about leadership.