While much of amateur radio practice is grounded in military radio operator methods from WWII, newer technology with better quality and bandwidth has allowed amateur operators to move away from traditional jargon and special codes. Differing terminology, along with incompatible radio systems, were identified as key factors in the aftermath of the events of 9/11. Marin County now has a standardized radio system that most of the public service agencies in the county use. This system is known as MERA (Marin Emergency Radio Authority) and is a sophisticated digital radio system. The same standards that are now manifest in MERA are also present in the RACES/ACS group operating practices.
There are standard antennas, radio types, frequencies, and band plans that have been identified and agreed to for emergency communications in the Amateur radio spectrum. Our operators use normal language to communicate messages thus reducing ambiguity.
Amateur radio has always led the way ahead of commercial radio as an experimental forum. Many things we take for granted had their roots in amateur radio and the military. This includes AM and FM radio, text messaging, pictures via cell phones, and facsimile. One of the key values of amateur radio is that it does not rely on additional infrastructure to operate. Amateur radio will be able to continue to communicate in a typical emergency scenario where power, cell phones, internet connectivity and traditional land line telephones will be overloaded or disrupted. Amateur radio uses different parts of the existing radio spectrum to communicate over local or even long distances. These systems are highly portable and most can operate off of a car battery. This makes amateur radio an ideal alternative to the main communications systems we have in place today.
In Marin County we also have hilltop repeaters that rebroadcast ham radio signals, digital communications (like text messaging) using over the air analogue tones, and longer range radio (sideband). These systems are tested continuously and RACES members continue to seek ways to improve on the cadre of radios available for communications.