Auxiliary Communications (AuxComm)

Volunteer Radio Organizations

There are several volunteer radio organizations active in the state.  The organizations are collectively referred to as Auxiliary Communications (AuxComm).  The groups operating within the state are:

  • Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES)
  • National Traffic System (NTS)
  • Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES)
  • Military Auxiliary Radio Service (MARS)
  • Civil Air Patrol (CAP)
  • Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN)
  • Radio Emergency Associated Communication Teams (REACT)

These volunteers have set up radio networks to pass information locally, statewide, nationally and internationally.  AuxComm organizations can transmit voice, video and data over their equipment.  Many radio volunteers provide weather information and warnings to the National Weather Service (NWS) through the SKYWARN program.

Volunteer radio operators have extensive knowledge of sophisticated communications technologies and their applications.  Volunteer radio operators maintain this equipment to provide communications in the event that cell phone, telephone lines, Internet and public safety radio systems are incapacitated.  Volunteer radio operators have provided critical communications capabilities after numerous emergencies.

In 2015, 2000 volunteer radio operators contributed 85,000 hours of service and transmitted 46,000 messages free of charge for citizens. This equates to a combined value of $1.85 million in contributed in free communications for citizens.

Auxiliary Communications (AuxComm)

The Auxiliary Communications (AuxComm) organization consists of representatives from the volunteer radio community, law enforcement and emergency management.  AuxComm groups in the state address local and statewide development of volunteer radio capabilities.  The organization is also open to non-radio subject matter experts such as data, voice, video, microwave, or satellite experts.

Local AuxComm organizations take responsibility for developing volunteer radio assets in their MSP district.  A key part of their mission will be to integrate volunteer radio organizations into emergency management resources.  At the state level the AuxComm Working Group reports to the Michigan Public Safety Communications Interoperability Board.  The AuxComm Working Group acts as a coordinating group for the local AuxComm organizations and focuses on statewide efforts.

If you wish to volunteer your technical expertise within the AuxComm organization please contact Don Bouffard at 517-284-3995 or at bouffard@michigan.gov.

Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES)

Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) members provide communications support services to civilian organizations, and state, county and local governments.  ARES volunteers provide services such as managing radio communications for local first responders, assisting with communications during public events and providing field communications during search and rescue operations.

National Traffic System (NTS)

The National Traffic System (NTS) maintains a radio communications network that can pass a message anywhere in the Western hemisphere.  NTS volunteers pass over 46,000 messages annually for free for citizens.  The message is passed from a local operator through multiple radio networks until it reaches its destination.  It is then delivered by the receiving NTS radio operator.

Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES)

Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) and Military Auxiliary Radio Service (MARS) are the designated organizations for emergency communications during declared national emergencies.  RACES members provide communications support in emergency operations facilities, hospitals, 911 centers and on emergency scenes.

RACES members are allowed onto the sites of emergencies and into secure facilities to provide communications services.  Because of this, RACES members must pass a security background check.  Each RACES member is given an identification card. Michigan State Police (MSP) Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division (EMHSD) issues RACES cards.  The cards are issued to local emergency managers through the MSP/EMHSD District Coordinators.  The local emergency managers are responsible for knowing their RACES resources and distributing the cards.

Any licensed radio operator is eligible.  A radio operator applies by filling out a form and submitting to the local Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) Emergency Coordinator.  Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) courses IS-22/100/200/700 are required to be a RACES radio operator.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) SKYWARN training, radio traffic handling training, HAZMAT awareness training, and damage assessment training are optional, but can be required by the county Emergency Manager.

Army Military MARS & Air Force MARS

Military Auxiliary Radio Service (MARS) volunteers serve their respective military branches.  There are Army, and Air Force MARS organizations in Michigan.  All military members can join either of these organizations. MARS members have passed hundreds of thousands of “MARSgrams” from family member to deployed military personnel.  MARS radios networks are secure and can use military grade encryption.

MARS members’ first priority is to provide a distributed backup communication network for military resources.  The Department of Defense is the primary command of the MARS organization.  When not required by the military, MARS radio operators assist in Emergency Operations Centers and at incident scenes.  

Civil Air Patrol (CAP)

Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is an auxiliary service of the U. S Air Force.  CAP is considered a part of the Air Force and is under military command.  The CAP maintains a network of radio communications.  CAP provides search and rescue services, airborne reconnaissance, transportation, communications support, and damage assessment and augments incident command staff.

Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN)

Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) volunteers use amateur radio to support Salvation Army emergency relief efforts.  SATERN focuses on providing information on the health and welfare of family members who are in areas affected by emergencies.

Radio Emergency Associated Communication Teams (REACT)

Radio Emergency Associated Communication Teams (REACT) monitors the citizen band (CB) emergency radio frequency channel 9, and also utilizes amateur radio.  REACT is responsible for the designation of CB channel 9 as an emergency channel.  REACT members also provide services to the National Weather Service and Salvation Army.

Other services
  • U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Service maintains a volunteer radio organization to support services.
  • Red Cross maintains radio communications equipment to support their mission.
  • NWS SKYWARN program utilizes volunteer radio operators.

Capabilities

  • Voice communication.
  • Data communications – Radios can be connected to the Internet and serve as an email and text message link when all other communications fail.
  • Satellite communications – Radios can use satellites to relay communications internationally.
  • Video – Video can be transmitted from emergency sites over radio.
  • Wireless Networks – Wireless Internet routers similar to the ones in your home can be connected to radio transmitters.  Wireless Internet is provided to a large geographical area. These areas are connected together via other radios.  First responders can use this system for voice communications, Internet access, email and video.
  • Morse code – The dot and dash code sent by a telegraph operator key transmits through the worst atmospheric conditions.  Volunteer radio operators maintain Morse code skills.