Origin of the ACS Concept

Given that California is a large state that is prone to all sorts of natural and man-made disasters, the California Office of Emergency Services (OES) has actively promoted Amateur Radio involvement in civil defense and emergency preparedness since the 1950s. In April, 1985, California OES hired Stanly E. Harter, KH6GBX, to be the State RACES Coordinator.  Prior to being hired by OES, Stan worked in commercial broadcast radio and served for 20 years as the Hawaii State Communications Coordinator, with responsibility for managing the Emergency Broadcast System and overseeing the Hawaii RACES program.

Coinciding with Stan’s hiring by OES, a series of State RACES bulletins were instituted. These were initially transmitted via CW and SSB on 80m Amateur frequencies on a weekly basis, and later disseminated by BBS and/or packet radio. The earlier bulletins are archived at a private website maintained by N7FAN. Later bulletins are archived on a website at the University of California San Diego.

By the time of the Northridge, California earthquake in 1994, Stan had realized that the old civil defense model of RACES, dating from the 1950s, no longer met the needs of emergency preparedness. While Amateur Radio continued to play a vital role in emergency communications following major disasters, there were opportunities for communications volunteers to augment the ranks of state and local telecommunications professionals performing a variety of technical and operational roles following a disaster. Many of these roles did not involve operating an Amateur Radio station. Stan envisioned a reserve corps of emergency communications volunteers that could be established in each local community across the state to fulfill this need.

Thus was born ACS. In 1995, Stan, along with Cary R. Mangum, W6WWW, published what became known as the California ACS Manual. This manual, while no longer maintained as an active document, is of considerable historical interest. Unfortunately, I can no longer find a copy of the manual extant on the Web. The copy I have is too large to be posted here. I’ll have to find a way to reduce the file size so I can make it available. It is an interesting read.

On a personal note, during that mid-1990s period when ACS was born, I was serving as the Telecommunications and Information Resources Officer with the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS). We recruited Amateur Radio operators to be members of each of the Disaster Medical Assistance Teams administered by NDMS. Those volunteers certainly used Amateur Radio during deployments, but we also trained them to set up portable satellite earth stations, IT networks, telephone systems, and power distribution systems in the field.

When I became aware of Stan’s ACS concept shortly after publication of his manual, I immediately saw the wisdom of his approach. He was the first person in the emergency preparedness community to promote the idea that one doesn’t need an Amateur Radio license to serve as a telephone operator or in a technical capacity as described above.

One of the best parts of my job with NDMS was meeting hams from all over the county and seeing firsthand how well organized and prepared they were. In March, 1996, I had the privilege of teaching at an NDMS conference in San Diego, where I met members of the San Diego ACS team. This team had fully embraced the ACS concept and were very well organized and equipped to provide a variety of telecom resources in a disaster.

–Al, KN3U