Training Overview


No training is required to become a member of Montgomery County ACS. Our organization exists to develop and maintain a cadre of volunteers who are qualified and equipped to provide a wide range of supplemental telecommunications services supporting our community during civil emergencies. An interest in in supporting that mission, and some kind of relationship with Montgomery County, are the key requirements for membership at the Associate Member level.

However, to be eligible for assignment in an operational or technical supporting role in many kinds of disaster situations, members must train and qualify for a given position. If you think about it, organizations like fire departments, rescue services, and the American Red Cross have defined positions and formal training requirements for volunteers.  In many cases, applicants must satisfy other requirements, such as passing a background check or physical examination, to qualify for appointment. And in many cases, the training and eligibility requirements for such emergency or disaster service positions are governed by national or international standards.

Amateur Radio operators represent a large pool of potential EMCOMM volunteers, Historically, many Amateur Radio operators have bristled at the idea that they needed to undergo training in order to participate in EMCOMM groups like ACS. After all, we have our FCC licenses, and many of us have years or decades of experience operating two-way radios.

Let’s examine that more closely. Exactly what does that FCC license mean?  It means that you passed one, two, or three multiple-choice exams of 35 or 50 questions each, covering FCC rules and the basics of setting up a simple station. That’s a significant accomplishment, to be sure, but it doesn’t assure that you can be an effective member of a disaster response team performing difficult technical and/or operational tasks under stressful and often austere conditions.

Basic Training

Certain basic training elements have been established as universal prerequisites for Full Membership.

All candidates for Full Membership in MC ACS must submit evidence that you have completed the following four introductory-level FEMA courses and achieved a passing grade on the final exams. These courses will provide you with a basic understanding of the system that is universally used in the United States to manage emergency situations up to and including major disasters  These courses may be taken online at your own time and pace, and they are not particularly difficult to master.

ICS-100.b Introduction to the Incident Command System (ICS)
ICS-200.b ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents
ICS-700.a Introduction to the National Incident Management System
ICS-800.b Introduction to the National Response Framework

You can start this online training program by visiting the FEMA Emergency Management Institute website. The first step in the process is to register and obtain a FEMA Student Identification Number. Then you can register for individual courses. We recommend that you take them in the order listed above. When you complete each course, you will be issued a certificate of completion, which you can forward to the Membership committee via email,

The Well-Rounded EMCOMM Volunteer

Note that the four required basic training courses only scratch the surface of the training offered by FEMA. FEMA maintains an extensive catalog of online training, covering many aspects of emergency management. It is well worth looking into those offerings and checking out any that look interesting to you.

Although MC ACS is closely affiliated with the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and has a defined role in the County’s Emergency Operations Plan under Emergency Support Function 2 (Communications), membership in MC ACS does not qualify a person for deployment in a technical or operational role by the County.

Not all MC ACS members may wish to be deployable.  There are plenty of opportunities to be involved short of deployment in a disaster. However, any MC ACS member who does wish to be deployable by the County will need to fulfill additional training requirements specified by the County, apply for a Montgomery County Volunteer ID badge, and undergo a background check. Other served agencies and/or non-governmental organizations may have their own unique requirements. In addition, each Capability Endorsement may have specific qualifications. MC ACS will help you to become engaged in activities consistent with your background and interests.

The well-rounded EMCOMM volunteer should have at least basic competency in the following areas:

  • Ensuring that your family and business associates are provided for in your absence.
  • Setting up a functional Amateur Radio station, including effective antennas, alternative power sources, and station accessories.
  • Operating on HF as well as V/UHF bands.
  • Familiarity with voice net operations and message handling techniques (and preferably, the ability to manage a directed net)
  • Familiarity with digital communications modes and applications, especially  Winlink.
  • Skills to be self-sufficient in terms of appropriate clothing, equipment, personal food, water, and meds to be self-sufficient and productive for up to three days in an austere environment.
  • First aid.
  • Mental preparation for exposure to situations in which persons are experiencing loss and suffering.
  • Diplomatic skills and humility to maintain composure in stressful situations and work effectively with others who may be less prepared.

Extra credit is given for familiarity with telecom, IT/datacomm, digital microwave, and satellite systems. You learn as you go, becoming more valuable as you gain experience in many different aspects of emergency communications and disaster response.

Communications is a logistical function, not an operational function. Our job is to enable those charged with various aspects of emergency response to communicate with the people they need to talk to in order to do their jobs. The better we understand the jobs of the people we are serving, the better we are able to help them. But we must never make the assumption that we know as much about their work as they do. This can be tricky business, especially when we are conducting third-party communications.

Advanced Training

On occasion, ACS volunteers might be invited to attend advanced emergency management training courses offered by the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEMHS), the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), or other organizations. In addition, Montgomery County OEMHS sometimes makes available to MC ACS members classroom versions of the FEMA courses.Examples include:

  • Communications Unit Technician (COMT) and Communications Unit Leader (COML) Courses — these are 5-day courses developed jointly by the US DHS Office of Emergency Communications and the FEMA Emergency Management Institute and offered periodically by the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).
  • Maryland Hurricane Conference — an annual one-day meeting sponsored by MEMA with briefings by experts in hurricane preparedness, response, and recovery

There are a couple of important benefits to taking these courses in a classroom session. First, you will have the opportunity to meet a cross-section of local and regional officials who are active in emergency management, and participate in stimulating classroom discussions and group exercises. Second, the classroom versions of these courses are often customized to procedures, facilities, and IT tools that are specific to Montgomery County, the DC metro area, and/or the State of Maryland.

Generally, ACS volunteers are sponsored in these courses by Montgomery County OEMHS. It is an honor and privilege for ACS members to be offered such opportunities. Courses will be announced via the website, email, and or the weekly training nets.