ECom or Emergency Communication is one phase of the public service portion of Amateur Radio (a.k.a. Ham Radio).
If you do not already have an Amateur Radio license it would probably be best for you to look for an Amateur Radio club in your area and talk with the people you meet there. They will have the information you are likely to need and can provide some insight into both the hobby and the range of activities and techniques involved. If you can not find a club local to you then the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) will be able to get you started.
For those with a Ham license there are several items that you should think seriously about before making any commitment to ECom. Some of the more important subjects are:
Why me? That is an excellent question. Some within Amateur Radio (AR) take the FCC regulations seriously (as they should) and do their best to implement the portion of the Reg's [97.1(a)] that state "Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications." Some do not. A primary consideration for all of us is that only some will have enough time (covered below) to do justice to the ECom portion of our hobby. Not everyone has the time and many do not have the inclination. In point of fact, it is far better to not participate in ECom than to not be honest with yourself about your interest or the amount of time you actually have available.
The negative side is someone in ECom, just to "be where the action is". These people tend to be wanna-be types. That is to say they wanna-be a policeman, or wanna-be a fireman but do not have what it takes to do either of those jobs. People in that group can do the largest favor to Amateur Radio by not participating in ECom.
If you have a real interest in learning how to communicate (not just talk), how to effectively interact with law enforcement and some of the more complex portions of Amateur Radio communication techniques, then you are a good candidate for ECom.
How much time will it take? That depends on how effective you wish to become. To be effective in ECom you need to have at least one half hour per week. Does that mean - every - week? No it does not, but it does mean most weeks. If you do not have twenty five hours per year available, it is probably best for you to spend what time you do have with your kids/family. They deserve the time you can spend with them.
The problem comes in that people just getting started will need far more than a half hour per week. In fact it will be far easier if you can devote about ten to fifteen hours in the first month or so for initial training. After that, a half hour per week, on average, will be very helpful to your group.
You will also find it easier if you can work on training and public service events throughout the year. Many people find it helpful to work one to three public service events each year. This allows them to fine tune their training via practical experience and learn advanced techniques by performing them in a non threatening environment, yet it still leaves time for home and family. An average public service event will likely take four to eight hours per event. Three of those events per year plus one or two weekly nets per month will occupy the full twenty five hours per year you need to have available.
While on the subject of time, one item that many do not understand is that once you are sufficiently trained that you are helpful during an emergency, you may easily have any where from months to years with no emergency in your area. The is both a curse and blessing. A blessing in that your portion of the US has not experienced an emergency that requires amateur radio help. We all like not having emergencies making a mess in our neighborhood. A curse in that no one really wants to do extensive training and then find that it is not needed (YET!). That is where public service events help. They let us use our new skills without having to experience the rigors of an emergency.
If you are still interested there is one, almost thread bare saying, that fully applies. "There is no I in team." We, as a group are effective only when we fully integrate into a team. Just think about one simple concept to see why. Who will you send a message to if you are not part of a team?
The easiest way to get started is to review the ECom Introduction material and then review your interest and willingness to commit to the time required to be a helpful participant. If you are still interested, then seriously consider taking either the ECom Basic (free) or the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Course (ARECC) from the ARRL. Both of these courses came from the same source material but have continued to evolve in slightly different ways.
The advantage in the ARRL courses is that they are recognized in every state, where the ECom courses are only recognized in about five states. Then again, if your only cost is the time you spend to read (and re-read) the material, the ECom courses can be an advantage.
The second half of your training will need to be the Incident Command System courses:
Some may ask why so much emphasis on ICS. The answer is simple. ALL entities receiving federal dollars (virtually every police, fire, etc.) must have implemented the Incident Command System by 2005 to continue receiving federal dollars. This also includes all of their volunteers (us).
Emergency Communication via Amateur Radio can easily be one of the more fun portions of the hobby but it may not be for everyone. I encourage you to at least investigate the possibilities.
With all of that said, there is one other consideration, group training. Does the group you are thinking of joining actually put any emphasis on REAL training? Most Section Managers refuse to require training. They repeat that they "can not" require training, yet say the local EC may, if they choose to, require training.
Which is it?
YOU must decide. If "your" group does not require training AND participation, they will-be/are worthless. Do you want to be part of a worthless organization? Not me.