Why is there so much problem with consistency within emergency communication in Amateur Radio(AR)? Katrina proved that we, as a nation, have far too many "Emergency Communication" groups in AR. I'm sure that there are several people that will strongly disagree with that statement but let's look at why I say there ARE too many groups.
In an eHam thread on Emergency Communications one post says "find the group that you are most comfortable with". HUH? That strongly implies that there are many groups run as a dictatorship. That is to say a given unit is autonomous enough that the "leader" can do what ever he chooses. I have seen that in many groups. The EC (or what ever title he/she has) can do what ever they want in training, operations, meetings, membership, etc. That latitude is commendable some of the time but really gets in the way of an efficient and functional unit if there is ever a need for mutual aid.
Within any organization (ARES, RACES, SkyWarn, etc.) there are VAST differences in the training provided within any organization and indeed, not just the subjects but the quality of training provided, within a single organization. A specific example; During the early aftermath of Katrina there were multiple operators from specific groups (my purpose is to address the sickness and not the symptom, so I will not specify which ones) that did not understand what a tactical call was, much less know how to use one. Yet, per their group, these people were "fully trained". Those same people were unable to compose a message in anything but chit-chat mode. Yet they were known as "fully trained". Oh really? It makes no difference which group you refer to, each group has the same inconsistency in training. For example: Two areas near here have both ARES and RACES in the same county. In one, the ARES group is exceptional while the RACES group is far less. Right next door the RACES group is exceptional while the ARES group is far less. Both areas are in the same state and only fifty miles apart. That is inconsistency.
Basic training should and in fact MUST be consistent throughout the nation, no matter which organization or group within that organization an individual is a member of. Within ARES (it may seem that I am picking on the ARRL but only because almost everyone has experience with ARES [good, bad, or indifferent]) there are significant differences in training between ARES groups that are adjacent to one another. If your next door neighbor has good training, why can't you? The answer is very simple, it's called NIH - Not Invented Here! Far too many groups are run as a dictatorship to "provide latitude" in how they run their organization. Latitude is good if it does not impede or restrict adequate training. Katrina proved that we as a nation are not properly trained in emergency communication so I would have to say it is not working as currently implemented, a.k.a. B.A.D. (Broken As Designed).
Up until early 2000 there was no nation-wide emergency communications
training and there still isn't. The ARRL's ARECC courses however are a
first try at implementing such a process. Are they shining examples of
what we need? I'm skeptical but they are a good starting point and I
understand there is a good update pending to the basic material. Until
late 2000 there was no consistency in training anywhere but we now have
a starting point. Why then do we not use it?
I'll bet there are four main reasons:
The real question then is - are we content with looking like over half of the Amateur Radio communicators have no training when we have a mutual aid situation or do we want to improve? I hope the answer is IMPROVE. How do we do that? Simple, combine groups. The areas that have the highest efficiency have combined ARES, RACES and yes even SkyWarn into one organization. Does that imply instant improvement? NO, but you at least have less dictatorships to overcome. Will this combination be easy? It will be anything but easy. Those that will whine the loudest will be those involved in or attempting to perpetuate turf wars. They like war and will be less than happy to relinquish war-like ways or the turf they think they own.
Some groups use the ARECC courses for training, some use information from N8UT and others use other resources. THERE is a large part of the problem. We need to have all groups using a single, simple, nation-wide training program that is fully viable and many would add free. Once we have that in place we then need to perform fair and accurate evaluations of all participants at regular intervals. If they fail, have them do the training again. If they need retraining more than twice (three times total) they should probably be encouraged to find something outside of emergency communication to volunteer at.
The goal needs to be FOR Amateur Radio rather than for an organization or group. We must begin to grow Amateur Radio back into the strong and knowledgeable group it once had a reputation of being. That's our prize.
The largest single change that I believe we need is to have someone in charge of this effort that can keep their "eye on the prize" rather than being distracted by what path we take to get there. Or worse yet the type of person that gets distracted by the rocks in the path we travel. Or even worse yet, the person that gets distracted by the single grain of sand in his shoe and thus cannot find the path and can't remember what the actual prize even was.