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Report to Congress on Amateur Radio in Emergencies and Disaster Relief

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Released: August 20, 2012

Federal Communications Commission

DA 12-1342

Before the

Federal Communications Commission

WASHINGTON, D.C. 20554

In the Matter of
)
)

Uses and Capabilities of Amateur Radio Service
)
GN Docket No. 12-91
Communications in Emergencies and Disaster
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Relief: Report to Congress Pursuant to Section
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6414 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job
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Creation Act of 2012
)

REPORT

Adopted: August 16, 2012

Released: August 20, 2012

By the Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security
Bureau:

I. INTRODUCTION

1. The Federal Communications Commission (Commission) licenses stations to operate in the
amateur radio service pursuant to its authority under the Communications Act of 1934, as amended.1 The
amateur service is available to persons who are interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim
and without pecuniary interest.2 It presents an opportunity for individuals to self-train in radio and
communications technology and to carry out technical investigations.3 Amateur radio operators also
engage in voluntary, noncommercial communications with other amateur radio operators located in the
United States and in foreign countries,4 and form a group of trained operators who have the ability, on a
voluntary basis, to assist the public by providing essential communications links and facilitating relief
actions, particularly when a disaster or other emergency situation occurs or is likely to occur.5 Amateur
radio operators have been useful in recent years in augmenting essential communication services and


1 See, e.g., 47 U.S.C. § 301. Under the Commission’s rules, the amateur radio services include three services – “the
amateur service, the amateur-satellite service and the radio amateur civil emergency service [RACES].” See 47
C.F.R. § 97.3(a)(2). The amateur service and the amateur satellite service are separate radio services in the
international Radio Regulations; RACES is a domestic radio service using amateur radio stations for civil defense
communications during periods of local, regional or national civil emergencies. See World Radiocommunication
Conference Final Acts (Geneva, 2003), Article 25; 47 C.F.R. § 97.3(a)(37). Because the bulk of the comments
submitted pertained to the amateur service, the focus of the report is on that service.
2 See 47 C.F.R. § 97.3(a)(4). Under the Commission’s rules, the amateur radio services include three services – “the
amateur service, the amateur-satellite service and the radio amateur civil emergency service [RACES].” See 47
C.F.R. § 97.3(a)(2). The amateur service and the amateur satellite service are separate radio services in the
international Radio Regulations; RACES is a domestic radio service using amateur radio stations for civil defense
communications during periods of local, regional or national civil emergencies. See World Radiocommunication
Conference Final Acts (Geneva, 2003), Article 25; 47 C.F.R. § 97.3(a)(37). The record in this proceeding focuses
primarily on the amateur service.
3 See id.
4 See 47 C.F.R. § 97.111(a)(1).
5 See 47 C.F.R. § 97.1(a).

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providing communication links when normal communication systems are overloaded or unavailable.
2. Section 6414 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Statute) states
that the Commission, in consultation with the Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) in the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS), shall complete a study on the uses and capabilities of amateur
radio service communications in emergencies and disaster relief not later than 180 days after the date of
the enactment of the Statute.6 It also states that the Commission shall submit a report to the Committee
on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science,
and Transportation of the Senate on the findings of such study within the same 180-day period.7 The
Statute requires that the study include a review of the importance of emergency amateur radio service8
communications relating to disasters, severe weather, and other threats to lives and property in the United
States; and recommendations for enhancements in the voluntary deployment of amateur radio operators in
disaster and emergency communications and disaster relief efforts; and recommendations for improved
integration of amateur radio operators in the planning and furtherance of initiatives of the federal
government.9 The Statute also requires that the study identify impediments to enhanced amateur radio
service communications and provide recommendations regarding the removal of such impediments.10
The Statute specifically identifies “the effects of unreasonable or unnecessary private land use restrictions
on residential antenna installations” as an example of such an impediment.11 In conducting the study, the
Statute directs the Commission to use the expertise of stakeholder entities and organizations, including
amateur radio, emergency response, and disaster communications communities.12
3. On April 2, 2012, the Commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Public Safety
and Homeland Security Bureau (Bureaus) released a Public Notice seeking comment on the uses and
capabilities of Amateur Radio Service communications in emergencies and disaster relief.13 Comment
was sought on issues relating to the importance of emergency amateur radio service communications and
on impediments to enhanced amateur radio service communications. In response to the Public Notice, the
Bureaus received more than 180 comments from individual amateur radio operators, amateur radio
organizations, public safety entities, and other interested parties. Moreover, as required by Section 6414,
the Commission has consulted with DHS’s OEC in conducting this study and preparing this report.14

II. BACKGROUND

4. Amateur radio provides members of the public with an opportunity to explore and develop


6 See Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, Pub. L. No. 112-96, § 6414 (2012). The Statute was
signed into law on February 22, 2012. Therefore, the 180-day period expires at the end of August 20, 2012.
7 See id. at § 6414(a).
8 The Statute does not define “amateur radio service.” We interpret Section 6414’s use of the phrase as having the
same definition as “amateur radio services” in Part 97 of the FCC’s rules.
9 See id. at § 6414(b)(1).
10 Id. at § 6414(b)(2).
11 Id. at § 6414(b)(2)(A).
12 Id. at § 6414(c).
13 See Commission Seeks Comment on Emergency Communications by Amateur Radio and Impediments to
Amateur Radio Communications, Public Notice, GN Docket No. 12-91, 27 FCC Rcd 3200 (WTB/PSHSB 2012)
(Public Notice).
14 Specifically, drafts of both the Public Notice and this report were shared with OEC prior to release, and OEC
provided substantive comments and suggestions throughout the process.
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their interests in radio communications techniques on an exclusively non-pecuniary, personal basis. Such
individuals can self-train, communicate with other amateur radio licensees, and carry out technical
investigations.15 The basis and purpose of the amateur radio services is expressed in five principles,
which includes the value of amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication
service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.16 The amateur radio service
rules thus allow, among other things, stations in this service to make transmissions necessary to meet
essential communication needs, facilitate relief actions, and to make transmissions necessary to providing
emergency communications.17 The rules also make clear that amateur radio stations may provide
essential communications in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate
protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.18
5. Recent news stories have reported events where amateur radio operators have been useful in
augmenting essential communication services and providing communication links when normal
communication systems are overloaded or unavailable. For example, amateur radio operators provided
storm observations and damage reports to the National Weather Service (NWS) when winds and
tornadoes moved through Arkansas and Alabama in January 2012, and provided communications to
villages along the Bering Sea when a November 2011 severe winter storm knocked out power lines and
communications.19

III. DISCUSSION

A. Importance of Emergency Amateur Radio Service Communications

6. The responses to the Public Notice indicate agreement between the amateur radio community
and public safety community as to the utility of amateur radio in emergency response situations. Amateur
radio communications are suited to disaster response in a way that many more advanced forms of
communication today are not, thereby allowing it to supplement other emergency communications
activities during disasters.
7. Amateur radio operators already have extensive experience in monitoring and relaying
weather-related information via the NWS’s Skywarn program. Developed in 1971, the Skywarn program
allows amateur radio operators to observe weather conditions and make reports to their local NWS
offices, thus assisting forecasters in tracking severe weather and warning citizens of oncoming weather


15 The “amateur service” is defined as “A radiocommunication service for the purpose of self-training,
intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, duly authorized persons interested
in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.” 47 C.F.R. § 97.3(a)(4).
16 See 47 C.F.R. § 97.1(a). The other four principles are contribution to the advancement of the radio art,
advancement of skills in the communication and technical phases of the art, expansion of the pool of trained
operators and experts, and enhancement of international goodwill. 47 C.F.R. § 97.1(b)-(e).
17 See 47 C.F.R. § 97.111(a)(2), (b)(4).
18 See 47 C.F.R. § 97.403.
19 See, e.g., American Radio Relay League, “Hams in Arkansas and Alabama Help Provide Assistance to NWS
During Severe Sunday Storms,” available at http://www.arrl.org/news/hams-in-arkansas-and-alabama-help-provide-
assistance-to-nws-during-severe-sunday-storms (last accessed on March 26, 2012); American Radio Relay League,
“When Brutal Storm Slams Alaska, Hams Provide Critical Communications,” available at
http://www.arrl.org/news/when-brutal-storm-slams-alaska-hams-provide-critical-communications (last accessed on
March 26, 2012). The American Radio Relay League, Inc. (ARRL) provides numerous other examples in its
comments in response to the Public Notice. See ARRL Comments at 48-63.
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threats.20 Commenter Slawomir J. Bucki explains the Cincinnati Skywarn system as follows:
When severe weather conditions are imminent, Cincinnati Skywarn activates a Severe
Weather Net.[21] The net activities are coordinated by a net control operator. The net
control operator relays weather reports from individual amateur radio operators to the
NWS office in Wilmington, Ohio, and relays important information from the NWS to
weather spotters. Cincinnati Skywarn uses two local VHF[22] repeaters to provide reliable
coverage of the Southwestern Ohio, Southeastern Indiana and Northern Kentucky areas.23
8. This system demonstrates a key feature of the amateur response network, which is that the
very nature of amateur radio, operating separate networks of independently operated stations functioning
primarily on a decentralized basis, provides it with resiliency, making it well-suited to disaster response.
More specifically, amateur radio operates independently from public infrastructure and can be operated
via portable transceivers and local back-up power sources.24 Amateur radio is especially resilient during
disasters that normally affect infrastructure (e.g., earthquakes and hurricanes).25 Another commenter
suggests that amateur radio operators could continue providing emergency communications in the
absence or degradation of the Internet or other communications infrastructure.26
9. Other commenters noted that amateur radio complements communications systems in areas
without wireless telephone coverage. Martin D. Wade notes that this complement comes from “the use of
the known and ubiquitous autopatch,” which is a feature that allows a transmission from an amateur
station that does not have ready access to the public switched telephone network (PSTN), such as a station
in an automobile or a portable station, to be connected or “patched” into the PSTN.27 Martin D. Wade
explains that this allows persons in “areas without cell service to reach out and have contact since distant


20 Participation in Skywarn does not require an amateur radio license; however, amateur radio nets allow for quick
and efficient transmission of weather information.
21 A “net” or “network” is a group of amateur radio stations that share some common interest and exchange
messages among themselves. The amateur service rules do not regulate networks or “net” operations.
22 VHF refers to the Very High Frequency portion of the radio spectrum, or 30-300 MHz.
23 Slawomir J. Bucki Comments at 2.
24 See id.; see also James Whedbee Comments at 3 (amateur radio services have provided weather spotter coverage
in several severe weather situations, including blizzards, ice storms, high winds, severe thunderstorms, tornadoes,
floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.).
25 See James Whedbee Comments at 3; see also, e.g., ARRL Comments at 66 (“Another good example of the value
of Amateur Radio in a weather-related event is the 2009 statewide ice storm that left more than 90 percent of
Kentucky’s counties without communications service of any type…Brigadier General John Heltzel, Kentucky’s
National Guard Deputy Commander and Director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, said, ‘We
wouldn’t have had any communications for the first three or four days if it hadn’t been for Kentucky’s ham radio
operators. They saved the day and don’t get nearly enough credit.’ Amateur Radio operators communicated from
their homes utilizing battery or generator-supplied power and were able to repair or replace their damaged antennas
to support their communities and their state in a time of dire emergency.”).
26 Nickolaus E. Leggett May 14 Comments at 1-2; see also Nickolaus E. Leggett April 3 Comments id. at 2 (arguing
that amateur radio networks are likely to function during electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks).
27 Martin D. Wade Comments at 4.
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repeaters can be made available.”28
10. Additionally, because amateur radio networks are typically spread across wide geographical
areas, they have the ability to spread critical disaster-related information to areas far from the disaster
area. Because they can utilize different frequency bands and emission types, amateur radio networks can
operate under a wide variety of conditions. The flexibility and geographical dispersion of amateur radio
networks provide advantages for relaying information out of localized disaster zones and into outside
jurisdictions coordinating recovery efforts. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) states, “The role
and goal of Amateur Radio is not to supplant existing commercial or public safety communications
facilities. Rather, the appropriate role is to supplement those other systems, especially during the early
parts of disaster relief and recovery. The flexibility of the Amateur Service, in terms of frequencies and
modes of communications available, gives it a high degree of resiliency.”29 The Public Safety
Communication Manager’s Association of Santa Clara County concurs, noting that, “Amateur Radio
operators quickly acquire post-incident information because they are already dispersed and have their
own equipment. For instance, following an earthquake Amateur Radio operators are able to provide
emergency services staff with a countywide snapshot within minutes.”30
11. Public safety organizations stress the importance of amateur radio as a complement to other
forms of emergency communications. The Public Safety Communication Manager’s Association of
Santa Clara County further notes that, “[w]hen local government staffing is stressed by incident response,
Amateur Radio operators provide a significant additional resource. They can provide communications to
mass care shelters, handle logistics requests and status reports, and process health and welfare traffic,
allowing EOC [emergency operations center] staff and dispatchers to focus on life safety and property
and environmental protection.”31 Commenters note that amateur radio operators may be quickly deployed
to areas where additional communications are needed to “supplement existing local government and
commercial land mobile networks, depending on the specific circumstances of the incident. For example,
Amateur Radio operators can be deployed to relay resource needs and assistance requests to public safety
answering points when public safety radio frequencies and/or public switched telephone networks and
Internet are either overwhelmed, have failed or are otherwise unavailable.”32
1.

Case studies

12. Commenters provided numerous case studies on the use of amateur radio networks during
disaster response. Arlington County, Virginia, Office of Emergency Management notes,
There are countless examples throughout the history of our nation that demonstrate the
intrinsic value of trained Amateur Radio operators providing auxiliary emergency


28 Id. (also noting that “[a] good example of this was when the Baton Rouge Repeater on 147.225 [MHz with an
antenna height of] 1300 Feet was used during Katrina to coordinate and relay messages across Louisiana and
Southern Mississippi”). The coverage area of a repeater, i.e., the area over which stations can communicate through
a repeater, is primarily determined by the height above ground of the repeater’s antennas and the topography of the
surrounding area.
29 Id.; see also Michael D. Adams Comments at 1; Timothy S. Cotton Comments at 1-2; James Whedbee Comments
at 5-6; James Russell Comments at 2.
30 Public Safety Communication’s Manager’s Association of Santa Clara County Comments at 1.
31 Public Safety Communications Manager’s Association of Santa Clara County Comments at 1-2; see also Santa
Clara County Fire Chief’s Association Comments at 2.
32 Arlington County, Virginia, Office of Emergency Management Comments at 2; see also Public Safety
Communication Manager’s Association of Santa Clara County Comments at 1-2.
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communications to local, county and state governments, (directly impacting their
constituents), as well as to the Red Cross and other related volunteer disaster response
groups, after significant weather events or incidents. There are regions of our nation that
experience, almost annually, significant weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes,
extreme ice storms, flooding from severe rainstorms, and wildfires. In those regions
Amateur Radio volunteers have established well-trained, deployable auxiliary emergency
communications teams that directly support served agencies of state and local
governments, including forest wild fire fighting in California; flooding in the Midwest,
hurricanes in the Gulf states and Mid-Atlantic, as well as ice storms in the Southwest and
Mid-Atlantic regions, including flash floods and other severe weather events that affect
the Eastern states.33
Commenters provided several specific situations in which amateur radio played a critical role in
responding to major disasters.
13. Hurricane Katrina. The resilience and geographical dispersion of amateur radio networks
played a critical role in direct disaster response during Hurricane Katrina, August 2005. The ARRL
states:
During Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, Amateur Radio was used to coordinate the
information flow between relief centers, emergency operations centers, and shelters until
normal communications systems were restored. It was also used to pass information to
search and rescue units. The rescue of approximately 15 persons off of a roof of a house
surrounded by floodwaters was directly attributed to information relayed via Amateur
Radio using both HF [high frequency] and VHF/UHF frequencies. The Salvation Army
Team Emergency Radio Network handled over 20,000 health and welfare inquiries
during Katrina’s aftermath. Similar stories are found in almost any tropical weather
event.34
14. The Hurricane Katrina response demonstrates amateur radio operators’ ability to transfer
information across wide areas even in the event of major disasters that destroy much of the surrounding
infrastructure. It also demonstrates the importance of communications in saving lives and coordinating
resources during major events.
15. Columbia Shuttle Disaster. On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated
in midair while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, scattering nearly 84,000 pieces of debris over
hundreds of miles of land in East Texas and Louisiana. Regarding the disaster, James Russell states:
The area in east Texas where the bulk of the shuttle debris went down is heavily
covered with pine forest. Cell phone coverage and coverage from normal radio
systems was spotty to non-existent in the region. Amateur Radio provided spot
communications as the recovery teams walked the terrain finding and marking
bits of debris. Operators from all over Texas and the surrounding states were
involved. 35
16. The space shuttle disaster demonstrates how amateur radio can be utilized in areas where


33 Arlington County, Virginia, Office of Emergency Management Comments at 1-2.
34 ARRL Comments at 65.
35 James Russell Comments at 1.
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other communications systems are intermittent or non-existent. Amateur radio was used to provide
logistical support to search teams through a vast area in places where other communication systems were
unavailable.
17. RACES, MARS, and ARES. There are several private and public partnerships that provide
amateur radio operators with a structured organizational capacity to deliver lifesaving communications
during disasters. One such example is the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), coordinated by
the ARRL. The ARES program consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their
qualifications and communication capabilities with their local ARES leadership for communications duty
in the public service when disaster strikes.
18. Another program which utilizes amateur radio operators is the Department of Defense's
Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS), which “depends entirely on licensed radio Amateurs to
operate Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Transportation Security Administration and other federal
backup HF communication systems. Most of this work and training is done from the MARS member’s
home stations.”36
19. The radio amateur civil emergency service (RACES) is a partnership between amateur radio
operators and state and local government emergency management organizations that allows government
communication capabilities to be augmented during periods of local, regional or national civil
emergencies.37 It was established in 1952.38
20. Other volunteer organizations also exist that provide trained amateur radio emergency
communicators. Some of these organizations include the Maritime Mobile Service Net (MMSN), the
Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) and the Radio Emergency Associated
Communications Team (REACT), just to name a few.
2.

Recommendations

21. It is important that amateur radio operators who volunteer to assist in emergency
communications during disasters be knowledgeable about the procedural framework that guides
emergency response. Some commenters suggest that the federal government – such as the Commission
and/or DHS – promulgate a standardized training curriculum.39 The ARRL argues that training should be
brought under a national responder credentialing regime similar to other courses: “It would also be very
helpful if FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] would recognize ARRL Emergency
Communications courses for national responder credentialing in the same way they have done with
certain non-government courses for veterinary responders. This would give emergency managers a
greater degree of confidence in the Amateur Radio volunteers in a disaster area.”40
22. DHS has developed a number of guidance documents in this area, including the National
Response Framework,41 which describes authorities and best practices for managing emergency incidents


36 ARRL Comments at 67-68.
37 See 47 C.F.R. §§ 97.3(a)(38), 97.407(a).
38 See Providing a Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, Memorandum Opinion and Order, Docket No. 10102,
42 F.C.C. 224 (1952).
39 Id.; Arlington County, Virginia Office of Emergency Management Comments at 3.
40 ARRL Comments at 68; see also William F. Osler Comments at 6; John J. McDonough Comments at 8.
41 http://www.fema.gov/emergency/nrf/.
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and procedures, and the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP),42 which promotes the ability
of emergency responders to communicate during disasters. Within DHS, the OEC is charged with
leading the nationwide effort to improve emergency communications capabilities across all levels of
government. OEC is uniquely qualified to work with the amateur radio community in this area. We
therefore recommend that DHS consult with the public safety, emergency management, and amateur
radio emergency communications associations and groups to identify training opportunities that will
support better utilization of amateur radio operators for emergency communications, and to solicit views
on how amateur radio capabilities could be further incorporated into response plans or initiatives. We
also recommend that OEC include these recommendations in the NECP.
23. Additionally, several commenters suggested that a national credentialing system should be
established for amateur radio operators to allow access to disaster areas during major emergencies. As
the ARRL explains,
A national certification program for individual Amateur Radio emergency
communications volunteers would make it easier for radio Amateurs to assist outside
their local area or region and across political boundaries, and give agencies a benchmark
for reasonable expectations for their deployment. As with standards for modes and
methods, standards must offer a base line of skills and capabilities but still allow
innovation and local variations to accommodate specific needs. Any certification that
might be developed should be designed for those Amateurs who wish to participate in
providing emergency communications. It should not become a general requirement for
anyone desiring to become an Amateur Radio licensee.43
24. Commenter Martin D. Wade explains how the lack of credentialing impeded amateur radio
efforts during Hurricane Katrina. He states, “Resistance to credentialing was very evident during Katrina
and passes were required to travel from point to point with workers and relief agency personnel having to
prove themselves to each and every checkpoint…Some Officers were satisfied by the patchwork of
Identification Cards (IDs), but others wanted to question each person wanting a pass which blocked up
traffic and slowed down entry. Not knowing what to accept, some accepted anything, others, nothing.”44
25. Others disagree. Miami-Dade County argues that, “Members volunteer their time, and
certification may become a rift between members that have it and others [who] don’t. In an emergency
you want as many Licensed Amateur Operators as possible to be available.”45
26. We agree that amateur radio operator access to a disaster area can be useful. We do not
believe, however, that a federal credentialing system46 would be effective for this purpose because access


42 http://www.dhs.gov/files/publications/gc_1217521334397.shtm.
43 ARRL Comments at 74; see also Michael D. Adams Comments at 1-2 (“[E]fforts to make use of the Amateur
Radio Service seem to be erratic, inconsistent, and almost haphazard among different government and non-
government emergency response organizations. To make the greatest use of the Amateur Radio Service’s strengths,
the government would be well-served to strongly encourage government and non-government emergency response
agencies to form credentialed auxiliary communications teams from interested volunteers to make use of all
communications resources at their disposal, including public safety land mobile resources that the agencies might be
licensed for, and amateur radio service resources when more conventional services are overwhelmed or fail.”).
44 Martin D. Wade Comments at 15-16.
45 Miami-Dade County Comments at 2.
46 For this discussion, we define “credential” as a document which attests to the identification, qualification, and
authority of the bearer.
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to disaster areas is generally controlled by state, local, and tribal authorities. Any such credential or
qualification document should therefore be a matter to be determined by appropriate state, local and tribal
officials such as emergency management agency heads.
27. We suggest that DHS work with state, local, and tribal authorities so they may develop
disaster area access or credentialing policies for trained amateur operators, including a means for
documenting their qualifications, which states may, if they choose, consider when determining whether or
not to grant access. Having access criteria determined by each state is a process that has been utilized to
provide much needed access to disaster areas by non-government critical infrastructure restoration crews,
such as power company and telecommunications company personnel, and may be effective for amateur
radio operators, too. This approach could help facilitate access to disaster sites for amateur radio operator
volunteers while respecting the right of state, local, and tribal jurisdictions to control incident sites.
B.

Impediments to Enhanced Amateur Radio Service Communications

28. The Statute requires that the study identify impediments to enhanced amateur radio service
communications and provide recommendations regarding the removal of such impediments. We do that
here, with particular focus on the effects of private land use restrictions, based on the comments we
received in response to the Public Notice. While many commenters identified a particular land use
restriction as an impediment, other commenters identified other obstacles, such as certain Commission
rules, state or local regulations regarding use of communications devices while driving, and interference
from various sources as restricting enhanced amateur service communications. Following a discussion of
these comments, we provide recommendations aimed at minimizing the impact on amateur service
communications.
1. Private land use restrictions
29. Background. In its 1985 PRB-1 decision, the Commission adopted the policy of limited
preemption of state and local regulations governing amateur station facilities, including antennas and
support structures.47 State and local regulations that operate to preclude amateur communications in their
communities are in direct conflict with federal objectives and are preempted.48 Because amateur station
communications are only as effective as the antennas employed, regulations that involve placement,
screening, or height of amateur radio antennas based on health, safety, or aesthetic considerations must be
crafted to reasonably accommodate amateur radio communications, and must represent the “minimum
practicable” regulation to accomplish the local authority’s legitimate purpose.49 The Commission
declined to specify any particular height limitation below which a local government may not regulate, or
to suggest precise language or procedures that must be contained in local ordinances.50 Instead, the
Commission permitted local authorities to determine in the first instance what constitutes a reasonable
accommodation and the minimum practicable regulation based on the authority’s legitimate purposes,


47 Federal Preemption of State and Local Regulations Pertaining to Amateur Radio Facilities, Memorandum Opinion
and Order
, PRB-1, 101 F.C.C. 2d 952 (1985) (PRB-1); see also 47 C.F.R. § 97.15(b). We note that "antenna
support structures" include, in addition to a lattice-type radio tower or towers, tubular masts that may or may not be
retractable, trees, telephone poles, and vertical tubing attached to the side of a structure, although a tower or mast of
some type appear to be very commonly used support structures. We also note that some amateur radio operators
have multi-tower antenna installations and other amateur radio operators use an antenna constructed from wire or
aluminum tubing as an antenna installation.
48 See PRB-1, 101 F.C.C. 2d at 960 ¶ 24.
49 Id. at 960 ¶ 25.
50 Id.
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policies, and concerns.51
30. The PRB-1 decision decided not to extend this policy to private land use restrictions
contained in covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) in home ownership deeds and condominium
bylaws because “[s]uch agreements are voluntarily entered into by the buyer or tenant when the
agreement is executed and do not usually concern the Commission.”52 Since the PRB-1 decision,
petitioners have asked the Commission to expressly extend its preemption policy to CC&Rs. In 2001, the
Commission denied an Application for Review, which asked the Commission to expand its preemption
policy and preempt CC&Rs that do not provide reasonable accommodation for amateur radio operators.53
In doing so, the Commission affirmed that the limited preemption policy of PRB-1 applies only to state and
local regulations.54 The Commission noted that its decision in PRB-1 to exclude CC&Rs from its
preemption policy was premised upon the fundamental difference between state and local regulations,
with which an amateur operator must comply, and CC&Rs, which are contractual terms to which an
amateur operator voluntarily subjects him- or herself.55 The Commission also concluded that “there ha[d]
not been a sufficient showing that CC&Rs prevent amateur radio operators from pursuing the basis and
purpose of the amateur service,” and noted that “there are other methods amateur radio operators can use
to transmit amateur service communications that do not require an antenna installation at their residence.
These methods include, among other things, operation of the station at a location other than their
residence, mobile operations, and use of a club station.”56 Finally, the Commission stated that should
Congress see fit to enact a statutory directive mandating the expansion of its limited preemption policy to
include more than state and local regulations, it would expeditiously act to fulfill its obligation
thereunder.57 Subsequent similar requests for preemption of CC&Rs also have been denied.58
31. Types and prevalence of private land use restrictions. In the course of preparing its
comments in this proceeding, the ARRL conducted a survey of amateur radio operators regarding the
effect of private land use restrictions.59 It states that CC&Rs affecting amateur radio antennas fall into
five basic categories: (a) those that prohibit all outdoor antennas without exception; (b) those that permit
over-the-air video delivery service antennas but prohibit all other types of antennas such as amateur radio
antennas; (c) those that permit antennas of a certain configuration, size or height, usually based on
visibility from the street or from adjacent parcels of land; (d) those that require that any structure be


51 See id. at 960 ¶¶ 25-26.
52 See id. at 960 n.6.
53 Modification and Clarification of Policies and Procedures Governing Siting and Maintenance of Amateur Radio
Antenna and Support Structures, and Amendment of Section 97.15 of the Commission’s Rules Governing the
Amateur Radio Service, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 17 FCC Rcd 333, ¶ 6 (2001) (MO&O), aff’g Order on
Reconsideration
, 15 FCC Rcd 22151 (WTB 2000), aff’g Order, 14 FCC Rcd 19413 (WTB 1999), recon. dismissed,
17 FCC Rcd 19408 (WTB PSPWD 2002).
54 MO&O, 17 FCC Rcd at 337 ¶ 9.
55 MO&O, 17 FCC Rcd at 335-37 ¶¶ 6-8.
56 Id. at 335 ¶ 6.
57 Id. at 336 ¶ 8. Legislation to preempt CC&Rs has been introduced in past sessions of Congress. See H.R. 1478
(2003); H.R. 3867 (2005).
58 See, e.g., James Edwin Whedbee, Letter, DA 12-699 (WTB MD rel. May 3, 2012); Christopher Kaczmarek,
Letter, 24 FCC Rcd 4092 (WTB MD 2009); Don Schellhardt, Letter, 22 FCC Rcd 4025, aff’d, Letter, 22 FCC Rcd
13511 (WTB MD 2007).
59 ARRL Comments at 26.
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approved by either the homeowners’ association or its architectural control board; and (e) those that
prohibit all amateur radio (or occasionally any radio) transmission.60 It notes that CC&Rs in categories
(a), (b) or (e) entirely prohibit the installation or maintenance of an amateur radio antenna in any
functional configuration, while those in category (c) might or might not permit a functional antenna in a
given location depending on the configuration of a residential parcel of land and the severity of the
regulations.61 The ARRL notes with respect to CC&Rs in category (d), which it indicates may be the
most common, that the unlimited discretion afforded the decision-making body prevents a person from
knowing prior to purchasing a home in that community whether an antenna will be approved.62
32. Commenters assert that real estate subject to some form of deed restriction or governance by
a homeowners association is the norm in many areas, especially for more recent construction.63
Commenter Nicholas B. Proy states, “it is estimated that as of 2011, [314,000] HOA communities
throughout the United States enforce CC&Rs against [25,100,000] residential properties, which equates to
[62,300,000] residents.”64
33. Effects of private land use restrictions and ways to minimize those effects. Commenters
disagree regarding the extent to which private land use regulations affect the amateur radio community’s
ability to provide emergency communications. The ARRL states, “The single most challenging aspect of
Amateur Radio emergency communications efforts is the complete preclusion of their [amateur radio
operators’] ability to install and maintain at their residences an effective, reliable antenna system for
Amateur Radio communications.”65 Some commenters agree that private land use regulations that have
the effect of prohibiting outdoor antenna structures prevent amateurs from operating on frequency bands
that are important for emergency communications.66
34. Other commenters argue that such restrictions have little effect on amateur emergency
communications because antenna structures in areas affected by severe weather or another disaster are
unlikely to survive67 or will not be usable in the event of an electrical outage because most operators do
not own generators to power their stations.68 In addition, commenters point out that mobile
communications are more useful than home-based stations in times of disaster or emergency because they


60 Id. at 26-27; see also Nicholas B. Proy Comments at 1-2 (“Private restrictions range from absolute prohibitions of
amateur radio antennas to allowing external antennas only with advance written permission of the HOA”).
61 ARRL Comments at 28.
62 Id. at 32-33; see also Comments of Community Associations Institute at 4 (“In general, most association
architectural rules will permit variations, but require the approval of an architectural review committee or of the
association governing board.”).
63 See, e.g., William Buoy Comments at 1; Lawrence J. Myers Comments at 1; Michael D. Adams Comments at 5;
Slawomir J. Bucki Comments at 3.
64 Nicholas B. Proy Comments at 1-2 (citing http://www.caionline.org/info/research/Pages/default.aspx); see also
Community Associations Institute Comments at 1 (stating that one in five American households is in a community
association).
65 ARRL Comments at 3.
66 See, e.g., Robert J. Rounds Comments at 1; William Buoy Comments at 1; Lawrence J. Myers Comments at 1;
Stephen K Bramham Comments at 1; Brett Neilson Comments at 1.
67 Richard H. Emmelman Comments at 1.
68 Burt Fisher Comments at 1.
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are available at the site of the public safety operations. 69 Commenters also argue that the effect of private
land use regulations can be minimized by well-engineered indoor antenna systems70 or the use of
temporary antenna installations.71 One commenter suggests that organizations oriented toward disaster
relief be encouraged to sponsor amateur radio clubs that utilize a shared station at a useful location, which
can be controlled directly or by remote control.72
2. Other impediments
35. Commenters identified a number of other issues that they believe impede enhanced amateur
service communications, including burdensome municipal restrictions on antenna height, superfluous
permitting and inspection processes,73 local regulations regarding texting and cell operation while driving
that do not make exemptions for amateur radio,74 and public ignorance of the many benefits and
contributions of amateur radio operators and their stations to local communities and beyond.75 Others
commented on impediments caused by interference from other amateur operators76 or from consumer
devices.77
36. Some commenters identified Commission rules that they believe impede advanced amateur
communications. The ARRL asserts that the Commission’s regulation of emission types and digital bit
rates is overly conservative and can prevent amateur operators from using the emission type and
frequency suitable for transmission path and the information to be transmitted.78 The ARRL also suggests
that restrictions on RACES preparedness drills and interaction between RACES and other emergency
communications groups and entities such as the ARES be eased.79
37. The Commission’s rules prohibit the transmission by amateur stations of “messages encoded
for the purpose of obscuring their meaning.”80 Commenters argue that transmission of sensitive data,
such as medical information that is subject to privacy requirements, is often a necessary aspect of
emergency response, and therefore the use of encryption should be permitted under appropriate
circumstances, such as by credentialed operators.81


69 Community Associations Institute Comments at 7-8; Richard H. Emmelman Comments at 1.
70 Richard H. Emmelman Comments at 1.
71 Id.; Jack Harold King, Jr. Comments at 1.
72 William F. Osler Comments at 7; see also http://www.arrl.org/link-remote-control for information concerning
how to remotely control an amateur station over the internet.
73 Jacob R. Lauser Comments at 2.
74 Jeffery Seligman Comments at 1.
75 Jacob R. Lauser Comments at 2.
76 Michael Langford Comments at 1.
77 William F. Osler Comments at 8.
78 See ARRL Comments at 18 (citing 47 C.F.R. §§ 97.3(c), 97.305, 97.307); see also Steve Lampereur Comments at
1; Eric Gildersleeve Comments at 3.
79 See id. at 44 (citing 47 C.F.R. § 97.407); see also Eric Gildersleeve Comments at 2.
80 47 C.F.R. § 97.113(a)(4).
81 Don Rolph Comments at 1-3; William F. Osler Comments at 8; James Russell Comments at 3; Steve Waterman
Comments at 6-7.
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38. Finally, commenter Eric Gildersleeve suggests that modifying the prohibition on transmitting
amateur communications for compensation or in which the operator has a pecuniary interest82 could
expand the amateur resources available during emergencies.83
3.

Recommendations

39. Private land use restrictions. Some commenters recommend that CC&Rs be preempted if
they prohibit antennas that are within certain limits.84 Others suggest that private land use restrictions on
amateur antennas should be permitted only for safety considerations, and not for aesthetic reasons.85 As
noted above, however, other commenters believe that it is not necessary to preempt private land use
restrictions in order to promote amateur emergency communications, given the ways that even amateurs
subject to CC&Rs can communicate effectively and the nature of amateur emergency communications.
Moreover, while commenters suggest that private land use restrictions have become more common,86 our
review of the record does not indicate that amateur operators are unable to find homes that are not subject
to such restrictions. Therefore, at this time, we do not see a compelling reason for the Commission to
revisit its previous determinations that preemption should not be expanded to CC&Rs.
40. Other impediments. As noted above, the Commission has already preempted state and local
regulations that do not reasonably accommodate amateur radio communications and do not represent the
minimum practicable regulations to accomplish the local authority’s legitimate purpose. The
Commission has also addressed regulations regarding possession and operation of amateur radio
equipment while driving.87 Commission rules that may be an impediment to enhanced amateur service
emergency communications can, as the ARRL notes, be considered through the Commission’s
rulemaking process.88 Consequently, we do not believe that Congressional action is necessary to address
any of these issues.

IV. CONCLUSION

41. The amateur radio community and the emergency response and disaster communications
communities all agree that amateur radio can be of great value in emergency response situations.
Amateur radio carries with it a wide range of advantages that allow it to supplement other emergency
communications activities during disasters. This has been demonstrated time and again in a wide variety


82 See 47 C.F.R. § 97.113(a).
83 Eric Gildersleeve Comments at 3.
84 See, e.g., Thomas W. Howey Comments at 1 (30 foot height); Michael D. Adams Comments at 5-6 (height of 45
feet or half the distance to the nearest property line); M.R. Manes Comments at 1 (one millimeter wire diameter);
Eric Gildersleeve Comments at 3 (100 feet height if the tower is inspected by a local building inspector).
85 See James A. Stanley Comments at 1; Slawomir J. Bucki Comments at 3-4.
86 See, e.g., Nicholas B. Proy Comments at 1.
87 See Federal Preemption of State and Local Laws Concerning Local Laws Concerning Amateur Operator Use of
Transceivers Capable of Reception Beyond Amateur Service Frequency Allocations, PR Docket No. 91-36,
Memorandum Opinion and Order, 8 FCC Rcd 6413, 6416 ¶¶ 11-12 (1993) (preempting state and local laws that
preclude the possession in vehicles or elsewhere of amateur radio service transceivers by amateur operators merely
on the basis that the transceivers are capable of the reception of public safety, special emergency, or other radio
service frequencies).
88 ARRL Comments at 44. For example, the Commission currently is considering a petition for rulemaking filed by
ARRL that proposes to provide additional flexibility with respect to emission types. See Petition for Rule Making,
RM-11625 (filed March 15, 2011); Public Notice, Report No. 2928 (CGB rel. Mar. 23, 2011).
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of emergency and disaster situations. Amateur radio emergency communications require not only stations
in a position to originate the emergency message, but also an alternative to the commercial
communications infrastructure impacted by the emergency. This alternative infrastructure is the network
of amateur radio operators and their stations that relay messages, build and maintain repeater stations and
repeater networks, operate HF message networks to send messages greater distances than are practical
with mobile or transportable transmitters, and develop new technologies to improve the reliability of these
networks.
42. That value could potentially be increased, however, through cooperation among DHS, public
safety, emergency management, and amateur radio emergency communications associations and groups
to develop future training protocols. We also recommend that DHS work with state, local, and tribal
authorities to develop disaster area access policies and qualifications for trained amateur operators who
provide emergency communications support.
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43. Pursuant to Section 6414 of the Statute, the Commission submits this report to Congress
examining the uses and capabilities of amateur radio service communications in emergencies and disaster
relief.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
Ruth Milkman
Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
David S. Turetsky
Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
15

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