Despite having been heavily involved in promoting public service and emergency communications for over a century, the legacy organization that predates the creation of Radio Relay International had never developed a cohesive national emergency communications plan for major disasters. The result has been a somewhat incoherent response to communications emergencies in the form of various independent, single-purpose nets, many of which operate on 20-meter voice frequencies.

This is not to minimize the good work these nets perform nor render them obsolete, but they are hampered by a variety of problems, including:

  1. Single frequency wide coverage voice nets are very limited in circuit capacity.
  2. Many participants are not dispersed in the affected area but are present if needed. These intentions are honorable, but the processing of stations reporting into and out of a single-frequency net consumes considerable net overhead not directly related to emergency or priority traffic.
  3. Many of the operators have little if any training in basic radio-telephone procedures. The result is considerable inefficiency as volunteers struggle with the use of proper prowords, the universal phonetic alphabet, and repeated content.

    It is natural that these wide-coverage, often single-purpose nets evolved. They simply filled a vacuum left by a lack of vision and leadership at the national level. With the legacy organization more focused on contest administration and publishing, and with the widespread falsehood that “contesting prepares one for emergency communications,” the idea of a cohesive approach to EmComm functions was simply not a priority.

    In recent years, the emergence of the Winlink system has served as a disruptor to the wide-coverage independent net. The Winlink Development Team wisely created a technical structure that approximates daily business communications, which solves many EmComm problems. Better yet, the Winlink organization has also been very responsive to both agency and local EmComm requirements by creating templates and forms requested for various emergency management functions.

    When RRI was created, one of our first priorities was to answer a very simple question: “How would we respond to a major disaster?” The answer had already been developed in the form of the prototype National Response Plan created to support the Federal “Cascadia Rising “exercise in 2016. While this prototype plan was utilized under the auspices of the ARRL, and while it performed flawlessly during the exercise, the legacy organization made it quite clear that neither the plan nor the resources were wanted by the League.

    With the creation of RRI in 2016, the prototype plan was refined and tested repeatedly and became a new standard for disaster response on a national level. It has since evolved through several revisions in 2018, 2020, and now in 2024.

    The RRI National Response Plan (NRP) outlines how Radio Relay International will provide infrastructure support, connectivity, and basic messaging functions for both individual radio amateurs and served agencies, either directly or indirectly via local emergency communications organizations, such as AUXCOMM, ARES®, and RACES.

    The NRP will provide an excellent overview of RRI management and response philosophy, outline how RRI resources are allocated in time of emergency, and provide a variety of reference data and examples for specialized message formats. Those involved in emergency communications planning will likely find it quite useful.

    Remember to keep a copy on your local computer drive or in print format for reference in time of emergency. This will ensure availability of the plan in the event that Internet connectivity is not available at your location.

    RRI would like to thank all those involved in the creation and revision of the plan. It’s a group effort involving the RRI Emergency Communications Committee, the RRI Board, Net Managers, and RRI volunteers.

    A copy of the latest National Response Plan can be found here: