REACT: Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams

REACT got its start when a group of radio enthusiasts decided to make themselves available to pass along distress calls from motorists using Citizen's Band radio Channel 9. Members would monitor CB Channel 9 and call the appropriate authority to respond to a motorist in need, report a collision to emergency dispatch, and alert motorists to hazards they might encounter.

With the proliferation of cell phones, use of Citizen's Band radio has declined significantly. Few emergency calls are relayed over CB Channel 9 and the need to monitor that channel has also nearly been eliminated.

Nonetheless, there are many events and activities that require the assistance of trained radio operators. REACT is one of the organizations that has stepped in to meet these needs.


FORMING A REACT TEAM

REACT International, located in Suitland, MD, just outside Washington, DC, provides guidance for groups who want to join REACT. You can obtain detailed help in setting up a team at this page on the REACT International website.


FLORIDA REACT TEAMS

There are currently six REACT teams in the State of Florida. They are:

Dixie REACT Team, Inc. Team C610
Flagler County Assist REACT Team 4800
Orlando REACT Team 4778
REACT of Lake County Team 6128
Space Coast REACT Team 4577
Tampa Bay REACT Team 6127



What Do We Need To Start A Team?

The most important thing needed is radios and people who are interested in providing communications support for their community. What kind of radios? Just about anything will do. REACT members use Amateur (Ham) Radio, General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) radios, Family Radio Service (FRS) radios, and Citizens Band (CB) radios. Let's talk about the various radios REACTers use.


Amateur (Ham) Radio

To operate an amateur (ham) radio requires a license, issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), upon the successful completeion of a written test. The test for the entry level license, Technician Class, is 35 questions selected from a pool of approximately 390 questions. You must answer a minimum of 27 correctly to pass the test.

The questions in the test pool, including the multiple choice answers and the correct answer, can be found here.

Practice examinations are available at a number of web sites including www.qrz.com on this page. The Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) is an excellent source of information on all amateur radio matters.


General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)

The General Mobile Radio Service, or GMRS, is a relatively new radio service. Many REACT Teams use these radios, which operate on UHF frequencies, because they are relatively inexpensive, because it is possible to purchase "repeater capable" GMRS radios, and because a family license can be obtained without having to take a test. We emphasize that operating on GMRS frequencies requires a license issued by the FCC. A GMRS license is required even if using a combination FRS/GMRS radio which is not "repeater capable".

A GMRS license can be obtained, without taking a test, from the FCC by submitting an application and the license fee. That can be done online through the FCC's Universal Licensing System. You must first register with the FCC and then are able to log on to obtain your new license. The GMRS license code is ZA and the license is valid for use by any member of your family. Further information on GMRS radio can be found at this page. There are many other sources of information available which can be found by doing a search using your preferred search engine.


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Citizens Band (CB) Radio

Citizens Band radio remains a popular and inexpensive method of communication. CB does not require a license. CB radios are both pre-programmed and easy to use. There are 40 CB channels, including emergency Channel 9, from which to choose.

In Florida, CB radios sometimes pick up signals from South America, making them less than ideal for Team use. Nonetheless, they are a practical way for a team to be able to begin communicating quickly.


Family Radio Service (FRS)

Family Radio Service radios are widely available and are very inexpensive. Operating FRS radios does not require a license. They are, however, very low power devices which are very limited in range. FRS radios are useful for communications when all parties are within a small area and there are not a lot of obstacles to inhibit signal transmissions.

FRS radios are not "repeater capable", so they are not effective for use in any event that requires communication over a significant distance. FRS radios are, at best, a beginning source of communication for Teams that initially confine their communication to a small area.


So What Do REACT Teams Do?

The great thing about a REACT Team is that it is really up to the individual Team to determine its mission, goals, and objectives. The activities of the many REACT Teams are almost as varied as the number of Teams. A good way to learn about Team activities is to go to the REACT International web site, go to the Teams and Councils page and look through a few web sites.

But there are some commonalities among the various Teams. All provide communications assistance to their communities. All have a public service orientation, and all members participate voluntarily in whatever projects the Team decides upon.

In the following sections, we will look at a few activities of some REACT Teams.


National Weather Service Skywarn Program

The National Weather Service (NWS) has instituted a program that enables private citizens to assist in providing better weather forecasts and more timely information. Individual volunteers are trained by NWS Meteorologists to be Storm Spotters and are provided contact information to provide observations of severe weather to the various NWS regional offices.

The Flagler County Assist REACT Team 4800 and the Flagler County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) has developed an extensive Skywarn radio network that is activated whenever severe weather is in the area. Training is arranged by the Communications and Warning Section of Flagler County Emergency Services and volunteers report weather observations to the NWS office in Jacksonville, FL through the radio net coordinators. Both ham and GMRS radio systems are used in this endeavor. Flagler County Assist REACT Team 4800 and Flagler County ARES have developed a web page specifically dedicated to the Flagler County Skywarn Program. That page contains a large amount of weather related information, much of which is useful regardless of your location.


Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)

Following a major disaster it is often difficult or impossible for first responders to get to the disaster scene. If the disaster is a large event, it may take substantial time to get adequate numbers of emergency responders on scene. The Community Emergency Response Team program was initiated to train members of the community to provide rapid, basic response to the disaster. Although communications is not a specific part of CERT training, it is clearly a critical element of any disaster response.

Some REACT Teams, including the Orlando REACT Team 4778, have stepped into this void to help members of CERT teams develop their own communications capabilities. Often, members of the CERT teams will join the local REACT Team or take part in regularly scheduled radio communications and training nets.

Some CERT communications are conducted by FRS radio, since they operate in a relatively small, geographically contained area, with designated members communicating outside the area by ham or GMRS radio.


Assisting Emergency Services Agencies

In Florida, weather related emergencies occur often enough to be a great concern for the State, County, and local Emergency Services agencies. REACT Teams almost always work with Emergency Management officials to prepare for emergencies and to assist with communications and/or other matters related to mitigation of the emergency.

REACT members from the Space Coast REACT Team 4577, for example, not only assist in the Brevard County Emergency Operations Center, but also provide communications assistance at the Melborne National Weather Service office.

REACT teams also assist law enforcement agencies, for example, when assistance is needed in Search and Rescue operations. In those situations, radio communications are important and experienced radio operators are important participants in those operations.


Training Opportunities

REACT International has developed a course, closely modeled on the corresponding Amateur Radio Relay League course, titled ecomm, which REACT members can download. This course is a must for all communicators who will be working in emergency or disaster situations. It details the role, expectations, and responsibilities of the volunteer communicator.

Additional training is encouraged. For example, the Department of Homeland Security, through FEMA, offers a variety of online courses that are valuable to everyone involved in disaster relief and recovery. The National Incident Management System, including a number of courses detailing the Incident Command System, are recommended or required by most Emergency Management agencies.

REACT Teams that decide to include a weather focus have the ability to participate in and arrange for Skywarn classes not only for REACT members, but for other members of the community. Many communities are organizing CERT programs and REACT members' communications skills are valuable additions to the CERT curriculum.


REACT Contact Information

If you have at least three (3) (but we strongly urge you to try to recruit no fewer than 10) people who are interested in radio communications and voluntary community service, review the 14 steps to Start a REACT Team, send an e-mail to REACT International or call REACT International Headquarters at [301] 316-2900 or FAX REACT International Headquarters at [301] 316-2903. Or, if you prefer snail mail, you can send a letter to

REACT International, Inc.
5210 Auth Rd #403
Suitland, Maryland 20746

We look forward to having your REACT Team join us at the Florida Council of REACT Teams. You can contact us by e-mail by clicking on any of the following:

John Knott, REACT International Region 3 Director
Mike Cauley, President, Florida Council of REACT Teams
or, Bob Pickering, Vice President, Florida Council of REACT Teams

We will do whatever we can to assist you in the development of your Team.