Are you a new ham who wants to practice radio communication?
Just getting started in amateur radio and want to learn about emergency communications (EmComm)?
Are you a ham who wants to make better use of your hobby?
If you answered yes to any of these, consider helping with a local public service event (PSE). Public Service Events provide an excellent chance to practice your EmComm radio skills. Not only is it fun and interesting, but you will gain valuable experience in radio communications similar to a real disaster scenario, without the stress and urgency of a life and death situation.
Ham radio operators are often invited to assist with PSEs to provide primary or supplementary communication. PSEs typically involve parades, races or large gatherings. They normally use VHF/UHF radios so you don’t need any fancy equipment or big antennas.
Participants may be stationary or mobile, depending on the nature of the event. You may be sitting or standing or walking around.
Because hams supporting a PSE will often use a handheld transceiver (HT) it’s a good idea to have a few recommended HT accessories. First would be a quality 1/4-wave antenna in place of the poorly-performing factory “rubber duck”. Second is a spare battery pack for your radio. Third would be headphone(s).
A must-read for new hams is the article, Getting Started in Public Service in the ARRL’s magazine QST.
A PSE should always have an Event Action Plan (EAP) prepared and distributed to ham participants beforehand. The EAP includes basic event info along with communication details and position/role assignments for the hams involved. The EAP tries to anticipate and address issues as much as practical but things almost always go sideways, requiring you to be flexible and adaptive. In this sense it’s really good training for actual EmComm work where things are truly out of control.
Good practice for the real deal. You will always learn something and improve your skills working a PSE, plus you will be giving back to your community.
To find a PSE you can participate in, check with your local EmComm group or a nearby amateur radio club/society. These organizations are likely to be invited to spread the word and provide the help for event communications.
A good overview and information on what to expect in typical PSE can be found at this faq link.
General info and resources on public service can be found on the ARRL website here.
The ARRL Public Service Handbook is also available to provide a more comprehensive look at radio communications in public service.