It was a dark and stormy night. Wait that is another story. But what do you do when the weather becomes threatening? Taking care of yourself and family hopefully is first on the list. What about the rest of the community? [If] you have communication skills, equipment, and a willingness to help, consider joining a Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (R.A.C.E.S.) organization. This is a ham radio group recognized by a government entity for emergency communications. In Johnson County Kansas the Johnson County Emergency Communications Service (ECS) is the county R.A.C.E.S. organization.

For years ECS has provided weather spotting and other communications support. When the weather becomes potentially threatening ECS net controllers are called by Emergency management. This activates the ham station at the EOC. From here the situation is monitored. As a severe storm become eminent spotters are deployed to fixed spotting locations in the county. Their reports feed directly to ECS net controllers and then to the Johnson County duty officer in the same room. The duty officer will then take appropriate action. It could be to sound the tornado sirens or directed resources to a damaged area. The spotters become the eyes for the county.

ECS spotters are trained in both weather spotting and net protocols. This training generally occurs in the first 3 months of the year. The weather training teaches what to look for in storms. In the net protocols spotters understand the net discipline and reporting criteria. Since they maybe interfacing with other responders a knowledge of the incident command system is also required. These are online FEMA courses. Spotters need to be 18 years or older.

In addition to training, equipment is needed. Basically a vehicle and a 2 meter mobile radio with external antenna are required. Most spotters have a 'go kit'. This would include items like a safety vest, flashlight, second radio, etc. Other items like APRS and an anemometer are good to have too. Wind and rain gauges give a more precise reading of the event.

But they are involved in more than just weather events. The ‘spotters’ have done other drills and exercises with the county. Drills have simulated snow storms, terrorist attacks, earthquakes, and other disasters. It is a lesson in emergency preparedness. So when the weather turns dark and stormy are you prepared? Are you willing to do more?

More information about ECS can be found at