This year the club solicited volunteers for the event as usual, despite no need for amateur radio communications. A bit of a brewhaha erupted when it was asked just what would volunteers be doing. No one wanted to flip burgers or park cars, and rightfully so as radio amateurs want to communicate and are not called amateur car parkers or amateur burger flippers. One would think if the event organizers needed such people, they would naturally solicit volunteers from those who are interested in the athletic event itself, not radio amateurs.
Despite not being requested for communications, the morning of the event a few hams were stationed at the usual route checkpoints as in years past giving updates to each other. Three repeaters on two bands covering four counties were linked together resulting in a sequence of varying courtesy beeps sounding like a battle out of one of the Star Wars movies from the 70s. An amateur stationed on the route received a question from an event participant and asked net control for information. Net control couldn't answer the question as they had no one officially stationed at the event central command. Later in the event a ham reported to net control that there was an injured participant and an ambulance was needed. He was advised by net control to call 911 on his cell phone. After phoning 911 he reported back to net control that an ambulance was in route and gave information on the injured participant. He was then advised by net control to call the event organizer on their cell phone to relay the information.
I'm not an expert at providing communications at events, but having organized communications for several events for our club years ago, I learned a few things.
1. Insure event organizers are aware of just what your club wants to provide. You're an amateur radio club; your specialty is communications.
2. Clearly communicate to your club members exactly what their mission is for an event. Members don't want to just show up for an event and not know what they'll be doing for the next six hours in the hot sun.
3. Make sure your club members who are covering an event are taken care of. This means having their lunch provided, reasonable shifts, and event swag such as tee shirts or hats if other event participants are receiving them. Also, make sure they are called back in when the event is over and aren't left at their stations.
4. Provide value for the event participants and leadership. If what you're doing isn't providing value to others and is just entertainment for your radio amateur volunteers (i.e. "playing radio"), you shouldn't be there.There are some danger signs that should make you rethink your support of an event:
- Event organizers are calling you a week before the event rather than several weeks or months ahead
- Your group spends more time keeping the event running or doing things event management should have done (i.e. putting up missing signs for a race route, hauling trash, etc.)
- You have been asked to park cars or do other non-communications functions and event leadership doesn't understand the value of communications
- The event lacks a central control point or the event organizers aren't interested in the information you're relaying during the event
- Another group has been asked to support the event simultaneously and they have their own radios and frequencies (I had this happen at an event with a group of guys with FRS radios. An event participant was injured and 911 was called by two parties, and two different ambulances were dispatched.)
- The event lacks leadership or you have difficulty communicating with the event leader in the weeks leading up to the event
- You have increasing difficulty getting club members to commit to covering an event