Let me start off by saying that I understand the need for Amateur Radio operators when it comes to emergency situations. I saw it get put to good use when a tornado ripped through the area I live in. This article is about the small fraction of people that are involved and is not meant to discriminate the entire EmComm community. These are just opinions on what I’ve witnessed throughout the years of being licensed and my personal views about it. I could be very wrong about it.
For those who are new or do not know, EmComm i.e., Emegency Communications, is a part of Amateur Radio. It has been since as far back as World War II (and possibly before). They consist of amateur radio operators who volunteer their time and resources (e.g., transceivers, antennas) to assist other operators and their community during times of disaster where normal means communication has been compromised and/or during significant weather events. A large percentage of these people also volunteer to provide communications during non-profit events like marathons and walk-a-thons. It’s been proven time and time again that these operators are an asset to their community. I am not going to deny that. It’s what got some people interested in Amateur Radio in the first place.
Most EmComm operators are involved in a related group(s). It could be governed by the group itself, by a national/regional chapter, by a municipality or even by state or federal government. These groups provide the necessary training needed so the operators can quickly establish communications and provide vital information to those who need it. The major groups are RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services), ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service), MARS (Military Auxiliary Radio System). These groups work with each other, municipalities and other emergency management groups that spring into action during an event.
For weather, there is SKYWARN among others. SKYWARN is not really an Amateur Radio group per say but uses amateur radio and their operators as a tool. They provide localized weather related information to the National Weather Service and other weather outlets.
Most, if not all of the people in these groups are made of people who really care about their community and take pride in volunteering and providing much needed information. However some of these people like it a little too much to where I would put them in the “Whacker” group. Whacker is a term first coined by the volunteer firefighter community. It’s when the volunteer treats their duty as it were a full time paying job and beyond. They would buy more gear than necessary, decorate their personal vehicle with lights and sirens and start showing up to calls when they are not even scheduled to show and possibly do no work while taking a lot of the credit. That term is also used in law enforcement, medical profession and even amateur radio.
In amateur radio, it’s the person who owns and uses one or more of the following
- Uniform – Similar to a uniform worn by Law enforcement or Military.
- Duty Belt – Once again, worn by Law Enformcent or Military
- Multiple radios w/ speaker mics worn on said duty belt
- Badges – I’m talking TIN baby
- High Visibility Clothing – Extra points for saying “Emegency Communications” on it
- Police gear – Things like holsters (for their radios), big flashlights (With optional traffic cone) and tactical vests
- Amber lights – Like the ones you see on Police Crusiers. Extra points if they are permanently attached to their vehicle
- Decals – Either a sticker or a magnet that shows you that they mean business.
- Law enforcement type vehicle – This is the ultimate form of Whackerdom. A typical example would be either a Ford Crown Victoria or Chevy Impala (depends on what brand of vehicle is most used in the area) that its setup to look exactly like a police cruiser. That would include multiple antennas placed in similar locations, Push/brush guard, steel rims with “Center caps” and amber lights throughout the vehicle. Some will go as far is actually buying an ex-police cruiser.
This can range from the most expensive high tech gear that even municipalities can’t afford; all the way down to old surplus gear that is on the verge of being broken, rotted, worn and non-functioning. Yes, there are even well-to-do whackers that are caught up in it.
When these whackers are attending public events like a Marathon, they tend to focus more on their “style” and their attempts to be “authoritative” more than actually helping out in a situation. You’ll see them
walking standing or driving around in their gear trying to look like they are actually making a difference and are important. They also LOVE the sound of their own voice. They love the sound of their voice so much to the point where they are reporting in every minute detail that has little to do with or no effect to the reason why they are there in the first place. If it was something important that actually happened, instead of just giving the facts, they would give out way too much useless information and find ways to prolong the communication so it gives the appearance to spectators and others who are listening that they are serious business.
You will also see this stuff in weather related events as well. They will be out in their “Official Storm Chasing” vehicles reporting on things that either have no relation or no effect to the weather event taking place. And if there was actually something to report, it would be greatly exaggerated. 1/4″ or less size hail (if any) would be reported as golf ball to softball size hail. A gust of wind would be reported as 60 Mph force winds. A tree branch snapping off a tree in someones back yard would be reported as an entire tree fallen into the street. For SKYWARN, it’s encouraged to stay inside a safe location during an event and there is a toll-free number that can be called to send reports. But that’s not fun… Is it?
You also have armchair weather whackers that are just as bad, if not worse as those that are outside. They sit there and stare at online radar maps, listen to the police scanner and actually report on the things that appear they’ve seen with their own eyes.
All these people do is get in the way of things. Tying up the airwaves with nothing but useless information just so they can flex their jaw muscles and puff their chests to show how important they think they are. I just hope that they’re not on the air when an actual life threatening situation occurs. Just imagine what would happen if someone is in cardiac arrest and the only mean of communication is ham radio. But they can’t get through because some whacker is going into great detail about a twig coming off the tree in their backyard.
Sometimes it’s just one or two people in a group that casts a shadow over the entire group. There are groups where everyone in it is a whacker. There are even some whacker groups that get so involved with the town, city or county that they convince them that they need to invest money, equipment and even property to their cause. Some of these town/city councils have no clue. They are just trying to look out for the well-being of their residents. In some places the decision makers are whackers themselves. Some of them don’t even know that they fit the definition of a whacker.
How come these people exist? How come they haven’t been kicked out, excommunicated or shunned from their group? It’s really simple… It’s all volunteers. These organizations need bodies to survive and stay operating. They will take anyone they can get and will put up with their “whackerness” up to a point. Some of the whackers do really care about what they have signed up for and possibly listened and paid attention to their training and followed the guidelines and reporting criteria. Even though their “whackerness” shows, they really care about their purpose. But then you have the whackers who didn’t listen and didn’t pay attention to their training just to get an excuse to go out and inflate their own egos. You’ll never get rid of these people and they will always be here. Back in the day when cell phones we not even existent and not everyone had a landline in their house, Radios were depended upon and taken more seriously. With todays technology, Ham Radio is looked at as a last resort.
Is it preventable? Yes and no. People view whackers in all different types of ways. Some may think they are dedicated to what they do and others may think that the person is just nuts or somewhere in between. Since they are mainly volunteer positions, it’s difficult to “Fire” them unless they have done something really wrong. If organizations started getting rid of all their major whackers, it would be seen by the entire community that it’s a unfriendly organization. It will discourage the closet whackers from joining. They also might not be whackers when they first joined up. They either get sucked into it by another established whacker or become one once they get a little taste of it. They might even have no clue that they’ve become a whacker. They love to congregate with other whackers and feed off each others egos and whackerness. They also become really defensive and sometimes irrational when they are labeled as a whacker or the term whacker is mentioned. You’re basically attacking their livelihood by poking at their whacker ways. They are too proud to admit to it and will give you reasons trying to justify their whackerness. It can range from the truth of “Hey, I just like dressing up this way” to some stretched out lie like “When I am not at this walk-a-thon, I work for the (INSERT CITY, COUNTY, STATE OR FEDERAL AGENCY HERE) doing some important stuff” to justify their actions.
Why do you have a stick up your butt about these kinds of people?
Due to possible major interactions with the public, It will lead to a negative impact on the Amateur Radio community as a whole. When people that I know outside of amateur radio find out that I am a ham radio operator, one of three things come up. What are you, a nerd? Isn’t that for old people? Are you one of those guys running around with a vest and a Radio pretending to be a cop? I can always argue and say that I’m a proud nerd, that a lot of young people are getting back into it and that it’s only a tiny percentage of operators that actually run around pretending to be a cop. It’s also really embarrassing to me as an operator to hear and see people having no clue that what they are doing and are just making things worse. I am sure deep down they are just trying to help but I don’t think we need a 5 min report about a tree falling in your backyard and then to hear it again 3 more times because net control doesn’t seem interested in your report. Obvious exaggerated reports coming in also really annoy me. The whole point of emergency communications is to get on the air, give the facts and get off the air so others can help. Not to sit there, holding up the frequency because you need to tell others in your area that it’s raining in great detail.
Other than to rant a little bit, the whole point of this article is to show others that these people exist and they do not make up the majority of EmComm community or the Amateur Radio community. Hopefully a full blown whacker reads this and changes their way. Hopefully the airwaves will get less polluted with crap. Hopefully the police gear disappears. I doubt that will happen but you may never know!