Meet the Makers: ARES/RACES

Each year, since our founding, we’ve been joined by our awesome HAM radio community at Gulf Coast Maker Con.   This year, as we launch Gulf Coast Maker & Comic Con, is no exception, and we’re delighted to welcome back both our friends from Hillsborough County ARES RACES and Pinellas County ACS.  Jon Rubin, Emergency Coordinator for Hillsborough County’s Amateur Radio Emergency Services, tells us more about what they do, why and what they’ll be sharing at our 2018 event on March 24.

Hello everybody. My name is Jon Rubin and I am the Emergency Coordinator for Hillsborough County’s ARES/RACES program. Some of you may recognize my name from previous Makers Space columns. I’ve enjoyed being a guest columnist before so when I was asked to do it again I happily jumped at the chance.


JR: We are a combination of two different organizations working together as one. The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) are licensed amateur “ham” radio operators that relay health and wellness messages for civilians. Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) does something very similar to ARES. The only difference being that the messages being relayed are for governmental agencies. We’ve combined both ARES and RACES in Hillsborough County because the skills required are the same, and the needs of our county are best served in this fashion. Other counties in the West Central Florida area keep ARES and RACES separate. This works for them, and that is just fine.

The need to have a backup form of communication during hurricanes and other such emergencies is of paramount importance. Hurricanes Charlie, Katrina, and most recently Maria have shown the vulnerabilities of our cell phone system, the internet, and even the 911 system. The infrastructure that these things depend on is both their strength and their weakness. Infrastructure allows them to handle thousands of messages at once, but it is a single point of failure. If the power goes out to the cell towers, or a fiber optic line is cut, the entire system we rely on is gone. ARES/RACES can’t quite handle that much traffic, but we need no infrastructure either. All we need is something metal to act as an antenna and a car battery. By connecting just those 2 things to our radios, we send/receive messages to/from the world.

GCMCC: What does ARES/RACES make?

JR: We make anything we need to get the job done. During hurricane Katrina, ARES/RACES volunteers made antennas out of metal fences, flag poles, telephone wire, even train tracks. Cars and trucks became generators to keep batteries charged. We also make something that cannot be measured or quantified yet is extremely important. By that I of course mean the personal connections that allow people to communicate. Countless people over the last decade or so have been able to sleep at night, because ARES and RACES programs like ours relayed messages from loved ones saying they were safe. Lives have been saved because hospitals were able to request needed medicine and supplies.

This is just a small sample of what we do. For more information about the Hillsborough County ARES/RACES program, to volunteer, or for information on getting an amateur radio to license, please visit our website at

I look forward to seeing you all at Gulf Coast Maker & Comic Con on March 24th.

Jon Rubin (KJ4NYD)
Emergency Coordinator
Hillsborough County ARES/RACES

We look forward to seeing Jon and the rest of the ARES/RACES crew from Hillsborough and Pinellas at Gulf Coast Maker & Comic Con, too! You can also learn more at our March 21 Gulf Coast Makers Meetup at the Hillsborough County Public Safety Operations Complex 

Get your FREE tickets to attend Gulf Coast Maker & Comic Con, March 24 at St. Petersburg College- Seminole Campus  or to register your own Maker booth today! (Maker booth registration closes Monday, March 19)

Get your tickets or reserve your booth today!

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