I'm specifically focusing this question on methods to get official clarification where one doesn't currently exist. I am not asking this audience for interpretations.

As part of my volunteer work with CERT, we're exploring a number of communication scenarios in training, exercises, and responses in conjunction with the city government apart from when we have ARES/RACES available. As you might guess from the above, our situation is touched on by several Part 97 rules, but not exactly on-point at least as far as we're able to interpret.

I've exhausted, to the best of my ability, web searches including documents at the FCC.gov and ARRL, and documents like the National Interoperability Field Operation Guide (NIFOG) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Red Book. Posting our specifics may get a variety of armchair interpretations (with all due respect, we have plenty), but we're looking for authoritative sources.

Where would I go next? Examples of someone's experience doing this and tips would be great. Even this may be overly opinion based, but here goes.

  • Directly to FCC? Start with 888-CALL-FCC?
  • ARRL, then possibly FCC? I don't see ARRL as authoritative, but may be a resource for helping obtain an authoritative answer that would benefit other groups across the nation.
  • A lawyer who would then assist in one of the above?
  • Make a good faith attempt to document how we non-lawyerly types have interpreted the rules, and then engage in the conversation if someone comes knocking if we put it into practice? (I've got a long list of "not quite the answer" links so far on for our situation, but this doesn't seem like a long-term solution.)

To give a flavor of some of the complication of our situation, without asking for your help interpreting the rules:

  • CERT is primarily volunteer, but we operate under mission numbers from the state. There's a big intersection here between government and amateur, and there may be specific rules that apply.
  • FCC 97.403 is the most directly on point for our main mission, but it does not directly address training and exercises.
  • 90.407 is even more specific, but for a different radio service.
  • 90.411 mentions civil defense activities, including simulated emergency, including drills and tests. However, this is a different radio service.
  • 97.111 touches on aspects of us, given this is about relief actions (2), emergency communications (3), and our missions would be on behalf of local government - though section (4) mentions RACES.
  • And then we stray into limited use of amateur radio stations in emergency situations, exercises/drills, or training by non-HAMs. Typically these are HTs in a defined and controlled location, with licensed Hams on-channel and in charge as part of incident command. This is open to interpretation whether in the specific circumstances they can be considered control operators, very broadly covered in (97.7 and 97.105) and station control (97.109).
  • $\begingroup$ Which Part 97 rules and specific situations are you referring to? $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2017 at 11:18
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    $\begingroup$ you quote "for our situation" ... can you update your question detailing your situation, your goal, your intentions, what parts of part 97 you have trouble understanding, and any other information which you may share which would help us to formulate a specific answer. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2017 at 14:39
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the offers to help. I want to reiterate this question isn't asking for StackExchange help interpreting rules in our situation - rather it's what to do next if our situation is complicated. If posting the specifics beyond my opening is useful to identifying what part of the FCC to contact, or the right ARRL person, or similar, I can elaborate. I do recognize the irony of asking for help in getting professional opinions about amateur radio... I suspect I've answered my own question and should simply start down my list, but someone may have done this before and have input. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2017 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ I've updated the question with more about why we're complicated, without getting into the bullet list of specific situations we'd ask an authoritative source. I hesitate posting the specific situations out of concern this will simply turn into a series of questions that will receive non-authoritative interpretations of the rules that read more into the rules than seem to exist. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2017 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ @rclocher3 I am specifically NOT asking for interpretations of the rules here, but rather pointers to which agency or resource seems most relevant to give me qualified interpretations. Possible good answers would look like: "The FCC has a page at ... listing contacts for queries from emergency management agencies" or "FEMA has published bulletin ... that has additional guidance that sounds on point for you" or "Here's how we contacted ARRL and worked with them to get an answer from the FCC on our similar query - you can read more at..." $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2017 at 18:37

2 Answers 2


The ARRL itself is not a law firm, but might be able to refer you to an attorney or lawyer with experience in federal communications law and FCC regulations who can appropriately advise you, and even legally represent you if needed.

(Interpretation of random posts, web pages, or even published federal bulletins as legally authoritative by people without appropriate legal training and experience is fraught with possible dangers/risks.)

  • $\begingroup$ That's effectively one of the options I enumerated, but I appreciate the affirmation. I also fully agree with your second comment about the value of internet law degrees. :) $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2017 at 22:09

So, it boils down to what you are planning of using in regards to radio communications.

  • Either you are licensed to use certain equipment on certain frequencies.

  • Or you are not licensed.

If you are not licensed, your choices will be:

  • CB
  • FRS
  • MURS

If you are licensed you can use equipment/frequencies as your license stipulates.

The fact that you are training or executing an exercise will not change your situation, the licensed/unlicensed still applies.

If you have two or more licensed Radio Amateurs in your group, then these licensed Amateurs can use equipment and frequencies as stipulated by their license. But not just everyone, only those who are licensed.

If you have two or more people with a GMRS license, then they can use GMRS. but not others.

Best way to go forward is to figure out what exactly is needed, then see if you have people with the appropriate licenses or not.

I understand that this is a broad answer, but it is a broad question.

If you are stuck, here is what you can do:

  • find a lawyer with experience in this field (this has now been mentioned multiple times in comments and answers, hopefully you get the idea that interpretation of law is done by a lawyer, and it seems that you are stuck on determination which articles are applicable for you, and how to interpret those articles. Really you need someone who has the appropriate legal education and qualification to help you)
  • pick up the phone and call the FCC, but likely they will quote the regulations you already found.
  • find your local ARES/RACES group, and hand off all communication to the licensed ops. (In my part of the world this is actually done regulary, we get involved, and we put our training to good use)
  • as this is CERT, and therefore on behalf of a government function, push the problem to the government representative, they should provide adequate comms including licenses if this is needed
  • hire a commercial outfit who handle comms
  • $\begingroup$ Mostly after the "If you are stuck" is addressing the intent of the question. I appreciate the effort, but the preceding parts are mostly interpretation of the rules and recommendations around that - which I've repeatedly said I'm not asking for. I also appreciate suggesting finding a lawyer, which is one of the options I outlined, and I'm all ears if you have pointers to associations or searchable specialty search terms that are likely to be able to handle the complexity. If you were to leave just the part after "If you are stuck," which I am, this might be the closest to an answer so far. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2017 at 17:49

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