The History of the Communications Reserve Unit

Reserve Unit Department Logo

The Communications Reserve Unit (CRU) is a program created by a governmental disaster or emergency management office to supplement its emergency communications with unpaid staff. Skilled and dedicated people, who can serve in one or more of four categories: administrative, management, technical, and operations. This program can support a city, a county or a state. It may have the name ACS (Auxiliary Communications Service), or another name of local choice.

The CRU provides tactical, logistical and administrative support and communications for all government communications systems. It includes operations on equipment and frequencies of any authorized equipment or frequencies in support of any need by government that might be in any way connected with an eventual emergency. It includes: cellular, computer, email, facsimile, Internet, microwave, radio (police, fire, amateur, other), satellite, telephone, television, video conference, in-office support of personnel, operators of equipment and systems.

CRU makes possible the effective management and utilization of personnel from Amateur Radio, Civil Air Patrol, the Military Affiliate Radio System, Special Emergency Radio Service, REACT and others, in support of civil defense and disaster response and recovery.

The CRU evolved out of a 1970 concept of the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES) program that it was limited to Amateur radio licensees, which was based on the premise that operations on Amateur radio frequencies required an FCC license.

RACES was originally created to allow emergency communications during emergency by Amateur Radio Operators.

RACES - Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service - is a service authorized in the FCC Part 97 regulations:


       Subpart A--General Provisions

       Sec. 97.3 Definitions.

       (a) The definitions of terms used in part 97 are:

       (2) Amateur radio services. The amateur service, the amateur-satellite service and the radio amateur civil emergency service.

       (35) RACES (radio amateur civil emergency service).

       A radio service using amateur stations for civil defense communications during periods of local, regional or national civil emergencies.

RACES was made part of the FCC regulations August 15, 1952.

By the l950's it had been determined that, to adequately support the expanding civil defense program and mission, it would be necessary to allow certain Amateur licensees to remain on the air in a national emergency , per the Presidential Emergency War Powers Act. Thus the RACES was born. Essentially the rules were written to allow the RACES service to operate (as such) if ever again a national crisis caused the general suspension of Amateur Radio operation.

The motivation to create a California CRU organization from the original RACES model was based on lessons learned during the 1994 Northridge earthquake near Los Angeles.

At that time, California RACES had been called the Auxiliary Radio Service (ARS) and was tasked with providing State level emergency operations, mostly on Government frequencies and radios instead of on the Amateur frequencies. Besides the RACES organization itself, other personnel were included from the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and Military Affiliate Radio Service (MARS). A training skills matrix had also been developed, and identified those with a background in administration, management and specialized skills.

During the Northridge earthquake, a need existed to support the disaster with communications personnel who were not necessarily Amateur Radio operators. Computers were programmed by volunteers for agencies in the affected areas, and volunteer office support staff was provided for OES branch personnel.

Afterwards, the need to utilize trained unpaid telecommunications professionals to augment State and County emergency services personnel became apparent. At that time the name of the organization was changed to the Auxiliary Communications Service (ACS), to reflect the broad background and capabilities of its personnel, and its mission to support government in times of emergency.

On April 1, 2017 the organization changed its name from the Auxiliary Communications Service (ACS) to be the new Communications Reserve Unit (CRU) to more closely reflect the Reserve status of its volunteers.


For more information regarding the CRU program, contact the following:

Bill Pennington:      Chief CRU Officer
Mike Beckstrand:  CRU / ACS Program Administrator