ARES stands for Amateur Radio Emergency Services and RACES stands for Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services. Both organizations are made up of members who are licensed amateur radio technicians or operators, and generally, members belong to both organizations. Amateur radio operators are more commonly known as “hams.”
Both ARES and RACES members assist in emergencies, but ARES is generally activated before, during and after an emergency and handles all emergency messages that require their assistance, including those between emergency management officials.
You may wonder how they can be activated before an emergency happens if an emergency is unexpected. Having ARES on board is done as a preemptive measure. In other words, if a community has a large event and wants ARES to be prepared in case an emergency occurs, they get them involved before the event starts and have them on-site and available before, during and after the event.
RACES, on the other hand, almost never starts before an emergency happen and can only be activated by locale, state and FEMA government agencies or by The President under the War Emergency Powers Act. during the actual emergency and its immediate aftermath. They support all communications between all government emergency management offices. Once the emergency has cleared, RACES is no longer active.