Have you ever struggled to figure out just what that call sign is you are hearing, even when the speaker is using phonetics? Imagine trying to copy a list of people's names accurately under those conditions! In a disaster situation, ARES operators may be asked to send lists of names, items, or numbers, or requests for very specific things (such as medications) not easily sent by voice. Accuracy and speed will be important, if not essential and, even with good operating conditions, lists take time to send. Being able to send information quickly that can be printed at the receiving end, knowing it was sent without error, is a critical service we can offer agencies when other means of communication are down or overwhelmed. In addition, we can send that information using standard forms agencies are used to using!
Using digital modes, Hams can send information successfully in conditions that make voice communication nearly impossible. We can send email via radio by connecting to stations locally or around the world, even when local internet services are down. With the right equipment, we can even offer email service to those in shelters so they can notify loved ones.
Digital communications cannot replace voice communications, but they are an essentail tool in fulfilling our role as support for served agencies. It isn't difficult (or terribly expensive) to get started. At minimum, you need a radio and a computer with a microphone and speakers, but a sound card interface connecting your radio and computer is best. There are LOTS of sites on the web with information on various soundcard interfaces and modes used for digital operation.
FCARES uses the Fldigi suite of programs. Below are links to instructions for installing the programs and setting up your computer. These are for the Windows 10 OS, but other operating systems will have similar settings required. Also, there are plenty of operators willing to help - join any of our nets and ask questions!