With a ham license, you can help your city by bring an important skill to the table - the ability to communicate. As hams we provide supplementary communications for the city. If an emergency situation is severe enough, we send neighborhood damage information to the City's Emergency Operation Center (EOC). This lets them know where the damage is in the city so they can dispatch their scarce resource (fire, medical and police) to where it is needed the most.
In times of non-emergencies (which is actually a lot around here) we act as the "eyes and ears" for our police department at public events such as Fun Runs, festivals and parades - anywhere that the police department feels they can benefit from a bunch more eyes on the event.
Getting your ham radio license requires you pass a simple test. Some studying is required, which requires some time on your part. There are many different ways to prepare for the test from the "I can't wait" approach to the "I want to learn more" approach.
The Fastest Way
The quickest way to get your license is to attend a "ham cram" session. These sessions are designed to do one thing - get your license fast. You don't learn much about ham radio, but you do walk out with your license. "Ham Cram" sessions are offered by different groups throughout the bay area. One good web site that lists local ham cram session is www.baears.com These groups are constantly offering new sessions with the locations moving to different cities all the time. If one isn't close to you, a future one probably will be close - be sure to check their website often.
I want to read and study
Buy a book. The "Ham Radio License Manual" is easy to read and has all of the test questions and answers! You can buy the book at Ham Radio Outlet (search for "ham radio license manual") or through the American Radio Relay League. After studying, you need to sign up for an exam and take the test.
You're almost there! First, contact the ham coordinator for your city. For Los Altos, send an email to info @ laares.org. For cities other than Los Altos (but still in Santa Clara County), contact the Emergency Coordinator listed on this page on the County's ham radio web site. He/she will tell you what your next steps are, including recommended training.
Simply put, yes. If you are a newly licensed ham, there's a lot to learn. If you are a "seasoned pro", there's still information you need to know about how your fellow hams operate during a disaster/emergency.
Newly licensed hams should take the County's "Introduction to Emergency Communications" class. This class is offered several times throughout the year and is free (all county ham training is free). Check the County's Event calendar at https://www.scc-ares-races.org/activities/events.php and look for the "Intro" class listings. After you have taken the "Intro" class, you should take the "Fundamentals of Emergency Communications" class. These two classes will get you well on your way.
If you are already licensed, you can probably skip the "Intro" class and start with the "Fundamentals" class.
All class material is available online and can be reviewed any time. The entire list of classes offered by the County hams can be found at http://www.scc-ares-races.org/training.html#courses