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Ham radio team helps out in storm

AROOSTOOK COUNTY, Maine — On Oct. 30, 2017 Maine was hit by a high-wind event that caused severe damage across the state and left hundreds of thousands without power, phone, and internet services.

In anticipation of the extreme weather the National Weather Service, in conjunction with Aroostook County Emergency Management, activated a specialized group of licensed amateur (HAM) radio operators who assist in emergency communications.

The group is known as an ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) Team, said Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency Director Darren Woods. Members of this group train regularly for just such events.  ARES teams are often called upon to provide backup communication when conventional means are either unavailable or have become overwhelmed due to weather hazards or other natural and manmade disasters.  

“This team of volunteers is spread out all across our county and remains ready to respond in a very short notice,” Woods said. “They train and practice regularly. We are lucky to have these folks that can provide this invaluable service for us.”  

As with most teams, the Aroostook County ARES Team is outfitted with emergency radios, computers and equipment that allows them to operate independently of the power grid, internet, telephone and cell networks.  They are capable of passing voice and digital radio traffic and other forms of messaging locally, statewide, or even across the globe as necessary.

Early on the morning of Oct. 30, ARES members took up positions at the National Weather Service office in Caribou (Call Sign: WX1CAR) and began relaying storm related damage reports and weather information coming in via ham radio to the NWS meteorologists. 

This real-time reporting received from dozens of other amateur stations across the state was valuable in helping to provide weather observations and damage assessments to the National Weather Service and state emergency management officials.  It also helped to facilitate a means of backup communications that came in handy when conventional systems went offline due to power failures and infrastructure damage, Woods said.

“In the days following catastrophic hurricanes in Puerto Rico and our Southern states, there were many areas that could not communicate any other way than via HAM Radio,” he added. “Having this capability is critical to emergency preparedness everywhere.”

A well known motto among the ham radio community is, “When all else fails… amateur radio is there!” This was certainly true on October 30, 2017 here in Maine and continues to be so now that the wind has subsided and the clean-up has begun.  The Aroostook County ARES Team has already started to prepare for the next time they may be called upon. 

For more information about amateur radio or how to become involved in an ARES team, visit: http://aroostookema.com or http://www.arrl.org/ares.

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