Amateur Radio Group to Bring First Municipal Emergency Service to Aroostook County



CARIBOU, Maine – A group of Caribou amateur radio operators have banded together to launch Aroostook County’s first municipal emergency service, hoping to modernize the area’s use of technology in the event of disaster.

In a rural county where internet, cellphone, and other types of communication can be spotty in good weather, storms can easily wipe out these modes of communication. The newly formed group of volunteer amateur radio operators calling themselves Caribou Emergency Amateur Radio Service will bring the only smart digital technology for amateur radios, known as D-STAR, north of Portland to Aroostook.

While General Mobile Radio Service radios are more common for hobbyists, D-STAR allows licensed operators and emergency personnel to send texts, emails and photos over the radio. Operators connect D-STAR radio cables to special computers that remain functional during widespread power outages.

The new Caribou Emergency Amateur Radio Services, known as EARS, is the first group seeking to bring modern emergency radio communication to the county. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Republican Aroostook

TH Merritt, president and co-founder of the Caribou Emergency Amateur Radio Service, recalled using D-STAR technology while serving as an emergency radio operator during hurricanes in Florida.

“If someone called from out of state looking for her mother, we could contact the shelter operators and tell them, ‘Your mother arrived at Shelter 18 at 5:30,'” Merritt said. “If a bridge collapsed or a road collapsed, we could take pictures and send them to public works and emergency personnel.”

Although the service is based in Caribou, Merritt said D-STAR signals have an extended range that allows communication with other municipalities and county and state emergency agencies.

A longtime hobbyist himself, Merritt wants the county to be fully prepared for radio communications if a particularly intense weather system, such as an ice storm, flood or thunderstorm, knocks out power, damages roads or traps people. in their homes.

After Merritt, who previously served at Loring Air Force Base, retired and returned to Aroostook, he was surprised to learn that the area had no emergency radio group trained in the use of D-STAR technology.

Although the Aroostook Amateur Radio Association, based in Près Isle, has many members, it exists as a social group. Local members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service communicate with agencies via traditional amateur radio during widespread emergencies, but are not affiliated with any particular municipality.

“It’s the largest county east of the Mississippi, but there’s no wide [emergency] radio coverage with modern technology,” Merritt said. “It shocked me.”

Soon after settling in Caribou, Merritt formed ties with local licensed radio amateurs, many of whom practiced radio as a hobby for decades. The group met with the city’s police, fire and EMS departments, all of which helped them gain recognition from the Federal Communications Commission last month.

Caribou EARS President TH Merritt establishes radio communications with a HAM operator. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Republican Aroostook

Since then, Caribou Emergency Amateur Radio Service is launching a Facebook page, recruiting members, and working to bring D-STAR technology to Caribou by this spring. The group holds monthly meetings and plans to hold radio demonstrations at events and summer schools for people wishing to obtain their amateur radio operator license.

The group has 17 members, most of whom are long-time ham radio enthusiasts, but Merritt has already seen tremendous interest from others in Caribou and surrounding communities, including Washburn and Limestone.

“We are growing every day. I have at least a dozen emails from people asking for an application [to join]”said Merritt.

Like other Caribou emergency personnel, volunteers will wear uniforms and work alongside police, fire, EMS and public works personnel in the event of an emergency. They also hope to educate the public about the everyday benefits of communicating with family and neighbors, both inside and outside the county and Maine, through radio.

“If something happens, you can check on family members to make sure they’re safe,” Merritt said. “There’s nothing worse than someone calling for help and finding no one is there.”

The next Caribou Emergency Amateur Radio Service meeting will be Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Caribou Emergency Operations Center at 111 High St. Anyone interested in joining can contact Merritt at 207-999-9397 or [email protected]

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