Maine County Deploys Wide-Area Emergency Public Radio Service
Friday, November 01, 2019 | Comments

A Maine county, with the assistance of amateur radio operators, is implementing a countywide emergency broadcast system, using universally available AM radio channels. The new wide-area RadioSAFE system will be used in emergency and disaster situations in which citizens are cut off from power and communications.

“We realized that the last option [in emergencies] most people have for getting information is by broadcast radio,” said Waldo County Emergency Management Director Dale Rowley.

Although a power outage is the mostly likely situation in which the county will use the service, emergency management officials say it also could be of critical assistance in large-scale evacuations because of forest fires, hazardous materials (HAZMAT) spills or other hazards that would endanger the public.

Waldo County will erect road signs and use all local media to promote the emergency service. “During an emergency, we will send out a wireless emergency alert (WEA) to cell phones directing people to tune to the AM station for more detailed information," said Rowley.

Recognizing that an emergency AM radio system capable of covering the entire county was not an off-the-shelf item, in 2018, Waldo County reached out to equipment suppliers to propose the parameters of such a service. Information Station Specialists designed a high-performance radio antenna with the efficiency and power-handling capability to cover a radius of more than 20 miles, which is required to cover the county.

Condensed versions of the RadioSAFE system are also available with 6- to 10-mile and 3- to 5-mile signal coverage distances. Depending on the version, a waiver and/or a special temporary authority (STA) may be required from the FCC for operation.

The county then obtained a Subrecipient State Homeland Security Grant to cover costs. The RadioSAFE system is under construction on a hilltop tower site, centrally located near the town of Knox, Maine. Adjacent Lincoln County, Maine, is proceeding with engineering work on a similar system for their jurisdiction.

Amateur radio pros Brit Rothrock and Robert Hoey within the Waldo County Emergency Management Agency are doing the system planning and will install the new service at the county's Aborn Hill tower site. The county's RadioSAFE system will operate on AM frequency 530 kHz, a channel designated exclusively for Travelers’ Information Station (TIS) service in the United States. There are no other broadcast stations on 530 kHz in the nation, making it an ideal channel for emergency use.

Because frequencies for RadioSAFE operation are not universally available, planning a system begins with a frequency search to determine availability.

More information is here.

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