Amateur radio group provides emergency communications support
By Barry Dalton
For the past four years, Audrain Emergency Communications Inc. (AECI), a group of ham radio operators from across the county, have been assembling a communications trailer to assist state and local personnel with emergency communications support.
“Let’s say that communications go down in the east end of the county from Highway 19 and east,” explained Chris Newbrough, a member of the amateur radio group. “What we can do is we could pull our trailer down to [the Community R-6 parking lot, for example], with permission, and within probably a half an hour be on the air being able to provide communications for the eastern end of the county.”
The trailer could be requested by Mexico Public Safety, Audrain County Sheriff’s Office, 911 dispatchers, SSM Hospital or most any other agency needing communications support.
The cost of building the trailer has been approximately $65,000 with grant funding from the Edmonston Foundation, the Griffin Foundation and the A.P. Green Foundation. Individual members of the nonprofit ham radio group have also donated items, time and money to bring the project together.
“So we get together and talk to people all over the world–yes, we do do that [as a ham radio club],” said Newbrough. “But our primary mission [as AECI] is emergency response and emergency fill in when communications go down.”
Kenny Fairchild, president of AECI, says that the 26-foot trailer will be ready for service in the very near future.
A grant from the Griffin Foundation has also been used to purchase networking equipment and repeater equipment for a radio tower in Vandalia, located on Utterback Street.
The Glasford Foundation, which owns the old cable television tower, has donated space for the repeater, and Alsat Wireless donates the internet service. There are also three repeaters located in Mexico and one soon to be in Centralia.
“A repeater extends a broadcast signal by picking it up and rebroadcasting it,” explained Jeff Carlyle, of Vandalia, a member of AECI.
This system, which includes the trailer, will provide communication capabilities from the west end of the county to the east end of the county whenever it’s requested.
“It gives a really large footprint that we wouldn’t be able to have without it,” explained Carlyle, who has worked on the trailer and repeater projects. “Only three other trailers in the entire state of Missouri can do what ours can do. We’re considered a regional asset.”
The State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) also has a ham radio room set up in Jefferson City in the event it’s needed during a crisis, Carlyle said. Ham radio can provide supplementary communications for special needs requests identified by SEMA, such as cots, bottled water or needed supplies.
During the tragic tornado that occurred in Joplin in 2011, for example, the only signal getting out of Joplin was text messages for 72 hours.
“That’s where amateur radio comes in,” said Carlyle. “Our mission is when all else fails—amateur radio.”
Audrain Emergency Communications Inc. trailer has an antenna mast that extends 60 feet in the air to support communications when all else fails. Submitted photo.