Governor is 1 of Maine’s 4,000 hams

by The Associated Press
Bangor Daily News

AUGUSTA – Just in case disaster strikes, the governor’s at the ready with his radio.

To other amateur radio operators, or hams, he’s KBI-NXP. To everyone else, he’s Maine Gov. John Baldacci.

Baldacci said he was inspired to go for his federal amateur radio operator’s license when he observed the important role hams could play in January 1998 when Maine was wracked by disaster.

“I saw it firsthand during the ice storm when the communications system went down,” Baldacci said as he returned from surveying damage from Maine’s latest disaster, last week’s coastal storm which caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

Under the tutelage of Rodney Scribner, a former state finance official who now oversees ham operations for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, Baldacci mastered the rigorous amateur radio licensing requirements.

It required getting up early many mornings and fitting in studies around campaigns and other demands on the former congressman’s time. Baldacci was issued a license last fall. It makes him the nation’s only governor with a ham radio license, said Allen Pitts, spokesman for Connecticut-based AARL, hams’ national association.

“It’s a topic for which the hams are right proud,” Pitts said.

Baldacci sees his radio qualifications as a component of his job, saying they give him all of the pieces he needs to oversee response and recovery in the event of a major disaster.

In his State House office, he keeps his portable ham radio on a desk right next to his two emergency phones — a black Homeland Security line and a separate red emergency phone.

“It’s there, 24-7,” said Baldacci, who also is considering setting up a more elaborate base in the Blaine House.

Ham radio operators didn’t emerge as a critical communications link during last week’s storm, because most phone and Internet lines were still up. But hams were busy in the background. For example, they relayed the locations of emergency shelters to the many people who listened to scanners, said William Woodhead of Auburn, AARL’s section manager for Maine.

One of the advantages of ham radio communications is that they can be tailored to fit peculiar demands, Scribner said.

During the ice storm, hams played a key role in providing communications for the Red Cross when its trucks came to the devastated state, he said. Another time, hams kept communications between Maine hospitals open after a backhoe sliced through a fiber-optic line.

“A lot of what we do is out of the public eye and mind,” said Scribner.

Maine has about 4,000 licensed hams.