The Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency wants to see more residents use an app it launched less than a year ago for alerts and emergency planning — even though it remains difficult for some to access it.
Last month, the Piscataquis County Commission decided to dedicate American Rescue Plan Act funds to radio communications upgrades for the county’s emergency responders rather than invest them in broadband. Although the commissioners’ decision and the EMA’s attempt to grow its app appear to conflict, the Piscataquis Emergency Management App is meant to reach an audience that doesn’t receive traditional emergency alerts broadcast via television and radio, Director Jaeme Duggan said.
“A lot of our locations have one way in and one way out,” she said. “To have something that alerts you when there’s a road closure is really helpful. It’s specific to our county, and it’s in real time. Alerts are pushed by our agency. We hear them through dispatch and get them out to you.”
The radio communications overhaul commissioners are pursuing is meant to upgrade the end-of-life public safety infrastructure for fire and police departments, Duggan said.
While the EMA is aware that users will be limited because of internet and cellphone reception challenges in one of Maine’s most rural counties, the app and new website — piscataquisemergencymanagement.org — offer more options to share alerts and information, said Debra Hamlin, the agency’s deputy director and E-911 addressing officer.
The agency’s target audience is people who don’t get alerts from the Emergency Alert System — sometimes called the Emergency Broadcast System — which provides national warnings that are disseminated to the public via radio towers and television.
“There is a whole generation who does not even have off-the-air local television [and] doesn’t listen to traditional off-the-air radio, so regional coverage just isn’t there,” Duggan said. “For the many without cable television who would rather pick and choose their viewing choices via streaming, there are no local emergency broadcast cut-ins.”
Users can sign up for alerts, which the EMA sends out based on information from dispatch, Maine Emergency Management Agency, National Weather Service based in Caribou and Piscataquis County Flood Watch — which crowdsources information and shares it on social media, Duggan said.
The app, which Hamlin introduced at a county commissioners meeting last August, offers a variety of information, sometimes gleaned from other sources, to Piscataquis County residents and employees. It includes fire departments and warming and cooling shelters, videos about flood preparedness and wildfires, and documents on space heater safety and filing a flood insurance claim.
It also encourages residents to form a plan ahead of time for themselves and their families they can use in an emergency, Duggan said.
The Augusta-based Maine Emergency Management Agency does not require county agencies to have an app with emergency resources, said Amy Carole, public outreach specialist. Each county is encouraged to employ whatever tools are necessary to meet the needs of residents, she said.
The agency accepts feedback about the app. If you have comments or suggestions to share, call 207-564-8660.