For the first time, emergency responders in Minnesota and Ontario were able to communicate using handheld radios during an international emergency exercise held in International Falls Nov. 1. 

The exercise aimed to test the access and effectiveness of a new patch between the Minnesota Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response, or ARMER, system and the Ontario Public Safety Radio Network; the two primary systems used for communication by U.S. and Canadian first responders.

The patch was initiated by the Minnesota State Patrol. A news release said the test and patch process allows first responder agencies on both sides of the border to communicate with one another in a fast and efficient manner. This was never possible before due to the separate frequency issues between the radio networks.

“The ability to communicate with our resource partners in the Fort Frances, Ontario, area when a disaster strikes is the key to a successful and unified response," said Willi Kostiuk, Koochiching County emergency management coordinator. "The effort made by the design team and participants through this process and during the exercise may ultimately save lives.”

Officials from several areas were involved in the test including: Koochiching County, Cook County, Lake County, Lake of the Woods County, Fort Frances EMS, Minnesota State Patrol as well as the Thunder Bay and Kenora Dispatch Centers in Ontario.

The exercise team was joined by a Member of Provincial Parliament Greg Rickford of the Kenora-Rainy River District, who came to support the efforts being made by local emergency preparedness personnel and offered his support and excitement for future initiatives. 

The drill was led by Marcus Bruning of the Minnesota Emergency Communications Network, and Craig Marek of Ontario’s Kenora Central Communications Centre. The Koochiching County Sheriff’s Office is planning a larger communications exercise, scheduled for Dec. 18, with additional planning and training, with the aim of continuing to enhance county and cross-border communication.

Support for the project was provided by the Northeast Minnesota Emergency Communications Board.

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