Amateur Radio Volunteers Respond to Historic Hurricane Irma:
The ARRL Letter
September 14, 2017
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Amateur Radio Volunteers Respond to Historic Hurricane Irma:
Hurricane Irma is history, but the recovery continues. ARRL West
Central Florida (WCF
http://www.arrlwcf.org) Section Manager Darrell
Davis, KT4WX -- who is also Hardee County Emergency Coordinator --
reported that the storm's eye passed over the Hardee County emergency
operations center just before midnight EDT on September 10. The storm,
which left death and destruction in its wake, eventually moved inland,
carrying with it heavy rainfall and consequent additional flooding. By
mid-week, FEMA had flagged most of the Florida peninsula for
"significant river flooding," imminent or occurring. Irma also has left
many in Florida without electrical power.
Davis said he was grateful for the Ham Aid
http://www.arrl.org/ham-aid equipment -- four hand-held transceivers
and one mobile transceiver -- that ARRL sent to Florida as Irma's
arrival was imminent. The once-powerful and persistent Category 5
hurricane made landfall near Naples, Florida, on September 10 as a
Category 2 storm, after raking the Florida Keys.
Thirty Florida counties were under mandatory evacuation orders, and
thousands took advantage of Red Cross shelters.
http://www.skywarn.org nets activated in the West Central
Florida Section and elsewhere to gather severe weather information, and
Florida's Statewide Amateur Radio Network (SARnet
http://www.sarnetfl.com/) conducted a coordination and assistance net
to help communicate between the county EOCs and the State EOC and to
provide assistance to Amateur Radio operators in other ways, time
permitting. The priority during the weekend was tactical shelter
communication, EOC communication, and SKYWARN nets as Hurricane Irma
"At our own EOC, the data from APRS stations was very important to our
decision makers in the EOC to allow Fire and EMS back on the road, post
storm," Davis reported. "Our repeater went off the air due to power
failure. I went to reverse and listened to the repeater input and
transmitted on the output, and we maintained communications through the
Davis said the Ham Aid mobile transceiver went to the area's special
needs shelter, primarily due to the fact that a handheld's signal was
hampered by the building.
Northern Florida SM and Florida Emergency Support Functions 2 (ESF2
-- communications) Liaison Steve Szabo, WB4OMM, said on September 13
that the Florida EOC may need Amateur Radio operators to provide
communication support in the Florida Keys. Volunteers will need a
dual-band handheld with earphone/headset, external gain antenna, spare
batteries, and a charger. Food and sleeping quarters are available, but
responders must be self-sufficient for other personal needs. Deployment
requests will vary.
"Do not self-deploy," Szabo stressed. "These missions will be filled
through the State of Florida EOC ESF2 Liaison." Interested hams should
"Casework/Recovery" under Type of Work, and "Amateur Radio" under
Volunteer Skills. Potential volunteers will be notified and can accept
or decline an assignment. Volunteers may be required to pass a
The Salvation Army Team Emergency Network (SATERN
http://www.satern.otg) was on extended monitoring status from
September 6 until September 13 for Hurricane Irma.
The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) stood down on September 11 after more
than 6 days of activation for Irma as well as for hurricanes José and
Katia. "Once Irma was downgraded to a Tropical Storm, our focus shifted
to collecting post-storm reports and handling emergency and priority
traffic only," HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said. He anticipated
that nets such as the HWN would "be busy for days" handling
health-and-welfare, emergency, and priority traffic. At mid-week, the
HWN was at at Alert Level 2 -- Monitoring Mode, keeping an eye on
now-Tropical Storm José.
As if Earth's weather was not bad enough already, an X-class solar
flare at around midday on Sunday, September 10, hobbled the HF bands.
The widespread communication blackout lasted for nearly 3 hours and
"could not have happened at a worse time," Graves said. "But," he
added, "we cannot control Mother Nature, only work around her." Earlier
solar flares also had affected HF propagation.
The VoIP Hurricane Net
http://www.voipwx.net/ activated over the
weekend to track the impact of Irma as well as of Hurricane Katia,
which made landfall on the coast of southeastern Mexico. The activation
continued until September 11. A listing of reports
received from Amateur Radio operators on the VoIP Hurricane Net,
weather stations monitored across the region, and relayed reports from
social media are on the VoIP Hurricane Net viewer.
Puerto Rico fared better than had been expected. "We were lucky that
all we got were tropical storm winds," said Puerto Rico Section Public
Information Coordinator Angel Santana-Diaz, WP3GW, adding that the
storm did down some trees on the island. While electrical power was up,
there was still no water, Santana said on September 11.
"Some repeater systems did operate without problems," Santana-Diaz
said. "Our Section Emergency Coordinator remained in contact with the
Red Cross," he said, and on September 9, ham volunteers went to the
island of Culebra to establish HF communication there to keep in touch
with the Red Cross office in San Juan, where ARRL Puerto Rico Section
Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF, was stationed. More than 350 Puerto Rico
residents took advantage of Red Cross shelters, while another 150 or so
evacuated to shelters in the US Virgin Islands. Santana-Diaz said the
Friendly Net and Caribbean Emergency Weather Net (CEWN
http://cewn.org/) were active too.
In Cuba, Irma caused destruction from one end of the island to the
other. Cuban Amateur Radio Federation (FRC) information officer Joel
Carrazana Valdés, CO6JC, said some 1,200 radio amateurs from all over
Cuba "were active at the disposal of the defense councils, providing
one of the more valuable and necessary services."
Radio Miami International (WRMI) reported on its Facebook page
http://www.facebook.com/wrmiradio that Hurricane Irma did extensive
damage to the station's studio/transmitter site in Okeechobee, Florida.
"Two antenna towers are down and many poles holding transmission lines
are also down. Power went out at around 2030 UTC Sunday, and it may not
be restored for days. Meanwhile, all transmitters are off the air,"
"We are off the air since Sunday night," WRMI Manager Jeff White
told ARRL. With internet service also out, the station doesn't even
have a livestream outlet. The Okeechobee site includes 14 transmitters
(most of them 100 kW) and 23 antennas beamed in 11 different directions
around the globe.
As Irma stormed the Caribbean, Amateur Radio was a crucial link in the
US Virgin Islands. Section Manager Fred Kleber, K9VV, was in contact
with the Red Cross and getting considerable help from FEMA, the
National Guard, and US Navy vessels. He told ARRL on September 7 that
responders were in search-and-rescue mode on St. Thomas, St. John's,
and St. Croix -- all of which were severely impacted. Work continued on
evacuating people from the islands in St. Thomas Harbor, damaged
hospitals, and other buildings, and providing shelter. Traffic was
being passed from Kleber's location to stations in Puerto Rico and to
the Hurricane Watch Net, but solar flares compromised communication.
W1AW at ARRL Headquarters was in monitoring mode through last Saturday
and activated on Sunday.
In Irma's wake, radio amateurs in the Eastern Caribbean have been
passing information into and out of the affected area, Eric Mackie,
9Z4CP, told ARRL on September 12. The Caribbean Emergency and Weather
Net (CEWN) has been using 7.162 MHz, 7.188 MHz, and 3.815 MHz, and has
requested clear frequencies.
The ARRL Letter
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