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Ham Radio Volunteers In Puerto Rico Meet a Variety of Communication Needs:

from The ARRL Letter on October 5, 2017
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Amateur Radio Volunteers In Puerto Rico Meet a Variety of Communication Needs:

The Amateur Radio volunteers who deployed as American Red Cross volunteers to Puerto Rico as part of the "Force of 50" this past weekend have been focusing their efforts where their help is most needed. ARRL CEO Tom Gallagher, NY2RF, said the volunteers, in general, will provide communications for local law enforcement and utility managers, island-to-mainland health-and-welfare traffic, and contact with the island's more remote areas.

ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U, said arriving volunteers initially gathered at the Convention Center in San Juan, which is now serving as Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA) Headquarters. Their first night, a local church offered accommodations, he said, and volunteers slept on pews that had been pushed together.

Since the storm struck Puerto Rico on September 20, ARRL Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF, and other volunteers have staffed VHF and HF nets at the American Red Cross temporary headquarters in San Juan, despite damage to their own homes. The 24/7 net covers nearly two-thirds of the island and has been handling traffic to and from the power company, Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (Electric Power Authority -- AEE), and state and local authorities. The electric distribution infrastructure suffered extreme storm damage, and only about 9% of customers have power. Twelve team members were assigned to provide communication for engineers involved in repairing power distribution centers.

An Amateur Radio station has been installed and an operator embedded at the Puerto Rico Emergency Operations Center (PREOC). Radio amateurs also were asked to establish VHF communication capabilities at 51 hospitals throughout the island, so they can have direct contact with the EOC.

ARRL Puerto Rico Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF (right), works with two new "Force of 50" volunteers at Red Cross Headquarters in San Juan.

Volunteer Val Hotzfeld, NV9L, told ARRL in an October 4 update that the team on the ground has recruited three local hams to handle Amateur Radio communications at hospitals in Jayuya, Humacau, and Caguas. "They were on site and began handling hospital traffic today," she said in her October 4 situation report. "We successfully received and forwarded traffic from three hospitals needing water and fuel."

"My station will be QRT for a long time," said Alfredo (Al) Velez Ramos, WP3C/NP4DX.

Puerto Rico volunteers and local hams alike have successfully passed "lots of traffic" to net control, which has been forwarded on to the appropriate agencies. Some examples included getting an oxygen tank to a nursing home resident and insulin to a diabetic youth.

A local radio amateur was recruited to handle hospital communications at Centro Medico. "This is the main hospital on the island and needs communication to handle transfers from the other hospitals and medical centers," she said. The Puerto Rico team has begun checking with hospitals to see which ones have telephone service, before dispatching additinal operators.

Hotzfeld said they've received a request from AEE, which operates the precarious Guajataca hydroelectric dam, to deploy another operator to the dam and assist those fixing the channel that delivers water to about 350,000 in the Quebradilla and Isabella area. "We are now also being tasked with doing the same for all the police departments in Puerto Rico," she added. "We are gathering information on roads that are open from the EOC and providing it to the Red Cross for their missions."

The Amateur Radio liaison at the EOC is working with federal officials to co-locate Amateur Radio repeaters on tower sites now being restored to improve communication island-wide. The volunteer team was approached by the Southern Baptist disaster team to discuss the possibility of utilizing a few of their team members who hams to help with communication tasks.

Volunteers Jeremy Dougherty, NS0S, and Bobby Price, KB4ROR, are in Yauco. "We installed our rigs in the fire truck and gave them our handhelds. It left us no other radio for local contact," the pair reported on October 3. They reached out to Marcos Pereda, KP3CA, in Yauco, who loaned the team his FTM-100DR.

They didn't have an antenna that would offer sufficient range, so they improvised, fashioning a "tape measure" five-element Yagi, using supplies from a local hardware store and a coax jumper from their extra HF radio. "We installed everything and made contact with N5TGL and N0CSM, who are 50 miles away, [using] the repeater between us," they said.

There have been problems filling resource requests from remote areas of the island. A message was relayed on WinLink by Juan Sepulveda, KP3CR, from volunteer team members in Mayagüez on behalf of Lares Mayor Roberto Pagán, who had put out an urgent call for water for the town of some 5,000.

According to one FEMA official, the White House situation room is extremely pleased and enthusiastic about the service Amateur Radio volunteers are providing in Puerto Rico.

An HF station with Winlink capability and a VHF/UHF station have been set up in the FEMA disaster field office, and volunteers have been reporting in by radio from around the island to post situation reports. Four volunteers were positioned to accompany and provide VHF communication at Red Cross distribution centers on a daily basis. Two volunteers also were sent to Culebra Island to establish VHF and HF communication there, the first since the storm.

Source:

The ARRL Letter

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