“Force of 50” amateur radio volunteers deploy throughout Puerto Rico

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02/10/2017

More than 20 of the Amateur Radio “Force of 50” volunteers are now deployed to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico as American Red Cross volunteers and are wasting no time getting to work. ARRL CEO Tom Gallagher, NY2RF, said volunteers, in general, will provide communications to local law enforcement and utility officials; the health and welfare traffic between the island and the mainland, which continues, and contacts with the most remote regions of Puerto Rico, cut off from the capital San Juan and without news since the hurricane passed Maria on September 20. Thanks to the firefighters in Juncos, all amateur radio operators and Red Cross volunteers have been guaranteed safe passage, food, shelter and water at any fire station in the island, if necessary.

ARRL Emergency Preparedness Officer Mike Corey, KI1U, said the volunteers initially gathered at the San Juan Convention Center, which serves as the headquarters of the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency ( PREMA). On their first night, a local church offered accommodation and the volunteers slept on benches that had been pushed together.

According to a FEMA official, the White House Situation Room is extremely satisfied and enthusiastic with the service amateur radio volunteers provide to Puerto Rico.

Since the storm hit Puerto Rico, ARRL section manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF and other volunteers have installed VHF and HF nets at the temporary American Red Cross headquarters, despite damage to their own homes. The network covers almost two-thirds of the island and handles traffic to and from the power company, Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (Electric Power Authority – AEE), and state and local authorities. The electricity distribution infrastructure suffered enormous damage from the storms, and electricity remained cut off over most of the island. Twelve team members will be assigned to communicate with engineers preparing to repair the island’s power distribution centers.

The Red Cross headquarters network has switched to 24-hour operation, to be ready to help in an emergency involving the Guajataca hydroelectric dam. Following heavy rains over the weekend that further collapsed the aging structure, residents of Quebradillas, Isabela and San Sebastián neighborhoods were ordered to leave. An amateur radio volunteer was stationed in Quebradillas to provide emergency communication if needed and to maintain contact between AEE and its Monacillo control center.

An amateur radio station was installed and an operator integrated into the Puerto Rico Emergency Operations Center (PREOC). Radio amateurs have also been asked to establish VHF communication capabilities in 51 hospitals on the island, so that they can have direct contact with PREOC. Local hams will equip this facility for the time being. The volunteer integrated into the PREOC serves as a liaison between the PREOC and the FEMA Emergency Support Function Working Group (ESF-2), relaying information between the Red Cross, ARRL, FEMA and the ESF-2 working group. An amateur radio team is also in Jacuo.

Two members of the team penetrated to the western end of the island. “The Oeste (Mayagüez) Team” (the Western Mayagüez Team), as they are called, is located in a Red Cross shelter in Mayagüez, providing the only emergency communication link between that town. and San Juan since the storm of September 20. They have also been in contact with the mainland via SATERN, where W1AW has been registered, indicating that they are doing well. At this point, this team has looked into the conditions and needs of people living in Mayagüez and its surroundings. The main one of these needs was water.

“The city’s water supply system has failed in the past 24 hours, and water is a critical need and the first item mentioned,” the couple said in an Oct. 1 status update. They said non-perishable foods, extended shelf life milk powder, blankets, infant formula and dust masks were also on the list. They met the medical staff installed at the Palacio de Recreacion y Deportes – a sports stadium in the Parisian district of Mayagüez – and will meet today with the mayor of Mayagüez. The medical staff also provided the volunteers with a long list of needs to pass on to the Red Cross as well as FEMA and the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency, as well as others who could provide. An assistance.

“We were told they were seeing ulcers, spider bites, patients needing oxygen, congestion and cough,” they said. “They have, however, not had any patients with fever or other signs of sanitation-related illness / disease; with the failure of the municipal water system, this is a concern.

An HF station with WinLink capacity and a VHF / UHF station were installed in the FEMA disaster field office, and volunteers reported by radio from across the island to issue situation reports. Radio operators will also be stationed at four power generation facilities, at the request of the power company. Superacueducto, the water company, has asked several radio amateurs to help restore water flow from Arecibo to San Juan. The volunteers also recruited another ham, a Red Cross volunteer.

Four amateur radio volunteers were positioned to support and ensure daily VHF communication in the Red Cross distribution centers. Two volunteers were also sent to Culebra Island to establish VHF and HF communication, the first since the storm.

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