Among the many victims of Hurricane Irma in September was the transmitter/antenna farm of Radio Miami International, WRMI in Okeechobee, located on a cattle ranch 40 miles inland from Port St. Lucie on Florida’s Atlantic coast.
On Sunday Sept. 10, Irma’s roaring winds tore across the flat plains housing WRMI’s 23 antenna systems, comprising a total of 68 towers — the largest commercial shortwave radio transmission site in the United States. The hurricane-force winds snapped one of WRMI’s towers in half, leaving the torn metal lattice dangling suspended in the transmission lines. A second tower was bent in half like a paperclip. Many transmission lines radiating from WRMI’s central 16,000-square-foot transmitter building to the arrays also were knocked down along with the telephone poles that supported them.
The post-Irma scene looked as if a drunken giant had wandered across the cattle ranch and tripped repeatedly, taking down whatever he had stumbled across.[…]
The Salvation Army’s Eastern Territory has asked SATERN to begin recruiting amateur radio operators from our Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) for potential deployments to the Puerto Rico & Virgin Islands Division.
THIS IS A RECRUITMENT REQUEST TO BE ON STANDBY ONLY!
This will not be an easy deployment so operators interested in deploying on behalf of The Salvation Army should carefully read and ensure that they can meet the conditions and requirements in the attached document(s):
Candidates must be capable of doing the work and meeting the qualifications contained in the attached Position Description for a Communications Specialist. The only exception to this is the requirement for Medic First Aid Training. That or similar training is a plus but not mandatory.(See attached file: SATERN-Communications_Specialist-Official.pdf)
Candidates should pay close attention to the information in both documents. This will be an especially challenging deployment physically, emotionally, spiritually and technically. Do NOT sign up if you are not prepared for this.
Candidates MUST fully complete a volunteer profile in the National Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) Volunteer Database. Instructions for creating a profile in the database are contained below my signature block.
DEPLOYMENT LOCATION: Puerto Rico or one of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
DEPLOYMENT DATE(S): Not known at this time but could be as early as next week.
DEPLOYMENT LENGTH: Operators should plan on a minimum two week (14 day) deployment. Be aware that travel to and from these areas is difficult and there are no guarantees of it being exactly two weeks.
LODGING: Lodging will very likely be basic shelter style lodging in a church, gym, warehouse or similar rough arrangement. Be well prepared for hardship conditions. You will need to bring your own sleeping bag, cot (if you have one), etc. However, there is a possibility that there will be availability on the USS Kennedy, USS Wright or other ships.
MEALS: Meals will likely be provided by The Salvation Army at whatever Incident Command Post (ICP) you are assigned to. It will likely be very basic meals served from one of our canteens (mobile kitchens).
EXPENSE: The following essential expenses will be reimbursed:
Other expenses pre-authorized by officials of the Incident Management Team (IMT) at the site you are deployed to.
Bring CASH – about $500 is recommended. Remember that all power, phone and internet are disrupted so it is highly unlikely you will be able use a credit card. Cash is KING on a deployment.
You will need to bring your own radio equipment as outlined in the attached document(s) above. It needs to be in good condition and capable of operating under conditions similar to, or more strenuous than, the worst Field Day imaginable.
The Salvation Army will not reimburse repairs or replacement for your equipment. That responsibility belongs to the deployed operator and it is highly recommended that you make sure that your equipment is fully insured.
Becoming A Candidate:
Anyone who meets the above qualifications and desires to be deployed should do the following:
Complete the volunteer registration. This includes completing the online course, Introduction to Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services.
Inform the following people by email of your interest in being on standby for a possible deployment AFTER completing number 1 and number 2 above.
You must email your notification along with the COMPLETED form in number 2 above to the National SATERN Liaison (see (i) below and to your Territorial SATERN Coordinator who is one of the four people listed in (ii) below:
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Hans Johnson, who shares the following guest post:
Irma-induced Radio Reviews
by Hans Johnson
The primary disaster we face here in Naples, Florida, is hurricanes. Naples had been spared for over a decade until Irma. So while I had prepared, I had not needed my supplies or equipment for quite some time. This included the radios.
I went into Irma with two Freeplay solar and windup radios, a Unity and a Lifeline. I got these radios probably over a decade ago. As part of some work I was doing with VT Communications (now Babcock), I was involved with a radio project called Sudan Radio Service.
Both of these radios were being given to listeners as part of this project. I wanted to have a better understanding of what they faced. I had some conversations with Freeplay in London, explaining who I was and why I wanted these radios. During a visit, I was able to purchase both sets with the proviso that I not sell them.
I checked them both out at that time with my focus being on shortwave as that is how Sudan Radio Service was then transmitted. They were ok at picking out the strongest stations but that’s about it. I never really needed or wanted to use the radios day to day. And then Irma struck.
We left Naples on Saturday when we received a mandatory evacuation notice. The storm struck on Sunday and we returned on Monday.
We were spared. Many lost everything. Some lost their lives. We had a lot of trees down and some roof damage, but nothing substantial. But we had no power. Water had to be boiled. Sewage was backing up in places because the lift stations had no power. The stop lights were out (this was a real danger, many did not treat them as four-way stops and just blew through them. But you never knew who it would be.) A curfew was in place. The cell phone system was in really bad shape. I could not call or text my brother across town, let alone get access to the Internet via cell.
This link will give you an idea of what we came back to. I am the guy sawing wood at 1:47. (Lesson learned, have two chainsaws in case yours blows a gas line):
I had blown up some air mattresses before the storm so we slept on them on the screened porch. I saw the Milky Way from Naples for the first time.
We wanted information and also a bit of entertainment. Television was out of the question. The HDTV stations are hard to receive with a great antenna and set in the best of times where we live. So a battery-operated TV would have been a waste. Radio was the only game in town, so it was time to put the emergency radios in service.
Both of these analogue dial sets cover AM, FM, and shortwave. The Unity covers 3-22 MHz, the Lifeline just goes up to 18. The former covers the old American AM band and the latter the new one. The Unity uses a whip antenna and has a fine tuning knob. The Lifeline has a bendable wire that fits into the carrying handle and came with an alligator clip and a length of wire.
Ideally, one would be listening a set that has been charged via the solar cell or listening with the set in the sun. The last place I wanted to be was in or near the sun. Trying to charge the set and then listen to it is difficult in practice. It seems that the ratio was about one to one. 15 minutes in the sun would get you about 15 minutes of immediate listening. It doesn’t seem that the batteries will hold a charge for long periods of time. I could not charge them during the day and expect to turn them on the next morning, which was the peak time of day for radio to be transmitting local information. The ratio for using the hand-crank was better, but I grew tired of cranking quite quickly.
I was interested in local stations, so shortwave was not a factor. We only have a few local AM stations in Naples and I could not receive them (Irma knocked off or damaged a number of stations.) I tried FM. Even with the antennas retracted, both sets were overwhelmed by the local stations with certain stations bleeding through over much of the dial. I could receive some strong, local stations. With the outlet at Marco Island off and the other apparently on reduced power, receiving NPR was out of the question.
Given how many sources of information I was cut off from, my flow was greatly reduced. My ignorance increased and learning vital information was hit or miss. A neighbor told me about the boil order. Passing on information was difficult. When we got power I wanted to tell my brother, but the only way to inform him was to drive to his house.
One result was that I put these sets away and broke out my old Sony
ICF-7600GR and used it instead. I guess I could have used it until I ran out of AA batteries. I had plenty on hand and can easily afford them. But that is hardly the case in Southern Sudan and many other places.
The Lifeline came with a few stickers on it that I could not read when I got the set. Now that Goggle translate is so good I can read them. They say in part: “Everyone has the right to receive information,” “Everyone one has the right to search for, receive, and deliver information.”
The real result of the test was a greater appreciation for how good I have it in many ways. With regards to information, I have many sources and can readily receive it and pass it on. It increased my respect for services like Sudan Radio Service and how important they are. But most especially, I have a much greater admiration for listeners using these sets and what is surely their perseverance, patience, and determination to get information.
Many thanks for your field report of the Freeplay Lifeline and Unity, Hans!
I’m happy to hear you had no serious damage post-Irma. So many in the SWLing Post community have been affected by hurricanes this season.
I have never, personally, reviewed either of these Freeplay units–both are now discontinued and have been replaced with other models at Lifeline, I believe. As you state in your post, these radios are only available to humanitarian organizations. Through Ears To Our World, I have considered acquiring Lineline Energy (Freeplay) radios in the past. However, their radios tend to be rather large in size–we tend to go with smaller receivers that can easily fit in suitcases. In the past we’ve been very happy with the Grundig FR200 (Tecsun GR-88).
The Lifeplayer MP3
Last year, we did purchase a Freeplay Lifeplayer to test. The hand crank charging mechanism is very robust, though quite noisy. The radio is digital, but performance is mediocre and tuning couldn’t be more cumbersome (5 kHz steps, no memories, only a couple of band steps. Tuning to your favorite station could literally take a couple of minutes, depending on where it is on the band. When you turn off the radio (or it runs out of power) you’ll have to re-tune to the station again. That’s a lot of extra mechanical wear on the encoder. The real utility of the Lifeplayer is the built-in MP3 player and recorder–a brilliant tool for rural schools. Also, it’s robust and can take abuse from kids much better than other consumer radios.
Your main point, though, is spot-on: these radios serve their purpose, but we radio enthusiasts are incredibly fortunate to have much better grade equipment to take us through information backouts.
Since we’ve been following WRMI in the wake of Hurricane Irma, I’ve posted a few photos below that WRMI shared on their Facebook page. These photos give us an idea about the magnitude of damage to their antenna farm.
Amazingly, Jeff White confirmed a few days ago that WRMI is back up to full power on all of their frequencies.
All of the caption below were noted by WRMI:
One of the towers holding our 44-degree antenna to Europe was folded in the middle by the hurricane.
A mess of crossed transmission lines in the field.
Transmission lines on the ground that should be above ground on poles.
Transmission line poles were knocked down.
A second tower holding the 44-degree antenna was snapped in the middle.
We had some requests a few days ago from listeners who wanted to see a diagram of our transmitter-antenna connections. This may blow your mind, but here goes…
Many thanks to Jeff White, at Radio Miami International, who writes with the following update:
Florida Power & Light Company has announced that most customers in our part of Florida should have electricity restored by the end of this coming weekend — that is by Sunday, September 17. So we hope to be back on the air here at WRMI by that date or before.
Meantime, we have one frequency on the air at very low power using our generator: 9395 kHz. This will be on 24 hours a day with regular programming.
We are making repairs in the antenna field so that by the time electricity returns, we will be ready to resume our full schedule of operations.
Thanks for the update, Jeff! We’re all so happy the WRMI crew made it through Hurricane Irma safely and happy to hear you may have power as early as this weekend.
We’ll publish all of Jeff’s updates here on the SWLing Post.
My CommRadio CR-1a, with an internal lithium battery, is the perfect off-grid radio companion.
Monday night, the remnants of Hurricane Irma moved through western North Carolina. Because the SWLing Post HQ is at a high altitude compared with the surrounding area, we received higher than forecast winds. Still, we made it through fine and feel pretty darn lucky.
Yesterday afternoon, even though we maintained power throughout the storm, the utilities company cut power to our road due to a tree that had fallen on a pole that also supported a transformer. It’s a tangled mess. Since there are about 17,000 without power in our rural area, it’ll be some time before power is restored to our road–likely late Friday evening or sometime this weekend.
Loss of power isn’t a major problem for us since our refrigerator and freezer are off-grid and solar powered 100% of the time anyway. We also have a propane stove to cook on and plenty of charged battery packs and flashlights (and at least half a dozen HumanaLights in service).
On the plus side? Even though our house is pretty RFI free, when the power is cut, it’s amazingly radio quiet.
I listened to RRI last night on the CommRadio CR-1a (see above). Later, I sat in bed with the pilot run CC Skywave SSB and tuned through the 31 meter broadcast band, the 40, 80 and 160 meter ham bands and the mediumwave broadcast band. Happy to say that the Skywave SSB did an amazing job–and propagation was decent. Reception was so good, it felt like I was camping in a national forest. Just makes one realize how all the devices in our home add to that RFI noisy environment.
We count ourselves lucky as news from all of the areas that took the full impact of Hurricane Irma is simply gobsmacking.
This morning, I listened to a few HF nets on the 80 and 40 meter bands with the Digitech AR1780–I noted no less than five hams reporting that they were operating on generator power. I believe this hurricane has caused one of the largest power outages we’ve ever had in the US due to a natural disaster.
Note that since I don’t have power at home, I also don’t have Internet service–keep this in mind if you attempt to contact me this week. I will post quick updates to the SWLing Post while I’m in town, however I will certainly fall behind on correspondence. Thanks for understanding.
Yesterday evening, Hurricane Irma passed very close to Okeechobee, and tropical storm force winds hit our transmitter site. I’m happy to say that the transmitter building and the transmitters themselves survived with no major problems. In the antenna field, one of our 44-degree antennas beaming up the East Coast of North America and over to Europe and the Middle East was knocked down, and may not be repairable. Fortunately, we have four other antennas beaming in the same direction, so we can continue those transmissions when the power comes back on. There are also about 20 telephone poles holding our transmission lines that are down or leaning, and they need to be repaired.
WRMI transmitter building with windows and doors boarded up in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Irma.
At this point, Florida Power & Light has no estimate of when power will be restored to our site. It could take days, or possibly even weeks. But we should have a better idea about this within the next few days. In the meantime, all transmitters are off the air, although our webstream with the 9955 kHz programming is operating. You can find it on our webpage, www.wrmi.net. There is an audio player in the lower right corner which you can click on to hear the programming. This stream is also carried by TuneIn, Streema, Radio Garden and other similar services. So please continue to upload your programs to our FTP servers as usual.
For WRMI clients, please be assured that we will put a credit on your next invoice for any of your programs that do not air on shortwave.
We do have a generator at our transmitter site which powers our control room, offices, lights and computers. Unfortunately it is not powerful enough to operate our fourteen 100,000-watt transmitters.
All of our staff are safe. Half of them were at the station during the storm (with some of their pets as well; we had two dogs, a bird and a turtle), and the others stayed in their own homes throughout the area.
I want to thank everyone who has called, e-mailed and sent messages with their prayers, best wishes and offers of assistance. We greatly appreciate all of them, and I will attempt to answer all of these messages personally in the coming days. The hurricane has dealt us a serious blow, but we will recover quickly and we’ll continue to broadcast your programs to shortwave listeners around the world. Thanks for your confidence in WRMI, and I will update you when we have more news.
Jeff, we’re all wishing you the best as you work to put WRMI back on the air!
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