(CNN)The phone call from the Red Cross came in late Friday night, just as the full scale of Hurricane Maria’s calamity began taking shape.
“We need 50 of your best radio operators to go down to Puerto Rico.”
In the days after the worst storm in three generations hit the American island — and for many more to come — public electrical, land-line and cellular communication systems showed few signs of life. And radio networks used routinely by police officers, power company workers and other first responder still were down.
Yet, a key mode of communication — one not reliant on infrastructure vulnerable to strong winds and flooding — still crackled: the “ham” radio.
Answering the phone that night in Connecticut was the emergency manager for the American Radio Relay League, the group’s CEO said. For more than a century, this group has served as a hub for amateurs licensed to operate the dependable, if archaic, medium known as ham radio and eager to pitch in when disaster strikes.
When the Red Cross made its latest appeal for heroes, these were the people it had in mind.
Normally, Rubén Sánchez would not interrupt a live interview with as prominent a newsmaker as Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
But Wednesday was anything but normal.
Less than an hour after Hurricane Maria plowed into Puerto Rico, Rosselló was updating Spanish-language radio listeners by phone on the Category 4 storm’s destructive path when host Sánchez suddenly interrupted.
The studios of Univision’s WKAQ-AM (580) had become “vulnerable,” Sánchez said, his voice tinged with tension. He and his broadcast colleagues would have to abandon the premises — and fast.
“Stay safe,” Rosselló said, urging them to seek shelter in an internal hallway.
Finding refuge — and a safe place to keep broadcasting — turned out to be complicated. The station and a handful of others became vital listening posts for Puerto Ricans starved of information Wednesday as their electricity went dark and their cellphones silent. Several news outlets continuously reported online, but relatively few people on the island could click.
[…]“A few of the offices exploded,” he said, describing how Maria shattered street-facing office windows and forced itself into the building, in the Guaynabo neighborhood west of San Juan. “It even changed the smell of the environment, and the temperature in WKAQ.”
The on-air staffers scrambled, making their way into the studios of a sister station, WKAQ-FM (104.7), known as KQ-105. But even that proved insufficient. Moments later, News Director Jaime Cosme grabbed the microphone to say they were devising a makeshift studio deeper in the building — a structure that, until Wednesday morning, the station had considered a “bunker.”
Sánchez likened the scene to a grenade blast. “It was a bunker,” Sánchez said. “We could see the sky because the roof blew off.”[…]
Fifty of the nation’s most accomplished Amateur Radio operators responded within 24 hours to the call of the American Red Cross to deploy to Puerto Rico and provide emergency communications. At the behest of Red Cross, ARRL rallied the US Amateur Radio community to provide up to 25 two-person teams of highly qualified hams. The group’s principal mission will be to move health-and-welfare information from the island back to the US mainland, where that data will be entered in the Red Cross “Safe & Well” website.
The group will deploy the middle of this week and remain on the island for up to 3 weeks.
ARRL will equip each two-person team with a modern digital HF transceiver, special software, a dipole antenna, a power supply and all the connecting cables, fitted in a rugged waterproof container. In addition, ARRL is sending a number of small, 2,000-W portable generators as well as solar-powered battery chargers of the variety the US military uses on extended deployments. The hams and their equipment will be sent to Red Cross shelters extending from San Juan to the western end of the island.[…]
This morning, I received a message from a friend. Knowing that I’m an amateur radio operator, she asked if I could contact someone in Puerto Rico and verify that her friends’ family are safe–no one has heard from them since Hurricane Maria hit the island.
At the moment, amateur radio is one of the only ways communications are being established on the island. The ARRL has taken the unprecedented move to ask operators to volunteer for the relief effort on behalf of the American Red Cross. Here is the ARRL press release:
American Red Cross Asks ARRL’s Assistance with Puerto Rico Relief Effort
The American Red Cross (ARC) has asked the ARRL for assistance with relief efforts in Puerto Rico. ARC needs up to 50 radio amateurs who can help record, enter, and submit disaster-survivor information into the ARC Safe and Well system. In the nearly 75-year relationship between ARRL and ARC, this is the first time such a request for assistance on this scale has been made. ARRL now is looking for radio amateurs who can step up and volunteer to help our friends in Puerto Rico.
There are very specific requirements and qualifications needed for this deployment.
Due to the nature of this deployment you will need to process in as ARC volunteers. This includes passing a background check. The ARC has indicated that it will cover all expenses for transportation, lodging, and feeding while on deployment. ARC will also provide liability coverage for volunteers. The only out-of-pocket expense to the volunteer would be personal items purchased during deployment.
ARRL and ARC will require training for volunteers being deployed. ARC will provide general deployment training and advanced training in working in austere environments. ARRL will provide to ARC training on Amateur Radio equipment and modes to be used, reporting guidelines, and operating guidelines.
Deployment will be for up to 3 weeks.
General class Amateur Radio license or higher
Familiarity with WinLink, HF voice, and VHF simplex communications
Strong technical skills
Ability to work under difficult conditions
Ability to deploy for up to 3 weeks
Ability to work as part of a team
Spanish language skills
Previous experience in disaster response
Previous or current work as a Red Cross volunteer
Previous experience with shelter operations
If you feel that you meet these qualifications and would like to be considered for this deployment, please contact ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U (860-594-0222), who will make the introduction of qualified volunteers to ARC.
Here’s hoping all of our friends and families are safe and that some order is restored to Puerto Rico and surrounding islands very soon.
Hi there, a few weeks ago I posted a couple of medium wave DX catches with the Elad FDM DUO and newly constructed 200 metre Beverage antenna. Since then (and following my trip to Brazil) I have uploaded several more catches, some of which I would like to share with you. It has become evident that the Beverage’s low-gain but high SNR properties resulted in a huge increase in the sensitivity of my entire set-up and as a result. I have achieved numerous personal firsts on the medium wave band, coupled with many other signals that I can only describe ‘best-ever reception’. If nothing else, this endevour has underlined the importance of utillising the best antenna possible for your particular circumstances. We’ve all read at some point, how, in many respects, the antenna is more important than the receiver – and these catches demonstrate how absolutely true that statement is. All of the reception videos were captured using the Elad FDM DUO running on a home-brew battery-pack and connected to the Beverage via a 50 Ohm input transformer.
Below is the first set of reception videos, most of which are signals from East Coast of the United States. However, there is also an absolutely booming signal from WGIT Puerto Rico into my QTH in Oxford UK. Part 2 will follow almost immediately, but in the mean time thanks for watching/listening and I wish you all great DX!
Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.
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