BBARC member reporting from Puerto Rico

BBARC member Steve Posner is working in Puerto Rico on the Tactical Radio Communications Task Force.  Here’s his report from the field:

After working hurricane duty in Florida doing my normal medical supervision stuff on my Incident Response Coordination Team, I was asked by Homeland Security to VOLUNTEER for a completely different mission in Puerto Rico on their Tactical Radio Communications Task Force. They paid my way to PR but I’m volunteering my time. If you remember for years in Alpine my callsign was KP4FF. I used to live here and know the lay of the land.

I’ve been setting up and operating HF digital stations running Pactor 3 thru the Winlink system to provide email links at critical points – with speeds of 3200 bps. Mostly on federal HF frequencies but sometimes on the ham bands if propagation is more favorable for that. Have worked closely with Oscar KP4RF, a brilliant researcher at Univ. of PR who also happens to be the ARRL section manager of Puerto Rico. He has tirelessly helped integrate my operations with the local ham population, despite his home being destroyed.

The FCC is physically present in the Joint Field Office in San Juan and I kid you not they are very helpful and accomodating. For example they waived some rules and if we need to we are allowed to operate SSB voice in the CW portion of the band. We do for one particular link every day.

After working in the San Juan area for a while, I was given  responsibility for the Ponce PR area, where I am now, on the south coast. Ponce is where I used to live in the early 1980s.

No electricity, no cell service, no internet, no street lights at night, no traffic lights – pretty dangerous driving at night, trying to steer around potholes the size of small Volkswagens. After a while I decided it was potentially life threatening so I no longer drive at night until traffic controls return.

On the southern half of the island practically all comms are non-existent. The only way to report a fire is for someone to physically walk into a fire station and say my house is on fire. Then when the fire apparatus drives out of the station there is no communication ability to call for additional units or be dispatched any where. Same for ambulances and police. Comm conditions are a little better in the northern part of the island (where San Juan is located). Before the storm public safety had an 800 MHz trunking system in the north that carried police, fire, and EMS on the same system. About 1/2 of that system is destroyed so some towns have coverage but many have no comms.

Most of the amateur repeaters went down. Quite a few in the north are operational again and linked, many on battery power with solar cells. Hams and governent pukes like me and public service, particularly fire departments have used the amateur radio repeaters and stations for critical comms.

At this time no repeaters are operational in the south where I am. I hear them working on the Ponce 2 mtr repeater so I expect it will be back in service in the next couple of days which will be most helpful in communicating with San Juan where all the resources are coming from.

It’s a real mess down here and the suffering is heart breaking.

Steve KX5SP / NCS998
Ponce, Puerto Rico

Author: Allen Moore

Licensed Amateur Extra class, ARRL member and Volunteer Examiner.