More news from KX5SP in Puerto Rico

So… still working Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. I would like to report serious progress in getting the island’s communications back up but I’d be lying. If I were wearing my other hat, the medical system has recovered nicely with 68 of the 69 hospitals on the island practically fully functioning if they can just keep the lights on. The emergency generators that run one medium size hospital are drinking 10,000 gallons of diesel every 50 hours. The tanks aren’t that big so keeping them fueled is a massive logistical problem.

But I digress, back to comms which you are interested in. Don’t believe any of the statistics coming out of the island concerning the cellular system or electric power grid. I think it was Will Rogers who said “there are 3 kinds of lies: white lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Well I read in one of the reports that 75% of customers now have cell service. What they are REALLY saying is 75% of the population may see a cell signal on their phone during a day. That does NOT mean they can talk to anybody.

For much of today in my area I had 4 bars of signal and 4G LTE… but can’t make or receive calls and no data. Why? Because many cell sites have been restored but they have no connection to the cellular system. All the fiber optic lines that connect cell sites in PR are ABOVE ground. So when the debris removal bulldozers come thru they sever the fiber optic lines. Happens every day and you don’t just splice fiber optics back together.

Then there’s the problem of power to the cell sites. Most sites, as emergency measures are still running on generators. These generators constantly need to be refueled and I kid you not, it is not unheard of for the fuel truck to show up and find that the cell site generator has been stolen! So some areas may actually have cell service today but won’t tonight.

Most of the public service communications (police, fire, and ambulance) are operational now but this isn’t a permanent fix. It’s equipment placed by FEMA and the military which does the job but can’t stay here forever. They need to rebuild a permanent island wide public service communications system after they finish the fight over who’s going to pay for it.

The indigenous ham radio community is back to some normalcy (if you can consider pieces of your roof missing and no grid electricity, normal). Most of the repeaters are back in service and in fact, courtesy of some military helicopter pilots and donation of a 2 meter repeater, there will shortly be a brand new 2 meter repeater on one of the highest spots on the island in the middle of the El Yunque rain forest, that should cover the whole island and all the way east to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Ponce 2 meter repeater that I can bring up, now sings with Spanish chit chat during the day instead of gringos using it to call in medevacs. Oscar KP4RF says it’s a good sign that the local hams have decompressed enough that they feel comfortable going back to routine rag chewing .

I’m hoping to be able to return to Alpine by the end of November and SLEEP – so I may not make the first 8:15am BB Emergency Net on Sunday 😉


Steve KX5SP/KP4

Author: Allen Moore

Licensed Amateur Extra class, ARRL member and Volunteer Examiner.