Force of Two: In Depth stories from 2 Puerto Rico volunteers on HamRadioNow

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by KN4AQ, Oct 28, 2017.

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  1. AA7EJ

    AA7EJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    • What can ARRL do better?
    • What can ARC do better?
    Only ARRL and ARC can really answer that.
  2. KM4WUO

    KM4WUO Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm certainly not an expert on the machinations of all the different organizations and their politics. I didn't know any of the hams that went down there on ARC's mission until I met some of them and they all seemed like great folks.

    I was the first of the SHARES members to arrive in San Juan. I'd been plucked from something called the "Surge Capacity Force" where FEMA asked virtually all of the Federal agencies for help. I volunteered. But, my Agency paid my salary while I was deployed. I was issued an official SHARES callsign.

    A few comments in no particular order:
    - Immediately after the hurricane there was no grid power, no running water anywhere that was drinkable, no cell service, no land lines, nothing. Basically, 3.4 million people went from the 21st century to the 18th in a few hours.
    - The ARC was hopelessly outclassed by the magnitude of the destruction Maria inflicted.
    - FEMA was hopelessly outclassed by the magnitude of the destruction Maria inflicted. And, this was the 4th disaster they had been responding to in the span of a couple of months.
    - It appeared to me that the ARC didn't coordinate with FEMA a-priori or in-situ to determine where the most critical communications needs were. As I heard it, ARC picked the spots they wanted the hams to go to and sent them there. I think that's reasonable since ARC was footing the bill for their travel and, I assume, their lodging (although some folks used FEMA-provided lodging).
    - It was abundantly obvious to me that the FEMA ESF-2 function in San Juan had no idea what to use HF communications for or how to employ them. Further, they rather pointedly indicated that their first priority was to "Get Feds talking to other Feds". Let that sink in for a minute. To be fair, they eventually did recognize that folks other than Feds needed to communicate. But, again, their response was ridiculously ineffective in some cases. Handing a hospital a satphone and saying they "have comms" now is silly since (a) you have to be outside to use it - which doctors and nurses wouldn't be (b) you have to be outside to RECEIVE a call - which doctors and nurses wouldn't be and (c) nobody had any idea what phone numbers to call or even what their own phone number was. A hospital that needed oxygen from another hospital across town had no way of calling them even though both "had comms".
    - The original mission for the SHARES folks that went down there was to provide critical comms at locations that needed them. It was FEMA's job to determine where those were. But, recognize there were only 10 of us. See the point above for how well you think that might work out.
    - Oscar Resto, KP4RF, was a great resource and an extremely bright guy. It's too bad ESF-2 didn't make better use of his talents.
    - I used Winlink with the Winmor sw modem while I was down there. I used an RMS gateway from one of the previous posters at least a couple of times while I was down there along with several others. It was a crap shoot which ones I could reach and which ones were actually operating at the time I tried to use them. Thanks to all those folks who had a station running and especially those who pointed their antennas at PR.
    - One of the two big "lessons learned" for me was that disasters are come-as-you-are parties. Whether it's food, water, power, or a barrel connector you put off ordering, if you don't have it when the disaster hits, it's unlikely you'll be able to get it when you need it. Prepare accordingly.
    - The second big lesson for me what that you never really appreciate how good you have it until you come face-to-face with folks who don't have it so good.

    As for some detailed technical info, some nice pictures, and an after-action report from my perspective, you can look at this link:
    It really shows what the reality of running an HF station in a disaster zone with only the stuff you brought with you. Had I been tasked with going up into the mountains and staying there living in a tent, it would have been brutal.

    If anybody has any specific questions after reading the info at the link, feel free to post them and I'll try to answer as best I can. I used this disaster as a "teachable moment" for myself. And, boy, did I learn A LOT!
    KX4O, W1YW and KG7LEA like this.
  3. KG7LEA

    KG7LEA Ham Member QRZ Page

    No, anyone but those institutions should answer those questions. They already do a great job. They said so.
    W0PV likes this.
  4. KM4WUO

    KM4WUO Ham Member QRZ Page

    Many of my SHARES team mates had Pactor 3 or 4 modems. They could connect more often than I could, particularly when band conditions or local noise levels were bad. The throughput they got was also much better than Winmor. I can't see spending the big bucks for one myself, but I could see the SHARES program picking up a few for deployments, assuming they plan to do them in the future.
  5. KG7LEA

    KG7LEA Ham Member QRZ Page

    To support the response to Hurricane Maria the FCC granted a waiver to speed limits on amateur bands to allow the Pactor IV modems to operate at full capacity. The difference between the speed of Winmor and Pactor is dramatic.
  6. AA7EJ

    AA7EJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    wish this discussion would concentrate on purpose of amateur radio assisting in disaster - to provide communication as needed to assist local agencies as THEY perceive their needs.

    The technology used for such assistance is immaterial - it is the wrong purpose as perceived by both ARRL and ARC which failed in first place in PR.

    The often quoted , as a joke, in past "I am from government I am here to help you." applies in case of "assistance" by ARRL and ARC to PR.

    It is hard to perceive that local agencies of an island in hurricane alley do not have WRITTEN plans what needs to be "communicated " during and after hurricane.

    I wonder if they have "ask ARRL or ARC to send us amateurs so we can talk across the town" or

    " Mr. Jones is in charge distributing daily updates to local fire houses about what roads are good and what are not. ( How he does it - we do not care , but he has a bicycle and can walk).
    Mrs. Jones has two dozen of handy talkies she will distribute to local fire houses BEFORE the storm.
    We do not care how she does it , she could use Mr. Jones bicycle "

    See ma - no (hands) "digital" or windoze.

    73 Shirley
  7. KG7LEA

    KG7LEA Ham Member QRZ Page

    Disagree. What technology works in an austere environment and what does not work is critical to any response by amateur volunteers. @AA7EJ you need more information before you can take issue with the local ham response.
  8. AA7EJ

    AA7EJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    I was not referring to local amateur radio response - the request for amateur radio assistance should have come from local agency - not from organization , such as ARC, who obviously knew squat about such LOCAL needs.

    And do not say locals could not do that because "Maria was too big", there was local amateur radio activity coming FROM the area before the "request" came.

    Actually I came to realize how lucky ARC was - they asked for 50 and got 22 operators.
    It could have been twice as much embarrassment not to have a clue what to do with 50 when they arrived.

    73 Shirley
  9. KG7LEA

    KG7LEA Ham Member QRZ Page

    The MOU between ARC and ARRL specifies that the request for assistance starts with the local ARES group. The MOU further lays out how Red Cross will screen and support the volunteers selected by ARRL, e.g., background checks at no cost to the volunteers. The ARRL section manager was on scene at the ARC PR HQ. Exactly how the request from ARC to ARRL was funneled I do not know. In my study there was not much of an ARES structure in place so any request from the section manager would be appropriate. No matter. ARC perceived a need (Safe and Well data from ARC shelters) in support of its mission and reached out. In the event, ARC scrubbed that mission once the Force Of Fifty arrived.

    I have interviewed local hams and the event was too big for them to supply replacement comms on their own. In fact, FEMA, SATURN, SHARES, ARC, and local hams still could not cover the comms needs from the disaster. All else failed and amateur radio was there, but the job was far to large for all the hams who deployed. The local hams struggled with loss of repeaters and their own personal disasters. Generally, individual hams got on 146.520 and deployed to local municipalities, utility offices, and PREMA offices as far as the supply of hams could go. As disabled repeaters were restored comms were easier, but the supply of local hams did not increase.

    In my review the limitation became 1) gas for volunteers to travel, 2) safety of volunteers while traveling, and 3) logistical support of people stationed away from home. Volunteers were restricted to duty during daylight hours so they did not have to travel at night.

    Fifty were requested, enshrined in a press release, and memorialized with a patch. Hundreds of licensees volunteered (hundreds of federal employees with licenses and equipment volunteered for the SHARES deployment). Why just twenty-two were selected by ARRL remains a secret. I am assured that all will be revealed through proper channels.
  10. AA7EJ

    AA7EJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    "study there was not much of an ARES structure in place so any request from the section manager would be appropriate"

    From my very limited exposure to local ARES I am aware that they ( local ARES) have members "in charge " of maintaining liaisons with local hospitals.
    I would venture that such member of ARES should be capable to follow some procedure to request the assistance from higher-up AFTER consulting with hospital.

    Just because "ARES" leader is incapacitated the organization should not fall apart.
    That by itself maybe the source and reasons for bad reputation of emcom's "wildcats".

    It goes back what I have been saying since this hurricane season - the people came together and did fine, it was the paid professionals, or ARES volunteers as the case may be , who where overwhelm by the magnitude of the disasters.

    So - to do better next time - ARES structure and chain of command better be bulletproof.

    73 Shirley

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