Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands both suffered substantial damage from Hurricane Maria, although Puerto Rico took the bigger hit, and it is there that Amateur Radio has begun to fill a huge telecommunications gap. According to the FCC, service is out for 96% of the cellular telephone sites in Puerto Rico — and it’s out completely for sites in 78 Puerto Rico counties. In the US Virgin Islands, the overall percentage is 66%.
“The situation in Puerto Rico is very devastating across all the island,” Puerto Rico SM Oscar Resto, KP4RF, said over the weekend. “Communications via land phone or mobiles are almost null.” Repeaters are down, he said, and hams have been using the 2-meter simplex frequency of 146.52 MHz, although he hoped to have a few local ham radio repeaters “working partially with damaged antennas.” With police repeaters also down, law enforcement has been using 2 meters as well.
American Red Cross Headquarters suffered the loss of its emergency generator due to flooding. A temporary ARC headquarters has Internet and cell service, he said.
Over the weekend, the American Red Cross (ARC) asked the ARRL for assistance in recruiting 50 radio amateurs who can help record, enter, and submit disaster-survivor information into the ARC Safe and Well system. That request was fulfilled today. 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.
Resto said radio amateurs have also been assisting Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority (Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica) using 146.52 MHz to dispatch line crews and coordinate fuel deliveries for the authority’s offices at the Monacillo Control Center and at several power plants. “The power system is fully shut down for all the island,” he said. Drinking water and proper sanitation facilities are also in very short supply. Resto said Puerto Rico needs “everything…solar panels,…