Thursday, October 19, 2017

Puerto Rico

It will be interesting to watch out for the stories coming out of Puerto Rico regarding the ARRL's "Team of Fifty" that was sent to help out with communications. I've seen snippets of stories on social media that suggest not everything was wine, chocolate and roses.

The whole subject got me to thinking about what kind of operator would have been the best to send there.  I'm sure all the volunteers were screened and only a certain type were chosen. If it were up to me, this would have been my criteria, a blend of the following:

1) Someone who lives a lifestyle other than "sedentary"
2) Someone who is used to staying behind the radio for a long period of time - i.e  a contest type of person ....OR a DXpedtion type of person.
3) Someone who doesn't mind operating solo, is accustomed to operating in less than ideal conditions, and who can improvise and adapt when necessary.  To me, this just screams of SOTA, NPOTA or POTA.

It seems to me, in a situation like Puerto Rico, you just can't hand your average "Joe Ham" a Pelican case full of HF and UHF/VHF equipment with a power supply and antenna and just tell them, "go to town".  Ideally, the people sent should have been (and may have been for all I know) experienced in toting their own equipment around (backpacking/hiking), and operating under adverse conditions. Small, portable but yet powerful enough radios with wire antennas, lithium batteries, foldable solar panels and associated  accessories would seem to have fit the bill, entirely. But all that would do no good if the operator him or herself were not familiar with passing third party traffic or at the very least, sending information at a fast pace in a short amount of time (as in contesting or running a DXpedition pileup).

I know a lot of people get miffed about all the contests on the air on weekends (and I'm not big into contesting myself) but it IS a somewhat primitive method of preparing someone to be able to handle a Puerto Rico kind of situation.  In that regard, I think that SOTA, NPOTA, POTA and DXpedition people are kind of an almost perfect mix - because if you've ever worked any of those people, they handle(d) hundreds of QSOs in a small amount of time, as rapidly and efficiently as they are able.  I know that the conditions that these people usually operate under aren't nearly as stressful as what's going on throughout that island, but I think they have the best mix of capabilities and demeanor to be able to pull it off.

Of course, YMMV.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very elast!


  1. Hi Larry,

    I volunteered. It was a warm body/fog the mirror selection process. The biggest deal for me was my inability to deploy in 48 hours. The ARC information/forms were really interesting, but there was no period for training/coordination. The deal was to submit all your paperwork on a Tuesday and be in Atlanta by noon Thursday for a flight to PR. One other thing, there was no language skills screening other than your own personal assessment.

    I was expecting a one week notice with some kind of orientation/training. That was not on the agenda. The group was tossed off the plane into the chaos.

    While I admire the ARRL for the effort, I have quit reading their propaganda posts on the subject.

  2. Anonymous10:34 PM

    Hello Larry,

    I partially agree with you - yes, someone who has other than "sedentary" lifestyle,and someone with DXPedition or someone with SOTA or other "wilderness" operation experience with be beneficial, but I'm not so sure I agree with the contester - I get where experience in pulling signal out of the noise is useful, but how much experience does a contester really have in traffic handling? a quick "you're 5 and 9 here in ( pick a locale ), "good luck in the contest" and then it's " the Zulu Sierra station only please..." - does that really prepare someone for taking hours of accurate health and welfare traffic? Getting never before heard of town names, family surnames and complex medications documented quickly and accurately? Maybe not, and I know it is tough to find the active NTS station that operates anywhere but from their home - i.e. cozy up in front to of the radio at 8pm with a cup of joe to check into the net, not exactly adverse conditions, so there are definite trade offs. And to speak to Michael Johnson's comment I would say this - I think we've all been pretty much ICS'd to death, and AUXCOMM is a good foundation, but perhaps then next step is for some of our served agencies to provide "deployment training" i.e. do you even know what shots you'd need for deployment to a semi tropical environment where there's little to no sanitation? HEP C and Tetanus, but I assume there are others - would be nice to know beforehand. Maybe something based on lessons learned after the "force of 50" returns As far as the league is concerned I don't blame them for the 48 hours turnaround, they were simply trying to provide resources as requested. I do think that in the league's desperate attempt to remain relevant they didn't push back on the served agencies for fear that this was their "shot at the big time" and I do agree with Michael that while I've done my share of sharing the ARRL feel good stories on social media, the interview I saw with Tom Gallagher on TWIT was a bit self serving. "When all else fails.." Amateur Radio is a PIECE of the recovery solution, but not the end all. de N2DV

  3. One of the volunteers made a scathing reddit post about his experience in PR - it was not very complimentary towards the ARRL or the powers that be in PR... The post has been deleted (understandable), but I got a chance to read it before it was removed. There is still a reply to it from a ham in PR (KP4IA) that basically agrees with him about how poorly managed things were/are.. Seems the volunteers were not vetted too well. Preference should have been given to bi-lingual folks and being able to use Winlink or other digital modes should have been required as they were heavily used for outgoing H&W traffic, but apparently some of the people sent had never used digital modes and were not familiar with them .. Sounds like there were good intentions, but poor execution which is both sad and a disservice to the remaining citizens of PR ...
    73 de K9PLG

  4. Taking this one step further, the ARRL needs to stop the sugar coated press releases and do a hard, brutal assessment of their response to this disaster. I see this as an opportunity to provide pre-trained, relevant radio based relief to first responding relief agencies. This is a very different response than those trained for via ARES/RACES. It should be a wake-up call to the ARRL that their only response to the ARC was to send up a signal flare to the ham community. BTW, the second outreach (approx two weeks later) was focused on the Salvation Army in addition to the ARC. Here's a dumb idea: Why not incorporate these needed skill sets into Field Day or other operating events (i.e. NPOTA) as a way of enticing familiarity with these propagation modes?

    There seems to be some question as to performance of the ARRL volunteers. I have no way of making that assessment, but have to believe it falls somewhere south of "Perfect" and north of "Useless". A realistic and credible response is owed the amateur community from the ARRL. I'd also be all in on an ARRL sponsored fast deployment emergency program. Come on ARRL, lets get it rolling. There is a real need for that type of program.

    1. Anonymous9:56 AM

      I hope you're not holding your breath for a " realistic and credible response" from the ARRL :) I really do like your idea of the development of an ARRL Sponsored fast deployment emergency program but I fear the lawyers would keep that bogged down for years "under study" I like the way you think Mike de N2DV