NBC News: How Going Ham Could Save Hawaii

NBC News’ Left Field reporting unit recently did a report on communications in Hawaii and how ham radio could help in a disaster.

Hawaii’s recent false nuclear missile alert showed us how reliant we are on cell phones and modern technology—and how unprepared we are if they become inaccessible. But in case the unexpected happens, an unlikely group of hobbyists—ham radio operators—are standing at the ready and may save us all.

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Yakima Officials Eye State Fair Park Buildings for Possible Medical Care in Case of Disaster

From the Yakima Herald

Yakima Health District officials are exploring the possibility of using State Fair Park as a medical care facility during a disaster.

The district is seeking proposals for a feasibility study of installing generators at the Yakima Valley SunDome, Pioneer Hall and the Deccio and Modern Living buildings, which would allow the facilities to be used as places to care for nonemergency patients if needed.

“The circumstances surrounding Rattlesnake Ridge show why planning is necessary,” said Health District Executive Director Andre Fresco, referring to the slow-moving landslide on the ridge near Union Gap.

 Fresco said that if feasible, the fairgrounds would be used as a place to take care of the nonurgent health needs of people displaced in a major disaster, such as flooding or an earthquake. The Health District is working with the Yakima County Commission, the county’s emergency management officials, the city of Yakima and the state Department of Health’s Disaster Preparedness Division on the proposal, he said.

The fair park is ideally located to serve as a place for nonemergency medical care in Central Washington in the event of a disaster, Fresco said.

Having generators is a prerequisite to being able to use the site as a backup medical facility, as planners would need to be able to provide heat and power in the event of a blackout, Fresco said.

The study is preliminary and will look at whether it is possible to outfit the buildings — some of which date back to before World War II — for emergency medical use, and how many generators would be needed to power the complex in an emergency.

It would not be the first time the fairgrounds was pressed into service in a time of emergency. During World War II, the fairgrounds housed a training school for military pilots and a factory for building Army trucks for use in the Pacific Theater.

 Greg Stewart, State Fair Park’s president and general manager, said fairgrounds in other parts of the country have been used as emergency shelters for people and livestock during wildfires and other disasters and that he welcomes the study.

“The fairground has been the salvation of many communities,” Stewart said.

Puerto Rico Disaster Reports, Oct. 16, 2017

Puerto Rico continues to struggle following the recent hurricanes.

Here is a link, to an ARRL report on ham radio operators sent down to assist with communications. Note the references to generator fires, generator failures, hospital evacuations, and shortages of food, fuel and water.

This week, the team relayed a request for Culebra Hospital, which reported that a generator fire had forced relocation to a nearby clinic. In addition, volunteers relayed a request from Culebra Hospital that it needs temporary housing from FEMA for necessary staff members who lost their homes in the hurricane. The team also relayed a message for Hima San Pablo Hospital in Fajardo, which needed specialized IV fluids for a 4-day-old infant.

Rob Landon, KE8AMC, stationed at the hospital on Vieques, learned from the hospital administrator that they needed to evacuate dialysis patients, who require air conditioning that the hospital is unable to provide. “We made their day,” said Hotzfeld. “They were not aware of our presence and were impressed with our communications capabilities.”

Val Hotzfeld, NV9L (left), and ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U.

An Amateur Radio operator has been assigned at Centro Medico (Medical Central) to provide communication between the center and other hospitals. “This happened just in time, because the Menonita (Mennonite) Hospital in Caguas had both generators fail,” Hotzfeld said. The emergency room doctor at Medical Central and the ham embedded there, Juan Trujillo, N0PSF, coordinated with Dennis Perez, WP4Q, at the Mennonite Hospital in Caguas to transfer four critical patients to the Mennonite Hospital in Cayey.

Volunteers at the EOC relayed a request from Guayana Hospital for snacks, water, and a generator. Their second generator was reported to be about to fail. They also relayed requests from hospitals for fuel and water, and they provided communication for fire departments contacting the EOC.

Brushbeater blog posted a short Reflections on Puerto Rico, discussing communications preparations in light of lessons from Puerto Rico.

So upon reading this, a serious skill assessment should be in order. If you’re the communicator in your group:

  • Can you rig your own wire antennas?
  • Do you have the rough calculations to make them resonant?
  • Do you have the current consumption of your various radios written down and a way to monitor it?
  • How long can you operate battery-only?
  • Do you have enough spare equipment to keep your station up if Murphy happens?
  • Do you have a working knowledge of different propagation modes (such as why NVIS does what it does)

But most important- how many people can also do what you do in your group?

Four deaths and ten suspected of infection are being investigated as possible cases of leptospirosis, a disease spread by animal urine, possibly from drinking contaminated stream water.

Meanwhile some desperate Puerto Ricans are reported to be drinking possibly toxic water from superfund cleanup sites. 34% of Puerto Ricans are still without access to fresh drinking water.

Rotting garbage may be the next health crisis there.

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria ransacked this island leaving at least 44 dead, Jose Vargas surveyed street after street lined with mounds of soaking garbage mixed with mud, trees and sometimes dead animals.

You couldn’t make a better breeding ground for rats, roaches and all sorts of nasty diseases, the public health volunteer said. And every day the fetid piles stay there, the risk of an epidemic grows.

“We’re already building the next disaster,” he warned.

ARRL: Radio Amateur on St. Lucia Relays Hurricane Reports

From ARRL.org, Radio Amateur on St. Lucia Relays Reports of Hurricane Devastation on Dominica, a reminder of the usefulness of alternative communications methods during a disaster:

As “potentially catastrophic Hurricane Maria” is headed for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Frans van Santbrink, J69DS, on St. Lucia checked into the VoIP Hurricane Net to relay damage reports he gathered via repeater conversations with hams on Dominica, which was hit by Category 5 Hurricane Maria.

He recounted a damage report from Kerry Fevrier, J69YH, in Roseau, Dominica. “Trees down, river has flooded half the village, cars are all over, most houses have lost their roofs or are destroyed, the area between his house and the church is just flattened…in his words, ‘devastation is total,’” van Santbrink told the net.

He also heard from J73CI, who has lost his roof; J73WA on the northern end of the island, who lost his tower and was uncertain how he was going to weather the back end of the storm, and J73MH, who also lost his roof and was “just hunkering down and hoping for the best.”

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