Puerto Rico bound: Ham radio operators relay Hurricane Maria survivor info

Amateur ham radio operators are used to setting up equipment nearly anywhere to get on the air. (Courtesy Jerry Clement/ARRL)

WASHINGTON — The American Radio Relay League is sending amateur radio operators to Puerto Rico to help distribute information about the status of Hurricane Maria survivors. Volunteers headed out to the island Thursday from Atlanta.

ARRL’s CEO Tom Gallagher of the National Association for Amateur Radio said the ham radio volunteers are working under the American Red Cross.

On the ground in Puerto Rico, volunteers with ARRL will relay information about hurricane survivors in or near Red Cross shelters to the U.S. mainland.

People who haven’t heard from loved ones on the island can search the Red Cross’ Safe and Well website to search for survivors who have registered and reported themselves as “safe and well.”

“Safe And Well is just a gigantic virtual bulletin board,” Gallagher said.

Ham radio operators who live in Puerto Rico are helping with communication within the island.

“They’re riding with the police and riding with the power truck guys, helping them dispatch because their existing systems don’t operate,” Gallagher noted.

Because damage to the island’s communication infrastructure is so extensive, it’s anticipated that support will be needed for a long time. Teams of 50 ARRL volunteers at a time will cycle in and out every three weeks.

Gallagher said 350 members have volunteered.

“These volunteers who have pushed aside three weeks of their [lives] and moved into hardship assignment come from every walk of life and every state in the union,” Gallaher said.

They include retired executives from Bedford, New York, and fire and police personnel from Mantoloking, New Jersey.

“We are very proud of them and the way that they have stepped up to offer their services to their community and to Americans they don’t even know,” Gallaher said.


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