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Link Posted: 11/13/2017 10:01:44 PM EST
HF during disasters is what we have the State Guard for. We might have HF equipment, but everything Mother Army does these days is satellite based or VHF. Using all the capabilities of the radios we're issued? Please. We can barely take inventory of what we have.
Link Posted: 11/14/2017 8:13:33 AM EST
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Originally Posted By backbencher:
HF during disasters is what we have the State Guard for. We might have HF equipment, but everything Mother Army does these days is satellite based or VHF. Using all the capabilities of the radios we're issued? Please. We can barely take inventory of what we have.
View Quote
Interesting you should mention this. The guys running the MARS station in San Juan were/are PR State Guard. They were trying to make sure they could communicate with all the National Guard units around the island. Some could, some couldn't. Early on, they were using a specific frequency. Then they started getting strong interference. Turns out, nobody checked the data base and there was a NOAA sea-surface measuring radar that was using the same frequency. So it was suggested that they change to something else. Problem was, many of the radios they were using were password protected and nobody knew the passwords to change the frequency. Oops.

I may have mentioned before that disasters are come-as-you-are parties. The folks down here were mostly caught flat-footed. HF is becoming a lost art both in the military and on the civilian public safety side. When all their spiffy new digital cell-based public safety net was clobbered into oblivion, they had no backup. None. Very few NG units were able to muster up a set of HF radios and people that knew how to use them. FEMA's response was to requisition a boatload of sat phones and sit on their hands until they arrived. Then, they found out how useless they actually are in practical use. For example, they must be outside to use them, can't receive a call indoors, not that it mattered because nobody knew what the phone numbers were anyway, and of course, they have to be charged frequently. How useful do you expect they'd be for a hospital or shelter? So, then, they embarked on getting a set of 4 repeaters on line for VHF. And, they requisitioned a boatload of VHF radios and waited. They also requisitioned numerous satellite broadband units. And waited. By the time all that satcom equipment was on the island, the satellites and their service providers were overloaded.

I'm hopeful that some folks are taking the hard lessons learned down here to heart. There is some evidence of this with these recent exercises with MARS and the ham community using the 60m interop channels and some of the recent SHARES exercises. That whole "Let's pretend the grid is down and see how well we can communicate" sounds ridiculous on its face, until you realize that's precisely what happened down here. No power, no cell, no land lines, no internet, no repeaters, nothing, and no way to communicate with anybody. What little satcom there was was offline until they could re-erect the dishes and get them aligned and such. The folks dumb enough to have left their satcom dishes outside saw them destroyed.
Link Posted: 11/14/2017 8:57:11 AM EST
What's wrong with this picture?

Link Posted: 11/14/2017 11:05:12 AM EST
[Last Edit: 11/14/2017 11:08:53 AM EST by backbencher]
Puerto Rico has perfected levitation?

ETA: Point taken about HF. Mother Army's response is to reserve bandwidth on a military satellite and assign that to a specific unit, and VHF coms back to that. Maybe the Navy still does HF coms, but when I was a Navy Reserve radio type, everything we practiced was satellite & VHF.
Link Posted: 11/14/2017 1:57:31 PM EST
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Originally Posted By backbencher:
Puerto Rico has perfected levitation?

ETA: Point taken about HF. Mother Army's response is to reserve bandwidth on a military satellite and assign that to a specific unit, and VHF coms back to that. Maybe the Navy still does HF coms, but when I was a Navy Reserve radio type, everything we practiced was satellite & VHF.
View Quote


The problem with depending on all the "modern" methods of communications is that they can and do frequently fail at the very time they're needed the most. Not that HF is always 100% but for the most part, when other methods fail, HF usually works.

Speaking of which, I think today I'd like to stay on 14067.5 for the 2230Z, 1730E QSO. I've been trying on 40M the last 3-4 days and it's just not workable right at dusk, not to mention the ridiculous environmental noise there is in this vicinity.
Link Posted: 11/15/2017 6:33:17 PM EST
Rained off and on most of the day here. Drainage is not one of this areas strong points. Huge puddles slowing down traffic, and filling in potholes making them impossible to see before you hit them and break an axle. Drivers here seem to be getting more aggressive or maybe they're just tired of the lack of signal lights. When the cops direct traffic at an intersection here, there's a garaunteed back up. When there isn't, drivers go Mad Max. Sometimes, they get into a mexican standoff in the middle of the intersection and just lock up traffic entirely. Like this:



Yes, it took them several minutes before somebody finally backed up and cleared the logjam. It must be considered cowardly to let someone else go first, or even round robin.
Link Posted: 11/15/2017 9:06:22 PM EST
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Originally Posted By planemaker:




Speaking of which, I think today I'd like to stay on 14067.5 for the 2230Z, 1730E QSO. I've been trying on 40M the last 3-4 days and it's just not workable right at dusk, not to mention the ridiculous environmental noise there is in this vicinity.
View Quote
Good idea. Gray line propagation lines you up with a lot of the USA at dusk. I have been talking to stations not far from you every day on 20m during that time frame. Cuba is quite reliable for me in the evenings right now.
Link Posted: 11/16/2017 7:41:32 AM EST
Well, station is going QRT this morning. There's a break in the rain and thunderstorms so we're going to take down the antennas while we can. Forecast is calling for showers and thunderstorms thru Sunday. My team mate leaves Saturday and I leave Sunday. If something important comes up, I always have the mobile antenna I can rig up if I have to.

I appreciate all the folks who were on the air listening and giving me feedback. It has been an interesting experience. When I can get the time in the next few days, I'll do up a proper AAR and post it here to tie a ribbon on the thread.
Link Posted: 11/17/2017 9:28:12 PM EST
Thank you for all your time and effort. Safe travels home.
Link Posted: 11/18/2017 1:42:19 PM EST
planemaker, the quarters arrived today. Pics later.
Link Posted: 11/18/2017 3:47:53 PM EST
Thank you for your service Planemaker,
and especially for all the great updates.
Link Posted: 11/18/2017 4:22:39 PM EST
[Last Edit: 11/18/2017 4:22:59 PM EST by ctrmass]
Thank you Planemaker.
This has prompted me to get the old HF radio all setup with HDR.
Link Posted: 11/18/2017 5:24:55 PM EST
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Originally Posted By backbencher:
planemaker, the quarters arrived today. Pics later.
View Quote
Great! Was gonna ask if they got there OK. BTW, I'm a native Texan and was born in Ft. Worth...
Link Posted: 11/18/2017 10:22:08 PM EST
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Thanks again for the quarters, and for serving our country in a time of need.
Link Posted: 11/20/2017 8:52:31 AM EST
Thanks for all that you've done Planemaker!

I'm looking forward to reading your AAR.
Link Posted: 11/20/2017 1:30:06 PM EST
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Originally Posted By dreiwhit:
Thanks for all that you've done Planemaker!

I'm looking forward to reading your AAR.
View Quote
Link Posted: 11/20/2017 9:18:11 PM EST
[Last Edit: 11/21/2017 11:18:35 PM EST by planemaker]
Puerto Rico Excursion AAR, Part 1

Timeline

August 25 - Hurricane Harvey makes landfall near Rockport, Texas
September 6 - Hurricane Irma makes near-miss in Puerto Rico, clobbers parts of the US Virgin Islands
September 10 - Hurricane Irma makes landfall in the Florida Keys
September 14 - Volunteered for Surge Capacity Force (SCF) request by FEMA to the entire Federal Government
September 20 - Hurricane Maria makes landfall in Puerto Rico
October 6 - Received word I was being deployed
October 9 - left home to go to Anniston, AL as part of the SCF (would have left on the 8th but FEMA asked for a one-day delay due to a tropical storm blowing thru Alabama on the 8th. The irony is ironic.)
October 13 - arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico
October 20 - dispatched to Ponce, PR
November 19 - Left San Juan, PR to go home

Background

The hurricane season of 2017 set a number of records for named storms, most powerful storm in the Atlantic Basin, most number of major hurricanes in the Atlantic, and others. Disaster declarations were given in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands at different times, sometimes more than once (once for Irma and again for Maria in Puerto Rico).

Puerto Rico was the victim of a near-miss with Hurricane Irma on September 6th. The storm, which had its eye just offshore, was a Category 5 hurricane that left over one million of the island's 3.4 million inhabitants in the dark. FEMA responded to the disaster declaration by sending 3200 personnel to the island. The recovery had scarcely begun when two weeks later, another major hurricane, Hurricane Maria, made a direct hit as a high-end Category 4 storm on the island September 20th. Wind estimates vary but the most widely quoted statistics indicated measured wind speeds of 154mph sustained with some gusts reaching 200mph. The last recorded radar image of the storm was made early on the morning of September 20th. Shortly after this image was taken, the Nexrad radar in San Juan was completely destroyed:



The immediate aftermath of the storm was evident, particularly form space:



Note that what lights you see in the second image were being driven entirely by individual generators owned by residents and businesses.

Essentially, Puerto Rico's 3.4 million inhabitants went from first-world status to third world status in a few hour's time. There was a 100% failure of the electrical grid, 85% of the transmission lines were destroyed or damaged, no cell service was available, no land-line service was available, municipal water and sewer systems were all shut down or broken, most roads and bridges were either damaged, destroyed (particularly in the interior of the island), or had so much debris across them they were impassable. Puerto Rico was starting over.

Pre-deployment

I decided after I volunteered to be part of SCF (before Maria even hit), that I might (or might not) end up being sent to Puerto Rico. So, I ordered a bunch of things like a LiFePO4 power pack, a couple of different solar panels, a packable end-fed antenna, and a portable telescoping mast, assuming that I'd be taking my radio with me. This was a fortuitous decision even though at the time I had no idea where I would be sent or what I would be doing when I got there. But, I figured if I was going to be sent to Texas or Florida, I could leave my radio at home and use all that stuff I bought for Field Day next year. After Maria clobbered PR on the 20th, it was abundantly clear that anybody sent there might be likely to need their own power and the "ability to operate under austere conditions such as no electricity, no running water, sleeping in tents, etc." (directly from the SCF info for volunteers). After I read how great the conditions might be, I was reconsidering whether I should have volunteered.

A month or so before all this came up, I decided to give Winlink a try. On the surface, it appeared very complicated. Once I started playing with it, it really wasn't that bad. So, I managed to send myself an e-mail and get a reply via HF the weekend before I volunteered. The weekend after I got my deployment e-mail, I set up my mast and end-fed with my 991. I was able to make a PSK31 QSO with somebody in Belgium so I figured that was good enough to take with me. Then the formidable packing process started.

The radio gear was relatively easy since I'd taken my rig with me on a trip before. This time, however, since I was being told I had to be more or less "self-sufficient", I decided to treat it like Field Day on steroids. The packing list I left with radio-wise is as follows:

- Yaesu FT-991
- MFJ-939Y tuner
- Samlex 1235M 13.8V 35Amp Power Supply
- 2x 3ft. pigtail of LMR-400 to go between radio and tuner and between end-fed and RF Isolator
- 25ft. LMR-400 coax
- Chameleon EMCOMM-II end-fed antenna
- 4x35ft ground wires for EMCOMM-II
- MFJ-1913 28ft. Telescoping mast (46" collapsed)
- Comet UHV-6 mobile antenna with 40m and 20m coils
- MFJ-335BS 5" mag mount w/18ft. of coax attached
- MFJ-1699S HF portable antenna (just for grins)
- MFJ-915 RF Isolator
- RigExpert AA-1400 Antenna Analyzer
- Carabiners (roughly 6 suitable for climbing/rappelling/holding up antenna guy lines)
- 1x 100ft. 550 paracord
- 2x 50ft. 1100 paracord
- Bioenno PowerPack 400 (35Ah LiFePO4 battery, 300W pure sine wave inverter, 12V DC output, built-in solar charge controller, 70W wall wart AC charger)
- 2x CigBuddy 12V cigarette lighter to PowerPole adapters
- 2x 10ft. PowerPole Extension cables
- 1 USBuddy 12v to USB charging adapter
- 1 Powerpole to 12V cigarette adapter socket
- ACO Power 105W solar panel (which included a 12V car battery charger and a PowerPole cable to plug directly into the Bioenno)
- 1 roll 2" Gorilla tape
- 1 roll 1" Gorilla tape
- 1 roll 2" Velcro one-wrap strap
- 1 roll 1" Velcro one-wrap strap
- 1 roll small Velcro cable wraps
- Small bottle of CA glue
- 1 30W soldering iron (Harbor Freight)
- 1 roll solder
- 1 box assorted heat-shrink tube (Marine heat shrink w/adhesive from Harbor Freight)
- Small set of tools which included pliers, wire stripper, small adjustable wrench, wire cutter, screwdriver with multiple bits
- 8x10' Tarp
- 2x 6-pack Kelty Nobendium tent stakes
- Various pouches to hold gear (padded PS/4 pouch for radio and power supply, neoprene pouch for tuner, mesh pouches for antenna, soldering kit, tool kit)
- small random assortment of SO/PL-239 twist-on coax connectors
- Gateway 17" laptop with power supply and mouse, Win 7, loaded with HRD, fldigi, RMSExpress
- Multi-meter (Harbor Freight give-away)
- Bioenno PowerPack 400 (35Ah/400Wh battery, 300W pure sine inverter, DC output, solar charge controller, wal-wart charger)
- One Surge Supressing Power Strip

In addition to my radio gear, I packed a bunch of other stuff assuming I was going camping for a month:
- 7 days of underwear, socks, long sleeve fishing shirts
- 3 pairs of long pants
- 1 pair of extra boots
- Toiletries to last a month
- Large bottle of contact lens solution
- Spare contact lenses
- Wilderness laundry soap
- 2x Bug repellent
- 3x sun block
- REI 2.5" Self-inflating sleeping pad
- 5 days Mountain House camping food (Pro-pak vacuum pouches that take up less room)
- Camping pillow
- Mosquito netting for cot/sleeping bag
- Collapsing bucket

When I got to the airport on 10/9, I checked 3 bags - two 30" rolling duffel bags and one small hard sided suitcase with the radio gear inside. Each of the duffel bags weighed right at 50lbs. and the small hard-side weighed in at about 48lbs. I carried on the plane a fishing pole tube that held the MFJ mast and the Comet UHV-6, my "survival" backpack, and a top-opening backpack for my Bioenno (and also my CPAP machine). By putting my CPAP machine with the Bioenno battery pack, everyone just assumed it was part of the CPAP. TSA didn't say boo. A couple of times, when I got to a departure gate, the airline staff would tell me I had too many items (only 2 carry-ons allowed). When I mentioned one was a CPAP machine, magically the problem went away since medical devices don't count as part of the carry-on allowance. It was a PITA to haul that much stuff (almost 200lbs.) from the car to the check-in line.

Stay tuned for the next part. If anybody wants pictures of any of the above gear, let me know. I didn't take any before I left, but I can take some now.

ETA: Added some things to list that I'd forgotten I took.
Link Posted: 11/21/2017 5:41:45 AM EST
As a resident of Puerto Rico thanks for coming down to the island and helping in the recovery effort.
Link Posted: 11/21/2017 8:51:48 AM EST
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Originally Posted By GiveMeStatehood:
As a resident of Puerto Rico thanks for coming down to the island and helping in the recovery effort.
View Quote
I'm honored that you used post 223 to thank me.

It was an honor and privilege to help. I met tons of very warm, friendly people, ate food that I didn't recognize, saw some beautiful countryside, relearned some Spanish (including different words for things than what I learned growing up in Texas), and learned a lot about PR that I didn't know. My only regret is that I had to leave while things are still royally screwed up for so many people.
Link Posted: 11/21/2017 9:12:25 AM EST
@planemaker: interesting AAR Part 1. I would be very interested in the following topic for AAR Part 2:

- There doesn't appear to be any coaxial cable on the list. Did you know that some would be on the island waiting for you?
- Far less cordage than I would have thought necessary?
- No water purification or storage method, either. Did you assume bottled water would be plentiful?
- What didn't get used?
- What did you wish you had brought (more of)?

And, of greatest interest, your load-out, in terms of cubic inches, 3 large cases plus two backpacks, has always seemed like the minimum to me (although I always envisioned a different mix of gear). But the logistics of moving all of that stuff, and guaranteeing it would get where it needed to be, seems almost insurmountable if you are on your own. After that first skycap back in civilization was well in the proverbial rear view mirror, how did you manage that problem?

Thanks,

aa
Link Posted: 11/21/2017 6:06:47 PM EST
[Last Edit: 11/21/2017 6:08:55 PM EST by Beefington]
I'm going to be reading and re-reading this thread and your AAR especially as I await word about my on deployment to PR. Mine is through work so I won't be doing much HF (still on the fence on whether I'm going to bring any HF gear at all), but I really appreciate your posts and insights nonetheless.

Yesterday my Powerfilm 30W foldable panel and Genasun charge MPPT controller arrived*, and I'll be picking up a second and maybe third 4S LiFePO4 battery here locally. I'll be relying on bottled water as a primary source, with my various filters and other purification methods as backup. We will likely be staying in San Juan and heading out around the island on day trips to put up microwave shots, so I'm not too worried about austere conditions, but I will be prepared.

*Thanks to @echomancer for the recommendation on the tweeter

edit:
Originally Posted By aa777888-2:
- There doesn't appear to be any coaxial cable on the list. Did you know that some would be on the island waiting for you?
View Quote
I think he said earlier in this thread that the 25' of LMR-400 was what he had lying around and ran out of time to procure more? He apparently did have some RG-8x sized stuff shipped to himself on the island after he arrived
Link Posted: 11/21/2017 8:58:15 PM EST
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Originally Posted By aa777888-2:
@planemaker: interesting AAR Part 1. I would be very interested in the following topic for AAR Part 2:

- There doesn't appear to be any coaxial cable on the list. Did you know that some would be on the island waiting for you?
- Far less cordage than I would have thought necessary?
- No water purification or storage method, either. Did you assume bottled water would be plentiful?
- What didn't get used?
- What did you wish you had brought (more of)?

And, of greatest interest, your load-out, in terms of cubic inches, 3 large cases plus two backpacks, has always seemed like the minimum to me (although I always envisioned a different mix of gear). But the logistics of moving all of that stuff, and guaranteeing it would get where it needed to be, seems almost insurmountable if you are on your own. After that first skycap back in civilization was well in the proverbial rear view mirror, how did you manage that problem?

Thanks,

aa
View Quote
I'm working on Part 2 at the moment but I can help with some of these questions now:
Coax - Item 5 on the radio gear list above, 25ft. of LMR-400, just sayin'
Cordage - that was just what I had in the radio gear loadout, see below for what I carried elsewhere
Other - I mentioned that I had a "survival" backpack, aka GHB/BOB/ICSALL* bag that had water filters, purification tablets, cooking set, 3-days change of clothes and toiletries, "shelter" kit, 1 50ft 1100 para and 1 50ft 550 paracord, firemaking gear, 1.5L plastic water bottle, 2x Mountain House meal pouch, snacks (beef sticks with bacon added, nuts, shelf-stable sandwich), miniature binoculars, 4x climbing carabiners, assorted other stuff, and my Yaesu VX-8DR HT.

* - ICSALL - In Case Stoopid Airline Loses Luggage

Rolling duffels are 30"x15"x15" so ~6000 cu in. net volume
Hard Side case with sugar skulls on outside - 22*x14"x12" so ~3500 cu in.
Survival backpack is older Camelback something like a BFM around 3200cu in.
Top-loading backpack is roughly 16"x12"x10" beveled top so maybe 1800cu in.
Fishing Rod holder tube for Antenna and mast is 52" long x ~4" diameter.

I ended up having to "stack" stuff and have them all arranged in just the right order to be able to drag them from place to place. That worked pretty well until I had to drag stuff from the ship to the rental car to go to Ponce and I realized the one duffel bag had one of it's wheels (and the left side of it's base) pretty well destroyed so it didn't roll for crap. Ended up buying a replacement duffel down there. Part of the problem was having to deal with getting a lot of gear someplace as checked baggage. Checked bags have limits on both weight and size. I'd bought a 5.11 CAMS rolling duffel that was 40" long and 15.5" wide. But, I couldn't fill it up and stay under the 70lb. limit for oversized baggage. If I'd taken that full, it would have been $100 for the oversize and another $150 for over weight in addition to the basic 2nd bag fee. So, I used the two smaller duffels and kept the weight of each to less than 50lbs. Did I mention hauling that much gear down there was a royal PITA?

My main assumptions going in were that I might need my own power (especially for my CPAP at night), I might need my own way of getting drinkable water, I might be sleeping in a provided tent on a cot (so no sleeping bag, just a sleeping pad), and that it would be too hot for needing a blanket anyway. Had I been going off to the wilderness, I would have had to have a tent and warm weather sleeping bag or sheet/cover.

More when I get more pics transferred from my fone.
Link Posted: 11/21/2017 11:16:25 PM EST
Puerto Rico Excursion, Part 2.

Deployment

Oct. 9th rolls around, 3 days after getting deployment call-up email. I fly to Atlanta and find the FEMA folks by baggage claim. We get stuck on a bus and make the two hour ride down to Anniston, AL:



We got dropped off at a "Welcome" center where we were given some brief instructions on how things would play out over the next 3-4 days. I was in a "Wave", Wave 13, that was over 500 people from numerous Federal Agencies, some state agencies, and even some local and tribal agencies. We were herded from one place to the other, had some "training" classes, then we started getting issued our powder blue vests, FEMA phones and a laptop:



All their processes and procedures were probably fine if you were processing thru 25-50 folks. With 500, they became an unmanageable nightmare. I met one of my fellow Agency people from Kalifornia there. We talked a little about what we thought we were going to do. I mentioned I was a ham guy and brought my radio gear. He was a member of the ham club at the facility out there. He forwarded me this email from a guy within DHS (head of SHARES) who was looking for ham radio operators to send to PR. I reached out to him and he jumped at the chance to get me. I was initially slated to be on a bus to Jacksonville Florida to work logistics there because nobody within the FEMA processing center bothered to look at the forms we all filled out where I put I was a ham radio operator. So, this guy gets me re-directed mere minutes before I was going to be leaving. Suddenly, I was on a bus back to Atlanta where I would wait until my Agency could arrange a flight down to PR.

October 13th, I fly into San Juan:



I arrive at the airport, they lost power. The terminal is blisteringly hot and stupid humid, no A/C, much darkness. I get to baggage claim and there are no monitors telling me where to pick up my luggage. I finally see one of my bags on a carousel. So I wait and get 2 of 3 bags. Third doesn't show up. So, I start to hoof it over to the baggage agent and see bag 3. All good. Then it's how do I get to the Convention Center. No buses for that apparently. So, I have to lug my bags out to where the taxis are and pay 21 bux to get to the Convention Center. I check in with the folks I'm supposed to be working with. Billeting was somewhat haphazard so I get to spend 3 nights in the cot city with 200-300 of my closest friends and associates:



Here's all my gear stacked at cot, sweet cot:



I used my self-inflating sleeping pad to make sleeping on the cot tolerable. The lights went off at 10pm and back on at 6am. There was noise almost all night long from people coming and going. After 3 nights at the Ritz Cot-a-ton, I got moved to an Italian Ferry boat, La Suprema:



The room wasn't much more than an oversized closet, there were 2 to a room, fold-out top and bottom bunks where we used the top bunks to stow our gear and slept in the bottom one. The bathroom and shower were smaller than most camper/RV bathrooms. I whacked my elbows several times on the shower walls. My roomate had to get up at 430 to get to his team assignments every morning. By this time, I had run out of clean clothes with no way to do laundry so I broke out my bucket and wilderness soap and washed a set. During my stay in San Juan, it was easy to see where the lines of demarcation between power haves and have-nots were. Most businesses that were lit up were running on generators when I first got down there. The power utility decided to prioritize banks, shopping centers, and government buildings for getting grid power first. FEMA focused on getting generators to places like hospitals.

The remainder of the SHARES (Shared Resources HF Comms) team were still in transit for 6 days. During that time, I helped the ARC ham folks that were there at the Joint Field Office (JFO), met with the regional ARRL coordinator, Oscar Resto, sat in on all the Emergency Support Function Two (ESF-2 - Emergency Communications) morning meetings, and got my gear unpacked, set up, and checked out while waiting for my actual assignment. I was going to be sent to Vieques with an Army group to provide mobile HF but at the last minute, they cancelled that. ESF-2 was not well run. The lead person there had the mindset that Job 1 was getting Feds talking to other Feds (namely FEMA). Everything else took a back seat. Since HF wasn't part of the FEMA mindset, he really didn't know or understand what to do with us. It didn't help that a group of "amateur radio operators" preceded us by roughly 3 weeks. The ability of hospitals to communicate had been done by the ARC/ARRL hams. FEMA decided that handing a hospital a satphone was sufficient "comms" such that they didn't need HF operators there any more. Nevermind they were totally useless for a hospital since (a) they have to be used outdoors (b) they can't receive calls indoors and (c) nobody knew any phone numbers so if Hospital A needed to get supplies or transfer a patient to Hospital B, they wouldn't know the phone number to dial.

Once the rest of the SHARES team got there (10 total), we split up into two man teams to be positioned at 4 of the FEMA Branch Office locations to distribute the comms resources on the island. On Oct. 20th, I was sent to Ponce, the 2nd largest city on the southern part of the island:



Along the way, we did some damage assessments. Here's a couple of cell towers. See if you can see what's wrong in these two pictures:




In Ponce, we were supposed to go to the former Sports Authority building near the Plaza Del Caribe. Google Maps didn't have the Sports Authority listed but somebody had a GPS position that we went to and saw the building that had the now defunct Sports Authority sign painted over. We got set up first by a loading dock door because we needed access to the roof and that was only available thru a ladder hatch in the very corner of the building. For the antennas, we ended up using my mast for both my team mates antenna and my end-fed. Since I only had 25ft. of coax, we had to use one of his 50ft RG8 coax cables with a barrel connector to make it to the roof. Since the hatch had limited clearance for cables, my LMR-400 was too fat anyway to be able to close the hatch. We ended up taping my mast to the corner of an air conditioner with Gorilla tape because there was no other place to secure the mast to up there (and no place to secure guy lines). It looked like this from the ground:



We ended up getting told we were going to have to get out of the loading dock area because they were going to be using forklifts and didn't want us in the way, particularly if we had our backs to them. At that point, I ordered 100ft. of RG-8x and a bunch of barrel connectors, N-to-UHF adapters, and some other stuff from DX Engineering and had them send it Fedex. Once they started service down there, they turned out to be faster than the Post Office. As it turns out, we didn't use the VHF antenna that the FEMA folks sent with an N-connector on because it was made for 140-144Mhz, too low for normal repeater use. Once we got situated inside the main room instead of the loading dock, we got partitions put around us. Our station ended up looking like this:



More when I get a chance tomorrow.
Link Posted: 11/22/2017 9:46:25 AM EST
Forgot to ask you, OP. Do you weld?
Link Posted: 11/22/2017 11:50:04 AM EST
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Originally Posted By backbencher:
Forgot to ask you, OP. Do you weld?
View Quote
No, but I've got a brand spanking new Lincoln welder that I've had sitting waiting for me to learn how to use it for 3 years, does that count?
Link Posted: 11/22/2017 12:30:10 PM EST
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Originally Posted By planemaker: No, but I've got a brand spanking new Lincoln welder that I've had sitting waiting for me to learn how to use it for 3 years, does that count?
View Quote
Yes. Yes, it does.
Link Posted: 11/22/2017 3:52:39 PM EST
[Last Edit: 11/23/2017 11:32:46 AM EST by planemaker]
Puerto Rico Excursion AAR, Part 3

I may have mentioned that my team mate in Ponce convinced me to buy a QRP rig, the CS-108g+. So, I ordered it and had it sent to me in PR. It's a nice little compact unit. Also ordered another MFJ 939 tuner and Signalink USB from DXE. I was able to get it to do digital modes, and made a 20m voice contact in Georgia who gave me glowing reports on my signal and audio quality. Not bad for using 20W and a compromise mobile antenna on top of the Jeep. One issue that came up was that the power lead didn't have a fuse in it nor did it have PowerPole ends. So, I whip out my handy-dandy brand new soldering iron and proceed to try to do both. Huge failure. The Harbor Freight soldering iron was not made out of stainless steel, it was pot metal that was chrome plated. Solder wouldn't stick to the tip. And, the heat was barely enough to melt the solder. Made a trip to the Home Depot that re-opened and got a better Weller unit.

Lesson learned: Don't take new gear into a disaster. Make sure it works before you leave.

One of our "recon" missions was to try to meet up with our other team mates who were in the Rincon/Aguadilla area. That area was hit bad, much more devastation than down in Ponce or San Juan. One of the "main" roads in the area had power lines dangling down to only a few feet of the ground. I literally had to drive a slalom to get past them. The streets were ridiculously narrow and people parked on both sides of the street. I actually had to have my team mate spot for me to make sure I could make it between the parked cars. Logistically, this meant that even HMMVs wouldn't be able to get thru there, much less trucks carrying relief supplies. Our team mates had a small minivan and they were helping distribute MREs and water for the Red Cross.

One of our last activities was to give a training class to a Puerto Rico National Guard unit. It was a primer on HF communications, the ionosphere and picking frequencies for different times of day, and a brief tutorial on antennas, both regular and NVIS. We also had them make an antenna (since theirs was not only broken but rusted). The radio was sitting on a shelf and the broken antenna looked like it had not been used in years. But they learned enough to make and string their own antenna and managed to contact HQ back in San Juan with a "Loud and Clear" report:



As I was checking out of the hotel, the hotel clerk asked me if I had any spare boxes. I had 3 or 4 empty MRE boxes so I brought those down to her. She said she was having to "relocate". Her and her husband live up in the mountains near Ponce. They have no power and no water. She said they were told not to expect either one for 3-6 months. She works at the hotel during the day, and drives home in the pitch darkness. She said she couldn't take it any more and her and her husband were moving somewhere else on the island. She said there are a lot of folks like her that are just leaving PR altogether to start over some place else because it's so bad now and will take so long to get better. On the airplane ride back, there was a guy who owned some gas stations. He said it was costing him a boatload to use generator power to run his gas stations. But, if he and the other gas station owners didn't keep the doors open, nobody would have any gas. My trip back was with mixed emotions because I hated to leave when PR is still so screwed up and so many people need help.

Epilogue

So, what worked, either well or kinda?

- The FT-991 was a great rig to have there. It had enough options to filter out a lot of noise but not enough to overcome the highest levels. Need to have the MARS mod done. I looked at what was involved and opted NOT to try that in the field.
- The end-fed antenna did OK. Had it been put up as a sloper rather than inverted V, it would have been better for DX. As it was, it was a compromise antenna that did OK for intra-island comms and some comms back to the mainland.
- CS-108G+ did OK, particularly considering it's a "QRP" rig.
- Yaesu VX-8DR did fine. While I was there, I did the MARS mod on it. Trivial.
- The Bioenno PowerPack 400 was great. It got used for its battery, inverter, and the solar charger worked great. With the battery half-dead, the solar charger was putting roughly 80W back into the unit in full sun. The pure sine wave inverter isolated the power for the radios from the grid power.
- The inflatable sleeping pad was great. Not very heavy, a little bit bulky, but great.
- LMR-400 was good but too short.
- RG8x was much lighter and fit thru the hatch in the roof.
- RigExpert was incredibly useful. I tuned the lengths of my mobile antenna as well as helped the PRNG get the length of their antenna right.
- Flashlight was a great thing to have and I wore mine on my belt. Somehow I managed to lose it.
- Having all the radio software already loaded, configured, and known to work with the rig I had was monumentally better than trying to do it in-situ.
- Had to use CHIRP and the RTSystems SW to program frequencies, particularly on the handi-talkie. Glad I had all that.
- Comet UHV-6 was a great mobile HF antenna, particularly after I tuned the whip stubs to the length I needed.
- MFJ mast did a great job, wasn't too heavy to carry, and fit inside the same fishing rod tube with the Comet mobile.
- Pre-loading Google Maps maps of the area we were going to be in could have been a lifesaver. As it was, with cell service so spotty, we would not have been able to navigate without downloading the maps first.
- My team mate had a Pactor modem. It worked much better than the SW modem in Winlink.
- I had a sufficient number of CigBuddy's and PowerPole extension cables that I could set up for either station operation or mobile operation with very few changes.
- The Solar Panel worked well. If it had been cloudy, though, it would not have kept pace with the power drain. (The laptop and the FT-991 when transmitting together was using right at 300W. I need a power-friendly laptop to go with my new QRP rig.)

What didn't work so well?

- Having a large number of RF radiators in close proximity was bad for all of them. For us, it made certain comms impossible. For the Army and the first satcom dish they put up, they had to turn up the power level so much they burned out the unit within a couple of weeks. With an RF noise floor of S9+20dB, you're going to have a really, really hard time with reception. Have a "roof Nazi" that keeps you and the other radiators from causing RF fratricide.
- The FEMA processing at Anniston was a Charlie Foxtrot. Enough said.
- The ESF-2 function had the wrong priority focus and they didn't understand the utility of HF. After I spoke with the FEMA OCIO and CTO who visited our station in Ponce un-announced, I suspect that will change.
- The FEMA supplied laptop was so locked down, I couldn't install any of the software I needed to use. The IT group on site were particularly non-helpful, even when it meant not getting the mission done. I fixed the problem by restoring the system to factory condition using the factory restore partition. After that, I had no problems installing the software I needed and using it for the mission. Had I not known how to do that, the laptop would have been useless to me.
- Winlink using the Winmor module had issues unless conditions were very good. Sometimes, the client-server synchronization would get hosed and the SW dropped the connection.
- When we went to take down the mast, the Gorilla tape tore off some of the lacquer paint on the mast. I'll have to find something to paint the fiberglass with now.
- Carrying that much gear in an inconvenient form factor was a royal PITA. Living within the checked baggage limits really creates issues. Next time, I may check into the freight departments at the airlines who are better about such things. Several folks down there used Southwest's air freight to get stuff shipped to them and back.
- Not having shorts and short-sleeved shirts initially made working conditions that much hotter. When I had the wife send down both, I could work better in the heat. Granted, made more of a target for mosquitos, but avoiding heatstroke trumps bug avoidance.
- Team mate's rig did not have an RF-isolator on his lines. So, he was getting a lot of RF back into the station. So much so that it would induce enough noise on the USB line to my rig, the laptop would freeze up if he was transmitting. After I put ferrites on both ends of my USB cable, that problem went away. Sadly, my touchpad on my laptop got fried with his RF and did not recover.
- Since I had quite a bit of stuff sent to me there, either stuff I ordered or stuff the wife sent, I had way, way too much to fit in the baggage I had. So, I had to ship a bunch of stuff back via Post Office. It cost almost $180, and Fedex would have been double that.
- The rolling duffels I used did not stand up to airline gorillas well. One died on the way down, the one that survived is toast now that it came back.
- The PS/4 padded case snugged inside the hard case didn't prevent one of the knobs from getting broken off on my 991. Airline gorilla disease strikes again. I put bubble wrap around it before I stuffed it into the padded case on the return trip.
- The wire for the end-fed became hopelessly tangled on take-down. I'll have to make a new wire, using better wire that's less likely to tangle. If we'd had to set up someplace else, my antenna would not have been usable.
- The camp pillow had a defective air valve and wouldn't stay inflated. Totally useless. Again, shoulda checked it before I left.

What did I carry that I didn't need?

- Some stuff I carried because of what we were told up front. As things played out differently, I ended up not using several things. Hindsight is 20/20.
- As it turns out, I didn't need 3 days of food. I did eat a Mountain House one evening when I didn't feel like going out to dinner. But, I ended up taking back all but the one.
- I ended up not using any of the permethrin treatment chemicals that I brought with me. There was no convenient way of treating my clothes in the field. I should have done it before I left.
- Thankfully, I didn't need all the things like Immodium, Gaviscon, stool softener, and several other remedial OTC meds. But, it's better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them.
- Didn't need as much paracord nor as many carabiners as I brought. Had the place I was sent to set up in been different, I could have used all of it.
- I ended up not using the 4 ground radials I had made for my end-fed. The reason for this was the Sports Authority building had a metal roof and so a ground plane of radials would not have been beneficial.
- I had a collapsing fishing rod with a weight on the string for throwing up into a tree to string up an antenna. We ended up not needing to use it. But, we might have if we were really going "into the field".
- Mosquito netting. Since I wasn't sleeping on a cot in a tent out in the wild, I didn't end up having to use it.

What did I need that I didn't have with me when I left?

- Barrel connectors. If you need to add two coax cables together to get the length you need, you need these barrel connectors. Our other team mates loaned us one but I ended up ordering a batch from DXE.
- UHF-to-whatever adapters. We got handed a VHF antenna with an N-connector. I had to use the adapter that came with the RigExpert to even try to use it. The PRNG PRC-150 has a BNC connector. Nobody had an adapter for that with them. I have a few here at the house but didn't think I needed to bring them. Bad choice.
- More coax, lighter coax. DXE's LMR-400 is great coax but it's heavy and I only had 25ft. of it. That would have been fine if we were set up in a tent and the antenna mast was right there. As it was, we didn't have enough coax to run two antennas up to the roof.
- PowerPoles. I didn't bring any. My team mate did, fortunately.
- Big soldering gun. While at the PRNG, we tried valiantly to fix one of their coax's that had the connector not done well. We couldn't generate enough heat to melt the solder into the shield braid. Had that been a critical item, we'd have been screwed.
- More cash. Very few places were taking plastic when I got there. Very few places were taking plastic when I left. Cash is king in a disaster zone.
- I didn't take a spare laptop because I thought the extra weight wasn't worth having a backup. Although my primary laptop didn't fail, other than the touchpad, it would have been game over if it had.
- UPS/Surge Suppressor. Two of our team mates had power supplies fried due to power spikes from the damaged grid power. I had a surge suppressor power strip but I'm not sure how good it would have been under the extreme conditions. And, it only had a small number of sockets.
- Power strips and extension cords. Luckily, the FEMA folks had some of those, but they all got used up. Even at the hotel, they used wall sockets for all the room lighting, leaving few outlets for actual use.
- More clothes. Only because there wasn't a way to wash clothes other than by hand. Warm weather clothing is generally fairly light so it probably would have made sense to bring more. It wasn't a big deal to wash a set since I'd brought the ability to do so with me.
- The ability to make an antenna. I really should brought with me the ability to make a big horizontal loop antenna. This likely would have either cured our insufferable RF noise problem or would have at least toned it down to make reception viable.
- A method of satellite communication would have helped during those periods where other comm methods were down. A satphone is nice but expensive. I'd toyed with the idea of getting one of those InReach units to be able to at least send text messages via satcom. For ~$400, I should have bought one and made sure it worked before I left. Would have had a lot more peace of mind.
- Goof Off. The Gorilla tape left a nasty residue on the mast. I had to go buy some Goof Off to get rid of it before I could collapse the mast.
- Ferrites. Lots of ferrites. Ferrites for both ends of every coax, ferrites on all the USB cables, ferrites on the CAT/Tuner cables, RF isolators at the antenna feedpoints.
- Lightning arrestors. Several times, storms would pop up that had lightning and we left the antennas up all the time. Had it hit the giant metal roof or our nice conducting wire antennas, it could have seriously damaged our radios. One of our team mates had a near miss and it fried a barrel connector and one end of the coax cable.

What lessons did I learn:

- Disasters are come-as-you-are parties. If you don't have it when the disaster happens, there's a very high likelihood you won't be able to get it.
- I need to have all my radios be MARS/SHARES capable.
- The National Guard, who is always called up during a disaster, may or may not have the ability to communicate using HF when they need to. Don't count on them to be informed or coordinated because of that, particularly soon after the disaster.
- Verify all your gear works and plays nice together before you leave and after you get where you are going.
- Have a backup plan. The team adopted the motto "Semper Gumby" because we needed to be so flexible to adapt to so many changing conditions.
- Don't make too many assumptions about where you'll end up setting up your station.
- Information is very hard to come by during and after a disaster. One of the missions that ESF-2 was forced to take on was getting enough TV and particularly radio stations back on the air so that people could find out where to go for aid and general news about what's going on. Otherwise, there would have been all these food and water distribution centers set up, but no way to tell the people that they're there.
- We need more hams in more communities. We need them to be able to get on the air as soon as the wind slows down. We need some of them to go to hospitals, fire stations, police stations, etc. to be able to communicate. We need hams to be able to tell their neighbors what's going on and help them to send word to relatives of their neighbors that they are OK. We need hams to know their area and neighborhoods well enough to be able to relay important messages to specific folks in their area. We need hams to be able to report conditions in their specific area to the people coordinating the response and recovery efforts. And, we need hams to relay important information from the officials that they would not otherwise be able to broadcast to the people who need the information. We need hams that can get on the air and stay on the air for potentially a few weeks. Maybe not 24/7 obviously, but they need their own power source to be able to help the community during a major disaster.
- I need to have a Pactor 4 modem. They are stupid expensive but the guys that had them were able to pass messages when conditions wouldn't let me. All the SHARES message servers are Pactor, they don't allow Winmor.
- I should probably get an amp. There were a number of times where because of conditions, 100W and a wire just didn't cut it. Powering the amp becomes a major challenge, though, particularly as you go up towards the legal limit.

And, the biggest lesson for me is the following:
- You really don't appreciate how good you have it until you come face-to-face with folks that don't have it so good.

ETA: Wow, sorry for the wall-o-text.
Link Posted: 11/22/2017 4:38:30 PM EST
thank you
Link Posted: 11/22/2017 5:47:10 PM EST
Great write up!
Deploying with the restrictions imposed (weight/size,ect) sounds like the makings of some interesting trials.
Link Posted: 11/23/2017 5:05:24 PM EST
Thanks for volunteering, and for the great AAR!

Sorry I never could hear you on the digital modes, though.
Link Posted: 11/23/2017 6:38:11 PM EST
Thanks for your service! The first hand information you provided is invaluable for the ham community.
The fact that FEMA was disorganized is not surprising. What really surprised me was that National Guard was poorly organised and prepared. I hope that US military, Navy and Airforce are not like that. If they are, God help us all.
Link Posted: 11/23/2017 6:44:13 PM EST
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Originally Posted By Gyprat:
Thanks for your service! The first hand information you provided is invaluable for the ham community.
The fact that FEMA was disorganized is not surprising. What really surprised me was that National Guard was poorly organised and prepared. I hope that US military, Navy and Airforce are not like that. If they are, God help us all.
View Quote
The knowledge base in the Army for HF coms in near non-existent.
Link Posted: 11/23/2017 6:44:46 PM EST
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Originally Posted By planemaker:

And, the biggest lesson for me is the following:
- You really don't appreciate how good you have it until you come face-to-face with folks that don't have it so good.
View Quote
Yep, some people have no clue!
Link Posted: 11/23/2017 6:50:21 PM EST
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Originally Posted By elcope:

The knowledge base in the Army for HF coms in near non-existent.
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What are they going to do if they face a real war and communication satellites are disabled?
Link Posted: 11/23/2017 7:40:36 PM EST
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Originally Posted By Gyprat:
What are they going to do if they face a real war and communication satellites are disabled?
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View All Quotes
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Originally Posted By Gyprat:
Originally Posted By elcope:

The knowledge base in the Army for HF coms in near non-existent.
What are they going to do if they face a real war and communication satellites are disabled?
Revert to what we in the civilian world refer to as "sneaker net".
Link Posted: 11/23/2017 7:42:03 PM EST
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Originally Posted By Gyprat:
I hope that US military, Navy and Airforce are not like that. If they are, God help us all.
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Kiss your ass goodbye. I've watched 18E's struggle for literally hours to program shit this lowly, scum-sucking amateur could and has had running in minutes. Seen this enough times to know it's a real problem. Never been to war, but by now I've probably seen a million dollars of range time (no exaggeration) wasted over the years because of this shit.

Some people "get" comm's. Most people don't.
Link Posted: 11/23/2017 8:12:39 PM EST
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Originally Posted By Gyprat: Thanks for your service! The first hand information you provided is invaluable for the ham community.
The fact that FEMA was disorganized is not surprising. What really surprised me was that National Guard was poorly organised and prepared. I hope that US military, Navy and Airforce are not like that. If they are, God help us all.
View Quote
In fairness to the 52 other National Guards, this is the Puerto Rico National Guard we're talking about. That said, I'm betting my S-6 shop hasn't tried to execute HF in years. When I was a radioman in the Navy Reserve, I never touched HF, and that was 12 years ago.
Link Posted: 11/23/2017 9:46:40 PM EST
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Originally Posted By backbencher:
In fairness to the 52 other National Guards, this is the Puerto Rico National Guard we're talking about. That said, I'm betting my S-6 shop hasn't tried to execute HF in years. When I was a radioman in the Navy Reserve, I never touched HF, and that was 12 years ago.
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Originally Posted By backbencher:
Originally Posted By Gyprat: Thanks for your service! The first hand information you provided is invaluable for the ham community.
The fact that FEMA was disorganized is not surprising. What really surprised me was that National Guard was poorly organised and prepared. I hope that US military, Navy and Airforce are not like that. If they are, God help us all.
In fairness to the 52 other National Guards, this is the Puerto Rico National Guard we're talking about. That said, I'm betting my S-6 shop hasn't tried to execute HF in years. When I was a radioman in the Navy Reserve, I never touched HF, and that was 12 years ago.
If I understood right, in the PRNG group I was involved with training, there was only one person with an MOS even remotely related to comms. Somebody said they merged the former "signals" MOSs into a more generic IT umbrella. Stoopid. 'Net-centric warfare" is great right up to the point where you don't have a net anymore. Like, oh I don't know, when the whole power grid goes down. Heck, the regular Army folks couldn't even get their stuff to work for very long. One of their guys saw the train wreck coming and had told his superiors that what they were planning wasn't a good idea from a comms perspective. He was right and they destroyed a satcom system.

I will say that the group we trained were enthusiastic about learning how to communicate. The fact that cell service was still useless most of the time probably solidified the need for an alternative in their minds. The young lady that made the first call and got a Lima Charlie from San Juan was on cloud 9. The whole group stepped up and took ownership. The LT was saying that he thinks all soldiers need to be communicators. He's right. Especially when part of your job is to respond to a major disaster.
Link Posted: 11/24/2017 6:42:51 PM EST
I neglected to mention that I played a little bit with the MFJ-1699 multi-band portable antenna. I put it on the RigExpert and got some interesting results. Basically, it does indeed get down to the 1.1-1.5 SWR range on 20 and 40. However, the bandwidth is microscopic. Essentially, it's a one frequency at a time device. At that exact frequency, it probably does quite well, particularly if you have it on a nice ground plane like a mag mount on the roof of your car. Don't plan on using it off that frequency unless you go out and lengthen or retract the whip. An antenna analyzer is a must for it to be useful. It is nicely portable, though.
Link Posted: 11/25/2017 1:46:46 PM EST
Another thing about the PRNG.

National Guards are pretty much STATE run and if the state is corrupt it's a good bet the NG is also.

Some states are extremely political about promotions in the NG and I have heard a LOT of Guardsman going active duty simply to get promoted fairly.

Of course, corruption breeds incompetence and while I am not going to point a finger at the PRNG as such, I will say 'if the shoe fits...."
Link Posted: 11/27/2017 11:22:57 PM EST
@planemaker

On the October 25 episode, Christian from the 100 Watts and a Wire podcast said he would like to hear from hams that volunteered for duty in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. Should you be interested, his email address is christian@100wattsandawire.com.
Link Posted: 11/28/2017 6:56:09 AM EST
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Originally Posted By Gilly:
@planemaker

On the October 25 episode, Christian from the 100 Watts and a Wire podcast said he would like to hear from hams that volunteered for duty in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. Should you be interested, his email address is christian@100wattsandawire.com.
View Quote
Cool. I've heard him on the air on 40m before. I guess they have a regular net as well as a podcast.

It will be interesting to see if the SHARES program that I was associated with steps up to the plate and gets a group set up do "deploy" HF comms to disasters. The Red Cross had the right idea - get ham boots on the ground as soon as possible but they just had too few to really get widespread comms for the island. What SHARES ought to consider is getting sets of gear they can deploy with so folks like me don't have to lug their own stuff. I'm supposed to participate in a group AAR on Wednesday so maybe I'll find out what the folks are thinking.
Link Posted: 11/30/2017 5:06:55 PM EST
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Originally Posted By backbencher:

In fairness to the 52 other National Guards, this is the Puerto Rico National Guard we're talking about. That said, I'm betting my S-6 shop hasn't tried to execute HF in years. When I was a radioman in the Navy Reserve, I never touched HF, and that was 12 years ago.
View Quote
Agreed, HF is quite rare in the military. I was a 31M multi-channel radio operator for 10 years, active duty Army from 1986 to 1996. The only time I ever touched HF was when I cross trained to 31Q in Germany and became team chief for a tropo-scatter terminal. We would use HF / NVIS for working the tropo shot. I don't even know if that job category or equipment exists anymore in the modern signal corps.
Link Posted: 12/1/2017 8:34:48 PM EST
Thread of the year. Thanks OP.
Link Posted: 12/4/2017 10:24:44 PM EST
bump bump bump
Link Posted: 12/5/2017 6:39:43 PM EST
>>Some comments I made on another ham forum about the various organizations that used radio operators down there:

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, KP4**, 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.
- 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.

>>There was also a big discussion over there about the role of the hams, ARRL, and the ARC vs. the federal SHARES folks so I made these comments:

From my perspective, it would be entirely reasonable for the ARC (and other NGOs like Salvation Army, Team Rubicon, etc.) to want to:
- provide Safe and Well transmission capabilities to each of the shelters they are responsible for,
- provide a method for communicating and coordinating the deliveries of needed supplies to and from those shelters,
- provide a method for transmitting their daily status and census to PREMA/FEMA,
- provide a method for transmitting urgent requests to PREMA/FEMA for those things beyond their ability to handle themselves

In addition, PREMA/FEMA should have had the ability to:
- provide communications for hospitals to be able to communicate with each other and to PREMA/FEMA
- provide communications for local public safety agencies like EMS, fire, and police as well as municipal agencies such as the power, water, and sewer departments (remember, there was no running water on the island right after the hurricane)
- provide communications for assessment teams to relay information in real-time back to the command center
- provide backup communications for PREMA/FEMA satellite offices for those times when critical communications needs occur during failures of other modes (which happened frequently while I was there)
- provide a means to communicate and coordinate with the National Guard and DoD units that were deployed in real time (Although many of the PRNG and Army units did not have HF ability but that's a problem unto itself)

Both PREMA/FEMA and the ARC totally underestimated the scope of the disaster and both they and ARRL did not end up getting sufficient numbers to overcome the complete devastation of the <entire> communications infrastructure. So, they were caught flat-footed and lots of places didn't have comms. Both the volunteer hams and the local hams did a great job, with many of the locals that I met working very long hours even though they themselves were dramatically impacted by the storm. Sending the hams to hospitals was good, but wasn't/isn't the ARC's job, it was PREMA/FEMAs, and in any event the response between the two of them was woefully insufficient. In the case of SHARES, there were only 10 of us so our usefulness was limited by that and by the fact it took us so long to get down there. (I was the first and got there on Oct. 13th, the hurricane hit on September 20). Although, keep in mind, this was the first ever SHARES "deployment" so we were learning as we went.

In addition, all of the above should have had communications "go kits" with HF and VHF (and some would argue satcom) abilities. Beyond that, they should have "stay alive kits" such that these first responders don't become just another mouth to feed by locals who were unable to deal with their own needs, much less added people. All of them should have had the ability to operate without grid power but few of us did. I brought both a solar panel charger and a Bioenno PowerPack400 that I used the whole time I was there. When we had grid power, I plugged in the wall charger but kept running from the battery. Grid power, as it was being restored, was unstable in the extreme. Two of our team members got power supplies fried from massive power spikes. When I went mobile, I kept the same setup and substituted cigarette lighter adapter for the wall charger and kept running on the battery because the rental car power sockets couldn't handle the current required. Fuel was unavailable for the first week and in some areas for two. So, just having a generator was insufficient. And, in a protracted power outage, stand-by, low duty cycle generators are going to fail if run continuously for weeks (or months) on end (and we saw that in spades down there).
Link Posted: 12/5/2017 7:29:48 PM EST
I had the distinct impression that Puerto Rico was not completely electrified before the twin storms. Anyone know what the percentage of total electrification PR had last year?
Link Posted: 12/5/2017 8:06:56 PM EST
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Originally Posted By backbencher:
I had the distinct impression that Puerto Rico was not completely electrified before the twin storms. Anyone know what the percentage of total electrification PR had last year?
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I had heard that every house had power there mainly because of the subsidies but don't know that for a fact. Problem was, the grid was unreliable before the storm with service interruptions being frequent (like once a week). Their power infrastructure was also long in the tooth because they had not invested in upgrading/updating it for years. A huge percentage of people and businesses had standby generators because the grid was so awful to begin with. Remember that the power company went broke back in July so they weren't doing much of anything all summer in terms of repair. So, Irma hit and knocked out power to a million people. They hadn't restored that when Maria came along and wiped out the rest.
Link Posted: 12/6/2017 7:25:10 AM EST
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Originally Posted By planemaker:

I had heard that every house had power there mainly because of the subsidies but don't know that for a fact. Problem was, the grid was unreliable before the storm with service interruptions being frequent (like once a week). Their power infrastructure was also long in the tooth because they had not invested in upgrading/updating it for years. A huge percentage of people and businesses had standby generators because the grid was so awful to begin with. Remember that the power company went broke back in July so they weren't doing much of anything all summer in terms of repair. So, Irma hit and knocked out power to a million people. They hadn't restored that when Maria came along and wiped out the rest.
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The only subsidies that I know about are for the elderly, sick people with disabilities and the housing projects. The rest have to pay the electric bill in full.

The electric grid is old, but there are has been upgrades through the years, the problem has been the maintenance, not enough done. Also, many of the distribution lines have to go through heavy forested areas, and if the lines are not kept clear of branches it causes shorts in the circuit. Even though we have this problem, the service interruptions are no that frequent as to say they happen on a weekly basis.
Link Posted: 12/6/2017 7:39:01 AM EST
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Originally Posted By GiveMeStatehood:
The only subsidies that I know about are for the elderly, sick people with disabilities and the housing projects. The rest have to pay the electric bill in full.

The electric grid is old, but there are has been upgrades through the years, the problem has been the maintenance, not enough done. Also, many of the distribution lines have to go through heavy forested areas, and if the lines are not kept clear of branches it causes shorts in the circuit. Even though we have this problem, the service interruptions are no that frequent as to say they happen on a weekly basis.
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Originally Posted By GiveMeStatehood:
Originally Posted By planemaker:

I had heard that every house had power there mainly because of the subsidies but don't know that for a fact. Problem was, the grid was unreliable before the storm with service interruptions being frequent (like once a week). Their power infrastructure was also long in the tooth because they had not invested in upgrading/updating it for years. A huge percentage of people and businesses had standby generators because the grid was so awful to begin with. Remember that the power company went broke back in July so they weren't doing much of anything all summer in terms of repair. So, Irma hit and knocked out power to a million people. They hadn't restored that when Maria came along and wiped out the rest.
The only subsidies that I know about are for the elderly, sick people with disabilities and the housing projects. The rest have to pay the electric bill in full.

The electric grid is old, but there are has been upgrades through the years, the problem has been the maintenance, not enough done. Also, many of the distribution lines have to go through heavy forested areas, and if the lines are not kept clear of branches it causes shorts in the circuit. Even though we have this problem, the service interruptions are no that frequent as to say they happen on a weekly basis.
I was surprised when I saw a lot of this. We have a lot of forested areas in Virginia and around here, the electric company mangles trees just to make sure that they can't whack the lines. Also, all the newer neighborhoods being built around here have the utility lines buried underground.
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