Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES®) volunteers in Puerto Rico continued over the weekend to report for daily duty at an American Red Cross (ARC) distribution center in Mayagüez and at ARC Headquarters in San Juan. The two sites are at the ready to provide a “Plan B” communication backbone in the event the seismic situation worsens. A magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck southwestern Puerto Rico on January 7, fast on the heels of a magnitude 5.8 tremor the day before, damaging homes in Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Yauco, and Guánica. ARRL Puerto Rico Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF, told ARRL this week that the situation is relatively “calm and quiet” for now and starting on January 22, volunteers would begin monitoring from their homes or vehicles, permitting most, including Resto himself, to get back to their jobs and homes.
ARES volunteers had been deployed to an ARC distribution center in Yauco, but that part of the operation was shifted to Mayagüez over the weekend, because it was considered safer there. An ARRL-provided VHF/UHF radio and antenna have been set up at the Mayagüez facility. Resto said a second operating position is being added at the San Juan ARC Headquarters site.
Resto said Red Cross officials know that they can rely on Amateur Radio, if the situation calls for it, but for now, commercial communications are fully operational, although aftershocks from the January 7 quake persist. “In case the situation escalates, the ARES team will immediately mobilize at the ARC sites and establish communication (VHF/UHF or HF) as required,” Resto said.
Last week, the Red Cross had requested assistance from the ARES volunteers as well as volunteers from the CB radio and GMRS communities, to identify undeclared refugee camps and to report on close or damaged roadways and bridges. Resto said the ARES volunteers “did a marvelous job” that earned praise from Red Cross officials.
Resto said about two dozen volunteers have made themselves available in the Mayagüez area. In the event they’re needed, Resto said, he has seven or eight HF radios and 15 VHF/UHF transceivers left over from the Hurricane Maria emergency response. He said the HF equipment has been safely stowed for use in case of another major earthquake, when they might be needed.
He was expecting additional antennas and feed lines provided through ARRL’s Ham Aid program to show up this week.