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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Haiti: Dominican Hams Help

The video (from a phone patch the day after the quake) gives you a real sense of how bad it is. It was good to see that hams from the Dominican Republic were going over to help out. See below.

From: http://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/wireless/hams-in-haiti/1
BY Anne-Marie Corley // January 2010

... Which leads to the other difference in Haiti: The country is home to very few amateur operators in the first place. Though there are around 100 to 120 ham licenses active for Haiti, according to Pitts, only about seven or eight operators were actually in Haiti as far as the ARRL can determine. According to Bill Pasternak, the president and cofounder of the Amateur Radio Newsline, which broadcast audio from one ham operator outside Port-au-Prince soon after the earthquake hit, most of the operators who have Haitian licenses aren’t even Haitian but rather missionaries and aid workers who travel in and out of the country.
Pitts says that the ARRL has heard from only a few operators, most from outside Port-au-Prince, though one operator did radio in from the city just to let the organization know he was alive. ”The ones that were there did all they could,” Pitts says, ”but we haven’t heard from all of them.” It is likely that some were killed, Pitts speculates. Others may have been concerned with safety, McPherson suggests, so hams in Haiti have been ”on and off the air,” he says.
To help out, hams from the neighboring Dominican Republic have traveled into Haiti several times to set up equipment, despite being attacked by looters last week. They set up a 2-meter analog repeater high on a mountain close to the Haiti–Dominican Republic border. The repeater takes in weak signals—even one from a clip-on radio putting out just 5 watts—and rebroadcasts those signals on a different frequency and at a higher power.
Dominican operators installed a second repeater near the airport in Port-au-Prince and were expecting a third to arrive from ARRL Tuesday, which they will likely put in the region southeast of the capital.

”They’re doing really good work,” Pitts says of the Dominican helpers, ”getting things where they need to be and coordinating with other teams.”
Pitts adds that the international nature of ham radio is well suited to emergency missions like this one. Hams in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Florida, and Puerto Rico, among others, were on the air and listening for any signals soon after the earthquake. ”Nobody was going to hiccup without being noticed,” Pitts says. And because they talk in radio code, language barriers don’t matter as much. ”We all have the same language,” Pitts says. ”We’re used to talking with each other.”
The embedded hams in Salvation Army recovery teams work, too, McPherson says, because they can tap into the entire amateur radio community. Nonofficial operators, for example, who may hear an embed trying to reach Haiti or to call out, may help relay a signal. ”It’s like [all the] amateur community is listening, standing by to help,” McPherson says.
The lesson to be learned, according to Pitts, is that ”in a situation or population where amateur radio is encouraged and present,” hams can provide better and faster information during a major disaster, which allows a faster response. ”That golden 48 hours is where the hams really can shine, if they’re there.”
So while cellular and Internet communication return ever so slowly to normal (or better than normal), what Haiti might also want to invest in is a few more homegrown radio operators.

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