Remote places like Arecibo, near the western part of Puerto Rico, were particularly hard-hit. Here, the only reliable mode of communication is radio. And amid the silence, a determined network of radio hobbyists, affectionately called “hams,” is helping communities make contact.
“I did get ahold of Shirley, she’s very happy about hearing about Tony. And I talked to Karen and told her about Phil. You can relay to Phil that she’s also going to tell Phil’s mother that he’s doing fine,” piped Greg Dober, a volunteer ham radio operator in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, returning Vázquez’s call.
“Much obliged there, Greg. Much obliged,” Vázquez replied.
“We do the things that first responders can’t because they’re so busy. We can relay almost any information. The most important thing is getting health and welfare information to a place where relatives can access it,” Tom Gallagher, CEO of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), told me.
Stalwart volunteers for ARRL, a national association for ham radio enthusiasts, are providing real-time dispatches from the Caribbean. A tactical team of 50 bilingual hams, recruited by the Connecticut-based ARRL, will be deploying to Puerto Rico for three weeks to assist the American Red Cross. Their primary objective will be submitting survivor information to agency’s Safe and Well system, which lets people know their loved ones are safe.