delara newsDelaware Amateur Radio Association, Delaware OH VOL 36 NUMBER 10
Craig MIller W8CR
Be (Kinda, Sorta, Not Really) Prepared
The other day, my sister-n-law in Pensacola called. A good friend of hers, from serving in the Navy, has an uncle in Puerto Rico whom they haven’t heard from since the nasty hurricane Irma blew through. It’s been over a week, maybe 10 days. The family was getting very concerned. She was hoping, through my ham radio prowess, I may be able to reach him.“I’ll see what I can do” I assured her.Gulp. What do I do now? My years of amateur radio experience and ARES training was kicking in. The first thing I will do is head down to the shack and fire up the rig. I’m going to need plenty of power to get a clear signal into the island. Wait! My amplifier is on the fritz. The meters a year ago started reporting very strange voltages and currents. I did replace the 3-500Z tube after recommendation from another Ameritron owner. That didn’t fix it, something else is wrong. I rarely used the amp anyway so I planned on working on it later when it’s cold and nasty outside.OK, well I’ll just run barefoot into the SteppIR antenna perched on top of my 70’ tower. I’ll just spin the rotator due south. Wait! The tower is sitting horizontal in a stack of sections needing a fresh coat of paint and a deep hole to anchor it in. As for the Yagi, it’s also in sections, stored in the basement, waiting for the tower to magically erect itself.No problem, I’ll just use the wide selection of wire antennas that are strung back-n-forth across the property. Hmmmm, the only doublet facing south is tuned for 40 meters, that may be ok but I think 20 meters would be more suitable. I don’t have a dedicated 20 meter antenna, but I do have an 80 meter dipole which will tune up nicely on 20. Oops, that antenna is facing east and west plus it was getting tangled by a tree limb that grew into it this summer. To avoid the limb, I lowered the antenna to the point it’s about 15’ to 20’ above the ground. Low antennas typically shoot the signal straight up. That’s ok on 80 chatting with the locals, but not good for busting a pileup 1,800 miles away.Well maybe I can send a Radiogram by the local 2 meter traffic net. It’s been a long time since I’ve done one, they are kinda complicated and I’m sure I’ll mess it up. It’s too late for the evening net anyway. Maybe tomorrow. I don’t have a phone number to reach the uncle, but their phone system is down anyway. Would the ham in PR receiving the message hand deliver it to the uncle? It’s a big island. They have no gas and the roads are blocked with debris. Will he mail it? The mail system probably has screeched to a halt as well.OK. Somebody around here may have some insight, so I sent an email out on the club reflector. Several responses directed me to the Red Cross website where you can submit a query searching for survivors. I’d already attempted to negotiate Red Cross’ online system. It insisted on a phone number, which I didn’t have. It rejected the address as well, no matter how many times I typed it in. Useless. Why can’t we just search on a name? Nope. I also tried the Salvation Army website. They had nothing regarding Irma or Puerto Rico. Just smiling faces on the main web page looking for donations.This is pitiful. Even if I could reach the island by radio, is there anyone on the air willing to help me out? I’m sure they have more important things to do than listen for a schmoe from Ohio checking on an uncle of a friend of a sister-n-law.Fortunately, the uncle was able to place a call into the States and confirmed he was fine, just toughing it out with the rest of his islanders. Wooo, that was a close call. Off the hook for this one. I tell ya, this was a bit of a wake-up call for me. What good is all of the radio stuff when I couldn’t do a damn thing with it when someone really needed help? Fortunately, the club station at the Red Cross was available plus many other hams in the area do have fully operational stations at the ready.Maybe next time I won’t answer the phone.