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Amateur Radio support for Atlantic hurricane

Date : 14 / 10 / 2016
Author : Jim Linton - VK3PC

Hurricane Matthew began as a tropical storm near the Windward Islands, but intensified several days later to be a Category 4 Hurricane, unleashing its fury and resulting in hundreds of deaths and widespread damage. It was the first major event in the Atlantic hurricane season with the superstorm causing many deaths, mostly in Haiti, before reaching the south-eastern United States, and causing flooding in Atlantic Canada.

Cesar Pio Santos HR2P, the Emergency Communications Coordinator for the International Radio Union Region 2 presented on the hurricane at the pre-arranged conference in Chile, which was attended by those from Amateur Radio who are involved disaster response and training. He told the gathering that when Matthew was still a Tropical Storm, the Caribbean Emergency and Weather Net (CEWN), formed in several Caribbean islands, activated to receive reports about floods, landslides and tidal waves. During Hurricane Matthew, the Radio Club Dominicano (RDC) was monitoring its course and provided more than 40 radio amateurs in the Emergency Operations Centres.

The Federación de Radioaficionados de Cuba (FRC) swung into full action when the Cuban Meteorological Service determined that the hurricane would cross several eastern provinces of Cuba. FRC set up 505 radio amateurs in six provinces that would be affected by the hurricane with radio stations in safe locations to operate on 2m, 40m and 80m bands. American Radio Relay League (ARRL) began monitoring Hurricane Matthew on September 28, and liaised with radio amateurs in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba as the storm moved through the Caribbean. Cesar HR2P says the first impact on the United States was on October 6 in Southern Florida. Over several days the storm moved along the eastern coast of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina before turning east and heading out to sea.

Hurricane Matthew resulted in 900 deaths in Haiti, a count expected to to increase as communications and cut-off areas are reached. Villages and towns were seriously damaged or destroyed, and agricultural crops lost. Haiti had not seen a Hurricane of that magnitude since 1964, and is still recovering from the deadly earthquake in 2010.

In the USA the ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) groups were on standby days ahead of Matthew's landfall. ARES staffed Emergency Operations Centres, the National Hurricane Centre, evacuation shelters, and National Weather Service forecast offices. Additionally several nets were activated to assist with weather reports and emergency traffic; the Salvation Army Team Emergency Network or SATERN was on 14.265 MHz handling emergency, or health and welfare traffic from hurricane-affected areas, and weather reports were received by the Hurricane Watch Net, VoIP Hurricane Net, and WX4NHC. The ARRL activated its station W1AW to assist these nets as well as maintain contact with federal government stations through the Shared Resources (SHARES) network that coordinates disaster response.

Some 1.2 million US residents were without power, and thousands evacuated to shelters, where ham radio volunteers supported communication. Generally there was no communications emergency in the United States, although at least 17 people were killed. Amateur Radio traffic was primarily weather reports being relayed to the National Hurricane Centre. The ARRL was expected to make a full report next month.

(Sources: Cesar Pio Santos HR2P EMCOR IARU R2; Mike Corey, KI1U, Emergency Coordinator Area ́'B' IARU R2; Jeff Austin 9Y4J, Emergency Coordinator Area 'C' IARU R2, Rafael Martinez HI8ROX Emergency Coordinator, Radio Club Dominicano; Federacion de Radioaficionados de Cuba; Boyd Snow VO1CBS ARES Manager Newfoundland and Labrador Section)

- Jim Linton VK3PC, IARU Region 3 Chairman, Disaster Communications Committee


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