Reflections on Puerto Rico

PR-Maria.jpg

The following was sent to me by a confidant with decades of experience working with relief agencies, in addition to being one of the most knowledgeable Amateur Radio operators out there today. Maria’s aftermath on Puerto Rico is compounded by the fact that the island’s crippling welfare state and decades of nepotism has lead to excuse making and blame deferment by the island’s leadership that would make Ray Nagin blush. Regardless of all that, it’s about as close to a real-world WROL event as it gets.

The island during the event lost nearly 100% power and had no communications means whatsoever. While Amateur Radio operators give lip service to emergency communications capabilities via ARES and RACES, usually with training events tied into repeater use or HF nodes (Winlink for example), the bare bones fundamentals- making your gear work when the world is upside down- are usually up to the end users. Operating efficiently on one’s own created infrastructure, independent of anything other than what they have sitting in front of them, is essential.

-Power is both an essential and a big security risk when you have it and
the neighbors do not.  Planning ahead for this is a big deal. This
report states that it may be a YEAR before power is back on for the
whole island.  I expect we’ll see and hear more about that in the near
future.

-Having the ability to use propane, especially if you have a gasoline
generator, strikes me as an excellent idea.  I have both diesel and gas
capability but I’m looking into that now.

-only 1 week into the aftermath and there is already widespread
breakdown of social order; organized looting, puncturing of vehicle
tanks to steal gasoline.  What will things be like in a month?

-Nobody, *including the military*, and I mean NOBODY, even the person
reporting in, who has done better than 99.9% of the 4 million folks on
the island, has any conception of the capability of HF radio for short
range regional communications. HF NVIS would have been able to span the
entire island the day after the hurricane went through, if there were
trained and equipped operators on hand. *Every person* who is serious
about personal preparedness ought to commit to getting their General
Class amateur license, and get on the air.  You know who you are! <grin>

And NO, I am not going to accept the ARRL’s invitation to volunteer to
go to PR.  Only an idiot would. As the transportation systems come back
online, I expect to see a massive exodus from PR, followed by a complete
collapse of the local economy.

-The local corruptocracy frittered away all the disaster funding the US
gave them over the last few decades on social programs and did nothing
to prepare for a major hurricane impact.  Shocking, but I’m sure the
local authorities here in CONUS have taken action to protect the power
grid against cyberhacking attacks, EMP, and other threats. Oh, wait…..

-2000 bodies in local morgues with the power off……

-Massive unreported landslide with unknown casualties………….

-the abuse of other branches of the DOD by the Coast Guard is also
notable….

After the coming die-off and relocation/depopulation of the island,
Puerto Rico might be worth a look as a retirement location, but only if
they reverse their legal position on firearms ownership.  Right now, the
right to bear arms is not recognized in PR.  Watch what happens…..

So upon reading this, a serious skill assessment should be in order. If you’re the communicator in your group:

  • Can you rig your own wire antennas?
  • Do you have the rough calculations to make them resonant?
  • Do you have the current consumption of your various radios written down and a way to monitor it?
  • How long can you operate battery-only?
  • Do you have enough spare equipment to keep your station up if Murphy happens?
  • Do you have a working knowledge of different propagation modes (such as why NVIS does what it does)

But most important- how many people can also do what you do in your group?

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33 thoughts on “Reflections on Puerto Rico

  1. I figure south Florida is going to see a huge influx of Puerto Rican ” refugees” as will NYC and other areas with large Puerto Rican communities.
    The infrastructure in Puerto Rico was crumbling long before hurricanes finished it off.
    The politicians are as corrupt as they come, money meant for infrastructure and emegency response/ preparedness was pissed away on social welfare.
    The electrical grid was garbage before Maria hit- now it’s gone. That’s the reason it will take up to a year before power is restored to every home and business on the island. Building the grid from nothing takes time and money.
    With the rampant cortuption in PR it could be well over a year.
    The communication problem would have been solved if there were trained radio operators- why weren’t there trained operators? Anyone with an IQ above room temperature would have seen that both comms and power would be wiped out by a strong hurricane.
    Corrupt government is likely why there was no plan to use radio as comms from govt.
    I would guess that there isn’t much of a “prepper” community in PR.
    If there was- they could have had comms up and running as soon as the wind and rain stopped as long as they had the means to generate power.
    Big question is why didn’t military set up temporary comms using HF radio?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I would guess that there isn’t much of a “prepper” community in PR.” No, there’s generally not in that kind of economy.

      As far as the military HF response- it serves it’s own purpose, which should be a wake up call to anyone thinking the ‘military’ comes to rescue you. If they did set up an HF net it would be via ALE on a PRC-150; something not commonly issued. TACSAT via the Navy’s current Sat net is the go-to. But all of that is for coordination of military assets for relief- NOT FOR CIVILIAN side use, and definitely not for morale and welfare calls. Those M&W calls are what most preppers think of when they dive into this communications stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I get that any branch of the military that sets up a comms system is only doing so for their own use, but from what I read they still have comms issues.
        That makes no sense to me.
        PR should have had some kind of plan for disaster response- but they had nothing other than relying on the U.S. mainland then complaining about the response- or in the case of the San Juan mayor- using the disaster to advance her political aganda.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well…the commo issues I had (and learned from) in the Army in part laid the foundation for this blog.

        FEMA was up and running prior to the landfall but honestly they didn’t have much to work with. The San Juan junta for example- they’ve failed their people but found the power to print tshirts.

        Regardless…never trust anyone else’s infrastructure.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged and shared. My hope is that people will start to understand the severity of the situation and take it seriously. We have the capabilities to prepare for something like this. I have my ticket but very little experience… Hoping I can rely on other AmRRON Core members in my state and learn from them as well.
    I Answered no to every bullet point at the end of this article so I definitely have some work to do on my end. Good reflection and eye opener. Thank you.
    73,
    SouL RebeL

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Henry Bowman

    This folks, is why we train, whenever, however we can, in less than ideal conditions, with the shit we have, to learn it, work it and do it all over again. Then next time, more knowledge is able to be applied, and wash, rinse, repeat..

    My goal, regarding emcomm, is to be as self sufficient as my skill sets, equipment, knowledge and budget allow, and knowing that i’m not mr. commo, i might know a fellow who is smarter than i, and can supply him with equipment, and together we can communicate….After all, is that not the goal?

    I’m still amazed what can be achieved with some basic antennas, a couple 35ah agm batteries, a few el cheapo 20w solar panels, off the shelf connectors and decent radios….still magic to me…

    The more i learn, especially from more experienced and knowledgeable folks, is that i have much to learn and do, but by God, inch by inch, will move forward.

    What is happening in PR is a travesty and should be a wake up call for those serious about their “prepping.” It’s not all about B3 shit….

    Thanks BB…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Quietus

    I heard about that call for fifty General Class volunteers a couple weeks ago on the Wyoming Cowboy Net (3.923.5 kHz, 0045Z hrs, M-F.) Transport, room and board, and radio equipment all furnished, for a two-week tour.

    Any transport would have been OK. Tents and MREs would have been OK. And I could probably figure out another rig if IC-7200 was not the transceiver. NVIS constructs, no problem, that’s what I run as my base antenna for 75 meters.

    But they didn’t say anything about security. Figured I’d want a the usual pistol. But if I was thinking about needing a pistol, then what I’d really want is a rifle (and support for it, of course.) And better yet, a bunch of friends with the same sort of rifles. It only took about a minute to decide that volunteerism for PR was not for me.

    Just for Ss & Gs, I read up on Puerto Rican gun laws. Huh. Three classes of licenses, starting at $1000 to posses a gun + 50 rounds in the home, and ending with swearing before a PR judge that you’re in fear of your life, in order to carry it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ncscout asked…”But most important- how many people can also do what you do in your group?” Sadly it is just me and my 13 year old General class neighbor.

    PR is a great Petra Dish for what could and probably will happen.

    Funny story: I contacted the head of my counties ARES group to find out how I could volunteer locally in an emergency. He told me that the local ARES group had been disbanded as the Government does not need it ant more.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. anonymous

    Friend of mine said in his opinion, the way to fix up PR is for locals to sell out to rich developers, who have the $$$ to make the island a ‘destination – resort’ type of community. When that became a reality, many former PR citizens would move back to gain jobs taking care of the new ‘masters’.

    Dunno – could work I guess. Pretty much fact that Reality now is the U.S. is going to get a huge influx of PR citizens, likely long term.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Whenever you have government that simply votes itself money and bribes its reelections with welfare, what you see is the end result.

      As is the case with Haiti, New Orleans, Flint, Venezuela, etc.

      There are no adults in the room.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. nick flandrey

    Hi Brushbeater, don’t know if this vanished into the aether, or if you had a reason to spike it, so I’ll try once more. All open source.

    ======

    Sorry for the length, but today’s FEMA brief on PR and the USVI had some stated info on comms and some stuff you can read between the lines. Here is the entire text of the PPT slide from the brief:

    PR/USVI Update
    FEMA Response
    • NRCC: Level I (day shift); Enhanced Watch (night shift)
    • National IMAT East-2: deployed to PR
    • FEMA Region II & X IMATs: deployed to USVI
    • FEMA Region III IMAT: deployed to PR
    • MERS: teams deployed to both USVI & PR
    Puerto Rico
    • Shelters: 106 (-2) shelters open with 5,224 (-192) occupants
    • Disaster Assistance Registrations: 463.4k

    Power Outages / Restoration
    • 14.6% (+5.8%) of normal peak load restored, up from 9% October 13, 2017
    • San Juan Power Plant and Palo Seco Power Plants service restored; 21.2%
    (+1%) transmission lines or line sections energized; 33.1% (+1.5%) substations
    energized
    • Generator pre-install inspections complete, 334 (+68); installations complete, 95
    (+22); installations in progress, 36 (+13)

    Communications:
    • Telecommunications restoration plan for main communication system expected
    October 13, 2017; restoration plans for the remainder will follow
    • FCC approved Project Loon, a plan to deploy stratospheric balloons to create an
    aerial wireless network providing emergency Long Term Evolution service

    Health & Medical
    • 64 Of 67 hospitals open: 36 fully connected to power grid, 28 operating on
    generator; 3 closed
    • All open hospital facilities have some form of communication capability: 51 have
    telephone communications; 44 landline, 53 cell, 16 working internet
    • USNS Comfort located approximately 30 nautical miles from Aguadilla,
    conducting logistics and medical support operations in Arecibo and Aguadilla

    U.S. Virgin Islands
    • Shelters: 5 shelters open with 319 (-8) occupants
    • Disaster Assistance Registrations: 10.4k

    Power Outages / Restoration
    • Restoration efforts continue with focus on critical facilities and backbone grid feeders
    • VIWAPA estimate for restoration: 90% of territory on electrical grid by late December
    2017
    • Pre-install inspections complete, 194 (+10); installations complete, 70 (+20);
    installations in progress, 12 (-6)

    Communications:
    • St. Thomas: Installed VI repeater and radio channels for inter-island
    communications and a FEMA radio channel with National Response Network
    connectivity; inflatable communications terminal installed on Crown Mountain to
    provide reach-back to net control for FEMA
    • St. John: installed antennas, cabling and radios in clinics and firehouses
    • St. Croix: delivery of 20 satellite terminals expected October 18, 2017

    Health & Medical
    • St. Croix: Department of Health’s Charles Harwood Facility now offering limited
    services; department is assessing other sites for services
    • All elements of the 575th Area Support Medical Company arrived, expects to be
    operational October 13, 2017
    • Governor Juan Luis Hospital and Medical Center partially open

    Read the whole thing at https://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/USDHSFEMA/2017/10/15/file_attachments/896555/FEMA%2BDaily%2BOps%2BBriefing%2B10-15-2017.pdf

    A couple of things to note, look at how long it’s taken to get gennies installed, how long the surveys have taken, and how many more they have to do. Note that there isn’t any description of the ‘comms’ at the hospitals, and they could be counting one guy’s cell phone as ‘connectivity.’ Note that the USVI are STILL not back and their storm was before PR’s.

    nick

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mike Hohmann

    Agreed, PR will be good case-study of SHTF conditions.

    Planning on general license real soon! Currently working on Alpha Delta DX-EE 10-40m attic install, and planning on lots of 817 practice over the winter. A couple long wires completed and tested. Have knowledgeable connections through two radio clubs. Much yet to do.

    Post immediate crisis, conditions will vary substantially in urban, ex-urban, rural environs/climates. Things get messy fast. Watch PR, Houston, S. Florida and CA in coming weeks. Beware organized looters, and the lone wolves! You may need more than just emcoms. Know your neighbors!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. nick flandrey

      Hi Mike, you may find that your attic antenna isn’t very effective if you live in an area with foil covered roof sheathing, like I do. The sheathing is supposed to keep your attic and roof cooler, and it’s a darned effective RF reflector too. If you don’t hear much, look at the underside of the roof.

      If you have issues, keep looking for solutions, it’s worth the effort. (due to my yard and restrictions, I ended up with a multiband vertical for HF, which works pretty well)

      nick

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Pingback: Puerto Rico Disaster Reports, Oct. 16, 2017 – Lower Valley Assembly

  10. Henry Bowman from a earlier comment mentions to have duplicate power sources other than 120 volt.

    At the cabin we have a simple battery bank of 12 volt marine deep cycle batteries. They are kept up by again a simple array of solar panels.

    In the shack I have another 12 volt marine deep cycle battery kept up to +13.1 volts with a smart battery charger. Just a quick change of the 120 volt power supply to the battery via Anderson Power Poles and the shack is back in business in less than 30 seconds. This 12 volt marine deep cycle battery can be swapped out for recharging with one of the batteries in the solar charged battery bank.

    Any how, thanks for bringing this up Henry!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. PRCD

    I just returned from evacuating from NorCal fires. Our house was about 1 mile from the fire line when the wind mercifully shifted. I relied on AT&Ts wireless infrastructure for all of my cellular communication. Here are the things I learned:

    News reports are almost worthless – its just some bimbo standing near the same burned-out building talking about her emotions. I relied on MODIS, viirs, aqua and terra IR radiometer overlays on maps generated by Google Earth and Cal Fire to see what the fire was doing. Occasionally, a relative of a male reporter on a Facebook page created around the disaster would post something useful.

    Women are completely out-of-hand and unaware of how much their communication drives down the SNR on community-driven news sites such as the ones mentioned above. Their constant seeking of emotional validation, their lost cats and dogs, and where to donate their useless junk made it hard to sift through to actual news.

    Most of my other useful news came from HUMINT: driving around my neighborhood before it was evacuated and talking to people and later texting them.

    Know a lot of people and know that they like you. Evacuations always occur at 0400. You drive around until dawn and then start calling friends away from the affected areas to see if you can come over. The people who like you are the people who like your wife and like you. Wives tend to have a bigger social network. For men, the people that called you before the incident are the ones who call you during it. These are the people who actually care about you. The rest don’t. There were a few marginal exceptions – people who rarely call who called during the incident. I will form better bonds with them now. We are Christians and attend church every Sunday so we have a large social network of people who care about us. More importantly, God provides.

    Have negotiating skills and look presentable. Evacuate with your yuppie dinner party clothes in case you have to ask an unknown land owner if you can camp in his back yard or ranch. No rancher is going to turn-away a presentable family with young children fleeing a disaster. Consider this plan B.

    Have emergency water, food, a generator, and a water purifier. You might be able to return home, but your water is bad and your power is off.

    Take your guns with you and lock them in a roof-top cargo box. My friend is a locksmith and he opened 50 safes in the burned area over the past several days. Only 3 safes had usable contents inside. The guns melted in the other 47 safes.

    Get into ham radio. None of my church members are into it and all think it’s dorky. They think that because the cellular infrastructure staid up. What if it hadn’t?

    Buy property out-of-the way of historical disaster paths. Like FerFAL said, the floods in Houston were in known flood plains where all the new houses were built. The fire in our area followed the same path it did 50 years ago.

    The EMS will not necessarily come and warn you that you are about to die. Make your own decisions by looking at the wind direction and looking at the fire through your binoculars.

    Have plan B and C modes of evacuation. For example, everyone is trying to flee a fire the same direction at the same time. If the fire is coming too quickly, you will need to ditch your car and run on foot. Put your boots on and be able to stuff what you can into your backpack. This means your guns also. Be able to escape by boat if you need to. Stage stuff in your house so it can be grabbed quickly, especially food, water, weapons, ammo, and head lamps. Evacuations occur at 0400 with the power out.

    Some people were chased out of their houses by the fire and the cops. The neighbors never came and woke them or didn’t have time. They escaped with the clothes on their backs.

    Live around like-minded people, at least some. I actually don’t, but it was OK because despite a chasm in worldviews, I am friendly with them and look out for my neighbors and they me. Cooperation and kindness smooth over a lot of differences. I even reminded the pot trafficker down the street that it was 0420 so he could light up on time.

    Repent, believe in Jesus, join a church. Praise God and pass the ammo.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. S6cnrdude

      Excellent report. I’ve been adjusting my kit and strategies based off these recent events. It seems like there is always something you have not considered. That’s why the information here is so valuable. You then have to get out and test/experiment, evaluate, refine/adjust, then repeat. I hope to do some of that this afternoon.
      You are right on sir – repent – turn to Jesus our/my only hope. May God have mercy on us even though we don’t deserve it.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. LodeRunner

    ‘Scout, you’ve seen my ‘rolling go-kit’ so you know how much importance I place on having reserve and alternate power sources, but for the folks here, I can’t stress this enough:

    One battery does not constitute an alternate power source for medium [24~48 hour] or long term [greater than 48 hour] comms + miscelaneous use. It doesn’t matter how big the battery is, either – Long term, you system will fail if you only have 1 battery. Period.

    Assuming you have a typical 30AH to 40AH “Marine Deep Discharge” or “RV” battery, then with a 1 amp load you will get about 20 hours of discharge before your battery voltage drops to 12.00 volts while sourcing that 1 amp. But what about when you go to transmit, and the load jumps to 5 or 10 amps, or even 20A? The battery’s source voltage will drop to about 10.5 volts or lower, and your radio blanks out, that’s what. You **thought** you had comms, but surprise, you don’t.

    And the above ugly scenario is with a continuous load of just 1 amp – which is about what a transceiver like an FT857-D or an IC-706MkII-G draws, all by itself, on receive. Now, add a few lights, power a laptop or allow a family member or two to charge their iPhone/Kindle/Gameboy, and suddenly you have an 8 or 10 amp load on that battery, and it will drop to that 12.00 volt point in the discharge curve in just 4 to 6 hours. This is with a reasonably new battery which has not been abused or neglected.
    (YMMV, but these figures are very typical)

    “But, but I have a solar panel. I’ll just recharge the battery.”

    What is the rating on your solar panel? 100 Watts?
    So, that’s 8 amps @ 12.5volts. Which mean that you’ll need a minimum of 6 hours of full sun on that panel to charge the battery (reality is closer to 8 hours, due to inefficiencies in the battery, charger, and solar panel). That’s under the very best of conditions – bright sun, no clouds, brand new battery…

    —AND NO LOAD ON THE BATTERY DURING THE ENTIRE CHARGING PERIOD—

    Oops, can’t do that, can you, because you will want the radio on during the day, but you only have one battery. So 6 hours at 1 amp (for the radio only), means you have to add just one more hour to the charging period, right?

    Wrong. The charger built into nearly every solar kit of 100 Watts and smaller can barely drive the charging voltage up to 14 volts while the only load is the battery itself. Add any additional load, and the charger may not raise the voltage above 13.00 volts, meaning it will *never* charge the battery above about 50%, no matter how many hours of full sun you get. If your load is a really bad one (like a typical medium load inverter in the 150 to 500 watt class) your battery may get no charge at all, because the inverter drags the voltage down to 12.5 volts or lower.

    When it comes to emergency power, the devil dances in the details – so you’d better have those details worked out, too: For every component of your emergency power chain, you must RTFM (Read The Fine Manual) and assume the worst-case for each and every spec. Test the behavior of every load you will, or even “may” attach to your batteries. Definitely test any inverter which may even ride in the back of your car along with your batteries. Some inverters are 1) so abusive to batteries, and 2) so RF noisy, that you’ll decide to send them back the moment you test them. I’ve found the need to return/exchange more than one item, upon testing it for SHTF-use with my battery systems.

    If you might ever attach it,Just test it.

    Don’t ignore the “little things” that you won’t be able to say not to powering – your kids iPhone and/or GameBoy plus charger, your wife’s kindle+charger., etc. You’ll be surprised how hungry those little gadgets are, and how inefficient their chargers are, too.

    Losses add up when charging your batteries, there’s no avoiding it. For every “100Watts” you get from the solar panel, assume only 60 will actually go into the battery as charge. The other 40 will make heat in the charging circuit and wiring, or will make bubbles in your battery as it nears full charge. (the bubbles are a free side benefit)

    You MUST take your kit out and USE IT AS YOU WOULD IN AN EMERGENCY, regularly. Otherwise you’ve inviting disaster.

    I could go much further on the topic, but I think this is a good stopping point.

    73

    Liked by 2 people

    1. LodeRunner, may I make a bold request? LOL, I will jump in and make it anyway…

      Would you put an article together? Maybe one with a “good, better, and best” power plan. I have a set-up that I am stoked with however I would rate it only “better”.

      It would be great if NCscout would publish on his site 😉

      Thx,
      Johnymac

      Like

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  14. Panhandle Rancher

    My experience in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands is that they like mainlanders only as long as they are spending money. I was down there a couple of decades ago when the government absconded to the mainland when a hurricane hit. Of course they released all of the prisoners first and my buddies and I had to round them up. They cry about wanting independence from the US and then cry when the aid doesn’t drop from the air. In my opinion, we’d be better off cutting the lot adrift. Try wandering around at night away from Old Town San Juan and see how long it takes for your throat to be cut.

    Why should we expect a failed elected state government and the people that it governs to be prepared when all they know is how to write grant and relief applications and get on the public dole?

    My thoughts,
    Panhandle Rancher

    Liked by 2 people

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