In the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria we were reminded of the valuable
service provided by the group of volunteers known as Ham Radio enthusiasts or Amateur Radio Operators to give them their full title.
Ham Radio Provide Essential Service in Disasters
While the more modern communications methods such as Broadband and Mobile
Internet, and regular telephone services were taken out by the storms. Ham Radio once again provided the only link to the outside world in Dominica and others.
This has prompted calls for fresh recruits and better support to the Cinderella
of the communications industry from many quarters around the Caribbean. Speaking on International Disaster Reduction Day, earlier this month, Caribbean
Telecommunications Union (CTU) Secretary-General Bernadette Lewis described Amateur Radio as a “bedrock of sustained communications” during emergencies.
Closer to home the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL),
working with the National Commissions is also reviewing ways support can be
offered to Ham Radio operators.
Young Bloods Required
At the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference 2017 earlier this month in Argentina, Ms. Lewis was asked for “one concrete step” to make better use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for disaster management. “We really have to cultivate a new generation of Amateur Radio operators,” was Ms. Lewis’ response. She continued that “We found that they are all on the northern side of 50.”
St. Kitts-Nevis Bucks the Trend
We spoke to President of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla Amateur Radio Society Basil Woods to hear what developments were planned for the society. We quickly learned that the members of this society didn’t fit the stereotype!
Founded in 1973, the Society has a membership of approximately 50 men and women between the age of 20 and 70+. Woods said that the society was first required to provide disaster support during Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Radio Hams to the Rescue
He explained how amateur radio enthusiasts can help in times of disaster. One of
the ways Ham Operators assist in time of disaster is with providing Health and
“If one of the islands is hit by hurricane like Dominica was hit a few weeks ago.
You would have our community of HAM operators, would set up stations so that we can get information from Dominica to their relatives here. That’s what we call
Health and Welfare traffic. We want to know the people are doing. If they are in
danger or if there’s damage to their houses or property or anything like that.”
Explained Mr. Woods.
I asked what’s the role of Ham Radio operators if your own island is unfortunate
enough to be involved in a disaster? Woods explained, “If our own island is hit,
then we go onto provide the Backup System, for the telecommunication system. But otherwise we go into providing Health and Welfare traffic, where we pass information from the affected island to persons living in St. Kitts and Nevis.”
I asked him what he thought would be a game changer in terms of transforming
amateur radio in the Caribbean? His response was what I had come to expect from Basil.
“If we could set up a system of radio communication that could link all the islands
so that we wouldn’t have to depend on HF – High Frequency – radio waves. We could use the 2 meter VHF, so we would be able to link all the islands like that. The islands are very close. In St. Kitts we can speak to Montserrat direct, we can
speak to Dominica, we can speak to Guadeloupe direct, so if you can link the Caribbean that way,that would be good. I know it’s going to take money, but we
have to come together.”