Red Cross seeking ham radio operators to help get word out from devastated Puerto Rico

Red Cross seeking ham radio operators to help get word out from devastated Puerto Rico

As part of its large scale relief efforts to help people impacted by Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, the American Red Cross is teaming up with amateur radio operators.

The Red Cross has asked the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) for assistance to find up to 50 radio amateurs to help record, enter disaster-survivor information into a safety wellness system and help restore communications for millions of residents in Puerto Rico.

Newschannel 3 spoke with a Kalamazoo Amateur Radio Club member and Red Cross volunteer, who will deploy to Puerto Rico later this week.

Many West Michigan residents with ties to Puerto Rico haven't heard from loved ones, in some cases for nearly a week.

It's the hope these radio operators can help establish basic communications to allow residents to get the help they need.

"There's no information, it's really frustrating," said Marla Welch.
For Welch and her parents, Kalamazoo residents originally from Puerto Rico, the past week has been nerve-racking. Since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last week, the family says they haven't been able to communicate with their loved ones still living there.

"My grandparents are in a nursing home. They have generator power, but we don't know how long they'll have generator power for," Welch said.

Other natives in Kalamazoo say many residents in Puerto Rico aren't even able to communicate with others on the island.

"Someone living in the city of San Juan, with the most immediate resources to them, posted on Facebook 'I don't know how to get water.' said Stephanie Gillespie Schrock, a native of Puerto Rico who moved to Kalamazoo at the age of 17.
Ed Halcomb is an amateur radio operator in Kalamazoo, and Red Cross volunteer. Halcomb says he will be deploying on Thursday with his radio gear to help in Puerto Rico.

Halcomb will be one of a network of ham radio operators in Puerto Rico to help establish lines of communication for first responders and help residents connect with loved ones.

Halcomb says many hurricane victims in Texas and Florida were located by their loved after their information was entered into the Red Cross Safe and Well System.

"Ham radio operators are probably going to be in the field, talking the people affected by the disaster, getting their contact information so if people go to Red Cross safe and well site they can look them up themselves, " Halcomb said.

The Red Cross says the overall response to Hurricane Maria is a long-term one, Halcomb expects to be deployed for 3 weeks.

The organization is still looking for qualified volunteers.
Many say the help is something needed, and can no longer wait.

"It's an epic crisis. What we need is some of these organizations to get on-board and get us the resources they need today, not tomorrow," said Schrock.

Shrock and other Kalamazoo area residents with ties to the island are trying to raise awareness of the problem and encourage donations to aid organizations. Anyone interested in helping can click here.

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