Amateur Radio Continues to Play Crucial Role in Typhoon Rescue and Recovery
With the communication infrastructure in typhoon-ravaged regions of the Philippines largely in shambles, ham radio operators are playing a critical role in the rescue and recovery operation now underway. Officials estimate that the death toll in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan (called “Yolanda” in the Philippines) could go as high as 10,000. One storm chaser called the damage wrought by the category 5 hurricane and a resulting storm surge “unimaginable.”
“No words to describe what my beloved Philippines is going through,” Thelma Pascua, DU1IVT, posted to her Facebook page. Rescue operations continue, although authorities have been unable to reach some afflicted locations to assess the damage or human toll. Many houses and buildings have been destroyed, affecting millions of residents. Ramon Anquilan, DU1UGZ, of the Philippine Amateur Radio Association (PARA), reports that its Ham Emergency Radio Operations (HERO) — PARA’s ARES organization — continues to help authorities and residents by handling relief messages. PARA activated HERO in advance of the typhoon’s landfall three days ago. Earlier, hams helped to track the hurricane, reporting on wind and rainfall, storm surges, damage and communication and power outages. The National Telecommunications Commission continues to monitor HERO operations on 7.095 MHz and 144.74 MHz. Anquilan said Nathan Eamiguel, DU5AOK, and other RADNET (District 5 Radio Amateur Network) members are on the air as DX5RAN in one of the worst-affected areas of Tacloban.
“They are acting as field liaisons to validate and secure requested information on the whereabouts and situation of Tacloban residents from relatives from all over the country,” Anquilan said. “Our National Traffic System (NTS) Co-Chairman Jojo Vicencio, DU1VHY, together with Max Santos, 4F1BYN, relocated to La Montana Estates in Antipolo, the QTH of Peter Schuemann, DU1DL, to better copy transmissions from Tacloban City.” The Tacloban station, running 100 W on 40 meters, is passing health-and-welfare traffic.
“The farthest that RADNET members have penetrated is Palo, which is the nearest municipality to Tacloban City,” Anquilan continued. “There are still no cellular phone services or electricity in the area.”
Among the other Ham Emergency Radio Operator activity is the Cebu Amateur Radio League’s DX7CA, which has deployed to Bantayan Islands with five operators. Bantayan Islands is one of the hardest-hit islands east of Cebu Province, according to Aquilan. “Another DX7CA team is stationed at the Cebu Capitol Building,” Aquilan added. The capitol team has four members.
“There has been no news emerging from the islands, as the initial national government focus has been on Tacloban City and its neighboring municipalities,” Aquilan said. “However the Governor Davide has already gone to the islands and convened a needs-assessment meeting with local officials.” The Philippines government has set up command centers in both the Eastern and Western Visayas, and may use the HERO network, to better coordinate the recovery effort.
Among the regions in the path of the typhoon was the island of Bohol, which was the epicenter of a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in October that killed more than 200 people and left some 5000 others now living in tents. Rescuers and relief supplies in the aftermath of the quake are only now reaching some remote areas for the first time.
“[E]ven without commercial power, an amateur club, DX7BC in Bohol, is with us on 7.095 MHz, ready to relay, in case propagation becomes poor between DU1 and DU5,” explained Pascua. Bohol is on the eastern side of Leyte.
Typhoon Haiyan has been described as a fast-moving storm with winds gusting greater than 230 MPH. It has affected 36 provinces in the Philippines. — Jim Linton VK3PC, Chairman IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee