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Kalaupapa, Hawaii Is Site of Second ARRL Remote VE Testing

08/26/2011

From the sunny shores of Hawaii’s Kalaupapa Peninsula, ARRL Volunteer Examiners gave a remote ARRL VE session on the morning of July 25. Well, at least it was morning in Hawaii, but it was late in the afternoon at ARRL Headquarters. What made this VE session so special that it was only the second VE session to be administered via Internet video feed. The first video VE session -- and the first-ever VE session in Antarctica -- took place in October 2010. Now there are two new radio amateurs in Hawaii’s Kalawao County, just in time for the Hawaii QSO Party, August 27-28.

Not only was this VE session special due to its location, only one VE was at Kalaupapa for the exam. “This is where the Internet video feed came into play,” explained ARRL VEC Manager Maria Somma, AB1FM. “Joe Speroni, AH0A -- who lives in Honolulu but went to the site at his own expense -- was at Kalaupapa, but Bev Yuen, AH6NF, and Ray Moody, AH6LT, were in Honolulu and watching on video. We also had three VEs here at ARRL Headquarters watching via video feed: Penny Harts, N1NAG, Steve Ewald, WV1X, and Rose Anne Lawrence, KB1DMW. These three administer many VE sessions each year here at ARRL HQ.”

Kalaupapa is an isolated peninsula located on the island of Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands. From 1866-1969, those Hawaiians who were afflicted with leprosy (today called Hansen’s disease) were removed from their families and sent to live at Kalaupapa for the rest of their lives, separated from society. Chosen by the Hawaiian Monarchy for its natural barriers to escape -- including some of the highest sea cliffs in the world and a coastline with high surf and hazardous ocean currents -- the site became a National Historical Park in 1980 with the aim to preserve, protect and interpret more than 200 historic buildings, archeological sites and the incredible stories of the people that lived and died there. Currently, about 90 people -- former patients, Department of Health staff and National Park Service staff -- live in the settlement of Kalaupapa within the park year round.

According to Yuen, there are physical barriers to enter Kalaupapa, as well as entry restrictions. “To get to Kalaupapa, you must either take a mule train or be an expert hiker; entry by sea is restricted,” she explained. “The trail down to the peninsula goes down a very steep 1600 foot cliff and the trail is 3.5 miles. If you take a plane from Honolulu to Kalaupapa -- a distance of about 60 miles -- expect to pay at least $500 for a round-trip ticket.”

While there are modern communication systems (i.e., telephone, high speed Internet), Yuen said that Kalaupapa residents are concerned that there is no backup communications during the frequent power failures: “Having radio amateurs at Kalaupapa would give residents a form of backup communications. This became evident during the recent tsunami following the March 2011 earthquake in Japan. While little damage was done, residents had to be evacuated in the middle of the night to higher ground on the peninsula, and had limited connection with the outside world.”

Kalaupapa residents interested in getting their ticket contacted the Civil Defense Amateur Radio Club (CDARC), which provides VE testing on Oahu, and asked the group what they could do to help the peninsula residents. “The OCDARC VE group had read about the ARRL VEC remote testing used for candidates in Antarctica,” Yuen said. “While not as remote as Antarctica, the Kalaupapa peninsula is still a logistically and financially challenging trip. It would be difficult for even one VE to travel to the peninsula, but doing so for three VEs is a major burden. They requested and received FCC approval for a remote testing session. With enthusiastic support from the ARRL VEC Manager, Maria Somma, AB1FM, a testing session was set up for several residents who had been studying on their own for the Technician exam. Joe Speroni, AH0A, travelled to Kalaupapa to be the one needed VE on-site.”

Two residents took the Technician exam and both passed. “On Monday, July 25 at 3 PM, we gathered in the ARRL VEC office to start the video conference exam session,” Somma explained. “Testing was in the Superintendent’s office, with the candidate’s computer logged onto the ARRL VEC examination website. Six ARRL Volunteer Examiners observed the session. Three different interactive online Tech exams were available, so tests could be randomly assigned. The results were reported to the candidates within a few minutes of electronic submission to the ARRL VEC and VE team.”

Moody, the Hawaii VE team manager who petitioned the FCC to hold the Kalaupapa test, participated from Honolulu. He was pleased with the result and how well ARRL remote testing software performed and said he hopes that the process can be applied to other isolated areas of Hawaii in the future. Yuen, the other VE participating from Honolulu, thought the process went well and the software worked flawlessly. “The emotions of those setting up this VE testing ranged from elation to despair as we confronted -- and solved -- a myriad of small problems that surfaced over the last couple of months,” she said. “We are so grateful for the support of the ARRL, especially Maria.” The Oahu team also expressed their thanks and appreciation for the technical expertise provided by Jim Yuen, WH6GS.

Speroni, Moody and Yuen said they were pleased to know that Kalaupapa finally has ham radio operators who will be available when their normal communications go down. “There are plans for a permanent station at Kalaupapa,” Yuen said. “You will be hearing ham radio operations from the county very soon. A small group of Oahu hams will be going to Kalaupapa to activate Kalawao County for the Hawaii QSO Party the last weekend of August, providing a rare contact for county hunters. While there, they will be assisting the new Technician licensees, and helping them to get on the air.”



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