A post-hurricane disaster needs assessment published this past fall by the Government of Dominica points up the significance of Amateur Radio’s role in the relief and recovery effort on the tiny Caribbean island nation in the wake of Hurricane Maria last September. It also calls for expanding the pool of radio amateurs on the island who could help in future disasters. The report, Commonwealth of Dominica Post-Disaster Needs Assessment — Hurricane Maria, September 18, 2017, noted that all telecommunication services on Dominica except for Amateur Radio were disabled from September 19 to 21. Some 30 cellular sites were destroyed or severely damaged, and the fiber-optic backbone was severed in several locations, leading to a nationwide loss of connectivity, the report said. In addition to the private telecommunications networks, “an emergency communications network consisting of Amateur Radio operators is supposed to exist within the purview of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC),” the report pointed out.”
The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment concluded that Hurricane Maria caused nearly $931 million in damage, plus losses of more than $380 million — which, according to the report, amounts to 226% of Dominica’s 2016 gross domestic product (GDP).
“The interruption of telecommunication services had a significant negative human impact as Dominica was almost cut off from the outside world for 3 days. Communities within Dominica were isolated from one another,” said the report, which was published last November 15.
The needs assessment said that “a sparse Amateur Radio network” suffering from a lack of trained operators and back-up power, plus “a few satellite phones” delivered information “required for critical relief and rescue activities.”
“The Government should rehabilitate the ECN (Emergency Communications Network) by offering training to persons interested in becoming Amateur Radio operators nationwide, with the goal of having a licensed Amateur Radio operator in every community with an emergency shelter,” the report recommended.
The report also proposed that emergency shelters and the EOC be equipped with Amateur Radio and/or a satellite phone, “so that contact may be quickly established during or after a storm.” The report also recommended that the government of Dominica “develop a plan for the operation and maintenance of the network long term, including replacement of equipment, training of operators and activation procedures for the network in case of an emergency.”
In the short term, the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment advised, rehabilitation of the existing National Emergency Communications Network should include the purchase of Amateur Radio equipment, including repeaters, as well as satellite phones and “other technology required for the network.”
The Yasme Foundation, Yaesu USA, the Foundation for Amateur International Radio Service (FAIRS), and individual GoFundMe donors joined forces last fall to restore country-wide Amateur Radio communication on Dominica in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Private pilots Brian Machesney, K1LI, and Dave Bridgham, N1AHF, transported a planeload of Amateur Radio gear, relief equipment, and supplies as part of an effort to better prepare the small Caribbean island nation for future disasters. — Thanks to Brian Machesney, K1LI
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