Amateur Radio Group Supports Caribbean Islands
By Donald De Riggs
Monday, July 20, 2015 | Comments

St. Vincent and the Grenadines (13N and 61W) is located in the East Caribbean 100 miles west of Barbados. The group of small islands is vulnerable to several hazards including an annual hurricane season.

The islands are situated in the middle of the subduction zone between the Atlantic and Caribbean plates, and therefore are prone to earthquakes. The main island, St. Vincent, is also the home to the largest active volcano in the Caribbean, and being in close proximity to submarine volcanoes Kick ‘em Jenny and Kick ‘em Jack — both active — also makes the islands prone to tsunamis.

Out of these realities, the Rainbow Radio League (RRL) was formed to meet the emergency communications needs of the small island state. RRL is a nonprofit community service organization with limited fixed and portable assets based in the Caribbean.

RRL, launched Jan. 22, 1995, comprises mainly volunteer amateur radio operators from different fields of work. Just like the spectrum of colors in a rainbow, the skillsets offered by our team of volunteers is varied but professional. Our name comes from one of the indigenous names of the island, Youlou, which means rainbow, hence the RRL.

Over the years, our members have received training in mass casualty management, damage assessment and needs analysis and first aid/CPR via support from the local Red Cross and National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO). The RRL is an active member of the telecoms subcommittee of NEMO.

The RRL has, in the past, provided damage assessment services when our country was affected by rain and tropical storms, and as spotters during aerial search and rescue (SAR) for missing vessels in our territorial waters. However, our main forte is emergency communications as the majority of our members are licensed radio amateurs.

To keep our members’ communications skills sharp, the RRL conducts annual training activities designed to strengthen working relationships with other stakeholder agencies, including the local Coast Guard, hospital, fire service, Red Cross, NEMO and private airlines — all the agencies that can assist in times of national disaster. Most crisis situations demand the cooperation of several responder agencies; no single agency can adequately or effectively respond to a mass casualty scenario.

RRL conducts field exercises with regional neighbors dubbed Operation X. Operation X involves the exchange of radio operators who visit all the major emergency shelters in each other’s territory during a two-day period, setting up and operating HF/single sideband (SSB) field stations, and establishing and maintaining contact with our respective disaster management offices.

Should any of our neighbors be impacted by a hazard to the point that there is no response within a reasonable time, first responders will go into those territories to identify the immediate needs to help get the necessary assistance in the quickest possible time. Having foreknowledge of that terrain, including safe access routes, is an asset to all first responders. This concept of operation among contiguous territories in times of national emergencies is similar to the Tampere Convention.

We have achieved considerable experience, but our operations, including our continuing training program, is hampered by the lack of state-of-the-art tools that can increase the chance of survival for people in peril. We need to be in a position to respond quickly to save lives and use available technology, including all forms of communications, to increase the chances of survival for those in peril.

Despite the fact that we possess the manpower capability, two VHF repeaters and an incomplete domestic HF/SSB network, our effectiveness as a first-responder agency is hampered by the lack of several tools of the trade. With limited resources we have achieved significant success.

Our main needs include a headquarters from which to conduct and coordinate our operations including training, at least three maritime SAR vessels capable of conducting both day and night SAR, at least five small gyros fitted with forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and other nighttime SAR instrumentation, and five land-based vehicles complete with data-ready satellite phones and HF/SSB transceivers, deployed in different parts of our multi-island state, to transport damage assessors on duty and for training purposes.

The RRL stands ready to partner with any government or private agency willing to support our development. The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is supportive of our work and has provided all bona fide radio operators, including our organization, with duty-free concessions for the importation of equipment to facilitate our operations.

Donald De Riggs is the executive director of the Rainbow Radio League. He has held an amateur radio license, J88CD, since 1990. He has lived on St. Vincent & the Grenadines since 1962. He teaches geography and elementary Spanish and French. His interests include photography and soccer.

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