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Haiti Struggles to Reestablish Communications

Last week in RF Shorts I included a link to the ARRL Web site for information on amateur radio emergency communications in Haiti. Unfortunately, reports appearing on the ARRL site this week indicate that personal safety issues have forced amateur radio operators from the Dominican Republic to return to their own country. Commercial wireless operators are still working to restore communications in Haiti.

The technology Web site mentioned the efforts of Trilogy International Partners. This company owns cell sites in Haiti and has been very active in restoring them, as the daily news leases on the Trilogy Web site points out. The release make interesting reading. One common thread is the difficulty in maintaining power and cooling at the cell phone sites. Trilogy has established the Voila Foundation as a public charity focused on raising funds for earthquake relief.

An article in USA Today on communications in Haiti, “Haiti quake severely strains telecom services“, noted that Jamaica-based Digicel Group, the island's leading wireless phone provider, wants to send technicians to Haiti to work on the network but has run into problems. Antonia Graham, head of public relations, said, “We've been trying to get into Haiti but our plane got turned back because the airport's full.”

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is providing satellite terminals to Haiti. ITU is deploying 40 satellite terminals immediately to re-establish basic communication links and dispatching 60 broadband units along with the experts to make it operational to support rescue and relief operations. ITU is also setting up a Qualcomm Deployable Base Station (QDBS) to provide wireless communications. ITU has budgeted more than $1,000,000 for the disaster response effort.

“ITU will do everything possible to provide assistance to the people of Haiti by re-establishing telecommunication links which will be vital in the rescue and rehabilitation efforts in the days ahead," said ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré.

Mobile Satellite Service providers Inmarsat and SkyTerra have joined together to provide relief organizations with mobile voice and broadband data services, including Inmarsat BGAN.

“SkyTerra and Inmarsat stand united to ensure that there are sufficient resources to provide mobile satellite communications services which are an essential tool for directing and coordinating life-saving humanitarian operations,” said Alexander H. Good, chairman, CEO and president of SkyTerra.

“In these early stages of the emergency response, satellite communications is the primary method being used by government agencies and relief organizations to communicate with and within Haiti,” said Andrew Sukawaty, chairman and CEO of Inmarsat.

Inmarsat and SkyTerra moved quickly to cooperate and ensure that critical communications services are available to first responders and aid agencies in the country.”

Another group working to provide communications to Haiti is Telcoms Sans Frontières (TSF). TSF deployed an emergency team from the American base in Managua to provide emergency telecommunications using satellite, mobile and fixed telecommunications tools. Reinforcements will be sent from TSF's International Headquarters.

At least one radio station is on the air in Haiti. The article A living nightmare – A first-person account from Port-au-Prince in the Revere Journal describes experiences at Signal FM in Haiti. The article says it was the only station in Port-au-Prince on the air after the quake and as of Jan. 21 is still the only one on the air. The Washington Post has a photo and more information in its article Haiti radio fills information void in disaster.

In a world where some people see broadcasting as outdated and irrelevant, consider this quote from Carla Bluntschili, an American who has lived in Haiti for 25 years, in the Washington Post article: “Radio stations are holding the country together,” said Bluntschili. “They're kind of replacing the government, in a sense.”

Roselaure Revil, a Haitian who runs a small church aid program, also provided an interesting comment: “The radio station is the people's life right now,” said Revil. “Without the radio station, the country is dead. Without the radio station, we can't communicate. We don't have anything.”

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.