Friday, August 19, 2011

Surviving a tropical storm in Hawaii

Hawaii Island amateur radio operators are breathing more easily now that the Central Pacific Hurricane Center has downgraded Tropical Storm "Fernanda" to a tropical depression with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.  Remnants of this once potent storm should pass south of Hawaii Island Sunday or Monday, bringing a few showers and higher than normal surf.  It appears those of us on Hawaii Island have dodged the proverbial "bullet".  Local civil defense officials are keeping an eye on "Fernanda" just in case it pulls a switcher-roo like Hurricane "Iniki" did twenty years ago.  "Iniki" passed south of Hawaii Island as a weak tropical storm and then found warm water, regained category 4 strength, and flattened most tall objects on the Island of Kauai.  The "Garden Island" lost nearly all of its communications infrastructure, many homes, and several businesses.  It took months to rebuild the place, thanks to National Guard personnel, the work of local residents, and even amateur radio operators who lent equipment and expertise to get police and fire repeaters back on the air.  None of us who call Hawaii our home wish to see that type of storm again.

So, you can understand why many of us get a bit concerned when the National Weather Service puts out a hurricane or tropical storm message.  Hawaii residents are familiar with the drill--have emergency supplies at all times, keep the gas tank full, and be prepared to survive on your own for a few days.

Staff at the radio station where I work reherse this type of scenario frequently, so we make sure our generators are fueled, equipment and backup supplies are ready, and island communications are working.  Of course, not everything works according to plan when the "button" is pushed, but, for most emergencies, we seem to have enough depth to keep our transmitters on the air.  During the 11 March 2011 tsunami alert, most cell phone communications became marginal as use of cell sites increased.  Text messaging remained active throughout the emergency, as well as our backup analog telephone land lines.  The news room also has access to a satellite telephone, so we could communicate that way if we had too.  So, while the current activity surrounding the passage of "Fernanda" wasn't exactly an emergency, the storm provided station staff will an excellent training opportunity.  As with any storm, one must not become complacent--that attitude could produce deadly results when you least expect it.

In my time away from the station, I checked the qth to make certain emegency supplies were handy, that my van was fueled, and that backup emergency power was available should the storm cause power interruptions.  Most of my household electronics, includiing my modest station, relies on solar charged, deep cycle marine batteries for power.  I have several easily deployed portable antennas that can be used in an emergency.  So far, I haven't had to rely on these reserve antennas.  The under-the-house 40-meter loop provides the local and state coverage I need and seems impervious to the ravages of rain and wind.  In a pinch, I can also erect a low-level dipole to provide local HF coverage.  My only weak link is the lack of 2-meter coverage.  Several mountain ridges block Hilo from the Laupahoehoe qth, thus cutting a direct line-of-sight path to the nearest repeater at Pepeekeo.  I do get decent 2-meter signals from the Island of Maui with my 5/8 whip mounted on my van's roof or on the metal garage roof.  The proximity of several utility poles and power lines prevents me from erected a higher 2-meter antenna.  In Hilo town, there is no problem  accessing the state-wide repeater systems and several local repeaters.

So, Hawaii amateur radio operators escaped this time.  Who knows what nature holds for us in the future.  Remember the old saying: "Things could be worse; we could be organized."

Have a good weekend!  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM