As they have done in past years, radio amateurs in Puerto Rico took part in the Caribe Wave tsunami exercise on March 21. Tsunami Preparedness Week was March 19-25 for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Caribe Wave is the annual tsunami exercise of the UNESCO Tsunami and Other Coastal Hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions (CARIBE-EWS). Its major objective is for countries, emergency managers, and communities at risk to test, validate, and update their tsunami response plans.
“Tsunami occurrences are relatively infrequent in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The most significant historical events happened in 1867 and 1918,” a NOAA/NWS report said. “However, the Puerto Rico Trench and other seismic zones in the Caribbean region are all capable of generating tsunamis. Further, vulnerability [in this region] is very high, due to the high population density near the coast and tourist activities concentrated at the coast.”
In Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, Caribe Wave is conducted in coordination with the Puerto Rico Seismic Network (Red Sísmica de Puerto Rico), UNESCO, NOAA, and the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA-AEMEAD). This year’s scenario was an earthquake, with an epicenter at the east of the island of Antigua, generating a tsunami incident for the entire Caribbean. Exercise information can be found on the Tsunami Zone website.
Historically, Amateur Radio has been an important part of this exercise at an island-wide level with various island radio groups participating on an array of VHF/UHF and HF frequencies. Puerto Rico Section Emergency Coordinator Juan Sepulveda, KP3CR, noted that some Caribbean island nations, such as St. Lucia, conducted their own drills. Other Caribbean islands checked into the Puerto Rico net established on 40 meters.
At 10:05 AM on March 21, the exercise commenced with an Emergency Alert System (EAS) activation on broadcast media on the island, announcing the drill scenario. Sirens were tested in all of Puerto Rico’s coastal cities and towns. Many government and community administrations co-conducted evacuation drills.
Amateur Radio’s role was to gather reports on how residents heard or learned of the EAS Alert and if any heard the sirens. A report summary was delivered to PREMA officials during a post-exercise meeting with SEC Sepulveda and ARRL Puerto Rico Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF.
The primary repeater system used to communicate the reports was the island-wide Movmiento Radioaficionados de Puerto Rico, comprised of 13 VHF and UHF repeaters. The exercise net was managed by the Patriot Amateur Emergency Radio Club (WP4PQK, an ARRL-affiliated Club. Section Traffic Manager Pedro Irizarry, KP3PI, ran the net on 7.188 MHz, the frequency of the daily Friendly Net, a popular meeting place for Caribbean radio amateurs. Local and neighboring Caribbean stations reported into the net. A VHF net on 147.090 MHz, managed by the Radio Operators of the South (Radio Operadores del Sur), which also served as a clearinghouse for reports.
PREMA Executive Director Abner Gómez Cortés hailed the Caribe Wave 2017 exercise as a success during a visit to a school near the coast, which was practicing evacuation measures — Thanks to Angel Santana, WP3GW, Puerto Rico Section Public Information Coordinator and Assistant Section Manager