The Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) and radio amateur clubs throughout the Territory have formed a working relationship to enhance emergency communications during disasters. The goal of the relationship is to assist VITEMA with development and implementation of a series of plans and activities which will enhance disaster communications.
“Amateur radio has a long history of providing public service, especially in times of disasters,” VITEMA Director Elton Lewis said. “Before Twitter, before Facebook and other social media – amateur radio has provided service as an integral part of disaster preparedness as far as communications is concerned. I welcome this partnership with the VI amateur radio clubs.”
Lewis met with representatives of the St. Croix Amateur Radio Club this week to dialogue and to lay the groundwork for amateur radio operators in the Territory to partner with VITEMA before, during and after disaster.
Many of the participating VI amateurs are experienced veterans of past disasters. “Ham radio” as it is frequently called, has proven its value in many past disasters by being a major player in providing redundant communications. It is often one of the few, if not the only, form of communication after major disasters, Lewis stated.
Ham radio operators are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission and are hobbyists who utilize their talents to promote their skills and assist the public. They are only licensed to communicate with other amateurs, however, programs such as this have proven especially valuable to governmental agencies. Hams are forbidden to profit monetarily from their activities.
Local radio amateurs currently have repeaters which provide hand-held radio coverage over most areas of the territory. There are approximately 250 licensed radio amateurs in the Virgin Islands, of which about a third are active. Hams also have long distance communication capabilities by utilizing a radio wavelength which skips off the ionosphere.
Participating radio amateurs will work closely with VITEMA personnel and be required to complete many of the same disaster readiness training classes as governmental officials. Once the program is established and implemented, periodic training and drill exercises will be routinely held to assure maximum disaster communications readiness.
For more information contact Director Lewis at (340)773-2244.