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RRL Bringing HF emergency communications to the Caribbean Apr 26, 2023

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the surrounding islands, emergency communications equipment is transforming disaster response. Located in the Caribbean’s hurricane belt and in proximity to an active volcano, La Soufrière, the islands are prone to natural disasters. With donated equipment from radio experts Barrett Communications, the Rainbow Radio League (RRL) is establishing communications networks and providing training that is geared to saving lives.

RRL is a not-for-profit organisation of primarily radio amateurs. Since 1995, RRL has focused on providing emergency communications in St Vincent and the Grenadines and the surrounding nations.

Handheld radios donated by international organisations played a role in the relief effort. This gave RRL director Donald De Riggs an idea: what if the Caribbean islands had access to emergency communications infrastructure before disaster struck?  “We are in the process of developing a domestic HF network. If we could get some radios to assist us, we’d be in a much better position to respond to emergencies.

And the radio amateurs of the future are being fostered through RRL’s engagement with schools. RRL provides demonstrations and involves students in erecting rapid deployment antenna and using digital Two-Way Radio to contact each other. This engagement provides children opportunities to pursue careers including air traffic control and the police. RRL eventually aims to involve all the secondary schools on the island.

HF(High frequency) and VHF(very high frequency) radio offers invaluable functionality, explains De Riggs: “With handsets, like a walkie-talkie, operation is limited because if you don’t have many repeaters, you are limited to a particular geographic area.

In the Caribbean, where VHF signals can be blocked by mountainous terrain and many of the islands are remote, HF radio offers unprecedented connectivity.

And RRL continues to work on expanding its response capabilities, with ambitions to establish proper maritime rescue capabilities and air response for regional disasters. “As an organisation, we haven’t realised our full potential yet,” says De Riggs. “But with adequate funding and agencies that understand and support our role in disaster management, that potential will be realised.”

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