Grant Date: September 2021
In 2017 twin category five hurricanes ravaged the US Virgin Islands. The disaster left power grids and communication infrastructure devasted, with thousands of residents without food, water, shelter, and others requiring search and rescue and urgent medical attention. The commercial power infrastructure in the Virgin Islands is fragile, and often fails, even during normal blue-sky conditions. An average week includes one to two power outages. Due to the lack of governmental emergency radio communicaBons personnel on STJ and STX, ham radio volunteers funcBon as front-line EOC communicators. A large influx of new hams followed the 2017 disaster. Nearly half of the Territory’s ham population has been licensed in the last three years. The territory’s radio clubs also provide logistical communications for other community events such as triathlons, walk-a-thons, distance swims, and parades.
Through a grant from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands in 2018, the Virgin Islands Amateur Repeater Group (VIARG) was able to replace aging repeater infrastructure and implement additional resilience in the form of an off-grid solar powered solution. VIARG currently manages a system of six repeaters linking the three major islands of the USVI, with some coverage in neighboring Puerto Rico and the BriBsh Virgin Islands. A total of six repeaters link all islands. It is now possible to stand on a remote beach and communicate throughout the Territory, or even to neighboring islands. This expanded network has re-invigorated ham radio in the Territory and expanded technology and experimentation.
The Virgin Islands Amateur Repeater Group seeks to improve the repeater system for improved emergency response and also provide a hybrid mode experimentation platform for ultimate system migration to digital. System coverage improvements, system spares, and commercial grade antennas are needed to do so. An initial single repeater test bed will allow hams to confirm that DMR is the preferred digital migration path. Additional improvements can further expand functionality and resilience. The Yasme Foundation is partnering with the Virgin Islands Amateur Repeater Group as the fiscal sponsor for this project.