Warwick amateur radio operator uses skills in Puerto Rico


There are many things that amateur radio operators can do once they are licensed. Some may try and see how far they can connect while others might try to “collect” different locations. Warwick resident Matthew Hackman, 63, practices “public service,” or emergency communications.

When the American Red Cross reached out to the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hackman was able to volunteer his amateur radio operator skills for the first time. After that experience, he signed up as a volunteer with the Red Cross in the Disaster Service Technologies. Since then, he has also joined the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) and the Shared Resources (SHARES) High Frequency Radio Program, programs sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, respectively.

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the Red Cross once again reached out to ARRL and requested up to 50 amateur radio operators to assist with relief efforts. By Saturday, Sept. 30, Hackman joined the 21 other volunteers in Puerto Rico.

Hackman was stationed in a southeastern coastal city of Guayama. He was fed, slept and operated his radio at the local fire station. The plan was to set up in the different Red Cross stations, and the volunteer radio operators would act as the communications for Red Cross and FEMA. During the day, Hackman would join teams as they went out to different communities. If supplies were needed, he would put in the request and either Red Cross or FEMA would fulfill it.

Though there was a language barrier, Hackman met people along the way that helped him. On his second day in Guayama, Hackman met a retired Army Captain who served as a translator. On the third day, he met Leida, a Fire Marshal Inspector who was well known in the community. She knew everyone and showed Hackman around.

“You never saw so many hugs,” said Hackman. “I wish I could have stayed.”

On Oct. 17, the ARRL retrieved the volunteers. Since Hackman was also a Red Cross volunteer, he could be reassigned to a different team and stay a little longer.

From Oct. 18-21, Hackman was on a reunification team that would go out to remote areas and try to locate any missing persons. On the 22nd, he was processed out of San Juan and flew home.

In the wake of any disaster, belonging to a community is all some people have. Hackman found that Puerto Rico was no exception.

“The barrios [neighborhoods] took care of their own,” he said. “I don’t think I ever saw the Mayor of Guayama sleep. He was always working for his people.”

Over the three weeks that he was there, Hackman saw many improvements. The lines for gas and cash were considerably shorter than when he first arrived. Roads were getting cleared, and the water was getting safer to drink.

However, though things are improving, Hackman says that the most important thing that people need to know is that “Puerto Rico still needs help.”


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