In the early days after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, SAIC created a human communications chain between Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland. With all phone service down, our ingenuity helped survivors in need reach their loved ones stateside.

In September, back-to-back hurricanes in the Caribbean devastated the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, wiping out power, water, and telecommunications infrastructure. In the immediate aftermath, an SAIC team of signals intelligence experts in Cocoa, Florida, helped more than 30 survivors on the island make contact with their families in the United States with the aid of a device normally used for military surveillance and security missions.

“Puerto Rico needed help from anyone who could support them,” said Program Manager Tim Massey. “These SAIC employees volunteered their time, knowledge, and resources as fellow citizens.”

Amateur, or ham, radio is generally the only means of communication for citizens when a major disaster leaves them without cell phone and landline service. Licensed amateur radio operators often lend their broadcasting capabilities for emergency communications in times of need.

However, radio airways are cluttered with millions of transmissions from all over the world, and there are no assigned channels for ham radio operators, making it difficult for them to find specific transmissions and each other. Broadcasters in Puerto Rico transmitted messages with the hope that they were heard.

Our team in central Florida came to their aid. Using a process called geo-fencing equipped on the SAIC Pinpoint™ HW30 surveillance system, they isolated signals from Puerto Rico and were able to listen to the transmissions.

 

ham radio guy

Steven Sharp (front), a design engineer, communicates on ham radio with Puerto Rico operators while Tyler Jackson (rear), also a design engineer, uses the Pinpoint HW30 system to locate more operators.

 

Once SAIC engineers John Hoover, Steven Sharp, and Tyler Jackson located and verified the radio operators in Isabela and San Germán, Puerto Rico, who were requesting help with passing along survivors’ messages, they used the Cocoa office’s radio transmitting station to make contact with them. The team was given the phone numbers of family members of the individual survivors and messages that they were alive and safe.

Jackie Hoover, an SAIC program analyst, made phone calls to deliver those messages to the shocked but happy stateside parties. In a few cases, she also gathered messages for the SAIC radio operators to relay back to Puerto Rico.

“It was really rewarding to hear the relief in their voices when they knew that their loved ones were safe, after seeing the images on TV,” said Hoover, who understood their emotions because she has family in Puerto Rico. “They had been waiting for days for information.”

Over two days, our signals intelligence team, specializing in locating threat emitters and adversarial targets for our warfighters, contributed their expertise and resources to provide a solution for citizens who were desperate to reach one another. The Pinpoint HW30 system, Hoover noted, has been used for other humanitarian missions.

“These employees demonstrated the spirit of social responsibility and volunteerism,” Massey said. “Without the Pinpoint HW30 system, it would have been much more difficult and taken much longer to accomplish this mission.”

 

Jackie Hoover phone call

Program Analyst Jackie Hoover calls the stateside families of hurricane survivors to deliver messages indicating they were safe.