Guam’s signal specialists can deliver island’s disaster messages

It’s not just delivering the message, it’s also delivering it to the right people from the right place at the right time. And that’s not so easy after a major disaster where hundreds of emergency responders communicate recovery efforts.

Although the U.S. Territory of Guam encompasses only 212 square miles, its high peaks and mountains can make normal emergency communications impossible. Disaster response experts here say the Guam Army National Guard’s communications and signal specialists are an invaluable asset to the island during emergencies.

Communications experts including Army Spc. Angeles Dacaney, a radio operator and maintainer from the Guam Army National Guard’s 105th Troop Command, were busy, Sept. 14, 2008, supporting a Navy exercise on the island as well as working in the National Guard Bureau’s homeland security exercise Vigilant Guard.

“Ever since I have been in the Guard we have done this,” said Dacaney. “When all communications are down, we set up these sites all over the island so other elements can talk to each other.”

The Guardmembers were atop Guam’s Mount Santa Rosa and setup to receive communications from low-lying Sailors participating in Navy exercise Tri-Crab. Aside from their antennas, their communications equipment was camouflaged and hidden in the mountain’s high grass. The day’s oppressive humidity covered them in moisture.

“We set up on a high elevation to pick up signals and join them,” he said. “Distance and the terrain here make it almost impossible to make direct communications.”

Dacaney said their radios and antennas can be loaded into one Humvee and driven anywhere on the island, over and around storm debris, and up muddy roads, in short notice. For example, he was part of the signal Soldiers who set up communication sites in 2002 following Super Typhoon Pongsona.

Pongsona’s 173 mph winds surrounded and swept the island, knocked out power and communications, and destroyed 1,300 homes. President Bush later declared Guam a major disaster area.

But the Army Guard’s communications specialists and equipment helped emergency responders to communicate recovery efforts across the island, he said.

“This particular site is setup up for VHF communications, with the Guard’s JISCC [Joint Incident Site Communications Capability] we can also go HF, UHF, satellite communication, land line … we can do everything,” said Dacaney.

The island Guardmembers are using JISCC in Vigilant Guard this week, which simulates a terrorist attack on Guam. “We are actually doing two missions at one time,” said Dacaney.

Their JISCC is interfacing with a variety of satellite, high frequency radio, telephone and video communications of first responders during Vigilant Guard’s mock disaster. To its credit, the National Guard’s JISCC systems on the mainland were deployed in support of Hurricane Katrina recovery and more recently in support of Hurricane Ike recovery, among many other support missions.

“Communications is one of the most important infrastructures you want because it’s our life line to the outside,” said Army Maj. Robert Crisostomo, from Guam’s Joint Staff, Command and Control.

Crisostomo and others here said Vigilant Guard is providing valuable experience using the high technology system with other emergency responders so that when the next disaster strikes, they will be ready.

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