Nevada guardsmen head to Puerto Rico to help out
The Nevada Army National Guard is helping with hurricane relief by sending troops to Puerto Rico to help restore communications after Hurricane Maria.
The guardsmen will be bringing a Joint Incident Site Communications Capability to the island to help provide WiFi, communications and cellular capabilities to military, first responders and citizens in Puerto Rico.
“You have a different mindset going in because this is more of a humanitarian effort,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ron Seagraves. “I am excited to just do some real world help because they have been hit so hard. People talk more about football and what the president said right now than talking about getting them help (in Puerto Rico).”
The JISCC provides: Satellite IP connectivity and RF network inoperability; voice interoperability gateways to enable first responders use radios to communicate; IP phones; and video teleconferencing.
It includes a 20-foot, tented communications system on a trailer that comes with its own generator and satellite dish. Currently there are 72 JISCC communication systems used by the National Guard across the nation and have been used in disasters such as Hurricanes Ike, Gustav and Hanna.
The technology is important because it provides civilians with internet and cellular capabilities to help contact families in Puerto Rico and the United States, and it can help link emergency communications as well.
“The biggest problem with failed communications is that it limits agencies because they no longer have the ability to communicate with each other, you have fire departments that can only talk to other fire departments and police can only communicate with police,” said Sgt. 1st Class Travis Martinelli. “This allows us to cross band communications.”
Martinelli said having cross-agency communications is instrumental in successful ground efforts which can help save lives quicker and more effectively.
The JISCC is used for natural disasters such as hurricanes and fires, however outside of training hasn’t been used in a disaster since Hurricane Katrina.
“We will use it as practice, so I am excited to get it out and stretch its legs to see what it can do,” Seagraves said.
In a hurricane area, the unit does face some challenges setting up the communication center and satellite, for example, making sure the tent with the equipment is high enough so it isn’t damaged by water or wind. But, Martinelli said those are minor challenges and once the two-hour set up takes place, it’s relatively easy.
All six of the guardsmen volunteered to be a part of the mission, saying they wanted to help make a difference in the disaster area.
“(I’m excited) just getting to go and do something and help,” Martinelli said. “For me, that’s what I hope is that we help in some way, that’s what we signed up for.”
For E4 Specialist William Isbister, this mission will be his first world-mission since he joined the Nevada National Guard in 2016. When he found out they were taking volunteers for the mission, he said he went to sign up right away.
“I just threw my name in the hat,” Isbister said. “I can’t wait to just do good and see their faces and help out. We are blessed out here, I haven’t ever had to experience anything this big in my life so it’s good to go and do my part.”
The unit will leave for Puerto Rico on Friday or Saturday and will be there for about 30 days, helping with communications and any other tasks that may be needed in the area.