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Alexandria Man Brings Communications to Puerto Rico, By Katie Cook

Posted on | November 14, 2017 | No Comments

Ricardo Alfaro on the roof of the Puerto Rico Governor’s mansion while working as IT Director for the Office of the Governor. Courtesy photo

Alexandria residents, Ricardo Alfaro, the former Director of IT for the Governor of Puerto Rico, and his wife, Dorianne were on the phone with her family in Aibonito, Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria struck.  The last words that they heard were, “Something is falling outside on the house!”  And, then nothing. For two weeks.

Alfaro, and his wife were frantic and frustrated by their inability to get information about their families in Aibonito and San Juan. That was the inspiration for Alfaro to start a volunteer effort to create a temporary, reliable communications system that could be used without relying on a shaky power grid.

“Even though you may have full bars on a mobile device you still are unable to make calls, use data, or call 9-1-1.  This gives a false sense of service to the citizens which makes it more stressful for the elderly,” says Alfaro.

Confusion and uncertainty has created another set challenges for the beleaguered island. “I saw the case of a person taking care of a sick person that couldn’t understand why if they had full cell service they still couldn’t make calls.  No one had explained to her that even though the person may be connected to the truck it’s really the capacity of the truck to generate calls that determines the quality of service.”

While efforts to restore telecommunications and the power grid are ongoing, Alfaro is using his experience in Puerto Rico and his IT skills to help create a temporary communications infrastructure.  Working with friends and former colleagues, Alfaro quickly developed a “tech brigade” to purchase and deploy temporary communications devices that use solar power.

Alfaro and Javier Malave, a former Texas Instruments engineer, are now on the ground in Puerto Rico working with government officials and private industry leaders testing Garmin and go Tenna devices. The first setup was deployed at Parroquia San Antonio de Padua in Barranquitas just days ago.  It will be used by volunteers to send food and medicine to sectors throughout the town. The next steps include deploying the devices in Jayuya and Adjuntas.

The hurricane that struck Puerto Rico on September 20th continues to be a lightning rod for partisan politics on cable TV.  Ironically most of the inhabitants of the island can’t follow the story, because 75% of them are without power. Hurricane Maria has caused the largest black-out in US History, and it’s unclear when the power will return. What makes the situation overwhelming is the nature of the devastation. Most power emergencies are resolved using a combination of back-up generators and assistance from neighboring municipalities.  The destruction in Puerto Rico has strained limited resources to a breaking point.

One consequence of the power outages is the lack of reliable communications, as cell antennas are not functioning in multiple metropolitan and rural areas. If you want to learn more about what Alfaro and his team are doing and perhaps contribute to the effort, please visit https://www.razoo.com/story/Emergencynet4pr

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