I have a friend of mine that is from Puerto Rico, and hasn't heard from her family in some time.

I am aware of the NTS, and have considered sending a message into the area to see if any word of her family could be determined.

I'm not sure what the protocol is, in a time that might be very difficult and high priority communication is required. Is there anything I should know about making an attempt to send a NTS message to check on the welfare of her family?

  • $\begingroup$ May I suggest saying something more specific than "anything I should know"? I'm thinking "What is the process…" as in the title, along with "How should I avoid delaying more critical communications?" $\endgroup$
    – Kevin Reid AG6YO
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ There should be something on arrl.org about this. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ The problem is that I'm not really sure what the protocol even is enough to really ask a more specific question then I really have. There really should be something out there, which is why I figured I'd try asking here. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:22

3 Answers 3


As a member of the ARRL field organization, I just received this advisory based on the fact that the ARRL volunteers in PR will only be handling outbound traffic:

...members of the public should access the American Red Cross Safe and Well System online at https://safeandwell.communityos.org/cms/index.php. Status information from friends and relatives in Puerto Rico will be entered into the system as it arrives from amateurs stationed there.

  • $\begingroup$ This is what I was looking for. I suspected that for such a wide scale disaster that sending inbound messages would be difficult, to say the least. Thanks! $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto I wish you the best in contacting your friends. I pray they are safe. $\endgroup$
    – Glenn W9IQ
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto Here's some info on arrl.org:. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto And a more specific page there:. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ Luckily my friend heard from her family about 12 hours after I asked the question, so yeah! $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 1:55

You will need to originate a radiogram and pass it onto an NTS net. That either means you'll need to find someone who is active with NTS in your area, or you'll need to find a net and do it yourself (typically by searching the web for “NTS net in {your area}”). Instructions for doing it yourself can be found here.

In quick summary form: to originate a radiogram, you'll need to:

  1. Find a radiogram form (search for ARRL Radiogram and you'll find something like this).
  2. Fill it out appropriately: identify the status of the message, identify the sender location, identify the recipient (including phone number and/or email), send a message of up to 25 words, count those words and put them on the form as "check", and add a couple of words as signature. You would use "welfare" priority - note that welfare traffic is handled only after all emergency and priority traffic is cleared (but before routine traffic).
  3. Pass the radiogram yourself or find a ham to do it, via NTS net (voice, digital or CW). If you can't find a net on the web, try asking the ARRL section manager for your section.
  4. Wait for an answer.

Most NTS nets are interested in picking up traffic. However, not all traffic gets delivered. In particular, the end result of an NTS message is usually a ham making a phone call or sending an email to the recipient. In an area where communications infrastructure is down, that can be a challenge. In those cases it is a lot easier for someone to send an NTS message out of a disaster area ("I'm OK") rather than for a ham on the ground (who may be busy with other communications) to get in contact with a stranger inside the disaster area.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I agree with that last part - Most commonly messages like this are handled by the survivors who manage to send out emails or texts. I'm reading that people are struggling to find ways to get messages out, so they are much more likely to reach out before they would receive a shotgun message. Here is a decent news report on the situation in Puerto Rico on this subject: latimes.com/nation/… $\endgroup$
    – SDsolar
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 1:41
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    $\begingroup$ ARRL numbered radiogram #12 sounds like it covers the situation nicely: "Anxious to hear from you. No word in some time. Please contact me as soon as possible." $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 2:08
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    $\begingroup$ I would also recommend the addition of HXE in the preamble or ARL 7 in the message. This requests that the delivering station asks for a response from the addressee. This may seem the natural thing for the delivering station to do but in the "heat of battle", I wouldn't leave anything to chance. $\endgroup$
    – Glenn W9IQ
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 22:51

Here is a relevant article:

Trying to contact family in Puerto Rico? Here’s who to call (Miami Herald)


As food and water have become more scarce, panicked family and friends in the mainland U.S. and beyond are being advised by the territory’s Federal Affairs Administration to do the following:

▪ Check the map below. Puerto Rico is divided into 12 zones. Each zone is comprised of various municipalities. Phone numbers are listed for all municipalities and for each region. These phone numbers will connect you with the nearest Puerto Rico State Agency for Emergency and Disaster Management office.

They can give you a better idea of what the conditions are like in specific areas.

enter image description here

It’s likely that you won’t reach someone immediately, so be patient, officials warn.

If you don’t know what municipality or zone your loved one is in, you have a few options:

▪ Call the the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration’s Washington D.C. office at 202-800-3133 or 202-778-0710

Volunteers and staff are taking names and numbers and developing databases to check the welfare of people who remain unreachable or missing as the island begins to recover.

Officials say that agency is prioritizing emergency situations, like people who are in [dire] need of medical attention. Staffers will reach out to first responders on the ground and dispatch help. In the last 48 hours, the office has received more than 10,000 calls.

LINK TO MAP: http://prfaa.pr.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Oficinas-Regionales.pdf

▪ Call the island’s government radio station WIPR at 787-777-0940 or 787-766-0505, which is helping people figure out what zones their family members are in.

▪ Contact the island’s disaster relief team by e-mailing [email protected]

Because of high volume, leaders are asking that you only send one email — no follow-ups — unless the status of your loved one has changed.

Include your contact information and as many details about your family member or friend as possible.

▪ The American Red Cross is also helping via an online database, where people can mark themselves safe.

To begin a search, contact your local Red Cross chapter. You can also call our free national helpline at 844-782-9441 or use the International Reconnecting Families Inquiry Form.

▪ Radio station WKAQ, which lost it’s roof during the storm, continues to broadcast news and can be listened to online.


▪ Email [email protected]

▪ Call: 202-800-3134

Follow Monique O. Madan on Twitter: @MoniqueOMadan


Really, it is much more likely that the survivors will reach out to loved ones as they are able.

Here you can see one way they are communicating back to the rest of the world:

enter image description here

And other ways:

Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico struggle to connect with their families on U.S. mainland

enter image description here

The American Red Cross just put out a request for hams for Puerto Rico.

American Red Cross Asks ARRL’s Assistance with Puerto Rico Relief Effort (ARRL.org)



The American Red Cross (ARC) has asked the ARRL for assistance with relief efforts in Puerto Rico. ARC needs up to 50 radio amateurs who can help record, enter, and submit disaster-survivor information into the ARC Safe and Well system. In the nearly 75-year relationship between ARRL and ARC, this is the first time such a request for assistance on this scale has been made. ARRL now is looking for radio amateurs who can step up and volunteer to help our friends in Puerto Rico.

The article continues on with the requirements for this service. It is all hands on deck there.

What every American needs to know about Puerto Rico’s hurricane disaster


The storm knocked out 1,360 out of 1,600 cellphone towers on the island. Many communities have been isolated from the outside world for days, relying only on radios for news. National Guard members told the Daily Beast they were struggling to communicate on the ground, making their ability to respond to the disaster exceptionally hard. “There’s no communication, that’s the problem,” said Capt. Jeff Rutkowski.

enter image description here

Puerto Ricans Are Hunting for Wi-Fi and Cell Signal to Contact Loved Ones (Time)


(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) — Margarita Aponte and her relatives cleared the road in front of her house with two oxen Sunday, then drove an hour from her devastated hometown in central Puerto Rico to the old telegraph building in the capital of San Juan.

There, thousands of Puerto Ricans gathered for a chance at a resource nearly as precious as power and water in the wake of Hurricane Maria — communication. "It's ringing, it's ringing, it's ringing!" Aponte, a janitor, screamed as her phone connected to free Wi-Fi and her Facetime call went through to the mainland.

Her eyes filled with tears as she talked with nephews, uncles, brothers and sisters in Florida and Massachusetts for the first time since Maria destroyed nearly every cellphone and fiber optic connection on this U.S. territory of 3.4 million people.

The low murmur at one of two free Wi-Fi hotspots is occasionally interrupted by the cheering of someone getting through the largely jammed network. Most spend hours frowning at their phones, unable to connect.

"There's no communication. We're in God's hands," Yesenia Gomez, a kitchen worker, said as she left a message for her mother in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

Dozens of other Puerto Ricans opted to pull over to the side of the road along various highways where cellphone signals were strongest.

Carlos Ocasio, a maintenance worker, picked his way through tree branches and broken glass bottles as he found a spot with a good signal. Soon, he was able to reach his brother in New Jersey.

"My throat got a little choked up and I couldn't talk for a minute," he said. "They're calling me from everywhere, asking when I'm going to arrive." Others in Puerto Rico and abroad called a local radio station to provide names, numbers, exact addresses and pictures of their loved ones in hopes of reconnecting.

But for hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland, there has been only silence from the island.

Shirley Rodriguez, a resident of New York's Brooklyn borough, said she has more than 30 relatives in Puerto Rico but she is especially concerned about her 66-year-old mother, Mildred Rodriguez, who has diabetes and pulmonary hypertension and lives in Hormigueros on the island's west coast.

Rodriguez last spoke to her family before the storm and her relatives were planning on being together for it. Since then, calls to their cellphones have gone to voicemail.

"I'm absolutely numb at this point. It's a rollercoaster of emotion," she said. "Not knowing is extremely agonizing."

Her mother-in-law is in the San Juan area and somehow managed to connect with someone who works for the mayor of Hormigueros, who was able to tell Rodriguez that the area where her parents live escaped flooding. But she still doesn't know what the actual conditions are like.

Some in Puerto Rico expressed anger over what they said was a lack of communication from cellphone providers about which towers were working so they could drive in that direction.

"They're not giving us any information," said Ricardo Castellanos, a business consultant. "We're in a state of emergency."


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