REPORT 25 September 2016

The South African Development Community has issued a forecast for the rainfall outlook during the 2016/2017 Summer. Whereas below normal rainfall conditions prevailed in the previous year due to the El Nino effect, the coming season is expected to bring normal to above-normal rainfall in our Summer rainfall areas. This should provide a good opportunity to maximise agricultural production, and farmers are encouraged to commit a larger portion of their cropland to medium to late maturing high performance produce as well as drought-tolerant varieties. Crop diversification is also encouraged.

Water and energy sectors will prioritize the filling of low reservoirs, and Disaster Risk Reduction departments will watch closely the potential for heavier rainfall to result in flooding. Outbreaks of water and vector-borne diseases will also be monitored closely.

The key recommendation is that planning for extreme events is an essential way forward for all SADC Member States to mitigate and adapt to the threatening nature of the adverse effects of climate variability.

The ARRL’s Simulated Emergency Test, or SET takes place on the 1st and 2nd October, and is aimed at testing the skills and preparedness of Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and other organizations that are called into action in actual emergency situations.

The object of the annual nationwide exercise is to test training and skills and to try out new methods. “It’s a time to work with partner organizations and served agencies to get to know them better and to determine their needs before an emergency or disaster strikes,” said Steve Ewald  WV1X. “Knowing whom to contact within partner groups, the planned procedures will help everyone to accomplish their goals and succeed in their missions”. Best wishes to the American amateur community for that one. Thank you to the ARRL news for the report.

It seems that natural and man-made disasters are increasingly frequent phenomena, capable of striking an any time, irrespective of local regional or international boundaries.

The role and extent of participation that governments should have mitigating the effects of disasters are subjects for legitimate debate; but one constant in disaster preparedness and response is the involvement of trained volunteers supplementing and enhancing the work of emergency officials.

Amateur radio, indeed, is a 100-year-old technology still relevant in the 21st Century. During an emergency, ham radio has the capability to provide wireless service locally and regionally through repeater systems as well as nationally and internationally.

All volunteers operating ham radio equipment are licensed by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa as amateur radio operators, after passing qualifying examinations on electronic theory and amateur radio protocol.

Amateur radio operators hope that their emergency communications expertise is never needed.

However, a cursory scan of the amateur radio bands in the aftermath of hazardous weather emphasizes the randomness of disasters and the consistency of the human response: ham radio operators, operating on portable power supplies, are a steady source of comfort and assistance relaying messages to and from emergency authorities.

In dealing with disaster, a novel approach to provision of clean rooms for use as medical treatment or emergency rooms has come from Japan, where mobile “emergency rooms” that are made of cardboard and can be assembled in just an hour, could make all the difference in a natural disaster.

There is also the prospect of shipping these ER’s overseas when other countries are hit by earthquakes and other calamities.

The structure is airtight and able to withstand nasty weather, unlike conventional tents.

A company called Kanda Package embarked on the project three years ago with financial assistance from the prefectural government as part of a program to respond better to natural disasters. Construction is simple. It is just a matter of inserting cardboard panels into plastic frames. No tools are needed.

And after two days of extreme tectonic activity in the Pacific Rim of Fire, with about 25 quakes of up to 4.5 magnitude a day, a magnitude 6.3 shock struck 29km off the East coast of Philippines yesterday morning our time early at about 1am. About 700000 people live within 100km of the quake, but, being offshore, the effect seems to be less drastic. No further news is forthcoming as I write this, and hopefully this was the climax of the shaking felt since Thursday in the area.

Just slightly North of the earthquake, Tropical Cyclone MEGI-16, yet another storm, is bearing down on the Chinese mainland, with maximum expected winds of 185kph, and sustained winds of about 100kph. It is expected to make landfall on Monday. So bad weather season is far from over in the Pacific.

I think we should continue to give thanks that we live in a relatively benign area, and that our natural disasters are always of a much more mild nature. This, however, should not give us cause for complacency, and HAMNET members need constantly to be ready to roll in case of any situation, whether small or large.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

REPORT 18 September 2016

Roy Walsh ZS3RW has sent us some news from the Northern Cape regarding participation by HAMNET members at the recent Kuruman Show. Dylan Walsh ZS3DW and co-driver Roy took part in the 4×4 challenge, as did Gaffie Bruwer ZS3GAF. Dylan came first in his class, and Gaffie third in his. Rudi du Toit ZS3DT was also on hand. Some nice action photos accompany Roy’s report.

In midweek, Vryburg Hams, Patrick ZS3PS, Rudi ZS3DT, Josef ZS3DUP and RAE candidate Francois erected a 24 metre tower for a repeater at Komtiekie, 40km from Vryburg on the N14. Thank you to you all for spreading the extent of amateur radio’s reach.

A trend among groups of radio amateurs involved in emergency  communications is the use of disaster scenarios to test equipment and  learn lessons from what went right during an exercise, and what could be improved.

Recently a number of such tests have occurred in the Philippines, North  America, Europe and elsewhere. Every year emergency communication groups engage in GlobalSET, or a Simulated Emergency Test, with each IARU region having been involved since 2006. The GlobalSETs have tested the capabilities through message handling,  and in 2015 a preparedness or call-out exercise was held to measure the  immediate, short and medium term availability by radio amateurs should  an emergency occur.

When authorities and responding agencies test disaster preparedness,  many groups involved benefit greatly from the training provided and by  working together.

The latest is around October 8, and will be a North America-wide exercise, with emergency communications administered by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and Radio Amateurs Canada (RAC). The aims are to find the strengths and weaknesses of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), the National Traffic System (NTS) and other  groups providing emergency communications. It will also provide a public demonstration to served agencies such as  Red Cross, and, through the news media, of the value to the public that  Amateur Radio brings, particularly in time of need.

Participating radio amateurs will gain experience using standard  procedures and a variety of transmission modes under simulated-emergency conditions.

Adding some external perspective is the involvement of some stations in  Europe who join in through the National Traffic System.

A number of agencies are working to develop emergency scenarios. Plans  may be for a simulated flood, serious fire, severe ice storm, a missing person, a major transportation accident, broken gas line, or any other imaginable disaster.

The International Amateur Radio Union will read the outcome of this and  other SETs, as it continues to advocate for the amateur service, and the  role served by having available volunteers, equipment, spectrum and  training.

Floods in North Korea that have left hundreds dead or missing are the “worst disaster” to hit the country since World War II, state media said on Wednesday.

The official KCNA news agency did not give exact numbers of those killed or unaccounted for, but a UN report said 138 people have died and 400 are missing after torrential rains caused devastation in the country’s far north.

The floods along the Tumen River, which partially marks the border with China and Russia, tore through villages, washing away buildings and leaving thousands in urgent need of food and shelter.

At least 29,800 homes were destroyed, and 68,900 people displaced by the flooding, while electricity and communications lines have been cut, and 180 sections of road and more than 60 bridges severely damaged.

The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System has posted a red alert in the seas between the Philippines, Taiwan and the Chinese Mainland for Tropical Cyclone Malakas-16, travelling at first North-West and bearing down on Taiwan, and then turning North East along the Chinese coast towards Japan. While sustained wind speeds are expected to be about 100kph, maximum projected wind speeds may reach 212kph! About 888000 people are in the path of its current trajectory.

But if you think 212kph is bad, spare a thought for the Japanese nation, who were subjected to Super-Typhoon Nancy in 1961, with maximum wind-speed of 345kph! 172 people died, 3184 were injured, 44000 houses were damaged or destroyed, while 280000 others were flooded. Nancy is credited with being the most powerful natural disaster phenomenon ever measured.

Two earthquakes with magnitudes of 5.1 and 5.8 have hit south eastern South Korea, These were the most powerful quakes to hit Korea since seismic records started in 1978. The Korea Meteorological Administration said the quakes were centred near Gyeongju city.

Government authorities have heightened the country’s emergency level to level two, which is the second highest, and ordered affiliated organizations to remain alert and follow the natural disaster manual. Among them was a thermal power plant and local industry leader Hyundai Motor in Ulsan, the southern neighbour city to Gyeongju.

At least 22 aftershocks with two to four magnitudes followed the big quakes.

Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), the country’s nuclear power operator, said its atomic power plants suffered no damage, but it turned off four nuclear reactors at the Wolsong nuclear power plant at around midnight for a safety inspection.

The ministry is now attempting to secure an exclusive network for disaster-related communications and to increase the government budget for earthquake-resistant facilities, he added. Nuclear reactors in the area were not seriously affected, but some reactors were taken offline as a precautionary measure late Monday night.

So far, there has been no news of major casualties, nor has amateur radio played any part in the two disasters suffered by North or South Korea.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

REPORT 11 September 2016

September is national preparedness month. Being prepared for an emergency means that you should be able to be self-reliant for at least three days without utilities, water service, sewer services, access to supermarkets or local services, and maybe even without response from police, fire or rescue.

Preparing can start with four important steps:

  • Be informed about emergencies that could happen in your community and neighborhood.
  • Identify where you can get sources of information in your community that will be helpful before, during, and after an emergency.
  • Make a plan for what you will do in an emergency.
  • Build an emergency supply kit for your home, car, and work.

Ensure that each member of your family knows where to go to get important life safety and official and up-to-date disaster information.  Take advantage of social media, and “like” or follow official news media outlets, local and provincial emergency management agencies, and the Weather Service.  Subscribe to weather alerts on your smart phone if possible and maintain up to date contact phone numbers for your family and others you may need to connect with.

Make an emergency communications plan that includes information about where your family will meet if a disaster strikes and how you will communicate with one another.  Establish a contact person that family members can call to notify they are safe.  Keep in mind up-to-date prescription and medical information about each member of your family and other special medical or functional access needs, as well as planning for the needs of your pets, as you plan.

Build an emergency supply kit at home that includes the essential food items and supplies you will need to survive a disaster situation.  Include basic first aid items, flashlights with extra batteries, a portable radio, personal hygiene items and an extra set of clothes, a warm blanket and basic tools, pet supplies, and cash in case credit and debit cards cannot be used. Additionally, a 3-day supply of non-perishable food items for each member of your family should be part of your kit, as well as five litres of water per person per day. And, of course, make sure your mobile amateur radio kit is working, there is no corrosion on the antenna connectors, and you have spare fuses for the inline fuses in your power cables from the car battery. Thank you to for the core of this insert.

On the matter of transmitting emergency messages, Gordon KX4Z, has done an interesting study comparing messages being sent by voice, by PSK31, by MT63-2K, and by Winlink. Various limiting factors in each protocol do provide problems, with the estimated efficiency of the first 3 systems being assessed at about 50%. Winlink becomes more efficient as messages to send get bigger, because the message headers and error-correction handshakes get less. Gordon estimates the number of 50-word messages able to be sent per minute by voice as 0.3, for PSK31 0.48, for MT63-2K 2, and for Winlink 3.02. He says Winlink messages are 10 times faster for multiple short messages, and up to 69 times faster for large files. His concluding paragraph reads:

“One digital station using a faster digital protocol (MT63 – 2K) is likely to be able to perform the same throughput of short, 50-word emergency messages as 6 voice stations. One WINLINK station using the same Signalink equipment may be able to perform the throughput of 10 voice stations, with error-corrected text transmission. For larger data files, the throughput of the WINLINK station dramatically improves to over 1,000 words per minute, apparently due to decrease in the required message overhead baggage—making it the equivalent of over SIXTY voice stations working together.

“Because of this tremendous throughput advantage in emergency communications, it would be useful both to develop, train, and include both digital and WINLINK-based HF stations in emergency communications planning”. All in all, a good reason to train our HAMNET members in Winlink-based communications. You can read his article at    Thanks, Gordon!

In a propagation report issued by the ARRL news this week, Propagation guru Carl Luetzelschwab, K9LA, says that, while conditions on 12 and 10 meters will pick up as they always do in our Spring, F2 propagation on those bands will decline thereafter, with only sporadic E during the summer months as a possible saving grace. On the other hand, the lower bands — 160, 80, and 40 meters — should be good going forward, and 20 and 17 meters will be the mainstays of daylight HF propagation. He said data suggest that Cycle 24, the current solar cycle, will bottom out in 2020, and advised that radio amateurs may need to lower their expectations on the higher bands (and 6 meters) looking beyond that.

“I think the only conclusion we can make with some confidence is that we are headed for some small cycles,” he said. He cited various evidence related to the Sun’s polar fields — which appear to be decreasing in strength, A index trends, and cosmic ray data, to support his assertion. Luetzelschwab cautioned, however, that past performance does not necessarily predict future performance.

“There seems to be a good correlation between how long a solar minimum is and the next solar cycle,” said Luetzelschwab. “The longer you spend at solar minimum, the smaller the next cycle.” He observed that hams active since the 1950s and 1960s have experienced short inter-cycle solar minimums of approximately 2 years, until the one between Cycle 23 and Cycle 24, which lasted about 4 years.

Let’s hope his pessimism is unfounded.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

REPORT 4 September 2016

Dave Holliday ZS5HN has sent us a report of this year’s iSimangaliso Mountain Bike Tour which went off with great success. HAMNET KZN played a vital role by providing the Radio Communications for this event once again. The event saw 234 Mountain Bike Riders riding from Lake St Lucia past Lake Sabaya, through Phinda Game Reserve and on into Mkuze Game Reserve. Both of these Reserves have the Big 5.

Communications were established on VHF Simplex on 145,550 MHz with 145,225 MHz as a backup when 145,550 got busy. The Ops Control ZS5MB situated on a high point was in contact with ZS5HN in the JOC, ZS5J as Rover, ZS5LT as Sweep 1, ZS5CD as Sweep 2 and ZR5GB as Sweep 3. There were some challenges, from S2 Mush on VHF from the Computer Systems at the JOC, to strong winds and lightning at the high site.

Judging from an accompanying thank you newsletter from the organisers, the race organisation was not without its share of panic, as several plans had to be changed at the last moment due to bad weather, but, in the end, all went well.

All the HAMNET members deployed are looking forward to next year’s event. Thank you to HAMNET KZN for keeping the flag flying high again.

The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (or GDACS) newsletters of this week have reported on scores of earthquakes in the Pacific rim of fire since Wednesday. By yesterday afternoon, the number of earthquakes of magnitude greater than 4.5 in the Japan, New Zealand, and Western Pacific area stood at 70, with the worst quake scoring 7.1 in magnitude happening at 19km depth, just East of New Zealand’s North Island on Thursday. Fortunately, it was under the ocean, and very few people live anywhere near, so no major damage or injury has been reported. But it does go to show how unstable the tectonic plates in the Pacific are, and the fear of a very big one has to be prominent. As I write this a magnitude 5.6 earthquake has just struck in central Oklahoma. No further news is available yet. We in South Africa watch with concern, and are grateful that we live in a less vulnerable area.

And as Hurricane season gets under way in the North Americas, Category 1 Hurricane Hermine crossed the Florida Peninsula with wind-speeds up to 120kph, and entered the Bay of Mexico. An estimated total of 400,000 people were affected by the storm as it crossed Florida, but no reports of major damage have been seen yet. The National Hurricane Centre in Florida has managed the communications in the area, and is forecasting the hurricane will turn North-East, gain in strength and move up the East coast, lashing coastal areas as far north as Connecticut and Rhode Island. In Florida, 325,000 people were without power, while another 107,000 were without power in neighbouring Georgia.

In the Pacific, Hurricane Lester is threatening the Big Island of Hawai, and all four ARES districts on the island remain in active status. Tropical Storm Madelaine passed well South of the Big Island, dumping a lot of rain on the island. Public schools have been closed, and residents urged to take steps to protect themselves

HAMNET Western Cape was involved in a mountain rescue this last Tuesday night. A rescue team was assembled to access three people stuck on a hiking route on Table Mountain, Johann Marais, ZS1JM, Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) representative said. Six technically-skilled volunteers, a paramedic and at least three climbers from Hottentots Holland made their way to the Blinkwater Ravine. ZS1JM said, “This was a semi technical route to access the stuck persons from Theresa Avenue, on the Camps Bay side of the mountain.  Mountain-able volunteers got together to do a rescue. A small but technically competent group walked up from Theresa Avenue. They took three or four 50-metre ropes and climbing gear to be able to negotiate the upper technical sections, which they anticipated they might have to climb.”   Johann Marais continued, “The first team departed at 20h40 from Theresa Avenue. Two additional teams were deployed, of which the last left at 22h10. At 22h45, the first team made voice contact with the stuck persons. A total of 14 volunteers were in the field together with four persons in control doing the rescue. The field team, after they reached the stricken three, resolved that it would be safer to take them up the mountain and then rendezvous with vehicles on the back of Table Mountain.  There is a small and difficult track from Constantia Neck, which allows one to drive up. This our volunteer 4×4 members did in the night in howling wind and thick mist. They transported all safely down and the operation was completed around 01h00 on Wednesday morning.”

With the onset of Spring, Cape Town HAMNET members can expect a lot more of these sorts of rescues, as inexperienced walkers underestimate their own capabilities, their timing, or the weather. Wilderness Search and Rescue has rescue managers on duty 24 hours a day, throughout the year, to assemble an adequate rescue team for the nature of the rescue, including HAMNET operators to coordinate the rescuers, all of whom are volunteers. We get plenty of chance down here to practise our communications protocols.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

Rescue 30 August 2016. Camps Bay side of Table Mountain

At 19h39 a call came through for three people lost on Camps Bay side of TM. Matt (ZS1MTF), confirmed availability with the logistics duty manager and was told to RV with Metro 1 and Johan (ZU1JV) at Theresa Ave in camps Bay.

Light was fading as we arrived on scene, contact was made with the party lost on the mountain and it was confirmed that they were well equipped and were comfortable to wait for the WSAR teams to reach them.

While discussing on the ground, a few ideas were came about on how to reach them – one was to take the cable car up and hike down to the party but this was later deemed an unsuitable option as it would have taken too long for the teams to reach the party of three in time. The decision was made to transport the teams up the Pipe Track to the start of the trail and from there to hike up towards the lost party and then up to the MCSA hut on the back table for extraction.

When the teams reached the party of three it was established that they had been on the mountain from 9am that morning and were exhausted – hence them taking extremely long to reach the hut. Three teams consisting of 14 WSAR members were sent into the field.

There were no communication issues while we were at Theresa Ave, we tried to use EMS 12 on the cable station but that seems to be down at the moment, this would have been particularly useful when we had to relocate to the back table and establish communications with the teams on their way up to us.

The first team reached the hut at around 4h05 31st Aug, everyone was down at Constantia Circle at around 5h25 and a quick debrief took place. Visibility at this point was anything from 5 to 10m. Johan left straight from there and I proceeded to take 2 MCSA members back to the Pipe track to fetch their vehicles.