HAMNET Report 30 April 2017

While the rest of the world is concerned about the economy, weather, armed conflict and amateur radio conventions, the Philippines has quietly suffered a 7.2 magnitude earthquake 10km below the sea just off its Southern corner. It happened at 22h23 our time on Friday evening, and was close enough to the shoreline potentially to affect 1.8 million people within a radius of 100km of the epicentre. This magnitude is very similar to the earthquake which struck off the coast of Japan in 2011, creating the huge tsunami which damaged the nuclear reactors at Fukushima, and which is still being mopped up. I am aware of two slightly weaker aftershocks, but, so far, there have been no reports of major casualties, so I guess the tectonic plates didn’t shift enough to create waves or destroy infrastructure on shore. And across the Pacific, Chile suffered 12 earthquakes in one coastal area in the 24 hours to midnight on Friday, with magnitudes between 4.3 and 5.9.

The International Amateur Radio Union Region One emergency communications coordinator, Greg Mossop G0DUB, has announced the availability of a downloadable emergency telecommunications guide, developed to provide materials suitable for training Radio Amateurs to participate in emergency events, and guidance to the individual amateur radio operator who wants to improve his ability to participate in such events or to simply have a better understanding of the process.
The guide has been translated from English into Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian, and is available at www.iaru.org/emergency-telecommunications-guide.html, so please download yourself a copy and keep it for reference. Thanks to Greg and the IARU Region 1 team.

The Sixth of May sees the Annual General Meeting of the SA Radio League, but unfortunately not all HAMNET members will be able to attend. If you are not attending, please give your proxy to a Hamnet member who will be there. For best advice, please contact your regional director, who should be able to put you in touch with the member attending closest to you. Remember, 240 attendees and proxies are needed to vote on any motions, so every attendance or proxy counts. Your proxy holder may arrive at the AGM with his handful of proxies and register them, so you can arrange to email them to your representative before he or she leaves for the venue, and they can be printed out for delivery. You can also email them to the venue before the meeting starts. So please do that now!

In a very nice write-up in the “Off Grid Ham” blog, Chris Warren, the author, lists the dangerous practices and warnings that should be on a laminated plastic card with every generator ever purchased. The kind of generator you and I might purchase for use at home or while camping is not cheap, and deserves to be well looked-after, run regularly, and kept where it is easily accessible when needed.

The author has put together a short list of important safety points:

  • Always store your generator and accessories in a way they can be quickly & easily accessible under adverse conditions.
  • Always use the correct type and size cables or cords to power your equipment from a generator. Never plug two extension cords together in series.
  • Generators should be bonded to earth ground whenever possible.
  • A transfer switch is the best and safest way to connect a generator to multiple loads, in other words, to your distribution board. This should only be installed by a qualified electrician.
  • Generators are the number 1 cause of non fire-related carbon monoxide poisoning deaths. Please use some basic sense to keep the area around a running generator well ventilated and to assure you don’t become a statistic.
  • Hearing protection should be used when constantly around running generators.
  • The use of a cable with a three-pin plug on each end, so you can plug your generator into a wall socket and thereby activate your house’s electrical supply in reverse, is an extremely dangerous hack and should never, ever be used to connect a generator to home wiring, or anything else.

Thank you to Chris Warren for this summary.

It’s time to look at the average dam levels across the country again. All province’s dam levels are as good now or better than they were this time last year, except for the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape. The Eastern Cape’s dams are steady at 62% full, compared to last week, but 9 percentage points lower than this time last year. The Western Cape’s dams continue to show a decline, by 1 percentage point per week, and are now at 21% full, compared to 29% last year. There is enough water to last the Cape Peninsula another 88 days, by which time we hope the Winter rains will have started. We were treated to a day of intermittent heavy showers on Wednesday just past, with an average of about 20mm of rain measured in the suburbs, and a good bit of thunder and lightning. The dam figures I just quoted were issued before Wednesday’s rain, so it remains to be seen if anything fell in the catchment areas of our main storage dams.

If you’re enjoying a well-earned long weekend on holiday this weekend, have a good time, and please drive safely when you drive home.

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

HAMNET Report 23 April 2017

From ITWeb, dated 20 April, comes news that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has signed a technical agreement with Mozambique’s communications regulatory authority, the Autoridade Reguladora Das Comunicações.

ICASA says it is an agreement of co-operation and co-ordination in respect of spectrum management for telecommunications and broadcasting services. This will see the establishment of a technical committee which will address matters of common interest between the two regulators on radio frequency co-ordination.

In terms of this deal, the regulators will work together to ensure, among others, co-operation on the co-ordination, control and management of radio transmission spill-overs, and exchange of information and expertise in the field of radio communications.

“It is our commitment as regulators to make expertise, infrastructure and equipment available to assist each other on regulatory matters, including radio frequency spectrum investigations, possible cross-border spill-overs, and of course, co-ordination of our services,” says ICASA acting chairperson Rubben Mohlaloga.

The technical agreement is a culmination of the memorandum of agreement entered into by the two governments in June 2015, aimed at finding new approaches and strategies for consolidating, expanding and deepening areas of economic development, industrial and trade co-operation between Mozambique and SA.

This seems to me to have value for amateur radio, in that cooperation between South African and Mozambican radio operators in times of disaster will be more streamlined, and less likely to incur the wrath of the authorities.

Dave Holiday, ZS5HN, from HAMNET KZN says that Comrades Marathon planning is going well with 24 confirmed Ham Stations and 4 CB Stations so far.

The Event is on the 4th of June. Their Target is 42 Stations in total. Many of the HAMNET operators will in fact be stationary mobile, manning the watering stations along the route. HAMNET does not patrol the Comrades route as much as it does in Cape Town during the Two Oceans. The work of picking up stragglers during the Comrades is left to the race officials. However, it is important during the Comrades to have radio stations well spaced along the route, because the race is a good 30km longer than the Two Oceans, and the watering spots are places where reports come in of runners further back who want to be fetched.

Also, because the communications along the Comrades route is easier than the Two Oceans, which hides partly around the back of Table Mountain, Ham frequencies are used between stations and the local repeaters are more than adequate to keep channels open along the entire route.

The reason why HAMNET Western Cape used the City of Cape Town’s TeTRA system radios and channels last week, is that parts of the route are very difficult to access with amateur frequencies, and repeaters don’t cover them so well. In fact, even TeTRA doesn’t cover some of the parts of Chapman’s Peak Drive well, and we discussed subsequently the possible installation of double cross-band repeaters temporarily from the far side of Constantiaberg, so that mobile stations could still get in to our 145.700 repeater on Constantiaberg without direct access, and particularly when the TeTRA system fails as well. We monitored the 145.700 repeater in the JOC throughout the Two Oceans, but didn’t use it much, because wherever the TeTRA system was inaudible, so was the 145.700 repeater! The Western slopes of Chapman’s Peak are very precipitous, and the way to get communications out of there, is by pointing your signals directly South, perhaps to a temporary repeater to the South, and from there back into the 700 repeater. Something to consider for next year.

We wish Keith ZS5WFD and Dave ZS5HN good luck in collecting together their volunteers and working their usual magic on the Comrades route in June. If you assist at the Comrades each year, and haven’t offered your services yet, please contact Keith or Dave through your usual KZN HAMNET channels? Thank you.

Amateur radio in the future is going to be significantly intertwined with Information Technology, if it isn’t already so. The young amateur of the future, and the next generation of HAMNET volunteers, is going to be attracted to the ways in which they can merge their IT knowledge with the need to convey emergency messages, or data and picture files during times of disaster. The modern HF radios that attract new blood will be those with touch screens, and interactive menus like one finds in all the smart phones of today. In fact, being able to get your smart phone to interact with your radio will make it all even more attractive to you.

So I watch with interest the development of apps for Android and iOS platforms which allow the operator to control his radio from the phone, or send messages from phone to radio or vice versa. I’ve noted that some radios have Bluetooth capability, and that the audio in both directions from the radio can be received via Bluetooth headsets. Also, the programming of the radio can sometimes be done via Bluetooth, although I think this is unsafe, in case the data transfer is garbled by some interference of sorts. More importantly, the radio can be controlled and configured by Bluetooth, such that your handheld can be carried in your backpack, for example, while you operate it via your cell phone.

Digital Mobile Radio, or DMR, will have this capability, Android software can be used to drive the Digital Position Reporting System on D-STAR on the ICOM D5100, via Bluetooth, and AX-25 packet can be monitored off the Kenwood TH-D74 using iOS and an iPhone. These are encouraging advances, and I hope the systems will become more and more integrated, to allow data and pictures to be sent from cell phone sources at scenes of disaster, where a Laptop installation and USB connections to a radio are cumbersome. Let’s hope so.

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

HAMNET Report 16 April 2017

HAMNET Western Cape participated yesterday in the management of the Two Oceans Marathon, said to be the most beautiful marathon in the world. In fairly decent weather, 17000 runners set off on the 21km  half-marathon event, and another 11000 ran the 56km Ultra race.

HAMNET’S role was to support the medical management of runners who were injured or retired along the way. To that end, we activated 6 minibus sweep vans, with a radio operator in each, patrolling the route and responding to calls to pick up runners who had opted out for one or other reason. We also had 3 Rover vehicles patrolling and being available to respond rapidly to any kind of emergency situation, relating to accidents, weather, or community situations along the way. There was also a courtesy vehicle manned to fetch any runners seen at a hospital and discharged, and return them to the finish; and a back marker, driven by a HAMNET member following behind the last runner. There were three timed cut-off points, one on the half-marathon, and two on the ultra, one at the 25Km mark, and another at the 42,2km marathon mark, removing from the field runners who had no chance of reaching the finish by 13h40, the final cut-off. These three cut-off points were manned by HAMNET members, all advertising their presence with our brand-new HAMNET feather banners, and helping to supervise, and report on, the cut-offs as laid out in the race regulations. Two of us manned the HAMNET radio room at the main Venue Operations Centre at Tygerberg Hospital’s Provincial Emergency Management Centre, and conveyed messages of a medical nature to the ambulance despatch team, as well as SAPS and Traffic Police, and Race organisers.

All mobile vehicles were tracked using a commercial tracking system, and the entire race route was visible, and all the vehicles tracked, on a huge TV wall in the disaster centre. Satellite weather pictures, and live TV coverage of important spots and front runners were all visible, and the senior medical personnel reacted to situations as they arose, and directed the response to situations.

Luckily the weather played ball, and the runners ran in a mild south-easterly wind, with maximum temperature of 25 degrees, and clear skies. There were no serious accidents or injuries on the route, though several runners were seen at hospitals, and kept overnight, or discharged after minor treatment. As so often happens in situations like this, the ones that are so organised that they cater for all eventualities, are the ones in which nothing calamitous happens. Thank goodness for that. Thank you to all the volunteers who made the race a success. I hope you slept well last night after the early start.

I promised you last week I’d tell you about early plans for the Comrades Marathon. Keith Lowes ZS5WFD, KZN Regional Director, says his team attended their first planning meeting at Comrades House in Pietermaritzburg on Wednesday 5th April.  The race is an up run starting outside the Durban (Ethekwini) City Hall at 05H30 on Sunday 4th June 2017.  The route remains the same as in 2015 except for the last 6Km before the finish into the stadium.  The race distance is just under 88Km.  A total of 46 water tables have been provided, of which at least 40 will require manning by radio operators.

The race will proceed along Old Main Road in Pinetown again, as the contractors of the “Go Durban” rapid transit system have assured race organisers that all road works will be completed in time. The finish will be at the Scottsville Race Course, as the previous venue at Alexander park was very congested, and the infrastructure did not comply with safety requirements.

Once again it will be a team effort between Hamnet, and REACT (the Citizen Band Radio organisation), and hopefully the Land Cruiser Club will assist us again this year. The main frequencies to be used will be 145.625MHz (the Highway Club repeater) and 145.750MHz (the Midlands Club repeater).

We look forward to hearing more of this combined exercise by KwaZulu Natal HAMNET and other helpers. Thanks for the news so far, Keith.

From what I can gather, our former HAMNET National Director, Francois Botha, has relinquished his ZS6 call-sign, by taking up residence in the Judicial Capital of the country, Bloemfontein. This is, of course, a very sensible choice, because Bloemfontein is a very nice place. I should know because I was born there! Francois and Estelle had recognised the value of scaling down, and moving to a gated retirement community in Bloemfontein was their ideal. And so we are going to have to get used to his Division 4 call sign, which is ZS4X. We hope you have formally moved in, Francois, and that you and Estelle will rapidly settle in and feel at home in your new environment. I’m sure HAMNET South Africa joins me in wishing you both well.

You digital communications enthusiasts will be happy to hear that Cape Town has finally entered the VHF and UHF digital era, with the installation of the first formal DMR/D-STAR repeater system on Bottelary mountain in the mid-southern Peninsula. Repeating D-STAR on both VHF and UHF, and DMR on UHF, capable of handling Yaesu’s System Fusion, and connected to the internet in the usual way, its presence will soon be found on the repeater lists for enthusiasts. There are not many digitally-equipped amateurs in Cape Town yet, but let’s hope the technology “goes viral”, to borrow a phrase, and users quickly join the ranks. Thank you to the Repeater Working Group’s senior technical boffins for installing this one quietly in the last 2 weeks.

May I take the opportunity to wish you all a Happy Easter, and a relaxing long weekend? And please drive carefully!

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

HAMNET Report 9 April 2017

In further news about Tropical Cyclone Debbie, the worst since 2011, it made landfall between Bowen and Airlie Beach on March 28 and damaged many buildings, destroyed millions of dollars in crops, hit vital infrastructure, dumped lots of rain and caused flash flooding.

Radio amateurs experienced in dealing with cyclones prepared by checking their radio gear, dismantling fragile antenna systems, running emergency power generators and doing checks on the local repeaters in Bowen, Mackay, Central Highlands and Townsville regions. Those radio amateurs that still had HF antennas checked into the 20m and 40m Queensland WICEN Nets, and other established nets.

One of the affected towns, Bowen, had its VHF repeater on-air throughout, despite lack of mains power in the town, thanks to the Bowen Radio Amateur Group and in particular Geoff Buchanan VK4JDW who had the repeater at his house. That antenna system survived 200kph winds and the repeater was powered by the household emergency generator.

Further inland the Central Highlands Linked Repeater System was functional, however its northern coastal node, the Midge Point Repeater, went off-line due to power system and structural damage.

Hams have been part of the recovery efforts with many embedded in the Queensland State Emergency Service, Queensland Rural Fire Brigade, care organisations and support teams for power companies. Throughout the area many radio amateurs used emergency power to keep their stations on-air.

This report comes from information supplied by The Townsville Amateur Radio Club and the Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network’s Queensland Northern Region by Gavin Reibelt VK4ZZ, and was issued by Jim Linton VK3PC, Chairman IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee.

Meanwhile, the Western Cape may soon be declared a disaster area. Dam levels in the province stand at 24.3%. James-Brent Styan, spokesperson for the Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Anton Bredell, said: “We are still assessing the need to have the province declared a disaster area. These assessments get updated daily.”

The central Karoo district, West Coast district and Prince Albert have already been declared existing and ongoing disaster areas. As of March this year, new current disaster declarations supported by the provincial executive include the City of Cape Town, Witzenberg and Kannaland.

Additional and awaited new declarations are to be made for Knysna, Bitou,  Hessequa and the Oudtshoorn municipalities.

Bredell said that to date the province has already initiated certain interventions which have improved water security in some significant risk areas.

These interventions include equipped new boreholes as well as connections to the reservoir and pipe network in Laingsburg at a cost of R500000, a borehole drilled and equipped at a cost of R1.8million in Algeria, and two new boreholes at a cost of R2m in Tulbagh. The department has also allocated R2m to awareness programmes to drive water savings messages across the province.

The City, meanwhile, says the amount of rain that has fallen over parts of the metro will not materially change the low levels of dams and it is critical that we do not draw more from dams than is necessary during the upcoming winter months. The City, which utilises water from fewer dams than the province, says dam levels have declined to 26.2% – effectively about 16,2% – with approximately 100 days of useable water left at current consumption levels.

City Mayco member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, Xanthea Limberg, said the City is in the process of bringing forward several emergency supply schemes.

“This includes the Table Mountain Group Aquifer, a small-scale desalination plant, intensifying the City’s pressure management and water demand management programmes, and a R120m small-scale wastewater reuse plant at the Zandvliet water treatment works which will be capable of producing 10 million litres of high quality drinking water per day to the central and southern suburbs of Cape Town,” she said.

More exciting news in the City of Cape Town surrounds the preparation for the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, which takes place this coming Saturday, the 15th April. 16000 runners will compete in the half marathon, and another 11000 will contest the 56km ultra race.

HAMNET is strongly represented, with 14 vehicles on the route, roving, sweeping for stragglers, or supervising at timed cut-offs. Medical headquarters are at Tygerberg Hospital’s Provincial Emergency Management Centre, from where Ambulances, Motorbike Paramedics, HAMNET vehicles, Traffic Police, SAPS, Refreshment station support and the likes will be managed. All vehicles on the route will be tracked, and trunked radio systems, set up in talk groups for each separate deployment, will be used. Back-up plans have been made in case weather interferes with the intention to run along Chapman’s Peak Drive, and decisions will be made before the race starts.

Weather predictions for Cape Town next Saturday so far suggest a cloudless sky, a gentle Southerly breeze of about 8kph, no rain, and a maximum temperature of 22 degrees.

The Sponsors, the Race Organisers, and Metro Emergency Medical Services are to be congratulated on a very finely tuned system, which is already running like clockwork, and we wish them all, and the 27000 runners, a successful and safe race.

Next week, I’ll tell you more about HAMNET’s other major event support, the Comrades Marathon, run during June in Kwazulu Natal.

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

HAMNET Report 2 April 2017

Cyclone Debbie caused major damage, torrential rain and power cuts to tens of thousands of homes this week. Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull has activated a disaster response plan. With up to 250mm of rain forecast on Wednesday, authorities pleaded with people to stay off roads to avoid being stranded in floodwaters.

“We’ve already had two instances of people who were caught in a vehicle,” said Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll, adding flood rescues were now her “biggest concern”.

Her warning was reiterated by Mr Turnbull, who said nature had “flung her worst” at Queensland. Cyclone Debbie made landfall between Bowen and Airlie Beach as a category four storm, whipping gusts of up to 263km/h, and started moving inland as a tropical low storm.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said three people had been confirmed injured, but that number could rise. She also expressed concerns that injured people were unable to contact emergency services.

Troops have arrived, the helicopters are overhead and Queensland has swung into full recovery mode.

At Ayr Fire Station, emergency workers were packing up their kits and waiting to be deployed. They expected to be airlifted to one of the remote towns cut off by the storm. There, they’d knock on doors and check on people – provided of course that the doors had not blown away.

Another fireman explained how he was itching to get out and help, even if just to give a comforting hug to someone who might be shell-shocked by the cyclone. Even in a massive emergency operation like this, it is those small gestures that make a difference.

Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said the worst-hit towns included Bowen, Airlie Beach, Proserpine and Collinsville.

“Those areas and the Whitsunday Islands remain difficult for us to contact and to get into,” he said.

Cyclone Debbie made landfall at close to its peak intensity, Dr Jeffrey D Kepert, head of the Bureau of Meteorology’s High Impact Weather Research said. Crucially, it was also very slow-moving. That “can be more damaging because the duration of strong winds is longer. As structures experience a longer battering, things like metal fatigue set in, leading to more damage. Also, more of the rain falls in the same area rather than being spread out, leading to a greater flood risk”.

Fortunately Debbie missed some key population centres, but the extent of damage remains unclear. Although tourists were hit hard, their hotels were “likely to have higher foundations” and be built more solidly than many ordinary homes near the coast, said Associate Professor David King from James Cook University.

Thank you to BBC News for that report.

Keith Lowes, KZN’s HAMNET Regional Director sent me a report and photos of a huge fire in a plastics warehouse last week.

The fire was reported to Ethekwini Fire & Emergency Services control centre at 09H42. The caller further stated that the company handles plastic products. The first Rescue Pump was despatched from the Jacobs fire station and arrived on scene at 09H50.  The officer reported that the building was already well alight and fire had penetrated the roof structure.

As further supporting Rescue Pumps arrived, a serious water shortage was experienced on the site and the fire continued to spread.  An assistance message at 10H30 from the officer in charge requested all available water tankers within the Ethekwini Region to be despatched to the incident.  The size of the  warehouse is approx. 900 metres by 600 metres.

The incident received international press coverage and local social media was abuzz with updates and images of the incident.  It also created quite a lot of panic and uncertainty regarding toxic smoke clouds and the possibility of evacuation.

By 19H00  with the spread of fire still not contained, a message reporting that 100 tonnes of fertiliser product, of which 40 tonnes was volatile, prompted Ethekwini Disaster Management to consider possible evacuation of what was proposed to be a 3-4 Km radius around the site.

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, had been monitoring his Fire Department radio and had been in discussion with his Deputy Provincial Director Dave ZS5HN, with a view to setting up an emergency net on the local Highway Club 145.625 repeater.

A WhatsApp group created for the recent Tour Natal Motor Rally was receiving numerous messages from HAMNET members, reporting their availability to assist, in addition to call-in’s on the repeater.

A local HAMNET Emergency WhatsApp Group was born during this incident, and  proved to be very effective.

At 20H30 Keith notified the Disaster Management Control Centre of HAMNET  member’s availability to assist with the evacuation should it be required, and that he was proceeding to activate ZS5DCC at the centre.  Dave ZS5HN co-ordinated the available stations on the repeater from his home in Amanzimtoti.

By 21H45, ZS5DCC was operational and  15 Hamnet members were available to assist if required.

Ethekwini Transport Authority had been informed by Disaster Management of the possibility of large scale evacuation and a fleet of busses had been placed on standby.  Sites had been identified as possible holding areas for the public at the University of KZN sports grounds, the Bluff Golf Course and Cato Manor sports grounds.

An update provided by Ethekwini Fire Chief Enoch Mchunu at 22H30 indicated that they had prevented the fire from spreading towards the fertiliser, and that evacuation of the surrounding area would not be required.

The JOC was stood down for the night at 23H30.

The use of WhatsApp is a very useful tool to keep members in touch with what is happening.  Keith has since created a “social” and an “Emergency” WhatsApp group. He thanked all those members who offered their services should the evacuation have been implemented. Thank you Keith for the comprehensive report.

As, usual, we finish our report with a quick look at the dams. On average, the country’s dams are 74% full, stable from last week, and better than the same time last year, by 19 percentage points. However, the Western Cape’s levels continue to drop, by yet another point to 26%, compared to 27% last week, and 32% this time last year. The City of Cape Town’s water department is considering increasing water tariffs, and reducing the allocation of free water to owners of low-cost homesteads, with a view to increasing capital to manage the shortage, and possibly to installing small scale desalination. It doesn’t get much more serious than this.

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