HAMNET Report 28 May 2017

HAMNET South Africa would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the RAE candidates who passed their exams last week, and are now sporting swanky new call signs. We welcome you all to the wonderful world of amateur radio, and hope you will add to your enjoyment of the hobby by joining HAMNET, the emergency communications arm of the SARL. Our aim is to prepare ourselves, and volunteer to help in any situation where communications will help in the management of a natural or manmade disaster, or in a sporting event. There are Divisions of HAMNET in each region, and a request to your local club, or RAE tutor, will give you the name of your Divisional Director. Contact him, and join, at no cost, the part of amateur radio that makes a difference in the lives of the community. You are also welcome to contact me at zs1dfr@telkomsa.net

Riaan ZS4PR of the Vaal HAMNET team sent me this report on Wednesday:

Just before 8 am on Monday morning of 22 May, Sasolburg was shaken by a massive explosion at NATREF.  The shockwave was felt as far away as Vereeniging some 25km’s from the Sasolburg industries.

The Vaal HAMNET team immediately activated on the 145.600 MHz repeater, located at SASOL 1. The radio amateurs working at the NATREF, OMNIA and SASOL plants were contacted via WhatsApp and the Sasolburg fire department was contacted to confirm their involvement.  Within 25 minutes of the explosion the total plant was evacuated and the fire teams, ER24 and various other services had arrived on the scene. The fire brigade managed to put out the fire after about 50 minutes of hard work.

While this drama played out, the HAMNET team was on standby, and liaising with some of the authorities, since the GSM network was taking strain with all the localised chatter happening around the area and between the various support organisations, CPF and social media.  The event was covered on the national news services as well.

By 10 am the HAMNET standby was cancelled as the authorities had managed to complete the roll calls, and the injured workers had been taken to local medical centres.

A hydrogen compressor had exploded, causing injuries to 14 workers.  At the time of writing this article, the cause of this explosion and malfunction was still being investigated.

HAMNET members were in contact with the ER24 team, and some of the radio amateurs working at and nearby the area of the disaster.  This speedy reaction and HAMNET standby helped to ensure that the correct authorities were contacted first, so that they could then receive accurate information to assess and then deal with the problems. Because the GSM network was taking strain, HAMNET members used the Sasolburg repeater, allowing critical information to get out of the plant to the authorities in a more effective manner.

Thank you to Riaan and the group for their assistance, and for the report.

The Western Province has been declared a drought disaster area by Premier Helen Zille, thus freeing up a variety of funds to be used to mitigate the effects of the drought. Dam levels are at 20.7% full and level four water restrictions are due to be implemented next week. Extra moneys will become available to sink boreholes at strategic places like hospitals and clinics, drill more effectively in to the Table Mountain Aquifer, and bring in a portable desalination plant, something I pondered on in this bulletin about three months ago. I wonder if Helen Zille reads these bulletins and got the idea from me!

Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip has also signed a disaster declaration‚ setting in motion a process for the Bay to be declared a disaster area. Speaking at a briefing at City Hall on Wednesday‚ Trollip said the metro would be declared a disaster area “once the water crisis is promulgated and gazetted”.

He described the water situation in the Bay as “precarious”. “We are not the only municipality preparing for disaster declaration. Many other metros are affected‚” Trollip said.

Mayoral committee member for infrastructure‚ engineering‚ electricity and energy Annette Lovemore said they had indicated earlier they would initiate the process of declaring the Bay a disaster area once dam levels dropped below 40%. The current levels are 38.5%.

The Dayton Hamvention has come and gone. From all reports, last week’s convention at its new venue at Xenia, just outside Dayton, went very well. There are countless blogs and reports available on the web, with news of new rigs, new interfaces, and new antennas. As usual, it rained heavily on the Saturday, turning the out-of-doors fleamarket into a “mudfest”! Indoors, the presentations and seminars were greatly appreciated, and there will be many youtube videos of talks given to come. A useful weekly report, entitled Amateur Radio Weekly, and available on the URL k4hck@hamweekly.com shows a set of links to reviews and interviews, a hamvention report, photos inside and outside the buildings, and reflections on the new venue.

ICOM and FLEX radio went head-to-head over their respective new SDR radios, the much talked-about IC-7610, and the surprise Flex-6600M, and the talkgroups are abuzz with comparisons. Neither radio is available yet, but specifications are keeping speculation about the two rife. My money is with the IC-7610, a complete SDR radio in a box, with two separate receivers, a touch-sensitive screen, a DVI socket for an LCD screen, and capable of being used by pointing and clicking on the screen with a mouse. It also has Ethernet software built in, and can be connected directly to the internet for remote-functioning. All SDR functionality occurs in a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), and there is hardware space for multiple firmware updates in the future. This radio replaces the IC-7600, and very nearly eclipses the IC-7851 for receive sensitivity, filter variability, and all-round good looks. It has transverter ports, three antenna ports, three USB ports, and an SD card slot on the front for saving settings, recording QSO’s, or sending pre-recorded CW or voice calls during contests.

As quoted in the headquarters bulletin this morning, the amateur radio hobby of today has advanced very far in the last decade or so, and we must stay with-it and keep up. SDR is here to stay.

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

HAMNET Report 21 May 2017

In a communiqué issued on Wednesday,  Johann Marais ZS1JM has advised that he has decided to resign as Deputy National Director for HAMNET. He says “In the beginning I requested Paul to be the Director and undertook to assist him with the job. It is however the prerogative of the Director to appoint this deputy. I therefore resign with immediate effect to allow Paul to exercise this discretion. I remain a loyal and active member of HAMNET in the Western Cape.” End quote.

And a message received from Paul van Spronsen, HAMNET National Director, says “We wish to express our thanks to Johann Marais ZS1JM, who has served as Deputy National Director of HAMNET for the past several years.  We wish Johann well in his further efforts within the Offroad Rescue Unit, Wilderness Search and Rescue and as a continued member of HAMNET.  Johann’s replacement will be announced in due course.” End quote.

Rory ZS6RBJ of the West Rand Unit of HAMNET Gauteng South has sent me a report of their involvement in a bike ride held on 14th May. The Think Bike marshals have been experiencing difficulties communicating  between their marshal’s on bikes over varying distances using only their Hand Held Radios, even though some of the marshal bikes have been fitted with mobile whip antennas.

Chad ZS6OPS felt that the HAMNET unit could assist with this, and various communications tests were conducted amongst the HAMNET Gauteng South West Rand Unit members and several members obtained licences in their personal capacities for the frequency used by Think Bike in order to communicate with the Think Bike marshals. Tests conducted between the HAMNET vehicles on the Think Bike simplex frequencies yielded positive results amongst the West Rand HAMNET members. The duty on the 14th May was twofold. One, to provide communications for the event, and Two, to provide feedback and possible solutions for the marshals communications moving forward.

The event started with a briefing held at the Sasol Garage on Republic Road from 06h45 by the Think Bike event coordinator, Bill Nash, on the planned formation and route which the bikes would take along the highway. HAMNET gave a brief talk on radio procedure and their role in the morning’s activities and at about 08h00 all Think Bike marshals escorted the HAMNET vehicles to the World Wear Centre on Beyer’s Naude Road from where all bikers participating in the Bike Awareness Run would start.

We had 7 HAMNET vehicles in attendance which were crewed by a driver and two radio operators (one on amateur bands and the other on the Think Bike frequency) ensuring drivers could concentrate on the road during the run.

Although the event was expected to be attended by around 500 bikes, on the day only around 80-90 bikes took part. This was likely due to the cold weather, and the fact that this was the first event of its kind, not to mention it being Mother’s Day!

The group set off in convoy at 09h00, Think Bike marshals blocking the on ramp, left and centre lanes of the N1 South to allow the bikers to join the highway safely.

They rode the route which took the convoy along the N1 South, N12 West, N3 North and finally the Modderfontein off-ramp, with the final destination being the Fireman’s Tavern.

Think Bike marshals and JMPD crew (who unexpectedly joined the run) provided a vital role in traffic control as well as ensuring safety for all. Think Bike marshals are well trained and extremely professional and it was really eye opening to watch them at work. Before the convoy reached the next on-ramp along the route, the marshals along with JMPD had stopped traffic, which allowed the bikers to pass safely. Our HAMNET vehicles travelled on the left of the convoy which took up the centre lane on the highway for about a 1Km stretch of road.

Radio communications were good between Think Bike and HAMNET, with all teams and marshals in contact along the route. Think Bike’s radio procedure was also on point, and it made it very easy for us to keep in touch along the route. Fortunately there were no incidents along the way, and everyone arrived safely at Fireman’s Tavern.

From a HAMNET perspective we gained a lot of valuable knowledge. This was the West Rand Unit’s first official role in a “mobile” event, as we are all used to setting up field stations and control points during exercises and club activities, and working in convoy while on the move was a completely different challenge. VHF simplex operation was very reliable in this instance.

Another good learning curve was the ability to communicate with non-amateur radio organisations. We were given the opportunity to utilise the Think Bike frequencies during this event, which meant a lot of planning and equipment gathering before the event. However on the day of the event all the planning and testing certainly paid off.

Huge thanks to Think Bike for allowing us to take part. We look forward to working with them in the future. Another big thanks to all our HAMNET members who gave up their Sunday Morning and braved the cold to assist with the event, which from everyone’s comments afterwards, was a success.

Thank you to Rory, and the HAMNET volunteers.

And in an extraordinarily precise document, Dave Holiday ZS5HN of HAMNET KZN has sent me further information of the deployment of radio operators during the upcoming Comrades Marathon. I counted 28 amateur call signs in the list, and a lot of Land Cruiser Club members and CB operators as well. The forward planning in Dave’s document has to be seen to be believed, and, in that we are about 3 weeks ahead of the race, he and HAMNET KZN are to be congratulated on organisation well planned and well in advance! Thank you for keeping me in the loop Dave.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR, continuing to hold thumbs for rain in the Western Cape, and reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 14 May 2017

Firstly, may I echo the wishes mentioned in the Headquarters bulletin, to all Mothers out there, for a very special and happy Mother’s day. Without you, we wouldn’t be here listening to this bulletin. In fact, without you, we wouldn’t be!

From, Globes, Israel’s Business Arena, comes news about disaster forecasting.

There are not yet any technologies capable of detecting in advance signs of an approaching natural disaster and providing people with reliable and adequate warning that can save human life. A new system being developed by Motorola Solutions, however, is designed to make coping with such crises and managing them substantially easier.

Development of this system began recently, after Motorola Solutions Israel won a  European Union tender for rapid and precise management of natural disasters and extreme events, based on data from sensors and indices that, when processed and analyzed, can provide the relevant forces in the field with an up-to-date status report.

Research and academic institutions in European countries are also partners in the venture led by Motorola Solutions. The pilot will take place in three cities, each of which has a problem with natural disasters: Thessaloniki, Greece, which suffers from extreme heat waves; Venice, Italy, which experiences frequent flooding; and Valencia, Spain, where forest fires are a frequent occurrence.

Although the developers of the system would have loved to develop a means of warning long in advance of a deadly impending natural disaster, at this stage, they will settle for a system able to manage the large quantity of relevant data that will enable hospital managers, police commanders, fire departments, and other initial responding rescue forces to make correct decisions, and  rapidly to take control of any catastrophe with a minimum number of casualties.

The system is being developed in the framework of a project called BeAware. It will be adapted to any scenario designed for it by the end user. The system is based on special physical sensors and databases of many authorities, including data from similar past extreme events; sensors adapted when necessary to testing the level of humidity in the air, the direction and strength of the wind, weather forecasting, and temperatures in real time; the sea level; traffic light control systems in the designated cities, etc. To these are added many other indices to be gathered by the system in real time: mobile phones of residents or visitors in each area will inform the system in real time how many people are in each area relevant to an analysis of an event, the state of occupancy in hotels or leisure centres, the number of students in schools at any given moment, the level of crowding in nearby hospitals and the state of the roads, so that rescue forces can select available access routes without getting stuck in endless traffic jams at a time when they are hurrying to extinguish fires or evacuating casualties for first aid treatment.

“Statistically, in every year for the past 30 years, tens of millions of people in the world have been affected by natural disasters of various types. It has been predicted that natural disasters will become more frequent in the coming years,” Motorola Solutions Israel VP business development Boris Kantsepolsky told “Globes.” “As of now, at least, the only possible way of handling such disasters is to find a better way of minimizing them, and we can do that using the existing available technological means developed over the past decade.”

The world has already been in an environment of large quantities of dynamic data. Almost every broadcasting device user can constitute a sensor in himself for such a system. Usually, however, these data are not processed or analyzed to produce an integrated and indicative picture which, if it does not prevent the next natural disaster, will at least make its management possible. “The challenge is sharing data and fusing information,” Kantsepolsky says. “The system will operate all the time, collect data, analyze them, and make correlations between them and the relevant reference scenarios for any entity that operates it. In an exceptional event scenario, it will facilitate a smooth transition from a routine situation to an emergency, in which every party involved in managing the event receives information relevant to him via a comfortable interface on the computer, tablet, smartphone, or communications device of the initial responders in the various theatres.”

Concern about flooding in Venice does not mean much to the average Israeli, who has his own troubles involving terrorism and military conflicts in one of the world’s craziest regions. For Motorola Solutions, the same thing that will improve the handling of the civilian population in the event of heat waves in Thessaloniki or widespread forest fires in Valencia can also be good for a small country surrounded by enemies, rockets, missiles, and nervous terrorists with machetes.

This all adds up to a very wide network of information assimilation, making available to all agencies all the data needed at the time to formulate a rapid response to disaster situations, both natural and manmade. It needed the development of the “Internet of Things” to make this data-gathering and distribution possible.

There’s just time left at the end of this bulletin to mention the dam situation. Apart from the Eastern Cape, whose dams are steady at 62% full, below the 72% of last year, poor Western Cape’s dams are the only ones to be a percentage point lower than last week at 20% full, compared to 31% this time last year. Remember, at least half of this 20% is unusable, because it will be too muddy and contaminated to be purified for domestic use. So we have water for about 30 days left in our storage dams. Further drastic steps are about to be implemented to reduce wastage, by reducing pressure in taps, and perhaps shedding, as was practised during the electricity shortages of a few years ago. There has been minimal rainfall this week in the Western Cape, and very little in the catchment areas. We watch the Western skies for signs of cold fronts with keen anticipation.

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

HAMNET Report 7 May 2017

HAMNET South Africa would like to take the opportunity to congratulate Trevor Brinch ZS1TR, on being awarded the HAMNET SHIELD at this year’s SARL Awards Ceremony. He really does epitomize the radio operator of high standing, who goes out of his way to interact with relief organisations, and provide all sorts of emergency communications, without being asked. Well done, Trevor, you truly deserve this award!

Nearly 280 Amateur Radio communication volunteers on April 17 participated at the 2017 Boston Marathon, the 121st running of the event organized by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), according to the ARRL Newsline. Warmer-than-typical temperatures for the Patriots’ Day race raised concern for increased medical issues, but lower humidity and some cloud cover later in the afternoon mitigated the potential for problems.

Amateur Radio’s primary communication role involved logistics. Amateur Radio operations included relaying medical resupply requests, picking up runners via medical sweep buses, conveying medical statistics as required by the Red Cross and Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and providing situational awareness as needed along the entire 26-mile route. Amateur Radio also backed up EMS communications, and the team relayed several ambulance requests along the route. Brett Smith, AB1RL, one of the BAA Organizational Committee representatives, said Marathon organizers were very pleased with the efforts of Amateur Radio Operators.

“Congratulations to everyone on a job very well done,” Smith said afterwards. “We were braced for a busy day, and our preparation helped see us through to make sure it was never anything we couldn’t handle.” Smith said that many volunteers enjoyed spending their day supporting the Marathon this year.

“We’re already seeing e-mails from our volunteers thanking us for our work too. So the work was appreciated not only by organizers from the BAA but the volunteers as well,” he said.

Course volunteer Matt Knowles, KC1AEI, was among them. “I feel like Amateur Radio plays an important role in the safety and security of the Boston Marathon,” said Knowles. “Our net operators were succinct, clear, and very patient, as we took care of our individual responsibilities on the course. All of the communications volunteers put forth a unified effort on Monday, which made for another successful race.

Rob Macedo, KD1CY, the other BAA Organizational Committee representative, reported that state emergency managers were very pleased with the logistics and situational awareness support from Amateur Radio operators. He was stationed at the Multi-Agency Coordination Centre (MACC), located at the State Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Framingham.

“At one point mid-afternoon, one of the two finish line medical tents was filled to capacity,” Macedo recounted. “The BAA and EMS representatives at the MACC were impressed at receiving the on- and off-diversion reports in a timely fashion from Finish Segment Coordinator Matt Brennan, NM1B.”

Start Segment Coordinator Mark Richards, K1MGY, said all of the planning and setup at the race’s starting point of Hopkinton paid off. “We provided BAA organizers at the start with an analysis that looks to correlate the planned and actual times of the start of the race very well,” he said.

Course Field Operations/Course Net Control Segment Coordinator Jim Palmer, KB1KQW, said he was pleased with the performance of the Amateur Radio teams throughout the event. “Numerous course Amateur Radio volunteers have already expressed their appreciation for a well-run, highly organized event, and are already looking forward to volunteering at the 2018 Marathon,” he said. Course volunteers logged an estimated nearly 1,000 volunteer hours, and Palmer said their support was instrumental to the success of the communication support mission.

At the Course Net Control Operations Centre in Brookline, students from Dexter-Southfield School provided support to net control operators during the event. Numerous nets cover the Marathon course, and all are run from this single location. Students regularly updated status boards, informing both local net control operators and the other net control operations centres of each ham radio volunteer’s location. Veteran net control operators dedicated some time to work with the students to teach them how marathon nets operate, providing a robust ham radio learning experience in an educational setting.

Amateur Radio is one of three radio communication systems used for the Boston Marathon. Eight Amateur Radio representatives, including segment coordinators, sit on the BAA Communications Committee with BAA officials and representatives of the Massachusetts State Police and a commercial communications contractor. Boston Marathon Medical Coordinator Chris Troyanos, who chairs the Communications Committee, has let the Amateur Radio community know that it is — and will remain — a vital component of Marathon communication support. — Thanks to Rob Macedo, KD1CY, and the ARRL News for this insert.

On a smaller scale, here in the Eastern Cape, Andrew Gray, ZS2G, of HAMNET Eastern Cape, tells me that 2 HAMNET members and 2 PEARS members assisted in the search for a man missing since Sunday last week. The man was finally found in the Van Stadens Gorge near the old bridge on Wednesday at midday. Andrew says there is no cell-phone coverage in that gorge, and 2 metre simplex communications were used. The Lady Slipper repeater is accessible from the bottom of the gorge, on 145.700MHz, and so the search group had contact with the outside world during the search.

We’ve also heard from HAMNET KZN that the volunteer group for the Comrades Marathon is increasing, with 36 of their target of 42 operators signed up. They now have 4 weeks to get another 6 people to volunteer. Come on, Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s for a good cause, and good fun to boot. Come out and exercise your mobile station, and your lungs, by contacting Dave Holliday ZS5HN in KwaZulu Natal. Thank you!

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