HAMNET Report 4 June 2017

Keith Lowes ZS5WFD says HAMNET KZN has been exhibiting at this year’s Comrades Expo following the fantastic support received during their participation for the first time last year.

The Comrades Expo is the official registration point for the Comrades Marathon and therefore one of the highlights of this historic ultra-marathon. As the largest running related Expo in South Africa, the Expo boasted more than 110 exhibitors and attracted over 50 000 visitors during the 3 days.

The Comrades Expo featured all the major athletic brands with a multitude of other exhibitors promoting and selling everything from supplements and nutrition to the latest in running technology.  The Expo was aimed at sport enthusiasts of all ages who were in the market to purchase new apparel or stock up on race day essentials.

The Comrades is being run as I speak, and we hope to have more reports from Keith or Dave after the event. Thank you to all HAMNET members making the Comrades safe for the runners.

Members of the Radio Society of Sri Lanka (RSSL) responded to an urgent call for help in the wake of torrential monsoon rainfall in South-western Sri Lanka on May 28, that caused flooding and landslides. The Road Development Authority (RDA) contacted RSSL President Jaliya Lokeshwara, 4S7JL, seeking communication help from radio amateurs. The RSSL reports that emergency communications were needed to link remote Kalawana, one of the worst hit areas, and Ratnapura. All communications had failed due to heavy flooding, landslides, and damage to the telecommunications infrastructure.

The RDA declared roads were impassable. Only air rescue by the Sri Lanka Air Force helicopters was possible, and the lack of communication support made that task even more difficult. A plan was quickly put into place to airlift four radio amateurs from the capital, Colombo, to both affected locations to form a communications link.

Jaliya Lokeshwara, 4S7JL, and Nadika Hapuarachchi, 4S6NCH, were the first ready to go. A second team consisted of Victor Goonetilleke, 4S7VK, and Dimuthu Wickramasinghe, 4S7DZ.

“We knew we could do it. We were self-sufficient and willing to rough it out,” Goonetilleke said. “It was a hard task, but within 30 minutes of landing, the high frequency link was established.” They used 40 and 75 meters, as well as 2 meters. He said they spent 2 days coordinating rescue flights, the movement of patients from Kalawana hospital to Ratnapura, and food drops.

The emergency link remained in place until mobile phone service was restored and roadways cleared. “We are happy we could win the day for simple high-frequency radio,” Goonetilleke said.

The disaster recovery continues. Over 200 people died, and thousands were displaced by the weather disaster. — Thanks to Jim Linton, VK3PC, Chairman IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee, with Jayamt Bhide, VU2JUA, National Coordinator for Disaster Communication in India (ARSI), and Victor Goonetilleke, 4S7VK.

Victor Goonetilleke 4S7VK has in fact posted a very comprehensive report on the help given by Sri Lankan hams during this disaster, at www.rssl.lk/rssl_response_to_flood_disaster_may_2017/. It makes very interesting reading, is well laid out, and has many accompanying photographs.

Mike Eaton has drawn my attention to an article in New Atlas about technology I have mentioned before, that could have aided the Sri Lankans during their floods, had it been available, namely, drones acting as flying cell towers during disasters.

Nick Lavars, writing on 31 May in New Atlas says “drones can bring benefits to disaster-relief scenarios in a few ways. One is by providing search and rescue workers with an eye in the sky, another is by delivering aid, and a third is serving as temporary communications networks in place of those destroyed by the event. Researchers at the University of North Texas (UNT) have taken a promising step forward in this last area by demonstrating a drone-based cell network system that offers coverage kilometres away.

When violent storms strike, they can not only bring buildings to the ground but communication infrastructure too. This makes things even harder for workers relying on these networks to coordinate their relief efforts, and the idea behind research projects such as these is to provide a temporary solution.

The scientists in the University of North Texas’ electrical engineering department have also been active players in this field. In 2014 they exhibited a new kind of directional antenna they said could be attached to drones to provide Wi-Fi signals up to 5 km away.

Now, in what the team is calling the “first-ever drone-provided cell service,” the researchers have taken their airborne communications tech into the field. It says its Aerial Deployable Communication System is the first of its kind, and they were able to successfully test it in Waxahachie, Texas. This involved fixing the system to a drone and sending it up to an altitude of 400 ft (121 m). The cellular technology was programmed to tune into the bandwidth assigned to first responders, offering them a high-flying replacement for damaged cell towers.

“We demonstrated a portable communication system that can be attached to a drone,” said Kamesh Namuduri, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at UNT. “The system, with just 250 milliwatts (of) transmit power, is capable of providing instant cellular coverage (of) up to two kilometres during disaster-relief operations. If the system is scaled with a 10 watt transmit power, the system can provide cellular coverage to the entire city of Denton (Texas).” End quote.

Clearly, this technology can’t be released soon enough, and we wait eagerly to see its launch internationally.

The news of Western Cape drought conditions continues to be dismal. No rain has fallen in the last week, though 15mm has been forecast for this weekend, and about 40mm on Wednesday and Thursday coming. The average dam levels stand at 18% of capacity, though only 8% of that is really usable. Level 4 water restrictions have now been imposed, and potable water may only be used for drinking, preparing food and washing. Plans to provide extra water seem to be proceeding at snail’s pace, and our lack of confidence in the art of weather forecasting is starting to show.

Perhaps I’ll have better news for you next week!

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