HAMNET Report 18 June 2017

From the disaster in the Eden district comes the story that SANParks has been requesting help to coordinate the rescues and management of the fire damage in the area. When Johann Marais ZS1JM, of Wilderness Search and Rescue reminded them that WSAR had handled 407 rescues in the Western Cape last year, WSAR was asked to provide about ten 4×4 teams to drive to outlying areas, assessing fire damage and offering medical assistance. HAMNET operators in the teams would maintain communications with a central Joint Operations Centre near Knysna to be manned by two of our experienced lady operators.

Western Cape Regional Director Grant Southey ZS1GS sent out a request to all HAMNET members to volunteer to spend from Thursday the 15th to Sunday the 18th in the Eden district supplying the vehicles, radios and operators, to comb the areas, releasing trapped communities, distributing brochures and completing a survey of the status of the countryside. The Off Road Rescue Unit and the Land Cruiser Club of South Africa, being part of WSAR, were very quick to offer their assistance and provided some of the vehicles. Each vehicle had a Medic, a chainsaw operator to clear fallen trees, and a Ham station. The teams were required to provide their own camping equipment, but food and petrol expenses were sponsored by SANParks.

Teams left Cape Town on Wednesday and Thursday, and we’ll bring you some more news of their activities next week.

Keith Lowes, ZS1WFD of HAMNET KZN has sent me the basic arrangements for the Standard Bank Ironman 70.3 being swum, ridden and run today. Ten HAMNET operators are assisting at the event this year, which starts with a 1.9km swim at uShaka Pier, followed by a bike ride and then a road race to finish in front of SUNCOAST, where the race course closes at 16h00. Good luck to all those participants, and thank you to the HAMNET volunteers for giving up their Father’s Day to assist at the event.

From Birmingham City University comes news of a portable system which allows communications to be restored in the wake of a disaster and help direct survivors to safety.

Ron Austin, Associate Professor of Networks and Security at Birmingham City University, has created the prototype system which could be used to plug a crucial gap in systems such as telephone, GPS and internet links during the first 24-hours following a disaster.

The network runs using Raspberry Pi computer development boards, which can be linked together to form a bespoke setup, tailored to the needs of a site, which could also be used to monitor environmental factors such as earthquake aftershocks and tsunami second waves.

Around 90 per cent of live rescues are made during the first 24-48 hours following a disaster – a period known as the ‘golden 24 hours’ – but large scale infrastructure takes around two days to ship to a disaster site.

The new portable system could help save lives by allowing basic systems to be put in place to plug the gap during that critical window and allow communication with emergency services and survivors until full scale systems can be restored.

The system would be used by first responders to restore telephone systems, provide internet services and GPS links, help direct survivors to areas of safety, monitor the environment for key factors such as aftershocks following an earthquake, or second waves of a tsunami, provide links with emergency services, eliminate the reliance on heavy duty equipment which is unavailable during the first 48-hours, and provide an expandable network which is easily adjusted.

Ron Austin, Associate Professor of Networks and Security at Birmingham City University, said: “It was while experimenting with Raspberry Pi’s that I first came up with the idea of using them in this way.

“By connecting a number of Raspberry Pi’s together I’ve found that we could have a genuine solution to the gap in services following a disaster.

“We know it takes a long time to ship out heavy duty equipment to get the full scale systems back up and running, but we also know that that first 24-hour period is crucial in saving lives during disasters.

“If we can provide a system that gets these important services back up and running swiftly and simply then we would have a real opportunity at getting people the information they need which could save lives.”

First responders would be able to transport the system in a single box or briefcase to the site and instantly setup communications systems which have been damaged or eliminated during a disaster.

Inbuilt battery power supplies fitted to briefcases or transportation boxes would provide power for up to two days, while solar panels could also be used in areas of good lighting.

Researchers hope to work alongside emergency services and disaster recovery organisations to see how the system might be best utilised.

Thank you to the Phys.Org website for this insert.

To end this bulletin, I have the tiniest bit of good news for you. The Dam Level report issued last Monday shows that all provinces have maintained their water levels compared with last week, and the Western Cape has recorded two percentage points of increase over the previous week, for the first time this year! Western Cape dams stand at 20% full, compared to 18% last week, and 30% at this time last year. We’ve got a long way still to go!

Finally, may I take the opportunity to wish all fathers out there “Happy Father’s Day”! May your children make it a day to be remembered by all of you.

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