HAMNET Report 23 July 2017

Keeping everyone connected when disaster strikes is a key component of all emergency communications efforts. Without communication, everything else breaks down.

Knowing which roads are open, which ones are jammed or damaged contribute enormously to rescue efforts. Emergency responders have all sorts of tools at their disposal to make sure first responders know what’s going on, but what about your family? How would you make sure everyone is safe?

A cell phone call likely won’t be an option. Cellular networks will be overloaded, land lines could be cut off, and internet disrupted as well. Email and texting may be viable options since they work on different systems than cell phones.

To avoid trouble contacting your loved ones, establish a pre-arranged contact out of your area. If someone is trying to call home in the disaster zone, the call may not go through. Your chances are better outside the zone.

Everybody should call a designated person, and tell them where they are, how they’re doing, and what they’re going to do. Then, you have one point of contact who can help coordinate things.

Amateur radio operators can be the hub that hold communications together in an emergency. They can reach anywhere in the world without the issues linked to phone and cell service. A radio operator might not be able to get you directly to your loved ones, but he or she can get you very close.

Thank you to King 5’s Disaster Preparedness Facebook page for these wise words.

Ward Silver N0AX has written a long article for Nuts and Volts magazine about the effects of the coming solar eclipse on radio signals. He notes that the usual slow change in ionisation in the upper atmosphere as evening approaches and nightfall arrives, will be speeded up and the temporary night-time conditions will last about 3 hours, bearing in mind the slow start of the eclipse and the final clearance of the moon’s shadow. Areas directly within the total eclipse will experience the most unusual phenomena, but areas North and South of the path of totality will also be affected, and DX to all parts of the world may be improved or reduced in intensity.

Radio amateurs will use the eclipse to hold a huge QSO party, to make as many contacts as possible, collecting data at the same time, and documenting the effect the eclipse has on their propagation. Automated receiving decoders, such as CW Skimmer, a programme written by VE3NEA, the Reverse Beacon Net and WSPRNet, will receive CW, RTTY, WSPR and PSK signals and store them. Professional researchers at Virginia Tech will turn all the data into a database that geophysics researchers can use.

Hams enjoy doing this kind of research. Science is what led to ham radio in the first place, and hams have worked with the scientific community since the early days of wireless.  Listening tests by radio amateurs conducted in the early 1920’s confirmed the presence of a reflecting mechanism in the atmosphere, now called the ionosphere.

So the eclipse will not just be a visual delight for those within its path. We wait to hear whether unusual effects were noted this time round. It will be a long time before we experience an eclipse in Southern Africa again.

Solar flux figures continue to deteriorate over this weekend, as the sun settles down again after the coronal mass ejection and resulting solar wind last week, pushed both the solar flux figures and the A and K indices up, both helping and harming our attempts at propagation during the week. The sun is basically spotless this weekend, but  an elevated solar wind stream is continuing to contribute to minor  geomagnetic storming at higher latitudes. Isolated periods of enhanced activity were possible during the last 24 hours. The K index is 5 as I write this, making DX communications poor.

The office of the Premier of the Western Province announced plans some time ago to use a mobile desalination plant, and tap the natural aquifer under Cape Town’s Table Mountain, to prevent a disaster in Cape Town. Boreholes are also to be drilled in hospitals and schools in high-risk areas in an effort to collect additional ground water.

The Western Cape province is facing its worst water shortage in 113 years. The Karoo and West Coast areas of the Western Cape previously declared drought disasters in 2016.

The southern African region has been experiencing a severe drought for almost three years, as a result of the devastating effects of the climatic phenomenon El Niño. The United Nations estimates that over 40 million people have been affected by the drought, which has resulted in the decimation of crops and water resources, leaving millions dependent on aid. While areas such as northern South Africa, parts of Mozambique, and Zimbabwe have benefited from heavy rainfall this year, other areas, such as in southern Angola, remain seriously affected by low precipitation levels.

Examination of the Provincial dam level averages, reveals that the provinces that don’t experience rain in Winter have dams emptying by about one percentage point this week, while the Western Cape has gained one percentage point over last week’s readings. The snow that fell over last weekend can be expected to add considerably to our dam levels as it slowly melts, but, at 25% full, Western Cape dams are very far from the 47% level they were at this time last year. And high pressure cells over the South-Western Atlantic  and Western half of the country are keeping the cold fronts far to the South of us, continuing to keep our Winter rainfall averages very low.

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

HAMNET Report 16 July 2017

Johann Marais, ZS1JM, of HAMNET Western Cape, and Wilderness Search and Rescue, issued a copy of the letter he received from Sanparks in the Eden district this week, after WSAR had assisted in the post-fire period. It read:

“On behalf of South African National Parks, I would like to extend  heart-felt thanks and sincere gratitude to you for taking time out from your work responsibilities and life, to assist in the infrastructure damage assessment of the Garden Route fires.

Without your dedication, commitment and professionalism this operation would not have been a success. It is generous people like you who make our communities a better place, and we thank you for your involvement and support, without you these things would not be possible. Yours sincerely, Len du Plessis.”

Len is the Manager, Planning, of the Garden Route National Park, and in charge of the damage assessment after the fires. While he addressed the remarks to Johann, I’m sure the thanks were also addressed to the nine operators who drove from Cape Town to do the grid-assessment of all the damage. Well done, all!

Talking of fires, there has been a wonderful fire on the Sun this week, in the form of a huge solar flare and a coronal mass ejection from sunspot region 2665, possibly celebrating Bastille Day on Friday! The M-class 2.4 flare was associated with a 10cm radio burst lasting 44 minutes. A minor S1 radiation storm occurred yesterday, a moderate G2 geomagnetic storm may occur today the 16th, and the coronal mass ejection may affect the earth today and tomorrow the 17th.

This mostly affects HF communications across the earth’s poles with commercial pilots flying over the North Pole. Occasionally airlines delay or cancel flights, fearing radio blackouts. Beautiful auroras will also be visible at high latitudes, both North and South, of the equator.

The Sunspot number is currently 58, Solar Flux 94, and K index 1, as I write this on Saturday afternoon. Let’s hope the bands open for a bit while the numbers are temporarily higher than usual.

In a message from Greg Mossop, G0DUB, of IARU Region One, he says that the Winlink development team will be testing a new central messaging server (CMS) system on July 16th from 15:00 UTC until 17:00 UTC (that’s today for two hours). The team says:

“This test requires no action on your part, other than to use the system as you normally would during the period.

However, if you do use it during this period, potential impacts could include:

-Temporary system outage (unlikely)

-Messages from a winlink account to another winlink account that are not retrieved by the addressee before the end of the testing period will be lost. Mail to Internet (SMTP) accounts as well as mail from Internet accounts will not be impacted.

-Mail from Internet accounts may be duplicated (received a second time) after the testing period.

-Changes made to account settings (password, forwarding address, sysop details, etc.) during the test period will be lost.

With these impacts in mind, we hope you help us by using the system during this period.”

The notice is issued by Steve, K4CJX, for the Winlink Development Team. So, if you’re experimenting with Winlink this afternoon, to use during your emergency comms, please bear this in mind.

Then, the TX Factor team has announced that Episode 17 is now available. This regular HD video insert features an intro to DMR, System Fusion and D-STAR, the path taken by QSL cards in getting to and from you, and a visit to a Field Day event with the Norfolk Amateur Radio Club. The URL is at: www.txfactor.co.uk

Then a major disaster was averted in San Francisco by the wonder of radio communications, when the landing of an Air Canada flight at San Francisco International Airport was aborted.

An Air Canada plane with 140 people on board came within 30 metres of crashing on to two of four planes lined up to take off at San Francisco International Airport last week, according to a preliminary report Canadian air safety regulators released on Thursday.

Instead of lining up to land on the runway, the pilot of the flight from Toronto mistakenly descended toward a parallel taxiway just to the right, where four other airliners were idling in the darkness, on Friday the 7th.

As the Airbus 320 pulled up sharply it flew 30 metres over the first two jets, about 60 metres above the third and about 90 metres over the fourth, the summary said.

“This was very close to a catastrophic event,” said John Cox, a safety consultant and retired airline pilot.

Collisions on the ground are particularly dangerous because planes waiting to take off are loaded with fuel. The deadliest crash in aviation history occurred in 1977 when a KLM Boeing 747 taking off in the Canary Islands ploughed into a Pan Am 747 that was waiting to take off; 583 people died in the crash and fires.

According to the report released on Thursday, the plane was less than a mile from the taxiway, flying well over 160 kilometres per hour, when a voice — apparently one of the pilots on the taxiway — interjected on the landing radio frequency, “Where’s this guy going? He’s on the taxiway!”

Only at that point did the controller order the Air Canada jet to pull up. The jet then did another circuit and landed safely on the correct runway. At worst, five aeroplanes would have been involved in the smash, each with 140 people or more on board, and the risk of about 800 casualties or deaths. The matter is under investigation.

Finally, a strong cold front has just passed across the Western Cape, bringing a fair amount of cold rain to this province, snow to high-lying areas, and cold with snow to inland mountainous areas. If the forecast is correct, the Cape should experience about 50mm of rain, which will be nice, but the snow is equally welcome, because when it melts it runs into our dam catchment areas. Here’s hoping…..

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

HAMNET Report 9 July 2017

From Michael ZS1MJT, of the Cape Rally Group, comes the news that, on 1 July, the Riebeek Valley Rally was held in the Riebeek Kasteel area. Control was at the Meiring Primary School in Riebeek Kasteel.

Communications worked extremely well as all stages and radio operator positions were in ‘open’ areas and were in line of sight of the 145.650 repeater.

Michael thanks all who helped and the users of the 650 repeater, who allowed them the opportunity to use the repeater for the day.

He says the next rally is the All Tar Rally in Killarney on the 28 & 29th July.

Also in the Western Cape, a particularly difficult rescue of an injured person from the Yellowwood Amphitheatre in du Toit’s Kloof took place over Thursday night and Friday morning. HAMNET’s Johann Marais, ZS1JM, coordinated Wilderness Search and Rescue’s efforts from 13h00 on Thursday to assist with the rescue. Members of the Mountain Club of South Africa and Metro Rescue services all gathered on the Eastern Side of the  tunnel, to await instructions. An Oryx helicopter was deployed from Ysterplaat Air Force Base and could not proceed because of bad flying weather, but did manage to drop off a paramedic and a technical rescuer a little way away from the patient. Another team of 3 rescuers walked in to the spot with supplies, warm clothing and food to allow the group to spend the night on the mountain. The patient was reported as being in a serious but stable condition.

Next morning, the Oryx was able to fly in and extract the injured man, from where he was transported directly to Groote Schuur hospital. Thank you to all the WSAR operatives involved, and the SAAF helicopter crew for completing the rescue.

The Seattle Times reported on Monday the 3rd that the British Airline Pilots Association is warning of a looming catastrophe unless drones are subject to tougher regulations.

The association demanded the compulsory registration of drones on Monday after Gatwick Airport briefly closed its runway over safety concerns when a drone was spotted in the area.

Authorities diverted four EasyJet flights. One British Airways flight was sent to Bournemouth Airport.

The union’s flight safety specialist, Steve Landells, says the incident shows “the threat of drones being flown near manned aircraft must be addressed before we see a disaster.”

There have been several near-misses between drones and aircraft in Britain, with sheer chance averting collision in some cases.

Under British rules, a drone operator must be able to see it at all times and keep it away from planes, helicopters, airports and airfields.

From the West Australian, a report says commercial pilots are reporting near misses with drones in WA, prompting warnings that it is “only a matter of time” before an incident occurs.

WA Labour senator Glenn Sterle, who chairs a Senate inquiry into drone safety and regulation, wants tighter restrictions on recreational drone use after the Australian Transport Safety Bureau received 170 reports of remotely piloted aircraft being flown in flight paths, near airports and at dangerous heights.

“They’ve had incidences at Jandakot (Airport) where they’ve had drones at the end of the runway, with someone operating one out of the park,” Senator Sterle said.

“Anyone can walk in and buy a drone and they have no training, no awareness. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

On the other side of the argument comes another report about a group of students from MIT trying to ease the burden on emergency responders by providing a high-flying solution to downed communication lines. The team has designed and tested an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can fly for more than five days straight, offering a new solution for bolstering telecommunications systems during disaster situations. I wrote about this briefly in a previous bulletin.

In emergency situations, especially natural disasters and fires, the very communications networks that are so important to coordinating response are often damaged or overloaded. MIT’s long-flying drone is poised to change that.

The UAV, which resembles a glider, weighs less than 150 pounds and has a 24-foot wingspan. The petrol-powered craft can carry up to 20 pounds of telecommunications equipment at an altitude of 15,000 feet and in winds up to the 94th percentile, according to the students’ calculations.

The drone has passed initial tests after being modified to fit the FAA’s regulations for small drones, which required the payload and amount of fuel to be reduced to meet the FAA’s overall weight limit of 55 pounds. Future tests are needed to determine if the UAV can actually fly for more than five days straight.

“There are a few aspects to flying for five straight days,” Warren Hoburg, Boeing assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, said in a statement. “But we’re pretty confident that we have the right fuel burn rate and right engine that we could fly it for five days.”

The drone was designed as part of the Beaver Works capstone project at MIT in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force. The original goal of the project was to create a long-duration UAV powered by solar, but the team ultimately found that solar power was not conducive to emergency response, a field that demands reliable tools, regardless of the availability of sunlight.

A prototype constructed last fall featured a petrol engine instead, along with a frame made of lightweight materials like carbon fibre and Kevlar. It is designed to be easily dismantled and reassembled for easy transport.

The design makes the drone suitable for many long-term missions, said R. John Hansman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics.

“These vehicles could be used not only for disaster relief but also other missions, such as environmental monitoring. You might want to keep watch on wildfires or the outflow of a river,” Hansman said. Thank you to Statescoop for the body of this report.

Join us next week for more news relating to emergency communications.

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

HAMNET Report 2 July 2017

Last weekend saw the ARRL’s annual Field Day contest, and this week saw the hundreds of inserts in the local newspapers around the US, as amateur radio in general, and emergency communications in particular, got the greatest publicity of the year there. I have been watching communications posts on Google all week, and it seems all the clubs who mounted field stations last weekend, had their activities written up in their local paper. There can be very few people in the US who have never heard of amateur radio, and the ARRL is to be congratulated on the way the public’s attention has been captured.

Not all reports I read were entirely positive. The ionosphere didn’t play along, of course, so contacts were down a bit on last year. A big contributor to difficulties was the problem of overloading of nearby receivers by transmissions on adjacent bands by other transmitters in the same deployment. Some operators had bandpass filters for each radio as it swung across the bands, but not everyone was so lucky. Some radios are more robust, and able to withstand adjacent band interference, but not all. Field Day allows one to test these things, and reflections of some operators are that they will not use, for example, Radio X next year, because they were flooded by interference. This is the inherent value of Field Day. Would that we could mount such a comprehensive weekend exercise in this country!

Friedrichshafen in Germany has posted an itinerary of some of its activities for the Hamfest on July 14 to 16. “Germany Welcomes the World” is the theme of the 2017 edition of Europe’s major annual Amateur Radio gathering, known simply as “Ham Radio” but more commonly called “Friedrichshafen,” the city on the shores of Lake Constance where it takes place each summer. ARRL President Rick Roderick, K5UR, will head a League contingent to the event, which this year runs from Friday, July 14, until Sunday, July 16.

The 42nd edition of Ham Radio will feature some 200 exhibitors from 30 countries, including around 70 associations. This year, the German Amateur Radio Club (DARC) will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Amateur Radio center in Baunatal and will welcome visitors to the Lake Constance Conference. Among its show activities, the DARC will sponsor a competition for radio or electronics kits suitable for young people. Young radio enthusiasts aged 11 and older should be able to assemble the kits within 30 minutes, without having to etch circuit boards.

There will be an on-site Amateur Radio flea market.

The Chair of the IARU Region 1 Youth Working Group, Lisa Leenders, PA2LS, has invited young radio amateurs to join the International Youth Meeting on Saturday, July 15, at 10 AM, in the Liechtenstein Room. The program will include a rundown of the youth contesting program at 9A1A, plus an open mic session, where participants can share their experiences on youth activities. “This is the moment to share your experiences on youth activities and to ask questions to other attendees,” Leenders said. Members of the UK YOTA 2017 team will be at Ham Radio in Friedrichshafen to receive the official Youth on the Air (YOTA) flag from the YOTA Austria 2016 team.

A Ham Rally will take place on Friday and Saturday, offering a varied program for young Amateur Radio operators between the ages of 8 and 18, and a Ham Youth Camp — organized by the fairgrounds and DARC for participants aged 27 and younger — will take place during all 3 days of Ham Radio 2017.

World Radiosport Team Championship 2018 (WRTC 2018), which takes place next July in Germany, will be a particular focus at Ham Radio 2017. The show will include an exhibit of WRTC equipment, plus a demonstration of the competition, as well as video presentations about WRTC 2018. Ham Radio sponsors say several other presentations at the show also will highlight the upcoming international event.

A foxhunt will be held in the wooded area near the fairgrounds on the final day of the show.

The concurrent and fourth annual Maker Faire will open its doors at the Fairground on Saturday and Sunday, offering creative minds and tinkerers ideas and accessories at about 80 exhibitors.

And don’t overlook the Emergency Communications meetings on Friday the 14th July that I mentioned last week.

Thank you to the weekly ARRL letter for these extracts.

I’d like to draw your attention to a slightly dated but very good series of “Basic Soldering Lesson(s)” from Pace Worldwide, to be found on the hackaday.com website. Definitely worth a watch if you want to brush up on your skills. If you can’t find the site, just Google the following words, all joined up by hyphens: key-to-soldering-pace-yourself and you’re sure to find the series. Enjoy the revision!

A quick revue of the dam levels in South Africa this week reveals that most of the provincial average capacities have gone down by one percentage point compared to last week, except the Western Cape, whose capacities have gone up by 2 percentage points compared to last week, but still 15 percentage points lower than this time last year. Urban areas in the Cape are experiencing about 5 to 10mm of rain a week at the moment, so irrigation is probably unnecessary now. The City of Cape Town has introduced harsher water restrictions as of yesterday, hoping that the population will use less that 87 litres of water per person per day. We’re not out of trouble yet!

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