HAMNET Report 1 October 2017

As I scan the internet for news of emergency communications and good news, I see only notices of support, stories of damage and accounts of message relays, over and over again. Friends, we are still in the aftermath of multiple hurricanes in the Caribbean, and earthquakes in Mexico. Here are some notes from all over.

HMS Ocean has arrived in the British Virgin Islands to support the population there, and USS Wasp, a US Navy Amphibious ship is in the leeward Islands, also to protect the lives and belongings of survivors of Hurricane Maria, from disease, and criminal looting, which has been taking place. Maria hit with 155mph winds and unleashed a torrential downpour with some locations receiving nearly 40 inches of rain. The storm’s combination of high winds and heavy rains knocked out the power to the island of Puerto Rico, amongst others, leaving its 3.5 million residents without electricity, possibly for months. Officials are stating that there hasn’t been a storm of this intensity to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, and the island is currently without power, and likely to remain so. Hopefully, at least one hospital ship will be despatched to the area, to provide basic care to the injured and the frail.

Bill Fastenau, a radio club director, said that in two hours, on just one channel, he heard about 50 requests relayed by Puerto Rico ham radio operators, from individuals hoping to let people on the mainland know that they had survived the hurricane.

Currently, the traffic is just one-way — from Puerto Rico to the United States — and when people might be able to send messages back to Puerto Rico is another unknown.

For the moment, it is just too hard for Puerto Rico ham radio operators to locate the intended recipients — and they have had to jury-rig storm-damaged systems too.

Puerto Rico’s Arecibo 350 metre radio telescope dish was also damaged in the hurricane, with some antenna feeds falling away from the feed-horn and damaging tiles of the dish below. Arecibo has made many historical discoveries, from passing asteroids, to Fast Radio Bursts, to the first evidence of gravitational waves, to helping in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, mapping the surface of Venus, and the rotational period of Mercury. It was also responsible for sending the strongest radio signal into space ever generated – a massive 20 trillion watt emission, consisting of 1679 bits, and carrying a single simple coded pictorial message, in the hopes that alien life will be able to decode it, when it arrives in the Globular Cluster M13, 21000 light years from us and containing about 300 000 stars.

Back on earth, on Dominica, shops have been looted, houses are completely destroyed, and potable water is now the problem, with standing water starting to smell, and no reticulated water available.

Greg G0DUB has sent further information about Dominica. He says:

“The following update has been received from Jeff 9Y4J via Cesar Pio Santos HR2P, the IARU Region 2 Emergency Communications Co-ordinator, concerning the relief efforts in Dominica, with specific reference to Telecommunications.

“1. An emergency operating centre was activated using the call sign J73EOC, with batteries and a generator installed.

“2. The NEOC is being manned by radio amateurs, some of whom arrived from neighbouring countries.

“3. Limited mobile service is available in the capital of Roseau with free SMS messaging and WiFi being provided.

“4. Troops from Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, The UK, and France have arrived and are bringing some order back to the country after widespread looting.

“5 The USA has started activating their citizens.

“6 The CEWN (Caribbean Emergency and Weather Net) webmaster, Franz/J69DS has established a link from his server to the EOC in Roseau in order to pass on the more than 2,000 messages on hand.

“7 The CEWN continues to maintain a watch on 7188 kHz and 3815 kHz daily.

“8 Major infrastructural damage was done, thus limiting access to many areas on the island.”

And on St Croix, thieves stole the generator belonging to AT&T’s Gallow Bay Tower, causing a domino-effect internet and then cell-phone system collapse. A borrowed generator has been linked up, and is being guarded 24 hours a day by civilians, because communications on the island is the single most important system needed to bring relief and care where required.

At the other edge of the Pacific Rim of Fire, more than 120,000 people have fled a menacing volcano on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali, fearing it will erupt for the first time in more than half a century as increasing tremors rattle the region.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun said the numbers (leaving) on Sunday (according to) disaster officials are more than double previous estimates and are continuing to rise, they say. It includes people who left voluntarily as well as those told to evacuate from a nine to twelve kilometre zone around Mount Agung.

Authorities raised the volcano’s alert status to the highest level on Friday following a “tremendous increase” in seismic activity. Its last eruption in 1963 killed 1,100 people.

Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, a senior Cabinet minister, said on Sunday that the districts surrounding the volcano “must be prepared for the worst”.

Presumably, the volcano is evidence of further tectonic plate shift, some of which caused the Mexican earthquakes last week, killing more than 320 people.

I am pleased, though, to bring you a little good news in the form of a report from Grant ZS1GS, Western Cape Regional Director for HAMNET, of a successful deployment of HAMNET volunteers to assist with the Marloth Trail Run, held outside Swellendam in the Western Cape, over the long weekend.

Grant reports that four checkpoints and a base were manned by a total of 10 operators, with an 11th operating as a rover, and a 12th acting as a very useful HF and VHF relay station from his home. Two cross-band repeaters were implemented, to make contact with base easier, and the event went off without any serious mishaps. The rush to and from Swellendam was made easier for the team by Monday’s public holiday, and I gather the rest and relaxation before and after the race made up for any hard work during it. Well done Grant, and all who helped.

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