HAMNET Report 5th January 2020


The huge bushfires ravaging large parts of Australia this week occupy centre stage in our first HAMNET report for the new year.

Greg Kelly VK2GPK, President of the Wireless Institute of Australia, reported on 31 December that the WIA has received advice that there are major outages of telecommunications in areas impacted by the bushfires either currently or expected to occur overnight. This disruption advice currently applies to areas of NSW and VIC.

The scope and range of these impacts is unknown at this stage but are predicted to cover all internet and phone (fixed and mobile) and other commercial radio services.

The WIA kindly asks Radio Amateurs to monitor the EMCOM HF frequencies (as per IARU-R3 EMCOM bandplan on the WIA or IARU-R3 website) whenever feasible over the next 24 to 48 hours.

VHF and UHF Repeaters should also be monitored wherever possible.

Amateurs seeking to establish emergency communication should use these EMCOMM frequencies in the first instance, or repeaters if available. Radio Amateurs who are volunteers for WICEN, CREST, etc. should keep themselves updated from the respective websites of these organisations. Emergency Communication is one of the three main reasons Radio Amateurs have access to RF Spectrum. Please assist if and when you can.

As an IARU member society, the WIA has adopted these recommended frequencies. “Centre of Activity” frequencies are not spot frequencies or net frequencies. They are recommended as starting points for emergency traffic which may extend 5 kHz above or below the designated centre frequency.

3.600 MHz.
7.110 MHz.
14.300 MHz.
18.160 MHz.
21.360 MHz.

And, reporting in Amateir Radio Newsline, Graham Kemp VK4BB says that, as bushfires fires consumed more than 4 thousand square miles in New South Wales alone, officials in Australia were bracing for the latest rash of blazes that they said could lead to the most dangerous bushfire week in the nation’s history. New South Wales called a state of emergency and additional fires flared in Western Australia and Queensland. Members of the Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network, or WICEN, were called to harness their radio skills in the face of an overwhelming catastrophe. Edwin Lowe VK2VEL, a Facebook administrator for WICEN New South Wales, told Newsline that hams were deployed to provide logistical support for the Rural Fire Service along with community evacuation and welfare support.

WICEN NSW’s publicity officer Julian Sortland VK2YKS said that hams sent to the Rural Fire Service Command Centre in northern VK2 had begun rotations operating the RFS’ own radio system. Julian said members of WICEN’s parent body, the Volunteer Rescue Association, were staffing the Bush Fire Information Line in Sydney, likely alongside WICEN members.

Edwin said that hams were also functioning as scribes for firefighting Incident Management Teams. He noted, however that it was not so much amateur radio itself playing a critical role here but [quote] “the adaptability and skills of the amateur radio operators who are members of WICEN NSW” [unquote]

In Queensland the VK4RAT VHF and UHF Amateur Radio Repeaters, the VK4RTL 10m 6m and 23cm beacons, the TAC08 CH8 UHF CB Repeater and the SES CH01 Repeater are all off air due to damage done by bushfires that swept through the summit on Sunday evening 10th November.

And summarizing the situation on the 1st of January, 7news.com.au said that

18 people have been killed across this bushfire season – sadly, that number is likely to rise.

More than one-thousand homes have been lost.

Thousands of Australians have been stranded.

The military has been deployed.

Australia is facing a humanitarian crisis.

About 150 fires continued to burn in NSW and Victoria on Thursday.

And all of this happens as NSW braces for a catastrophic weekend of horror weather.

Tens of thousands are also without power after transmission lines were damaged in NSW. Police asked for patience as utility providers attempted to restore power and telecom services.

“We have to make sure that when we restart the power, we do that with safety and confidence, that it will remain on,” NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said.

Residents in Victoria are also still suffering – phones remain cut across much of the region. Tourists on the NSW south coast, a popular holiday region are now being urged to leave as locals and authorities brace for severe and extreme fire danger on Saturday, December 4th .

“Where roads can be accessed, we will be encouraging tourists, especially, to move out of those areas whilst it’s safe to do so,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Wednesday, January 1.

Victorian residents were likely to be evacuated by air and sea as the Defence Force began relief operations in the area following a request from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

Aircraft, including Black Hawk helicopters, were expected to commence work late on Wednesday, with other aircraft and naval vessels due in the coming days.

The town was hit by fire on Tuesday as 4000 people sheltered on a beach amid apocalyptic scenes.

“The next few days are going to be a lot of hard work and the next few months will be a very long and steady process of helping these communities to rebuild,” Mr Andrews said.

Writing in Echo Net Daily on Thursday, Paul Bibby said that Disaster recovery assistance had already been extended to those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed by fires in the Bega Valley, Greater Hume, Snowy Monaro, Snowy Valleys and Upper Lachlan Local Government Areas.

‘This will help people whose homes or belongings have been badly damaged,’ Federal Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud said.

‘Practical assistance is also available to support ongoing firefighting operations and clean-up efforts.

‘Bushfires have been burning for weeks and pose a threat to lives, properties and communities.

‘We are monitoring the situation closely and will provide further assistance to communities as needed.’

Over 2,200 firefighters, incident management teams and more than 100 firefighting aircraft have been deployed to NSW over the past weeks.

Curiously, and almost simultaneously with all these reports, several sources amongst emergency communications groups around the world have pondered why radio amateurs who are involved in these kind of disaster relief activities, are so shy in drawing attention, with the right kind of publicity, to the work they are doing. Amateur radio emergency communication plays a huge role in ensuring stable communications as wired services are damaged, but nobody bothers to blow their own trumpet.

Is it not time that we all start creating more publicity around the important role we can play?

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