HAMNET Report 25th July 2021

The Global Disaster Alert Coordination System is reporting on two tropical Cyclones threatening Japan and China this week.

Tropical Cyclone CEMPAKA, with wind speeds up to 140km/h was active in the North West Pacific, threatening more than 2 million people along the coast of China on Thursday. Twelve deaths had been reported and 100 000 people displaced in Zhengzhou City. The highest rainfall since record-keeping began, in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous region, caused two dams to collapse, affecting 16000 people.

This cyclone is causing heavy rains in the Northern half of the Philippines too. Adding to their misery, they weathered a magnitude 6.8 earthquake along their Western coastline on Friday at about 11pm our time. It occurred at a depth of 100km, but exposed nearly 13 million people to injury within a 100km radius. It comes as no surprise then that their prominent Taal volcano is at alert level 3, defined as “restive magmatic activities”, and that the volcano area measured 95 volcano earthquake activities on Friday. Nearly 15000 people have had to move away and take shelter elsewhere.

And Tropical Cyclone IN-FA, with wind speeds up to 176 km/h was bearing down on Japan and thereafter the coast of China, threatening 11.5 million people at much the same time. Red warnings were issued for high waves and moderate rainfall in the Ryukyu Islands in Southern Japan.

Severe weather was also reported in Pakistan and India, where monsoon rains caused flash floods, casualties and damage, as well as in Iran, where heavy rainfall has been experienced in the last week, causing flash flooding, casualties and damage to buildings. Search and rescue operations are ongoing. The same is true of the Indonesian part of the Island of Borneo, where 27000 people were affected, and 15000 buildings damaged by heavy rainfall since the 13th July, with more rain still to come.

And this is all over and above the devastation across Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland in the last week. The missing people of Germany are not all accounted for yet.

Meanwhile South Africa has had its coldest spell this winter so far, with 19 low temperature records in parts of the country surpassed on Thursday and Friday nights. You asked for snow this winter? You’ve got it!

The National Weather Service in the US plans to communicate the severity and potential impacts from severe thunderstorm wind and hail better by adding a “damage threat” tag to Severe Thunderstorm Warnings starting on July 28th, 2021. Severe Thunderstorms deemed “destructive” will activate a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) on smartphones, says Spencer Denton, writing in Action News 5.

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are short emergency messages from authorized federal, state, local, tribal and territorial public alerting authorities that can be broadcast from cell towers to any WEA‐enabled mobile device in a locally targeted area. Wireless providers primarily use cell broadcast technology for WEA message delivery. WEA is a partnership among FEMA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and wireless providers to enhance public safety.

WEAs can be sent to your mobile device when you may be in harm’s way, without the need to download an app or subscribe to a service. WEAs are messages that warn the public of an impending natural or human-made disaster. The messages are short and can provide immediate, life-saving information.

HAMNET members in South Africa were treated to a very interesting lecture on a virtual platform, given by Peter Myers, of SmithMyersCommunications in Scotland, on Wednesday evening. Mr Myers described their “Artemis” system, which allows rescuers to poll any or specific cell phones that may be in a search area, and pinpoint their position, either by using their GPS transmissions, or by triangulation. Radio equipment installed in Leonardo rescue helicopters acts like a cell tower, which is recognized by cell phones of unresponsive victims after an accident or natural disaster, and responded to automatically by the cell phone. These pings trigger the system in the helicopter, which progressively narrows down the search area as it flies within 35km of the phone, until searchlights or infra-red cameras on the helicopter can spot the victim.

The system in the helicopter is used where there are few or no cell phone towers in the search area. In an urban area, there are enough cell towers usually to be able to pinpoint the location of a victim and his phone by triangulation without assistance.

So your smartphone will become your rescue aid, even if you are unable to speak to use it, for whatever reason, and this kind of technology, in an ideal world, should be fitted to all search and rescue aircraft initially and perhaps to sea rescue craft too.

The equipment shown in the lecture fits inside a medium Pelican case, and needs external antennas in the cell phone frequency bands.

Thank you to Ian ZS1OSK and Michael ZS1MJT for facilitating this talk on a virtual platform for us.

Those of you with the letters “CW” for Continuous Wave, or Morse Code, embossed on your hearts will be happy to hear that the Indian Express newspaper reports Police in Pune are keeping Morse code as a robust stand-by communications mode.

The report says that in the era of satellite communication, which involves transmitting signals into space and back, and internet based systems transferring gigabytes of data in a flash, police have kept alive the age-old system of Morse Code – a primitive but effective method of sending messages in the form of dots and dashes.

Every Sunday, an operator with Pune Police’s wireless wing sends a Morse Code message to the office of the Director General of Police, Maharashtra. While this is their way of paying tribute to one of the earliest modes of telecommunication, it is primarily a way of maintaining a robust stand-by mode of message delivery in case all other means of communication fail.

Pune City police have recently started a series of tweets featuring the communication systems used by the police and their evolution till date. On Sunday, Pune Police Commissioner Amitabh Gupta tweeted, “As an ode to the beginning of wireless communications, the Commissioner’s Office still uses Morse Code to transmit Messages every Sunday.”

This is news that gives one a good feeling, in a world and country full of drama, weather and illness. To borrow an expression: “May the Morse be with you!”

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