HAMNET Report 26th September 2021

This week’s natural disaster is the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, which took place on La Palma, Canary Islands. Apparently the island had experienced hundreds of small earthquakes during the preceding week, and, last Sunday afternoon, the 19th, the volcano couldn’t contain itself any longer and erupted, for the first time in 50 years.

Jose EA9E Emergency Comms Coordinator for Spain sent out a message to the IARU region 1 countries, asking that the emergency frequencies be kept clear in case of traffic. These are 3760, 7110, 14300 and 21350 KHz.

Later on Monday, Roman, EA8RH, Emcomm Coordinator for the EA8 region sent out a report, saying that civil wireless communications were not compromised since they are located in unaffected areas. There are amateur radio repeaters in the area which are active and functioning normally.

Roads were blocked in the populated areas of El Paraíso, Todo que, and Las Manchas, where lava has destroyed everything in its path. Power lines, landlines and water supply lines in the area have been interrupted by lava flows.

The entire area was evacuated before the eruption, which means that an approximate 5,000 inhabitants of the area were evacuated and another 5,000 inhabitants of the area were preparing to be evacuated according to the evolution of the situation.

The evacuees were relocated to the barracks of the fort in Santa Cruz de la Palma and the sports centres of the affected municipalities of El Paso, Llanos de Aridane and Tazacorte.

The area has a high population of radio amateurs with the capability of going out on HF and VHF.

By this last Wednesday a 9th eruptive vent had opened up on the summit of the volcano, but lava flow was slowing down. 6800 people had been evacuated from the area, 200 hundred houses damaged or destroyed, schools in 3 municipalities closed, 400 tourists relocated, and 6 roads were still blocked by lava in the surrounds.

Greg G0DUB has information that the volcano is expected to keep erupting for another 3 to 12 weeks.

In the light of possible emergency traffic on 3760 KHz for some time, HAMNET Western Cape has taken the decision to move its 80 metre relay of the Wednesday evening bulletin at 19h30 Bravo to 3770 KHz until further notice. Please take note of this change.

Meanwhile, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake at a depth of 10km occurred on 21st September at 9h15 local time in southeast Victoria State, in southeast Australia, followed by an aftershock 17 minutes later. Up to 21000 people were subjected to strong shaking, but no immediate reports of serious injury or deaths have been received, though damage to buildings and power supplies have been reported in Melbourne.

And, at about 4am local time on  22nd September, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck about 84km southwest of Jiquilillo, Nicaragua, and at a depth of 20km. There are apparently tectonic plates in the area which are colliding, as these things do.

This earthquake was followed by another 4.0 magnitude earthquake around 6:30am local time and other aftershocks of less intensity as confirmed by Juan de la Cruz Rodríguez Pérez, YN1J, President and National Emergency Coordinator of the Club de Radio Experimentadores de Nicaragua (CREN). Perceptibility reports have also been received from San Salvador, El Salvador.

Taking this situation into account and at the request of Juan de la Cruz, YN1J, the following emergency frequencies in Nicaragua on HF should be kept clear, namely the main frequency of 7098 kHz, and 7198 kHz as an alternative.

Carlos Alberto Santamaría González, CO2JC, EmComm Coordinator for IARU-R2 thanked everyone for their support and promised to remain vigilant.

The earth’s mantle has clearly been restless, with 26 earthquakes of magnitude 4.5 or higher being recorded on Tuesday alone, and another 20 on Thursday. The gods of the underworld must be angry about something!

Now you’ve heard me talking about the use of drones to aid in reduction in loss of life during natural disasters. These drones are obviously what you would call benevolent ones. What about malicious drones? These might be launched by agencies intent on damaging people or places by dropping small explosives, with a view to surveillance, or possibly disruption of airspace.

BBC Science Focus notes that, in the near future, swarms of robot vehicles could become even more dangerous, both on battlefields, and around civilian spaces like airports or sports grounds.

To address the issue, military researchers and arms manufacturers are developing directed energy weapons with the power to disable drones, by using lasers, particle beams, radio frequency waves, and more.

A US start-up called Epirus has created a system called Leonidas, which uses high-powered microwaves (HPM) to overwhelm drones’ on-board electronics. The system uses gallium nitride semiconductors to produce extreme levels of power density while firing the HPM. Operators can narrow the beam to target individual drones, or take down multiple threats across a wider field.

Epirus staged a demonstration event for government officials earlier this year, and the device disabled all 66 drones sent to swarm around it! Unlike some directed energy weapons, Leonidas is small enough to mount on a truck or a boat, and its rapid-fire capabilities make it practical on kinetic battlefields. Epirus is also in the late stages of development of even more compact and portable systems, and the technology could eventually lead to some kind of microwave gun.

And, as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) become cheaper and more prevalent, so too does their potential for harm in civilian spaces. In December 2018, London’s Gatwick Airport closed for two days after mysterious drones were reported in the skies around the runways. Fearing a collision could take down a passenger aircraft, the military was deployed and more than 1000 flights cancelled.

Other identified threats included recreational drones flying too close to rescue helicopters, attacks in civilian spaces, reconnaissance of nuclear sites, invasion of privacy and even as a distraction to aid criminals.

Thanks to BBC Science Focus for these paragraphs from their article.

Personally, it seems to me that anti-drone technology might be developed, only to be countered by anti-anti-drone technology systems which neutralize the high powered microwave beams, only to be overshadowed by cleverer microwave beams, and so on, ad infinitum.

When, I wonder, will mankind stop trying to destroy itself?

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

HAMNET Report 19th September 2021

This week, China is suffering even more natural disaster woes. The Tropical Cyclone called CHANTHU of last week is still leaving a path of destruction in its wake, still affecting 5 million people with 120km/h winds, rain and damage, as it moves North-East up the coastal areas of China. By this last Thursday, it was starting to threaten South Korea and the Southern Islands of Japan with heavy rain and strong winds.

Meanwhile a magnitude 5.4 earthquake struck South Eastern Sichuan Province in China on Wednesday the 15th at 20h33 UTC and at a depth of 10km. 15000 people were exposed to very strong shaking, and up to 372000 to strong shaking. Fortunately the area is apparently not very densely populated, and few casualties were reported. National authorities deployed emergency teams to the affected area.

In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, local infrastructure such as cell towers, power lines, and telephone and internet cable are often damaged or destroyed, limiting the ability for responders to share data and access the internet. With more organizations moving to a cloud-first IT strategy, the ability to bridge applications running in the cloud and tools operating at the edge is a key requirement for creating solutions that allow responders to operate effectively in these challenging environments.

Recently, the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Disaster Response team conducted a field testing operation designed to replicate a common disaster response scenario. Held in Northern Virginia, it included forward-deployed field locations (at/near a  disaster site) and a headquarters location (HQ) that was more than 25 miles away. The field sites had minimal working infrastructure and no cellular or internet connectivity, and the HQ was an office building with standard internet access and stable infrastructure. The goal of the exercise was to establish an ad-hoc network at the field sites that allowed team members to collect and process data at the edge, as well as create a link between the field site and HQ using the well-known Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network (AREDN) to provide access to cloud-based resources in the field.

Four licensed AWS amateur radio operators demonstrated how inexpensive and readily available radio hardware can be configured to use AREDN to provide connectivity between the edge site and the HQ location. By using commercial off-the-shelf hardware, the AWS team simulated real world response conditions, where hams bring equipment into the field to re-establish connectivity for disaster response teams.

Amateur Radio Emergency Data Networks are not new. The system has been in   use for some years already, and we have seen several “mesh” networks run in this country. Like all digital technology, it needs concentrated effort and understanding to keep the system alive and operating, but in times of emergency communications, such networks will allow messages and visual evidence easily to be transmitted.

Thanks to Mark, ZS6MDX for drawing my attention to this article, and to AWS for the use of excerpts from their write-up.

Here is a nice twist to the usual stories carried about students talking to astronauts on board the ISS. For the first time the students asking the questions will be hearing impaired.

The Reading Chronical reports that a group of deaf students at a school in Newbury will be making conversation with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station next month.

In October 2021, the Mary Hare School, Newbury, will be using Amateur Radio equipment set up with the help of Radio Amateurs from the Newbury and District Amateur Radio Society (NADARS).

These will be the first deaf children to have done this, making it a world first. The pupils will each ask a question to the astronaut who will then answer live over amateur radio. The reply will then be interpreted into subtitles.

During September, the deaf-specialist school will be running a competition inviting students to enter their question from one of five categories: science in space; space technology; living in space; space communication, and earth from space.

The ten best questions will be chosen by staff, and those students invited to ask their question on the day of broadcast.

Mr Ayling, science teacher at Mary Hare School, said: “It is a very exciting event – a world first for deaf pupils.

“I think it is very important to our deaf pupils as it shows whatever your challenges with communication are, there is no limit to what you can achieve.

The sky is not the limit.”

Indeed, in this day and age, there need be no limit!

Now how many of you have heard of “Havana Syndrome”? And, no, it doesn’t refer to quality cigars!

Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that doctors, scientists, intelligence agents and government officials have all been trying to find out what causes “Havana Syndrome” – a mysterious illness that has struck American diplomats and undercover agents. Some call it an act of war, others wonder if it is some new and secret form of surveillance – and some people believe it could even be all in the mind. So who or what is responsible?

It often starts with a sound, one that people struggle to describe. “Buzzing”, “grinding metal”, “piercing squeals”, was the best they could manage.

One woman described a low hum and intense pressure in her skull; another felt a pulse of pain. Those who did not hear a sound, felt heat or pressure. But for those who heard the sound, covering their ears made no difference. Some of the people who experienced the syndrome were left with dizziness and fatigue for months.

The “Havana Syndrome” naturally first emerged in Cuba in 2016. The first cases were CIA officers, which meant their symptoms were kept secret. But, eventually, word got out and anxiety spread. Twenty-six personnel and family members would report a wide variety of symptoms. There were whispers that some colleagues thought sufferers were crazy and it was “all in the mind”.

Five years on, reports now number in the hundreds and, the BBC has been told, span every continent, leaving a real impact on the US’s ability to operate overseas.

Uncovering the truth has now become a top US national security priority – one that an official has described as the most difficult intelligence challenge they have ever faced.

And before you start wondering, this problem arose before Covid-19!

As they used to say on Springbok Radio, don’t miss next week’s thrilling episode of this intriguing drama!  And, next time you light up one of your unhealthy but expensive cigars, spare a thought for some folks for whom the Havana experience is no pleasurable matter!

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

HAMNET Report 12th September 2021

This week it is China’s turn to be in the Tropical Cyclone spotlight. On Tuesday, two storms running parallel to each other in a north-westerly direction were announced. Tropical Cyclone CHANTHU was aiming for the mid-eastern coastline of China, having skimmed over the top of the Philippines and threatening nearly 6 million souls. And Tropical Cyclone CONSON was going to cross central Philippines, before making landfall on China’s coastline, slightly more south of CHANTHU and bringing danger to over a million people in its path.

By Wednesday afternoon, a RED alert for CHANTHU was announced, potentially bringing winds of up to 260 km/h, and imminent danger to 7.4 million people in China.

On Wednesday morning, our Region One coordinator, Greg Mossop G0DUB reported that he had received a communique from the Region Two coordinator, Carlos Alberto Santamaria Gonzalez CO2JC about an earthquake that had just occurred in Acapulco, Mexico, perceptible in the country’s capital and whose preliminary data from the National Seismological System were a Magnitude of 6.9, an epicentre 14km southeast of Acapulco, on 7th September at 20h47 their time, and at a depth of 10km.

Zian Julio Aguirre Taboada, XE1ATZ, director of Mexico’s National Emergency Network reported that nets were already active on a frequency of 7120 kHz.

At the time of the communique there were no reports of structural damage or loss of life. CO2JC reported that they were monitoring the frequency for any calls for help.

In the face of a potentially disastrous storm like Hurricane Ida, people take to Twitter and other social media sites to communicate vital information. New research published in the journal Risk Analysis suggests that monitoring and analysing this social media “chatter” during a natural disaster could help decision makers learn how to plan for and mitigate the impacts of severe weather events in their communities.

Jose E. Ramirez-Marquez from the Stevens Institute of Technology and Gabriela Gongora-Svartzman from Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College performed an analysis of more than six million Twitter posts over time during three major hurricanes that made landfall in 2017: Harvey (Texas), Irma (Florida), and Maria (Puerto Rico). The goal of their study was to develop and test a new method for measuring social cohesion, an important factor in a community’s resilience during the severe weather events brought on by climate change.

The methodology presented in Risk Analysis involves combining and implementing text processing techniques and graph network analysis to understand the relationships among nine different categories of Twitter users during a hurricane. These include citizens, media, government, entertainment, business, charity-NGOs-volunteers, sports, technology-science-education, and other verified accounts. Knowing who the participants are behind the messages can help researchers identify how authorities communicate which kinds of messages, how people affected by the hurricanes interact with them, and what their needs are.

Visualizations incorporated into the study illustrate the connections between social media participants and the degree of social cohesion throughout each hurricane’s timeline.

Social cohesion has been described as “the glue that holds society together.” It affects how a community comes together in times of need. Social cohesion can help reduce the number of vulnerabilities experienced by a community during a disaster and reduce the time it takes to rebuild. The stronger the social cohesion, the more resilient a community is.

Visualizations in the study illustrate the seven metrics that are combined to create a single measurement of social cohesion. One of those metrics is information dissemination. This refers to the intensity of tweets, or communication between participants, during the timeline captured for each hurricane. This timeline of social media activity for each hurricane shows how active participants were on each day before, during, and after the hurricane. A graph of the data shows that the intensity of communication peaks for each hurricane shortly before or shortly after it makes landfall. In the case of Maria in Puerto Rico, the analysis shows that a significant amount of conversation continues for more than a week after the hurricane ends—signifying that post-disaster management strategies were being put in place, rescues were occurring, and rebuilding efforts were starting to evolve.

The researchers hope this new method for tracking and visualizing social media communications during a severe storm can contribute to future risk management and disaster mitigation policies. “Because we identify the types of actors in a social network and how this network varies daily,  decision makers could use this measurement to release strategic communication before, during, and after a disaster strikes—thus providing relevant information to people in need,” says Ramirez-Marquez.

In light of the disastrous impacts of Hurricane Ida on the people of New Orleans, he adds, it is important to understand what happened during each storm to mitigate the impacts on the most vulnerable people. “If we had a national database of the social media communications pre-during-post disaster then we would be able better to identify the needs of a community and the limitations of current policy and response,” says Ramirez-Marquez. “It is concerning that the communities that experienced the harshest effects during Katrina will again be harshly affected during Ida. This shows a lack of learning from past events.”

Thanks to Phys.org for this interesting research report.

The ARRL reports that Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI) founder Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF — an assistant professor in The University of Scranton’s Physics and Engineering Department — has been awarded a grant through the NASA Space Weather Applications Operations Phase II Research Program. Frissell will serve as principal investigator for a research project entitled, “Enabling Space Weather Research with Global Scale Amateur Radio Datasets.” He’ll collaborate with Philip Erickson, W1PJE, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Haystack Observatory and Bill Engelke, AB4EJ, at the University of Alabama.

“This grant includes significant funding for participation of Scranton undergraduate students in this research, as well as support for new computation resources,” Frissell said. He explained that the grant will fund “the development of an empirical model for the prediction of traveling ionospheric disturbances (TIDs) in high-frequency radio communications while investigating the geophysical drivers of these disturbances.” The grant will cover 2 years of work.

Frissell said that the predictive, empirical TID models will be developed using data collected by the Reverse Beacon Network, WSPR, and PSKreporter — all automated, global-scale radio communication observation networks operated by the amateur radio community. Undergraduate students will help the faculty researchers to create algorithms used for the model development.

Professor Frissell is to be congratulated for the manner in which he has drawn amateur radio in to Citizen Science.

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

HAMNET Report 5th September 2021

Eight days ago, Tropical Storm Ida was a category 1 storm in the Caribbean, with winds of less than 120km/h, and threatening Cuba, and then Louisiana. By Sunday last it had strengthened to have winds in the 240km/h range, and threatening 2.7 million people in its path. It made landfall in Louisiana as a category 4 storm, and knocked out power for more than a million subscribers.

Excerpts from the ARRL letter this week say that the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) and the VoIP Hurricane Net (VoIP WX) were busy gathering ground-truth weather observations from radio amateurs as Hurricane Ida slammed into the Louisiana Gulf Coast on August 29 as a powerful Category 4 storm. ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES®) teams in Mississippi activated. Ida wrought extensive damage, especially in Louisiana and Mississippi, and left some 1 million customers in New Orleans and elsewhere without power — and some communities without water. Downgraded to a tropical depression, Ida continued its path up the eastern seaboard, causing further flash flooding and damage and even spawning a few tornadoes in the Mid-Atlantic States. The storm shut down New York City’s subways as well as rail and air traffic in New Jersey before moving into New England. At least 10 people died in the region as a result of the storm.

For the HWN, it was all hands on deck on Sunday, August 29, as the net resumed operation on both 14.325 MHz and 7.268 MHz. “We had a great number of reporting stations throughout the day and well into the evening,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said. “Unfortunately, there were times in which propagation completely disappeared.”

All told, the HWN was activated for 26 hours over the weekend, fielding reports ranging from mild winds to very high winds and torrential rainfall.

The VoIP Hurricane Net activation for Hurricane Ida wrapped up on Monday, August 30 after handling dozens of reports from stations in the affected area of Hurricane Ida that were sent to WX4NHC, the National Hurricane Centre Amateur Radio Station.

VoIP Hurricane Net Manager Rob Macedo, KD1CY, said radio amateurs on the N5OZG repeater system “provided constant ground truth from areas in and around New Orleans. All of these reports were also sent to WX4NHC, the amateur radio station at the National Hurricane Centre, as well.” Net control stations across the US also assisted with reporting and monitoring.

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®) in Mississippi activated on August 29 with several nets. On Sunday, August 29, VHF ARES nets were activated around the state for the purpose of passing weather reports, health-and-welfare traffic, and damage reports as needed.

Both the Mississippi ARES Emergency Net and the Mississippi Winlink Net activated on August 29. The Winlink Net operated until 18:00 on August 30, passing 80 messages, which were copied to KM5EMA, the Winlink station at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

According to further media reports, more than 40 people have died, of which 23 were in New Jersey, 13 in New York City, 5 in Pennsylvania, and 1 in Connecticut, 1 in Virginia and another in Maryland. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports evacuated people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and more than 100,000 people without power across New York and New Jersey. In addition, several rivers are at a major flood level.

Thanks to the various agencies for these compiled reports.

I received a report from Brian ZS1BTD, who assisted with an Air Sea Rescue exercise at Strandfontein Beach in the Cape on the 29th August. He writes:

“Arriving soon after 07:00B, a member of the BMW motorcycle club and I (representing WSAR) looked for a suitable landing zone. The usual LZ had numerous mole heaps. Walking in this area, I found myself falling up to 40cm into these holes. This made the area unusable and hazardous.

“An adjacent field had accommodated the dismantled desalination plant. Half the field had wooden sticks protruding in rows. The rest had parallel mounds crossing the width. It appeared to be made up of clay soil. This turned out to be ideal as it was firm and slightly moist, resulting in no dust during the exercise.

Sky-Med arrived at around 08:00.  (A potential Table Mountain callout had not materialized). Therefore extra exercise time was afforded. The Crew consisted of two pilots and two ELO’s (External Line Operators). Unfortunately only two out of five swimmers were on hand. One was from AMS, a female who volunteered to be a casualty. A senior female life guard from Fish Hoek also acted as a patient.  Station 16 provided the rest of the ‘casualties’. Various types of retrieval methods were practised, including something called ‘T-bagging’. The LZ was controlled, preventing any public access.

“After the swimmer and patient/casualty touched down, the long line was retrieved by kneeling down and zig-zagging it in front of you, while Sky-Med landed about 5 metres in front of that. The line was then passed under the skids. The attached end was handed to an ELO who loaded the line into a bag, with the end buoy and hook going in last.  A chopper landing in front of you is quite exhilarating, but focusing on securing the long line keeps your mind at ease.

“All in all it was reported to be a highly successful training session. All parties contributed to it being safe and informative.

“There was a request from the pilot for the Rescue craft to be positioned at 10 o’clock to the patient in the water.  This provided orientation when Sky-Med approached the swimmer and patient for the lift. This is a major help as it is difficult for the pilot to see below his aircraft.   The principal swimmer also gave a few instructions and requests.  Comm’s were maintained between the LZ and 16 Base.

“Ground communications at the LZ was conducted by me (ZS1BTD), but was limited to Marine Band. Sky-Med ZS-HCG requested for comm’s to be on Air Band as it had had all other radio’s removed. This was not possible as I did not have an Air Band radio available.  Hand signals were used instead.”

Thanks, Brian, for the comprehensive report. Well done there on demonstrating your capabilities.

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