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.