HAMNET Report 2nd January 2022

Welcome to the world of HAMNET in this new year. These new dates will sure take a bit of getting used to! Those of you wondering why I don’t write much about local emergency communications should note that very little happens in South Africa for us to communicate about.

We certainly don’t have the devastating weather that so many other areas of the world experience, we don’t have many earthquakes around here, and even the large brushfires so typical of California and Australia can’t be matched by anything in South Africa.

We are singularly good at killing ourselves off on our roads, but we do that in dribs and drabs, and Ham Radio Emcomms is very seldom needed to manage those. What we do have a fair amount of, usually, are sporting events like marathons, bicycle tours, long distance swims, and triathlons. These sporting events have been struggling under the impact of the Coronavirus, so a good 50% of them have been cancelled in the last 2 years. HAMNET is usually very good at providing logistical support for these events, but has been starved of practice since February 2020. Let’s hope 2022 and the Omicron version of the plague returns us to half a semblance of normality, such that we can start playing radio again in the way we enjoy most.

In the meantime, I continue to search the news outlets for items of interest to electronic, scientific, biological and cosmological enthusiasts, to keep all our grey matter just ticking over slowly. Please join me in what I hope remains an interesting wander through the natural sciences this year.

Those of you with dyslexia will be struggling to remember whether it was JWST or WSJT that got launched on Christmas Day! It’s signals will become very weak, true, through no effort of Joe Taylor, but the ESA and NASA will have no difficulty picking up the science that the James Webb Space Telescope sends, once it gets to le Grange point 2, from a mere 1.5 million kilometers away, using the Deep Space Network of tracking dishes scattered around the globe.

So far, all is going to plan, and by today (Sunday) the JWST may just have reached the half way point to its destination. In fact, it successfully unfurled its insulation shields yesterday. Its forward momentum will clearly slow down, because it’s going to take the rest of a month to get there, having taken a week to get halfway! I don’t think many of the 433 discrete actions that have to take place to unfurl the telescope and get it started up have taken place yet, so this is like a never-ending hurdle race which the autonomous telescope more or less has to negotiate on its own before it becomes a usable instrument. I think there will be a lot more grey hairs amongst the controllers before the commissioning is over. Here’s hoping all goes according to plan..

Southgate Amateur Radio News notes that, as the pandemic  speeds up once again and people are advised to limit their in-person social interactions, a small group of people are reaching out across the airwaves from Barrie to connect with others in a much different way.

The Barrie Amateur Radio Club has been one of the few organisations that has thrived during the now two-year COVID crisis.

Formed in the 1960s, its current band of roughly 60 like-minded members is armed with dependable radio technology that has been in use for over a hundred years. And they use the equipment not just for its social aspects, but also to fulfil a need if called upon in there city when disaster strikes.

Part of the club’s mission statement is to “maintain radio systems suitable for providing communications for the benefit of the community and, when requested, to assist civil authorities.”

Prior to the pandemic, the club held monthly meetings with police and fire services to discuss training scenarios and what the club’s role could be in helping during an emergency.

Ed Murray, the club’s public information officer, says that his favourite part of being a member is “helping the community, and also the camaraderie with the 60 different members that have a wide range of talents and experiences to share.”

“During the early days of the pandemic, during isolation in 2020, I spent a lot of time down here in my radio shack, talking. We had a wellness check where people would get on their radios at 1:30 every afternoon and we would all take our turns to say what is going on and how we were doing,” Murray says.

“Clubs would reach out to other clubs as well. We’ve been able to take the situation and turn it around and put it into a positive light,” he adds.

Thanks to SARN for this adaptation of their report.

Mark, ZS6MDX has reminded me of further developments in the efforts of German Hams to develop radio bridges and high-performance Wi-Fi networks over radio to allow communications amongst disaster agencies in Germany.

Market Research Telecast says that the German radio amateurs who have joined forces in the non-profit German Amateur Radio Club (DARC) have developed a new emergency radio concept. During the flood disaster in the Ahr valley, they hardly got a chance, because the rescue workers had a powerful communication infrastructure with new digital radios for authorities and the radio bridges that amateurs could build could hardly be integrated.

According to its own information, the Emergency and Disaster Radio Department at DARC has been analysing for a long time how the requirements for emergency radio have changed as a result of technical change. In the future, German radio amateurs in disaster areas will no longer just record and forward messages as before, but rather set up high-performance Wi-Fi networks that allow those affected to access the Internet and send messages and retrieve information themselves via smartphone or notebook.

The non-profit association is currently procuring a first prototype for such a system, that can be transported in a vehicle trailer and works independently of the power grid. If the concept proves its worth, such emergency systems will in future be available throughout Germany, so that the voluntary helpers of the association can bring them to the site quickly if necessary. The systems not only include the WLAN components, but also, for example, a network-independent power supply and charging stations for the population to charge mobile devices. Starting in April, the association wants to demonstrate in practice how powerful such an emergency radio solution can be with the prototype.

Thanks to Market Research Telecast for these notes.

I’d like to end by strongly encouraging all of you who read this or listen to it, to do your best to be of service to your community in 2022, assisting where help is needed, and keeping amateur radio’s flag flying high.

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