Poor old Vanuata is in the wars again. On Tuesday, GDACS issued a red alert for Tropical Cyclone JUDY, approaching the island group from the north-east, and expected to be overland on Wednesday the 1st of March, with wind speeds up to 200km/h and a high humanitarian impact on the population, based on its strength and previous storm experiences. About 160000 people were in its line of fire.

In fact reports arrived of damaged buildings and power outages on Wednesday afternoon, and, while about 500 people had to be evacuated from their homes, there were no reports of deaths or serious injuries, though heavy rainfall, thunderstorms and floods were still expected over the northern Vanuata islands on Thursday.

Meanwhile, hot on JUDY’s heels, a tropical depression, to be called Cyclone KEVIN was forming in the Pacific, and due to follow JUDY’s path, bringing gale force winds to Vanuata on 2nd March, and later to New Caledonia.

GDACS reported on Friday that, as of 1st March, more than 226000 people had been affected by the passage of cyclone FREDDY over Madagascar, with 7 deaths, and 37700 people displaced by the storm. 28800 houses were destroyed or damaged, as also several schools, 16 community health centres and partial damage to 2 hospitals.

As it crossed Mozambique, FREDDY killed 7 people, caused the evacuation of 9268 people to 26 accommodation centres, and otherwise affected 163300 people. More than 27800 houses were destroyed or damaged, and reports were received of damage to schools, public infrastructure and services.

For Friday and Saturday, moderate rain and localized thunderstorms were forecast for Mozambique, and heavy rain expected across south-western Madagascar. FREDDY was not a minor storm, was it!

Grant Southey ZS6GS, our national HAMNET Director, and Brian Jacobs ZS6YZ, our deputy national Director both sent me reports on the conference held last week in Umhlanga, hosted by South African Search and Rescue (SASAR) under the auspices of the Department of Transport. 

The keynote speech was delivered by the Deputy Minister of Transport Ms Sindiswe Chikunga. During the conference, it was established that the government resources for Search & Rescue (S&R) are dwindling, and we are worse off than we were a few years ago. This means that more reliance is made on volunteer organisations such as MCSA, K9SARA, SARZA and of course HAMNET. 

A number of working group sessions were held to discuss some of the pressing issues that S&R in South Africa are facing, and resolutions that can be taken to the government were drafted for discussion. HAMNET were also given the opportunity to present some information on who we are and what we can do to assist the S&R members. 

A highlight of the three days was a gala dinner hosted on Monday evening, which included an awards ceremony. At the ceremony, Francois Botha ZS6BUU, now ZS4X was awarded a SASAR Platinum Aristocrat Award, recognizing his continuous commitment and dedication to S&R in South Africa over the years. HAMNET wishes to take this opportunity to congratulate Francois, and let him know that his efforts have not gone unnoticed by the S&R fraternity as well as HAMNET. Santjie White, another friend of HAMNET received the same Platinum Award in recognition of her ongoing contributions.

HAMNET also received a trophy and certificate, which reads: in grateful appreciation for many years of outstanding service and commitment to the South African Search and Rescue Organisation – Awarded by Honourable MR FA Mbalula, Minister of Transport.

Another invaluable outcome of the conference was the face to face meeting with some of the members within the community. Some good relationships were initiated, which will be built upon to further the goals of HAMNET for future endeavours. Many of the names that we have dealt with via electronic communications over the years now have a face to them, and we look forward to fostering these relationships. The motto of the organisation is “Joining hands so that others may live” and presents a real inspiration and initiative. 

The United States Coast Guard has been testing new electronic hearing protection earbuds. The earbuds do more than effectively block out background noise in loud spaces with machinery. Testers were able to carry on a normal conversation with the person next to them.

These adaptive earbuds lower the levels of harmful frequencies, while amplifying speech. They’re part of the Coast Guard’s ongoing effort to provide tools that promote its members’ safety.   

It’s a timely intervention. A 2019 Department of Veterans Affairs report found that tinnitus was the most common medical claim filed by military members, while hearing loss came in at number two. Cutters and small boats expose operators to 85 decibels when in operation, but most members aren’t in these environments consistently without hearing protection for the eight hours it would take to cause damage.  

Sound levels in engine rooms, on the other hand, can reach 105 decibels or higher. Once at that level, being in a space for a few minutes even can lead to acute hearing loss, putting personnel at risk during boarding or inspections. 

Currently, the service uses removable foam ear plugs and sets of large earmuffs. Both can mute noise, but in doing so, they also make it difficult to hear regular conversation. As one enforcement specialist at Sector Boston, described it: “Teams in the engine room have two choices: wear the earmuffs and lose situational awareness and radio comms, or go without to maintain comms with the team at the cost of damaging your hearing.”  

The search for an improvement eventually turned up electronic earbuds made by OTTO and 3M. The sets were similar in function and price to the bulky earmuffs, and could last up to 16 hours before needing to be recharged. In addition, the technology is there to incorporate radio communications in the future to improve situational awareness and safety.  

They sound like a specialized form of noise-cancelling earbuds, able to block out the intense noise at specific frequencies these engine-room operators and coast-guard inspectors have to endure. Certainly a clever adaptation of the earbuds with which you listen to your podcasts or music, while walking a downtown street.

Thank you to mycg.uscg.mil for these excerpts from their report.

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