HAMNET Report 12 November 2017

This Sunday past, the 5th November, HAMNET Gauteng South, through their relationship with the organisers of the Emperors Palace Classic through Ekhuruleni in Johannesburg, were asked to assist with the first ever Tshwane Classic cycle race in Pretoria.

Glynn, ZS6GLN, tells me that, for a first ever event, over 4700 riders participated, with one of the VIP riders on the day being the mayor of Tshwane, who, we believe, rode the 20km event.

A call was put through to Johan de Bruyn (ZS6JHB), regional director of Gauteng North asking if his team would like to assist. Johan replied with 5 eager volunteers and assigned Brian Jacobs (ZS6YZ) as his fill in for the event. Brian and the Gauteng North team turned out to be an exceptional asset. Brian attended the briefing session with Glynn Chamberlain (ZS6GLN) on the Saturday morning and was perfectly placed to provide critical info on the route not only for HAMNET, but also the organisers who were not all fully familiar with Pretoria.

Furthermore, Chad Mileham (ZS6OPS) who is regional co-ordinator for the HAMNET Gauteng South West Rand group, forwarded the request to his team and another 5 members eagerly volunteered.

Everyone arrived on the Sunday morning for a team briefing at 04h30, and after formalities and the briefing had been given, everyone dispersed to their respective positions on the course.

Everyone was apprehensive as to how members from 3 different HAMNET groups who had never met before were going to work together. Well, the team matched the professionalism of many of our previous races in the past, and the interaction between the members was incredible. It is gratifying that, if groups are required to come together for a real emergency one day, they will operate like they did on the day.

In the end, there were some serious altercations and eventual hot spots. Brian (ZS6YZ) landed up in the thick of it when traffic at his intersection got out of hand. Barricades were being set up, rocks placed on the roads and stones thrown at the TMPD (Tshwane Metro Police Department). Through Brian’s immediate reports back, Police and Metro Police manning the JOCC and listening to Brian’s reports were incredibly swift to deploy additional support to the intersection and bring it back under control. To say the JOCC got quite active is an understatement.

While this was happening, HAMNET resources that were stationed at other intersections with fewer issues were deployed north to possibly assist with a route change because of the issues at Brian’s intersection. The rendezvous for these teams was the intersection of Paul Kruger and Mansfield Avenue, two major arterials. Unbelievably, the situation there started deteriorating with the police battling to control motorists. By the time HAMNET members started arriving there for the possible re-route, Brian’s intersection was under control, so they jumped in to assist the police right there. In the end, there were Anette (ZR6D), Awie  (ZS6AVI), Francois (ZS6COI), and Judy (ZS6JDY), with later support from Leon (ZS6LMG) and Johan (ZS6DMX), all ably controlled by Rory Crouch (ZS6RBJ) who constantly gave and received instructions from the JOCC and communicated with the impromptu team who were now assisting in the intersection. In order not to overload the JOCC frequency, Rory managed a sub net amongst the team members on scene and became the one communications point between the JOCC and everyone on the intersection. Well done Rory!

To summarise, the comments received from the team members were fantastic. They all thoroughly enjoyed the day and experienced something completely new and enjoyable. Both Leon and Glynn felt the cream on the cake was seeing how well three separate HAMNET groups could interact in such a friendly and professional manner. And, new friendships were forged in a wonderful hobby helping with community service and self-sacrifice.

Thank you Glynn for the comprehensive report. It sounds like you all had a day of many and varied experiences!

News of future exercises comes from Alister ZS1OK, who tells us that the City of Cape Town will be running a disaster exercise on Thursday the 23rd November. Alister says at least 4 HAMNET volunteers are required to assist, each at a different permanent or mobile control centre, from 09h00 until 14h00 that day. John Bayly Brown, the CoCT Volunteer coordinator, has promised to provide a letter to employers motivating and stating the role HAMNET volunteers will have during the exercise.

If you can take time off on a Thursday, please contact Alister at zs1ok.alister@gmail.com. Thank you.

In a more humorous vein, some of you will know that Helen of Troy had beauty which was enough to launch a thousand Greek ships to rescue her from Troy. You’ll therefore understand that one milliHelen is the amount of beauty required to launch one ship. David Goines “Helen Beauty Scale” defines a microHelen as enough beauty to Christen a motorboat and start a grass fire, and a gigaHelen as enough to launch one trillion Greek warships and destroy the solar system. In similar vein, a picture paints a thousand words, and a millipicture therefore paints one word, and Carl Sagan, who narrated the original “Cosmos” and was always describing things in terms of “billions and billions”, has had his name immortalised as being equivalent to an impossibly large quantity of anything and everything! Thank you to Wikipaedia for these units of measurement.

I wonder whether a milliHAMNET member could be defined as someone who can get the message through using just one word…….

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

HAMNET Report 5 November 2017

Glynn Chamberlain, ZS6GLN, Deputy Regional Director, HAMNET Gauteng South, tells us that Hamnet exhibited at the Southern African Emergency Services Institute (SAESI) expo at Nasrec Expo Centre in the south of Johannesburg from Wednesday the 1st of November till Friday the 3rd November inclusive.

Hamnet Gauteng South had their forward control centre on show together with other equipment used in community events and disaster situations.

This is the first of hopefully many expos that Hamnet will be participating in to spread the word of emergency communications in disaster and community events.

For more info on SAESI, visit https://www.saesi.com/. Thanks, Glynn.

Continuing my references to space and radio signals, consider the case of the two Voyager spacecraft, which have left the solar system and are currently in interstellar space. Voyager one and two are about 20 Billion Kilometres and 16 Billion Kilometres away from us respectively, and a round trip to send and receive the results of a command to and from either of them takes about 39 hours. They were launched in 1977, completed their solar system tasks in the 1980’s, and have been travelling outwards ever since.

The fact that their signals can still be received is a tribute to the antennas they carry and transmit to, and those are the figures I’d like to bring to your attention today.

The signal path loss for Voyager one, using one of its comms frequencies of 2.3 GHz, has been calculated at 306.6dB. Voyager’s 3.7m parabolic dish antenna has a gain of 57 dB, but the strength of its transmitted signal is only 23 watts. However, at the receiving end, NASA’s Deep Space Network has three sites, at Goldstone, Canberra and Madrid, each of which has  three or more large dish antennas, the biggest of which is 70 metres in diameter, giving it 82 dB of gain.

No matter how strong the signal, it is the quality of the antenna which guarantees the reception of the signal. And the greater the gain, the narrower the beamwidth, so the antennas need to be pointed exactly at each other to hear each other. The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that the success of any radio system lies with the antennas. In the case of the Voyagers, there’s nothing to be done about the speed of travel of the message, at the speed of light, so those astronomers need to be patient and wait the 39 hours!

Thank you to Microwaves & RF for the details in this insert.

Now, here’s something for the scientists amongst you. In the ARRL letter for November the 2nd, HamSCI – the Amateur Radio citizen science initiative – has announced a 2-day workshop February 23-24, 2018, at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in Newark. HamSCI’s Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF, has posted a survey to gauge interest and potential attendance.

“We are inviting all hams and scientists interested in ham radio science,” Frissell said. “The aim of this workshop is to foster collaborations between the ham radio and the space science and space weather research communities through presentations, discussions, and demonstrations. This year’s meeting will focus on solar eclipse analysis, ham radio data sources and databases, and the development of a ‘personal space weather station.'”

Frissell, an NJIT assistant research professor, invited presentations from within the Amateur Radio community. “We will also accept submissions of abstracts and demonstrations of other topics that are of interest to ham radio and ionospheric science,” he said. “The solar eclipse topic is a follow-up to this summer’s total solar eclipse and the Solar Eclipse QSO Party (SEQP). We hope to have presentations from both ham radio operators and professional scientists showing the data that they have collected and what they think it means.”

The tentative schedule calls for oral presentations on “Ham Radio Data Sources, Databases Analysis” and “Solar Eclipse Effects on the Ionosphere, including results from the Solar Eclipse QSO Party.” Phil Erickson, W1PJE, of MIT’s Haystack Observatory is scheduled to be the Friday evening banquet speaker. Tutorials on Saturday will include “Ham Radio for Space Scientists,” with Frank Donovan, W3LPL, and “Space Science for Ham Radio Operators” (speaker pending).

Frissell said HamSCI would like to encourage development of the “Personal Space Weather Station” concept. “This is analogous to a personal weather station that people install at their homes to measure temperature, wind speed, rainfall, and humidity, and report this data to groups like the NWS, NOAA, and Weather Underground,” Frissell said. “We want to create a similar package for space weather and have that data go to a single repository.”

“An ideal personal space weather station would likely include instruments able to detect things such as traveling ionospheric disturbances, radio blackouts, propagation changes, lightning, and magnetospheric activity, Frissell said. It would probably include, at a minimum, a wideband software-defined radio, a magnetometer, a timing source, and a computer — all currently available, but not as an integrated package, he pointed out.

At the February workshop, HamSCI wants to better define the capabilities of a personal space weather station as well as how to implement the concept. “HamSCI will be teaming up with TAPR to do this,” Frissell said. “Scientists will talk about what science topics the device should be able to measure, and TAPR will discuss how to actually design and implement the device.”

Frissell said he hopes hams attending will come away more knowledgeable about ionospheric and space science, and scientists will gain a better understanding of Amateur Radio.

So there’s a nice challenge for you!

A quick dam report for the Western Cape. The dam levels have subsided with 0.1percentage point, which is a relief, and other good news is that the water quality compliance is 99.59%, above the 98% target, so whatever comes out of the taps is drinkable! We squirm uneasily in our chairs as we watch the sky for clouds!

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

 

HAMNET Report 29 October 2017

HAMNET congratulates the RAE candidates who wrote and passed their exams this week, and have been allocated their new call-signs. We look forward to welcoming you all to the bands, and repeaters, promise to do our best to guide you through all the pitfalls encountered as you start your exploration of RF electronics, and hope at least some of you will join HAMNET, the emergency communications wing of the South African Radio League. We practise providing communications to sporting events, local or national disasters, and car rallies, and have groups in all the regions in South Africa, so look on the SARL website for the HAMNET page down the left hand side of the home page, and pick up some information there on your area’s activations.

Today sees HAMNET Gauteng South assisting with the Carnival City road race for cyclists, and next Sunday the Tshwane Classic race. Good luck with these two events, Leon, ZS6LMG, and all your operators. We hope you’ll report to us on both the events.

Richard Talcott, writing in Astronomy’s local group Blog, has commented on something that I’m sure a lot of you have been puzzling over. He says:

“While discussing the possibility of intelligent life in the universe over lunch with his fellow scientists, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi asked the simple question: “Where are they?” The line came to be known as the “Fermi Paradox,” and the argument boils down to this: If the universe is teeming with life, and some reasonable percentage of that life has developed advanced technology, then these civilizations should have populated our corner of the Milky Way long ago. Several potential solutions to the paradox exist, ranging from the possibility that we are alone in the cosmos to the chance that the aliens already live among us.

[Last] Thursday at the 49th annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences in Provo, Utah, S. Alan Stern suggested a new solution: Perhaps the aliens populate ocean worlds cut off from the outside universe by thick crusts of ice or rock. Stern, best known as the principal investigator on the New Horizons mission that explored Pluto, points out that we now know of at least four such worlds in our solar system, and evidence suggests there could be five or more additional ones. And there’s no reason to suspect that they wouldn’t be common among the exoplanet population.

Such water worlds might even have a few advantages over their surface-water cousins. For one, they would be better protected from external hazards like harsh radiation, large impacts, and changing climates. Interior oceans would provide a more stable environment that poses less risk to any life that might develop. But their thick crusts also naturally isolate them from the universe beyond. They would be hard to detect and would face enormous difficulties communicating with the outside world — if they even knew a outside world existed.

The existence of these ocean environments hidden beneath thick shells could offer an elegant solution to the Fermi Paradox, and fittingly one that Enrico and his lunch buddies could never have imagined.”

The most recent discussion of subsurface water worlds surrounds Enceladus, one of the many moons of Saturn, recently researched by the Cassini spacecraft, which burned up in Saturn’s atmosphere after a successful 13 year mission of investigation. Using magnetometers on board Cassini, researchers proved that Enceladus has a dry crust, which has been fractured, and which is leaking water vapour from within, with other molecules of organic materials like methane, revealed by spectrometers on board! The question is, what is going on under that crust? When Cassini’s fuel cells were running dry, and it was decided that Cassini should be allowed to self-destruct in Saturn’s atmosphere, it was purposely made to crash into Saturn, and not allowed to drift to its demise, in case it hit one of the moons and polluted the atmosphere, thereby preventing future scientists from ever being absolutely sure whether the life forms there were indigenous, or accidentally imported from earth! We watch for further results of the investigations into extra-terrestrials with great interest.

Terrestrials, on the other hand, are starting to lose themselves or come to grief on Table Mountain again, as the weather starts to warm up here in the Cape. There were at least seven searches and rescues on the mountains in the last eight days, one of them a fatality as a walker fell to her death. The HAMNET volunteers, working as they do with Wilderness Search and Rescue, which is also a completely volunteer organisation, of climbers, off-road rescue and 4X4 drivers, are gearing up for the many calls which will come in. WSAR cannot stress strongly enough how treacherous Table Mountain can be, and how important it is for hikers never to hike alone, always to take warm clothing along, to tell others where they going and how long they expect to be, and to take fully charged cell-phones and even reserve power banks, as well as food and enough water, in case they are trapped on the mountain overnight. A sunny warm day down at sea level is not necessarily a warm windless day on top of the mountain! Please be warned, if you are contemplating going up the mountain, and take this advice seriously.

Tropical Storm Selma, a small storm off-shore just South West of El Salvador in the Pacific, is threatening the coastal towns there, with an orange alert for high humidity, heavy rains, flooding of rivers and general floods in Southern and central regions of Gautemala yesterday, and possibly today (Sunday). Their VHF repeaters are all linked, so hopefully, internal messages will be transmitted on VHF, but Guatemala’s Amateur Radio Club uses 7075kHz and the Central American Chain 7090kHz LSB, so please be aware of 40 metre traffic, and listen carefully for skip before you use these frequencies this weekend.

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

HAMNET Report 22 October 2017

“Force of 50” volunteer Val Hotzfeld, NV9L, reported from Puerto Rico on October 15 that Amateur Radio volunteers on Culebra and in Fajardo — Jeremy Dougherty, NS0S, and Matthey Gonter, AC4MG — made it possible for physicians at the two locations to communicate directly in an effort to evacuate a patient who is an amputee.

“The chief doctor and the administrator at the Fajardo hospital were all smiles, as the doctor told AC4MG, ‘You guys saved a life today,’” Hotzfeld reported.

Sixteen Amateur Radio volunteers were stationed at hospitals, while another was at the fire station in Juncos. Another five ham radio volunteers were assisting Red Cross reunification teams.

Mike Logan, KM4WUO, arrived on October 13 — the first of 10 SHARES HF radio system operators. According to DHS, “SHARES members use existing HF radio resources of government, critical infrastructure, and disaster response organizations to coordinate and transmit emergency messages. SHARES users rely on HF radio communications to perform critical functions, including those areas related to leadership, safety, maintenance of law and order, finance, and public health.”

Dougherty, who was instrumental in saving the life of a burn victim last week, reported that fire-fighters on Culebra helped to re-install an HF antenna at the hospital there. “We had to climb a telephone pole off the edge of a cliff behind the hospital,” Dougherty said. “It was fun.” He also got their emergency VHF radio working again, and he presented a class to hospital staffers and first responders on how to use the Icom IC-706 that’s on site, encouraging them to get their ham licenses.

Jorge Ortiz-Santiago, WP4ONI, assisted with a reunification between a mother and a son in Jayuya.

By the 18th October, the “Force of 50” radio amateurs who deployed to Puerto Rico earlier this month as American Red Cross volunteers had ended their mission and will be back on the US mainland by this weekend. They have been in Puerto Rico for about 3 weeks.

“The Force of 50 volunteers demonstrated an extraordinary range of skills possessed by this accomplished team,” said ARRL CEO Tom Gallagher, NY2RF. “There was no task that they wouldn’t tackle. It also demonstrated the generosity of these volunteers, who not only performed their roles as communicators, but also engaged the population with their many acts of personal kindness.”

Val Hotzfeld, NV9L, who filed situation reports documenting the team’s activities, said the volunteers accomplished everything they went to Puerto Rico to do, “and then some.” She said that the Red Cross felt they had exceeded all expectations.

And in remarks made on International Disaster Reduction Day, Friday, October 13, Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) Secretary-General Bernadette Lewis described Amateur Radio as a “bedrock of sustained communications” during emergencies, and strongly suggested cultivating a new and younger generation of radio amateurs to carry this role forward. She spoke as part of a panel on emergency telecommunications during the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) World Telecommunication Development Conference 2017 (WTDC-17), now under way in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The CTU, she said, has been considering the role of Amateur Radio in light of this “very, very, violent hurricane season.”

“Amateur Radio has been a staple, and it is because of…the Amateur Radio operators in the region that we get a lot of the information that we need,” she told her audience. Her presentation defined Amateur Radio as one component of the coordination of preparedness, response, and recovery efforts on the part of national emergency management agencies.

Moderator Vanessa Gray later asked Lewis what “one concrete step” could be taken to make better use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for disaster management.

“We really have to cultivate a new generation of Amateur Radio operator,” Lewis replied without hesitation. “We found that they are all on the northern side of 50.”

“Amateur Radio has been the bedrock of sustained communications during such emergencies,” she continued, “and one of the things we’re looking at is actually facilitating this process of having a network of disaster-resistant centres that, in times when you don’t have a disaster, could be used for training new operators and generating that interest across the region.”

We thank the ARRL Newsline for these two excerpts.

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, KZN Regional Director for HAMNET, reports that HAMNET KZN will be deploying 11 operators to assist with the Tsogo Sun Amashova Durban Classic Cycle Race this Sunday 22nd October 2017. It is estimated that around 10,000  cyclists will be participating this year. The event comprises a 106Km race starting in Pietermaritzburg, a 65Km event starting in Cato Ridge and a 35Km fun ride starting in Hillcrest. The 65Km and 35Km races start at 05H30 whilst the main 106Km race starts at 06H45.

The race follows the same route as that of the Comrades Marathon and enjoys full road closure. Hamnet has operators at each of the 5 water points situated along the route as well as an operator in the JOC at the Fire Station in Pietermaritzburg and the Ethekwini (Durban) Disaster management Centre.  A roving patrol will also be deployed should any incidents be encountered along the route.

Communications will be on 145.750 Midlands Amateur Radio Club repeater which will be linked to the 145.625 Highway Amateur Radio Club repeater giving full coverage of the route. APRS will also be in use and can be displayed on the video wall in the Durban JOC. DMR is also going to be used for the first time by us to manage this event with the Worlds View, Kloof and Ridge repeaters giving good coverage of the route.

The event finishes under the foot bridge on Masabala Yengwa Avenue (Old NMR Ave) outside the iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium before riders make their way into the Suncoast Casino complex.

Thanks, Keith, I hope you will supply us with a short summary of the race after the event.

We are currently in the middle of the 60th Jamboree On The Air, so I encourage you who have time to look on the HF bands for Scouting Stations calling CQ, and answer their call. Perhaps you will generate an enthusiasm for amateur radio in the youngsters that will culminate in their writing the RAE, as so many keen new amateurs did yesterday around the country. We hope you found the exams to your liking, and look forward to welcoming you to the ham bands, and perhaps even to HAMNET, where you can offer your skills to help in natural or manmade disaster situations.

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

HAMNET Report 15 October 2017

This week it was KwaZulu Natal’s turn to get the weather! Tuesday’s flash flood claimed 11 lives, and caused damage to hospitals, at least 133 schools, factories, homes and key infrastructure. Power outages were also reported, as the storm spread up the East coast towards the City of uMhlathuze, incorporating Empangeni and Richards Bay. Chad Mileham reported on Tuesday that the Emergency 7.110 Net was activated by 13h00, and kept a listening watch, until any likelihood of further damage had dissipated.  In idle speculation, I estimated that, if that amount of rain had fallen in the catchment area of Cape Town’s dams, our drought would have been broken and dams completely filled! Nature just isn’t fair, is it?

Kobus van der Merwe drew our attention to the magnitude 6.6 earthquake very near Bouvet Island on Tuesday, with the possibility of a Tsunami aimed at us, which fortunately didn’t happen. He pondered on how equipped we would be to deal with this kind of coastal flooding. Good question!

Chad Mileham has also been posting the ARRL posts regarding the effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico to the HAMNET Facebook Pages. Look for HAMNET on Facebook, and you will find two pages to view. Thank you Chad!

Advance warning of severe weather conditions come from Vietnam, where Cyclone Khanun-17 is expected to strike from the East on Tuesday; and England and Ireland, where Hurricane Ophelia-17 is threatening from the South-West, moving slowly up off the coast of North Africa and destined for Ireland on Sunday, and England on Monday. And California’s residents and fire agencies are battling 18 huge wildfires that have claimed about 24 lives, forced at least 100,000 people to evacuate their homes, and destroyed countless properties. The Amateur Radio Emergency Service in that country is heavily involved with coordination and management of the evacuees.

Researchers at William Carey University in Mississippi are studying how disaster drones could carry medical kits to victims in a mass casualty event, before an ambulance arrives. Bystanders could use the kits to help victims, or first responders on the scene could use them when multiple victims are injured.

CNN says the disaster drones, which also could deliver medicine to hard-to-reach remote locations, were designed and built at Hinds Community College in Mississippi. The researchers have various prototypes, said Italo Subbarao, senior associate dean at William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine, who is involved in the university’s telemedicine drone research project.

“We have a kit that is a general medical emergency kit that we would probably fly to a farmer’s home, for a rural type of general medical emergency,” Subbarao said, such as a heart attack.

“We’ve got kits that are designed to go into the wilderness so that if you’re stung by a bee or you’ve got a snake bite, things of that nature, we can provide assistance in that moment,” he said. “Most recently, we demonstrated our trauma kits.”

These kits could be used in a mass casualty event like a terror attack or a train crash, or when someone needs critical care. “We look at this as a piece of the puzzle, an important piece of the puzzle, that can connect with the local emergency management system,” he said.

Subbarao and his colleagues follow in the footsteps of researchers around the world who are investigating how drones could help save lives and possibly even beat an ambulance to a medical emergency scene.

A team of researchers in Sweden recently tested whether a drone or an ambulance had a faster response time in delivering an automated external defibrillator to a patient in cardiac arrest. The device gives instructions to a bystander to use it for checking the heart rhythm and, if needed, sending an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm.

The researchers conducted 18 consecutive flights with the drone, with an average flight distance of 3.2 kilometers, or about 2 miles. They compared the dispatch and travel time of the drone with the dispatch and travel time of emergency medical services.

The researchers found that the drone arrived more quickly than EMS in all cases, with an average reduction in response time of about 16 minutes, and that no adverse events or technical problems occurred during any of the drone flights. During a medical emergency, those minutes can be the difference between life and death. This preliminary study was published in the journal JAMA in June.

Yet much more research needs to be conducted before you could see first-responder drones flying around, delivering medical care.

Certain limitations of the technology include whether a drone could carry heavy medical supplies, could withstand the impact of extreme weather or could limit the risk of technical glitches.

In Mississippi, Subbarao and his colleagues are planning to continue their research.

“For now, we’ve been working with the Mississippi Emergency Management (Agency) and Mississippi (State) Department of Public Health. We’re in conversations with the state agencies to help us study our product, help us refine what we’re doing here,” Subbarao said.

Whether in Sweden or the United States, how would a disaster drone work? First, each drone should be equipped with medical kits and instructions.

In the US, those kits could incorporate recommendations put forth in the federal Department of Homeland Security’s initiative Stop the Bleed, which is intended to help bystanders become trained, equipped and empowered to tend to emergency situations before professional help arrives, according to developers.

A drone could also include audio or video communication systems so that the person who receives it could talk to a doctor for assistance. The researchers in Mississippi have been working with Google Glass and other types of visual technologies for this communications aspect, Subbarao said.

Thank you to CNN for these notes.

A fairly shallow cold front is approaching the Western Cape as I write this, and, if the rain gods look kindly on us, up to 22mm of rain could fall in these parts between now and next Thursday. Please hold thumbs for us..

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

HAMNET Report 8 October 2017

News of rescue efforts after Hurricane Maria, is coming mostly from Puerto Rico, it being an island with a huge population of over 3 million.

The ARRL Newsline reports that the Amateur Radio volunteers on the ground in Puerto Rico continue to provide assistance in a number of areas. Amateur Radio resources have been reallocated around the island better to meet communications needs.

Volunteer Valerie Hotzfeld, NV9L, a HamNation presenter, and a FEMA team member were tasked with calling 68 hospitals and medical facilities. They asked a series of 12 questions geared towards obtaining a better understanding of each facility’s communication capabilities, and to see if urgent care supplies and needs were being met.

Gary Sessums, KC5QCN, the Amateur Radio liaison to the ESF-2 Communications Task Force, coordinated the installation of a VHF Amateur Radio repeater on a mountain peak in El Yunque National Forest. The repeater now gives radio coverage to approximately 60% of Puerto Rico, and also extends radio coverage into the US Virgin Islands.

Andy Anderson, KEØAYJ, is stationed at the Guajataca Dam, providing communications support to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority between their control facility and the dam as the water levels are lowered to prevent the dam from collapsing.

Safe and Well data collection continues at Red Cross shelters, and in reunification work that involves going out into areas that have no communications. Hams are engaged in setting up equipment and entering data into the Red Cross Safe and Well website. Hams also facilitate survivors’ access to cell or satellite phones so they can call a loved one to let them know they are safe.

Reunification team officials have expressed that hams have become invaluable to the teams, not only performing communications duties, but also having become proficient in multiple skill sets for the Red Cross. Ham radio volunteers are acting as navigators, reunification workers, and anything else that is needed. To date, they have completed 60 reunifications.

Donations to the response effort continue, with EPCOM (El Paso Communications Systems) donating 40 Icom IC-F3001 handheld radios, and the Yasme Foundation providing an Amateur Radio repeater that will be installed at the Arecibo Observatory to provide Search And Rescue communications.

Dobbins Air Reserve Base reported this week that a C-5M Super Galaxy from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, landed there to provide airlift for AT&T communications equipment and technicians.

The airlift mission provided critical infrastructure restoration in support of life-saving activities underway in Puerto Rico. Many of the island’s three million residents have been without communications since the island took the full brunt of Hurricane Maria on September 20, 2017.

To restore communication capabilities on the island, AT&T provided mobile communications assets in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  This equipment included three vehicles: two satellite cell on light trucks (COLT) and one emergency communication vehicle (EMV). Members of AT&T Network Disaster Recovery Team use these vehicles to restore Wi-Fi, LAN lines and Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) capabilities, explained Lou Fiorenza, an AT&T Network Disaster Recovery Team member.

Meanwhile, six years on, consequences of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continue to be uncovered. Scientists say they’ve found new and “unexpected” sources of radioactive material dozens of kilometres away from the site.

New radioactivity has been discovered in salty groundwater and sands beneath beaches up to 100km away from the disaster site, according to the findings published in ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ journal on Monday.

Researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the US and Japan’s Kanazawa University revealed high levels of persistent caesium-137 in eight beaches, sampled for the study between 2013 and 2016.

These levels turned out to be up to 10 times higher than levels in seawater of the power plant harbour, according to the press release on the WHOI website.

“No one expected that the highest levels of caesium in ocean water today would be found not in the harbour of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, but in the groundwater many miles away below the beach sands,” one of the researchers, Virginie Sanial, said. The radioactive element the scientists suggest travelled from the crippled plant with ocean currents days and weeks after the reactor meltdowns. The sand grains have been storing it for years, slowly emitting caesium into ocean.

“Only time will slowly remove the caesium from the sands as it naturally decays away and is washed out by seawater,” Sanial said.

Despite the study showing that caesium doesn’t pose a risk to public health, the research still warns of such unsuspected pathways and storage of contamination, which should be considered in nuclear power plant monitoring.

“There are 440 operational nuclear reactors in the world, with approximately one-half situated along the coastline,” the study reads.

And in Cape Town, details of the three-phased approach to the water disaster have been released. Phase one is operating already, with the current restrictive regulations applied, and will involve throttling water, with rationing, resulting in short-period supply disruptions, zoned outages likely to occur during peak water usage times, but no disruption to critical services like hospitals and clinics. Phase two will involve collection of predefined quantities of drinking water per person per day from collection points, but carefully controlled maintenance of sewage systems, and availability of water in areas prone to fires or risk of disease, like informal settlements.

Phase three, or extreme disaster conditions, will place emphasis on minimising the impact on human life, dignity and property, but water will not be available in homes or workplaces, drinking water from aquifers and springs will be distributed, and close attention to safety and security will be paid by the authorities. It can be expected that tariffs for any water delivered to households will go up. Serious business indeed!

The dams supplying water to the Cape Town area stand at 37.2% full at present, down from 61.9% this time last year. At least 10% of this will be too muddy to use!

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

HAMNET Report 1 October 2017

As I scan the internet for news of emergency communications and good news, I see only notices of support, stories of damage and accounts of message relays, over and over again. Friends, we are still in the aftermath of multiple hurricanes in the Caribbean, and earthquakes in Mexico. Here are some notes from all over.

HMS Ocean has arrived in the British Virgin Islands to support the population there, and USS Wasp, a US Navy Amphibious ship is in the leeward Islands, also to protect the lives and belongings of survivors of Hurricane Maria, from disease, and criminal looting, which has been taking place. Maria hit with 155mph winds and unleashed a torrential downpour with some locations receiving nearly 40 inches of rain. The storm’s combination of high winds and heavy rains knocked out the power to the island of Puerto Rico, amongst others, leaving its 3.5 million residents without electricity, possibly for months. Officials are stating that there hasn’t been a storm of this intensity to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, and the island is currently without power, and likely to remain so. Hopefully, at least one hospital ship will be despatched to the area, to provide basic care to the injured and the frail.

Bill Fastenau, a radio club director, said that in two hours, on just one channel, he heard about 50 requests relayed by Puerto Rico ham radio operators, from individuals hoping to let people on the mainland know that they had survived the hurricane.

Currently, the traffic is just one-way — from Puerto Rico to the United States — and when people might be able to send messages back to Puerto Rico is another unknown.

For the moment, it is just too hard for Puerto Rico ham radio operators to locate the intended recipients — and they have had to jury-rig storm-damaged systems too.

Puerto Rico’s Arecibo 350 metre radio telescope dish was also damaged in the hurricane, with some antenna feeds falling away from the feed-horn and damaging tiles of the dish below. Arecibo has made many historical discoveries, from passing asteroids, to Fast Radio Bursts, to the first evidence of gravitational waves, to helping in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, mapping the surface of Venus, and the rotational period of Mercury. It was also responsible for sending the strongest radio signal into space ever generated – a massive 20 trillion watt emission, consisting of 1679 bits, and carrying a single simple coded pictorial message, in the hopes that alien life will be able to decode it, when it arrives in the Globular Cluster M13, 21000 light years from us and containing about 300 000 stars.

Back on earth, on Dominica, shops have been looted, houses are completely destroyed, and potable water is now the problem, with standing water starting to smell, and no reticulated water available.

Greg G0DUB has sent further information about Dominica. He says:

“The following update has been received from Jeff 9Y4J via Cesar Pio Santos HR2P, the IARU Region 2 Emergency Communications Co-ordinator, concerning the relief efforts in Dominica, with specific reference to Telecommunications.

“1. An emergency operating centre was activated using the call sign J73EOC, with batteries and a generator installed.

“2. The NEOC is being manned by radio amateurs, some of whom arrived from neighbouring countries.

“3. Limited mobile service is available in the capital of Roseau with free SMS messaging and WiFi being provided.

“4. Troops from Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, The UK, and France have arrived and are bringing some order back to the country after widespread looting.

“5 The USA has started activating their citizens.

“6 The CEWN (Caribbean Emergency and Weather Net) webmaster, Franz/J69DS has established a link from his server to the EOC in Roseau in order to pass on the more than 2,000 messages on hand.

“7 The CEWN continues to maintain a watch on 7188 kHz and 3815 kHz daily.

“8 Major infrastructural damage was done, thus limiting access to many areas on the island.”

And on St Croix, thieves stole the generator belonging to AT&T’s Gallow Bay Tower, causing a domino-effect internet and then cell-phone system collapse. A borrowed generator has been linked up, and is being guarded 24 hours a day by civilians, because communications on the island is the single most important system needed to bring relief and care where required.

At the other edge of the Pacific Rim of Fire, more than 120,000 people have fled a menacing volcano on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali, fearing it will erupt for the first time in more than half a century as increasing tremors rattle the region.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun said the numbers (leaving) on Sunday (according to) disaster officials are more than double previous estimates and are continuing to rise, they say. It includes people who left voluntarily as well as those told to evacuate from a nine to twelve kilometre zone around Mount Agung.

Authorities raised the volcano’s alert status to the highest level on Friday following a “tremendous increase” in seismic activity. Its last eruption in 1963 killed 1,100 people.

Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, a senior Cabinet minister, said on Sunday that the districts surrounding the volcano “must be prepared for the worst”.

Presumably, the volcano is evidence of further tectonic plate shift, some of which caused the Mexican earthquakes last week, killing more than 320 people.

I am pleased, though, to bring you a little good news in the form of a report from Grant ZS1GS, Western Cape Regional Director for HAMNET, of a successful deployment of HAMNET volunteers to assist with the Marloth Trail Run, held outside Swellendam in the Western Cape, over the long weekend.

Grant reports that four checkpoints and a base were manned by a total of 10 operators, with an 11th operating as a rover, and a 12th acting as a very useful HF and VHF relay station from his home. Two cross-band repeaters were implemented, to make contact with base easier, and the event went off without any serious mishaps. The rush to and from Swellendam was made easier for the team by Monday’s public holiday, and I gather the rest and relaxation before and after the race made up for any hard work during it. Well done Grant, and all who helped.

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

HAMNET Report 24 September 2017

By Tuesday the 19th, Greg Mossop G0DUB was reporting that Hurricane Maria was moving through areas still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Irma just weeks ago and had been reassessed as a dangerous Category 4 hurricane.

Amateur Radio groups were preparing for this next storm and the Caribbean Emergency and Weather Net (CEWN), was activated on the morning of the 18th September 2017 at 10h30 UTC on the frequency 3815 kHz, and would subsequently move to 7188 kHz at 11h00 UTC.

It was intended to maintain 24 hour coverage during the passage of the system, and immediately after, in case there was the need to pass health and welfare traffic.

This followed earlier notices from the Puerto Rican and the Dominican Republic Emcomm operators, who advised they would be using the following frequencies;

Puerto Rico – 7188 kHz and 7192 kHz

Dominican Republic 7065 kHz,  but depending on propagation also 3780 kHz

With the potential to suffer QRM from a wider area, the normal operation of the Hurricane Watch Net on 14.325MHz had also started.

On Thursday Greg told us that XE2O of the FMRE in Mexico reported that they were maintaining an Emergency Network on 7060 kHz with the support of many Mexican radio amateurs. They had also deployed two mobile emergency communication units, one of them to the south of Mexico City and the other to the communities near the city where communication problems have been reported.

They had permanent contact on HF between the Command and Control centre in Mexico co-ordinating the emergency response and the Emergency Network of the FMRE.

9Y4J reported that Health and Welfare traffic in and out of Dominica continued to be passed via amateur radio, on frequencies 7188 kHz, and 3815 kHz.

However, the airports remained closed, and an assessment of the seaports was underway. This will help determine how soon relief goods, and substantial human resources, can access the island.

Further media reports said that, in the immediate aftermath of then-Category 5 Hurricane Maria’s passage over Dominica on Monday, Frans van Santbrink, J69DS, on St. Lucia, checked into the VoIP Hurricane Net to relay damage reports he’d gathered via repeater conversations with other hams there. The New York Times also reported and posted audio that Amateur Radio was a primary source to gather initial damage reports from the storm-ravaged Caribbean Island nation of some 70,000 residents. US-based Julian Antoine, J73JA, solicited reports via a VoIP connection with the J73MAN repeater on Dominica.

“All power lines are down, our telephone lines are down, Internet lines, everything is down,” came a reply to Antoine’s inquiry. “Roads are blocked with debris. No confirmed information on fatalities or injuries.”

On Friday, Greg  posted that “Hurricane Maria continues to move through the Caribbean with Puerto Rico the latest to be affected, losing power and many cellular phone stations. The SATERN net is operating on 14.265MHz with bilingual (Spanish/English) operators looking for any messages out of Puerto Rico.

“It has been reported from the Dominican Republic that some Puerto Rican stations are operating on 7085 and 7095 kHz and they are communicating with those stations.

“Co-Operation is starting between networks in the area and between all countries in the Caribbean area, and their assistance is appreciated.”

On Tuesday evening, GDACS  posted the first news of the second disastrous Earthquake in Mexico, a magnitude 7.1 temblor at 20h14 CAT, in an area where 8.5 million people live within a 100km radius of the quake. We have watched and listened to reports all week of frantic searches through the rubble of collapsed buildings and schools, and the death toll rising steadily toward the 300 mark. The FMRE National Emergency Net was activated on 7060kHz, 3690kHz and 14120kHz, and has been handling traffic to make up for the loss of some cellular networks, FMRE President Al Tomez, XE2O, told the ARRL.

Greg G0DUB also reported on the IARU Region 1 conference at Landshut, which closed just at the weekend. He said there had been a good meeting on last Sunday, amongst emergency communicators, where ideas about social media being used to spread important information regarding emergencies were discussed. Such things as international WhatsApp groups and possibly a FaceBook page to post urgent news on were mentioned, particularly bearing in mind the fact that FaceBook translation is improving, thus making dissemination to people not conversant in your language more effective.

On a local, and happier note, I have received a short report from Alister ZS1OK, on the Cape Town Peace Trail Run, which Hamnet helped marshal, last weekend. This was not the marathon run on Sunday, but rather an off-road run on the slopes of Lion’s Head and Signal Hill on Saturday, finishing down at the Green Point athletics track. Alister says:

“The race went off successfully, with more than 330 trail runners enjoying the splendid views on the 12 and 22km routes. The weather was very windy initially, but settled to become a splendid day. This was the first event where we benefitted from using an event caravan and a 4×4 vehicle provided by the City of Cape Town’s Disaster Risk Management. A big thank you to the City of Cape Town!

“Six operators were able to assist with facilitating communications for the recovery of some injured runners, fortunately none of which were serious.”

Thanks for the report Alister!

As the long weekend progresses, and holiday-makers rush to and from their holiday destinations, may I make an appeal to all emergency communicators to keep their radios on, and monitor emergency frequencies and central repeaters, to be better able to help their fellow South Africans in case of need? Thank you very much.

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

HAMNET Report 17 September 2017

Stationed in an empty field at Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter, South Carolina, Virginia Tech electrical engineering Professor Greg Earle and his team waited for the total solar eclipse of 2017. Rather than travelling toward the path of totality to see one of “nature’s most awe-inspiring sights,” Earle prepared to put his three-year-old hypothesis on radio propagation to the test.

With roughly two minutes to run diagnostics for the bulk of their project, Earle and his friends sat nestled between high-powered radars and transceivers. In the still of silence, they heard the sound of crickets turn on like clockwork, confused by their early bedtime call at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

Over a dozen colleagues were involved in the making of vertical radar equipment that extrapolated data before, during and following the period of artificial light induced by the total solar eclipse.

After studying the ionosphere in graduate school, which is a part of the sky that conducts atmospheric electricity above 50 kilometres, Earle used his specialized research to understand unquantified events such as auroras and later eclipses in terms of radio, GPS and radar operation.

The eclipse, according to Earle, writing in the CollegiateTimes, will give him an opportunity to collect astronomical research with at least three separate technologies that were nonexistent in the early 1900s.

Not only are GPS receivers global now, allowing researchers to mine an extraordinary amount of data per cubic mile, but Software Defined Radio is barely a decade old. This programming function gives a computer the capability to act like a radio receiver but at an even faster speed.

These tools, partnered with the knowledge of thousands of wave frequencies from competing HAM radio operators, is what Earle believes separates his work from serendipitous discovery.

When an eclipse happens the artificial night allows more radio energy to generate signal strength rather than being consumed by the neutral particles in the ionosphere.

With over 700,000 HAM radio operators in the United States, all operating in the same frequencies, being monitored by Virginia Tech’s research team, Earle designed rules for a radio contest that would test wave efficiency, with tasks like, “How quickly can you make contact with someone from all of the 50 states?”

Once the Reverse Beacon Network goes through these logs, it will then be made available for this scientific study.

If artificial night could be manipulated in the future, Earle says that this research could lead to more secure communication between government officials in top secret situations.

“Once we know the effects better, there may indeed be people, especially in the Department of Defence (DOD) community who look at that seriously as a way to change the communication channel either for ourselves or for anybody we are currently having a conflict with,” Earle said.

In order to comprehend the extensive science behind a solar eclipse, Earle relates the world to a paper map and the eclipse to the lens on a magnifying glass; however, the roughly circular region that is magnified will act at wavelengths that are invisible to the human eye. The goal of his project is to look at as many rays propagating through that intensified region and its signal by-products, as possible.

Although it is estimated that the research will not be released to the public for another year or two, Earle has received instantaneous feedback from SuperDARN radar equipment, courtesy of a Blacksburg company, which has seemingly confirmed their simulations suggesting low frequency propagations to give long propagation paths in the eclipsed region.

The team is currently working on a presentation of findings for a meeting with the American Geophysical Union this December.

Thank you to the CollegiateTimes for this extract.

The ARRL Letter for 14 September carries news of the other two geophysical events of the last week. Hurricane Irma sowed death and destruction over Central Florida last weekend, and resulted in significant river flooding over most of the Florida peninsula. Millions were left without power. Thirty Florida counties were under mandatory evacuation orders, and thousands took advantage of Red Cross shelters.

SKYWARN nets activated in the West Central Florida Section and elsewhere to gather severe weather information, and Florida’s Statewide Amateur Radio Network conducted a coordination and assistance net to help communicate between the county EOCs and the State EOC and to provide assistance to Amateur Radio operators in other ways, time permitting. The priority during the weekend was tactical shelter communication, EOC communication, and SKYWARN nets as Hurricane Irma approached. “Once Irma was downgraded to a Tropical Storm, our focus shifted to collecting post-storm reports and handling emergency and priority traffic only,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said.

As if Earth’s weather was not bad enough already, an X-class solar flare at around [18h00 our time] on Sunday, September 10, hobbled the HF bands. The widespread communication blackout lasted for nearly 3 hours and “could not have happened at a worse time,” Graves said. “But,” he added, “we cannot control Mother Nature, only work around her.” Earlier solar flares had also affected HF propagation.

Greg Mossop G0DUB announced on Friday that “Mexican Radio Amateurs are activating again to deal with Hurricane Max which is due to hit the area of Guererra in the next few hours. They will be using 7060 and 14120 kHz for this storm and are also watching Tropical Storm 15-E, also known as Norma, which will move to the North of their country over the next few days.” So please keep away from 7060kHz and 14120kHz these next few days, until the all-clear is given.

Finally, the British “TX Factor” episode 18 launched yesterday, and is available for you to view, on their website, www.txfactor.co.uk. This episode covers the recent YOTA activity week in London, at which South Africa was represented, and a look at moonbounce, using the 32 metre dish at Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall.

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

HAMNET Report 10 September 2017

Well, more and more natural disaster news comes through. For the first time in recorded history, there were two hurricanes in close proximity to each other bearing down on the Caribbean with sustained wind-speeds of greater than 150mph (or 240kph). They are Irma and Jose, and, as I write this on Saturday afternoon, Irma is approaching Florida, and expected to move straight up Florida’s straight axis this evening, our time, having ravaged a lot of the Caribbean islands since Thursday.

According to the Los Angeles Times, on Thursday, the Dominican Republic had its population of 10.7 million in shelters as the hurricane churned overhead, Turks and Caicos experienced a storm surge of 6 metres on their low lying islands, Anguilla’s 17000 people reported significant structural damage and at least one death, St Barts suffered rooftops ripped off their houses, an electrical grid disruption, and rivers of debris flowing through streets. The dual nationality island of St Maarten/St Martin, suffered at least 8 deaths amongst its total population of 77000 people, Barbuda reported damage to 95% of all structures, and the death of a 2-year-old, but neighbouring island Antigua was less affected. And Haiti, which still hasn’t recovered from its previous hurricane Matthew damage in 2016, is being shored up as Hurricane Jose approaches.

Sadly, John ZS1JNT, tells me that friends of his on St Maarten island report widespread looting of the damaged boats there for anything sellable, and a supermarket opening its doors, letting the locals help themselves, to prevent further damage to their buildings by the looters.

The ARRL Bulletin dated 8 September says:

Please be aware that due to the breadth of this series of weather events, numerous emergency and public service nets are in session, especially on the 80, 40, and 20 meter bands. All stations should be aware that in a large-scale natural disaster, immediate threats to life and property can happen quickly. In order for Amateur Radio to play an effective role in supporting humanitarian efforts, it is key that all licensees cooperate to minimize potential on-air problems.

Amateurs should also be aware that the primary users on the 60-meter channels are using those channels extensively. Amateur stations, as secondary users, must ensure that their communications are conducted in such a manner to ensure that Federal government stations, as primary users, can have immediate use of any 60-meter channel. Amateurs, please make sure you are leaving adequate breaks between transmissions to allow the primary stations to use the frequency. If a primary user does break into an amateur contact on the frequency, the amateurs involved should immediately cease their transmissions.

At this time, it is ARRL’s understanding that only Amateur Radio Emergency or Amateur Radio Priority traffic is moving in and out of the affected areas. Amateur Radio Health and Welfare communications are being queued up for later delivery into the affected area, as the emergency and priority traffic eases.

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) reports its frequency being used as of Saturday afternoon is 14.325 MHz, while the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) is operating on 14.265 MHz.

Meanwhile, a smaller category 2 hurricane, named Katia is hovering on the North coast of Southern Mexico, and Greg Mossop G0DUB notes:

The National Emergency Network of the Mexican National Society (FMRE) declared on September 8 that they would be using the following frequencies as they prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Katia.

20m 14.120 MHz
40m 7.060 MHz
80m 3.690 MHz

14.325 MHz was also expected to be used to co-ordinate with the USA Hurricane Watch Net.

And at least 61 people have died after the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in a century struck off the Southern coast on Friday morning at 04h49 UTC.

The magnitude 8.1 quake, which was felt as far afield as Mexico City and Guatemala City, was registered off Mexico’s southern coast just as heavy rains from Hurricane Katia lashed the east. The epicentre was in the Pacific Ocean, some 1,000 kilometres southeast of the capital and 120 kilometres off the coast.

With the Earthquake hitting Mexico on Friday, we should assume that these frequencies are in use now as they respond to that disaster.

Various Winlink nodes may also be used to deal with the emergencies.

With HF propagation disturbed after the solar flare on Wednesday, Greg asks that we take all steps to avoid interference to emergency communications activities in the Caribbean.

To add insult to injury, a series of massive explosions on the Sun caused a radio network designed to warn people of the hurricanes in the Caribbean, to go on the fritz during the time period when it would have been issuing information about Hurricane Irma, both the manager of the network and a NOAA representative confirmed to Motherboard, whom we thank for these notes.

Solar flares like the ones reported this week are known to interfere with high frequency radio signals. “When that solar flare happens, it’s like static frying,” Bobby Graves, Net Manager for Hurricane Watch Net (HWN), told reporters over the phone. This group of licensed amateur radio operators, based across North and Central America and the Caribbean, works with the National Hurricane Centre to disseminate information about storms. When a solar flare happens, “it’s like they just turned the radio off,” Graves, who lives in Brandon, Mississippi, said.

Bob Rutledge, lead forecaster at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Centre, confirmed receiving “isolated” reports from the Caribbean about radio blackouts related to the series of solar flares observed on the Sun this week, including from HWN. “It’s truly a complete radio blackout,” Rutledge said. “The signal just can’t get through.”

HWN also gathers data from people on the ground and sends the information back to the NHC in Miami, according to Graves. He said that blackouts this week lasted from 20 minutes to up to four hours.

“It’s sad, knowing you’re trying to get the information out, or maybe someone out there is trying to talk back to you,” Graves told me. Radio operators have to wait out the solar storm, and “hopefully the people are still there when the frequency is recovered.”

Starting on September 4, a series of solar flares belched radiation and solar plasma at Earth—including three of the largest and most powerful types of solar flare, which are called X-class, Rutledge told Motherboard. Many more were M-class, a lower designation.

One was an X9.3 flare, the largest recorded in about a decade, according to NASA. NOAA’s space weather agency issued warnings for geomagnetic storms, which are major disturbances in our planet’s magnetosphere that can meddle with all kinds of technologies we rely on, including satellites, radio communications, and GPS signals. According to Graves, these storms make everything sound “gurgly,” like you’re talking “underwater.”

Just what the emergency networks in the Caribbean needed this week!

Let it not be said that we don’t live in interesting times…

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