REPORT 12 March 2017

News from Madagascar is that Tropical Cyclone Enawo-17 has blown itself out in to the Southern Indian Ocean, and been downgraded to a Tropical Depression. Its worst day was Thursday the 9th, when close to 1,6 million people were suffering winds of the order of 230kph as Enawo chiselled its way down central Madagascar. Fortunately, advance warning and precautionary planning seems to have prevented a major loss of life and limb, and the country now scrambles to count the cost.

A message received from Roy Walsh ZS3RW of HAMNET Northern Cape announces that the new HAMNET banners crafted for all the divisions have been completed and are ready for distribution. Some 40 banners were ordered by the various divisions, and there remains only to distribute them to all corners of the country. So be on the lookout at the next HAMNET-supported event in your Province for sight of our new brand-labelling. We think they’re pretty smart.

Today sees the Cape Peninsula inundated with some 35000 cyclists riding their hearts out during the Cape Town Cycle Tour, perhaps better known formerly to the populace as “The Argus”! A mild sunny day with maximum temperature of 23 has been forecast, but as always, it is going to be the wind that makes or breaks the race. Riding into or away from a South-Easter or North-Wester has the ability to knock the stuffing out of riders, and the sweep vehicles are sometimes kept very busy. We’ll let you know next week if anything interesting arises as a result of weather conditions.

HAMNET Western Cape is also gearing up for the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, taking place on Easter Saturday, the 15th April. Sixteen operator volunteers are needed to man the route by HAMNET, and all the Usual Suspects are encouraged to contact the bulletin reader soon with their intention to participate. Grateful thanks to all who do volunteer every year.

And, in a small potential disaster you may have missed, researchers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona spotted a small asteroid as it came very close to Earth last Thursday week. Asteroid 2017 EA, which is smaller than 3 meters across (not much bigger that your double bed) passed within 14,500 kilometres of Earth on the morning of March 2. That distance is closer than several communication and weather satellites and about one-twentieth the distance of Earth to our Moon.

Sadly, according to a statement from NASA’s Centre of Near-Earth Object Studies (CNES), 2017 EA won’t be back for at least another 100 years. So you can put up your tower and Yagi without fear that it will be knocked down any time soon.

Software Defined Radio, or SDR, technology is going to be the way of the future. The days of superheterodyne receivers with two intermediate frequencies, and mixers, will soon be over, as the technology of software processing, with Field Programmable Gate Arrays, takes over. Several radio manufacturers already provide transceivers in which ordinary received signals are digitized, and fed through a chain of software manipulations, before being converted back to analogue signals, and fed to an audio amplifier for us to listen to. In reverse order, the microphone audio is digitized, and manipulated or equalised to suit the voice of the operator, before being converted to an analogue signal and transmitted via the antenna. All the digital stuff in between then gets managed by software on an attached computer or hardware in the radio itself. There is then almost no restriction on the number of manipulations possible. All you do is update the firmware of the chip in the radio.

Presumably miniaturisation will follow, as only the power modules need to be very big to put out the customary 100 watt signal.

Well, why not have the whole radio on a single chip, you ask? Mainly because the transmitted signal will destroy the receiver on the single chip each time you transmit. Not quite true anymore. Peter Dekker, ZS1PDE, has sent me an item from ECN, discussing the Transceiver on a Single Chip. In essence it goes like this.

Two-way communication requires, of course, both send and receive capabilities. But putting them in the same device requires a filter between the send and receive circuits to provide signal isolation.

Without a significant filter, communication would be impossible.

“Your transmit signal is 1014 times stronger than your receive signal,” said Alyosha Molnar, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE). “That’s 100 trillion times stronger – that’s a really hard problem.”

But researchers in Molnar’s lab have offered up a solution.

Molnar and collaborator Alyssa Apsel, professor of ECE, have devised a method for both transmitting and receiving a radio signal on a single chip, which ultimately could help change the way wireless communication is done.

Their work is described in “A wideband fully integrated software-defined transceiver,” published online Jan. 27 in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Journal of Solid-State Circuits.

Separating the send and receive bands is difficult enough, but Molnar and Apsel have come up with an ingenious way of doing so. Their idea lies in the transmitter – actually a series of six sub-transmitters all hooked into an artificial transmission line. Each sends its signal at regular intervals, and their individually weighted outputs are programmed so that they combine to produce a radio frequency signal in the forward direction, at the antenna port, while cancelling out at the receive port.

The programmability of the individual outputs allows this simultaneous summation and cancellation to be tuned across a wide range of frequencies, and to adjust to signal strength at the antenna.

“In one direction, it’s a filter and you basically get this cancellation,” Apsel said. “And in the other direction, it’s an amplifier.”

“You put the antenna at one end and the amplified signal goes out the antenna, and you put the receiver at the other end and that’s where the nulling happens,” Molnar said. “Your receiver sees the antenna through this wire, the transmission line, but it doesn’t see the transmit signal because it’s cancelling itself out at that end.”

Very clever indeed! We hope this technology will not be long in being launched, and that emergency communications will greatly benefit from its ingenuity.

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

HAMNET Report 5 March 2017

News this week centres on weather, in all its forms and manifestations.

The City of Cape Town is considering additional plans to intensify level 3 water restrictions, amid a bid to declare the City an emergency disaster area.

Earlier, Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille, announced plans to write to the environmental affairs MEC to declare Cape Town an emergency disaster area.

Briefing media and other parties, De Lille said the City is in a crisis, with the average dam levels now at 33%.

Dr Kevin Winter of the Future Water Institute was at the briefing.

Short and medium term plans have so far helped reduce water consumption in the city – decreasing water consumption by 27%.

Further water restrictions will likely in the near future include no irrigation and no topping up of swimming pools.

Winter says he is impressed by the comprehensive approach that the city has taken in addressing the issue.

It brought home two realities – the water crisis and the intent of the City to write to Minister Anton Bredell to declare Cape Town a disaster.

“The other wake-up call is the recognition that we now need to be much more proactive in the way in which we are integrating our water sources and the different sources that we need to call on in the near future.

There is still no clarity whether there is funding to continue with the implementation of the Table Mountain Group (TMG) aquifer scheme between 2022 and 2026.

I would hope to see at some stage – if we are bringing it forward – what those timelines and planning are all about because it’s certainly not in any City budget that I have seen so far,” said Dr Kevin Winter, Future Water Institute researcher.

Winter says the rainfall predictions remain uncertain, but control of water use needs to be tightened.

De Lille is hoping national government will free funds to enable the municipality to implement new water supply schemes.

Globetrotting surfing pro Dion Agius was touring in Mozambique earlier this month, and so was Cyclone Dineo, smashing Mozambique and Zimbabwe, flooding huge swaths of both countries. Over 100,000 people were displaced in Mozambique, with dozens of homes destroyed and at least seven people killed.

The storm caught Agius by surprise, and as he waited out the storm’s passing, he recorded his lodging being ripped apart by 180 km/hr winds. He was so moved by the destruction he saw the next day that he put together a short film to help spread the word that the locals need help.

Very little outside media is reporting on the disaster. Some South African news agencies as well as Al Jazeera have done stories but word doesn’t seem to be spreading to the rest of the world.

Agius is drawing people’s attention to a GoFundMe campaign, if they’re inclined and have the means to help these people rebuild.

And, in Zimbabwe, floods have killed 246 people and left nearly 2,000 homeless since December, government officials said.

Aljazeera News reports that Saviour Kasukuwere, minister of local government, declared a national disaster and announced the death toll on Thursday, saying 128 people have been injured in the floods.

The Southern African country has appealed to international donors for $100m to help those affected by the floods, which have washed away several bridges and roads and cut off some communities from surrounding areas.

“There is an inadequate supply of tents, foodstuffs and drugs for the affected people,” Kasukuwere told The Herald newspaper. “There is a need for blankets and clothing for the affected families as they are at risk of contracting pneumonia and acute respiratory infections.”

Unable to get balance of payment support from foreign lenders due to unpaid arrears, and with more than 90 percent of its national budget going to salaries, Zimbabwe’s public infrastructure has been crumbling for more than a decade.

“After working hard responding to the effects of drought, the same people are now suffering because of excessive floods,” Bishow Parajuli, of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), told The Herald.

Transport Minister Joram Gumbo told reporters on Wednesday that in the southern parts of the country, some sections of highways and bridges were completely washed away following the latest heavy rainfall.

Gumbo said the government would raise $100m to repair the country’s infrastructure. The national road agency would chip in with half of the money, which it would borrow from local banks, he said.

“The state of our roads has further deteriorated to the extent that some sections of the national road network have become impassable,” Gumbo said.

And, if that isn’t enough, there is another tropical storm lurking on the far side of Madagascar, this one called Enawo, forecast to strike Madagascar as an intense tropical cyclone at about 06:00 UTC on Tuesday 7 March. Enawo is expected to bring 1-minute maximum sustained winds to the region of around 203 km/h. Wind gusts in the area may be considerably higher.

According to the Saffir-Simpson damage scale, the potential property damage and flooding from a storm of Enawo’s strength (category 3) at landfall includes: storm surge generally 2.7-3.7 metres (9-12 feet) above normal; some structural damage to small residences and utility buildings;  damage to shrubbery and trees with foliage blown off trees and large trees blown down; mobile homes and poorly constructed signs destroyed; and low-lying escape routes cut by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the centre of the storm. Flooding near the coast may destroy smaller structures with larger structures damaged by battering from floating debris. Terrain may be flooded inland for 13 km or more. Evacuation of low-lying residences within several blocks of the shoreline may be required. There is also the potential for flooding further inland due to heavy rain.

At this stage, it looks as though Enawo will remain East of Madagascar, so South Africa should be safe, but weather-watchers on our Eastern coastline are advised to remain vigilant.

Thank you to the national and international news agencies for these news items.

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

REPORT 26 February 2017

On Sunday the 19th February 2017, HAMNET Gauteng South provided services to the annual Dischem Ride for Sight race held from the Boksburg stadium.

This year there were 31 operators manning 10 sweep vehicles, 5 water tables and 4 quantum busses with trailers to collect cyclists that had retired from the race, all driven by Hamnet members. The balance of the team set up, manned and operated the JOCC together with Helivac and the Road Rangers.

This year proved to be a rather challenging race with many incidents being thrown at the team. There were so many injuries and accidents early in the race that ambulances became scarce. At one incident there were 3 cyclists injured and eventually 2 were transported in one ambulance and the 3rd in a second ambulance. The other 3 responded to other incidents leaving the race with minimal available ambulances with incidents piling up. Three more ambulances were brought in, but, coming in out of the cold, they did not know the route and there was no radio communications with them except by phone, making rational response difficult.

Another issue was that the marshals on the short route made a complete error and directed arguably 80% of the short route race down the wrong road! Fortunately Shane (ZS6ZSB) who started sweeping that area noticed the error and called it in. Five of their members were drawn in to manage the incident. The team could not rectify the error as they would never have got the cyclists back on the correct route, so these riders completed a slightly shortened race!

Then, as a result of the inability of closed watering points to reinforce water supplies at points further down the routes, the cut off at Watering Point 3 was enforced by the JOCC as the temperatures were very high and people were dropping out. On the radio, a constant chatter was heard from the busses reporting they were full and returning to base. Unfortunately they had 3 members with PDP’s and 4 busses. Hopefully next year they will have 4 PDP’s amongst their volunteers.

Overall, the race went exceptionally well in the eyes of the organisers who were ecstatic at the way everything had gone. In total there were 5700 cyclists who all had a great day! Thank you, Glynn for the report, and congratulations to the team on snatching a victory from the jaws of chaos.

By contrast, HAMNET Western Cape had an easy time of it marshalling a small group of riders around parts of the Cape Peninsula last Sunday, during the Lion’s Journey for Sight and Service. For the first time that I can remember, HAMNET ran the communications solely on 70cm repeaters, except for APRS, which used the usual 144.800MHz frequency. The weather was fine, but a strong South Easter wind sprang up, and the homecoming for the riders was straight into the teeth of the gale! The sweep vehicles were kept busy towards the end picking up riders who had simply run out of steam, even on the level route. There were no incidents of note, and the route was cleared by 11h30. Thank you to the 10 operators who took part.

HAMNET members in the Western Cape will be drawn in to an exercise this coming week, held under the auspices of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) medical department that trains ambulance medics, who will camp at Nieuweberg Nature Reserve and practise medical rescue techniques. The APRS trackers will be allocated to rescue teams for monitoring purposes, all supervised by HAMNET.

Almost a decade ago, Oregon State lawmakers banned the use of hand-held cell phones to talk or text while driving. Since then smart-phones have exploded in popularity and are used for all sorts of things, not just texting or calling someone.

The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in 2015 that Oregon’s cell phone law does not technically make it illegal to check Facebook, look up a podcast or even read a Kindle while behind the wheel!

A proposal under consideration now would clarify that all mobile electronic devices are included, and that holding one in your hand for any reason while driving would be a violation. The measure would also increase the penalty for being caught, and increase it even more if the offence led to a crash.

The measure would maintain the current exception to the ban for emergency situations, as well as drivers of emergency vehicles. However, the bill will remove the exception to the law for people operating amateur radios.

That change is opposed by an organization representing amateur radio operators. In written testimony, John Core of the Amateur Radio Relay League said that amateur radios provide an important auxiliary emergency communications option for public agencies during natural disasters. Core wrote that removing the exemption for ham radio operators would “serve as a significant disincentive for Amateurs to install and maintain radios in their vehicles.” End quote.

Thankfully, this exception still holds for radio amateurs in South Africa, who may use a 2 way radio communications device while driving their vehicles, as long as the device is firmly attached to the vehicle, and not a portable or “handheld” radio.

And, at the time of writing, we have been unable to confirm the rumour that HAMNET has already installed three demonstration emergency communications stations complete with APRS digipeaters on the three habitable planets  -1e, -1f and -1g, orbiting the Red Dwarf TRAPPIST-1, 40 light years from Earth, for the benefit of the population there!

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

REPORT of HAMNET WCP’s involvement in two cycle tours February 2017

HAMNET Western Cape was again invited to assist with communications during two cycling events in February.

The first was the el Shaddai 99er Cycle Tour, on 11th February, involving some 4000 riders and 14 mobile radio stations. The race started at the racecourse in Durbanville, and progressed out towards the R44 between Paarl and Wellington, before crossing the countryside along the Philadelphia Road, and then down to the N7 via van Schoorsdrift, before entering Durbanville again up Vissershok, a total distance of just over 100km. A shorter route trimmed off some of the circuit for the less ambitious riders.

The JOC was established at the Racecourse, where Metro EMS’ Disaster Bus and my ancient Autovilla were parked next to each other. The medical contingent for the race plus ambulance dispatch and sweep vehicle dispatch occupied the disaster bus, while Carol, ZS1MOM,  and I occupied the van under a roof for coolth, and ran the radio comms. We communicated with the ambulance and sweep dispatch by means of a handheld VHF radio. Two VHF repeaters in the Cape were isolated from the inked system for our transmissions, a simplex frequency between the rovers was organised in case one of them could not be heard at the JOC and needed a message relayed, and a mobile stand-in APRS digipeater was installed on the top of the Meerendal Hill by Alister ZS1OK, to give better APRS coverage to all the vehicles tracked. All the 14 rovers had trackers in their vehicles, and we installed portable trackers in the 5 rescue ambulances and the three organiser’s race marshal’s vehicles.

The day started cool, but rapidly became very hot, and by lunchtime, the temperature on Vissershok, where the last riders were entering Durbanville was 35 degrees. In fact the medical team pulled the last few riders off the race (in any case the cut-off would have disqualified them) before they finished the climb up Vissershok, because of the heat, and the risk of exhaustion.

There were no major incidents during the race, and the course was declared cleared before 13h00. My thanks to  ZR1FR, and ZS1’s AGP, MUP, JM, BTD, V, PXK, LN and his wife PTT, DAV, JNT, DUG, PVV, PDE, and of course, MOM and OK.

The second race was the Lion’s Journey for Sight and Service, held on the same Sunday as the Dischem ride for Sight in Gauteng, namely the 19th February. This race is usually held on the first full weekend of the New Year down in the extreme Southern Suburbs of the Peninsula. For some reason not clear to me, it was postponed to a week after the 99er, and then held roughly in the same area as the 99er had been! This had a huge effect on the entries and the enthusiasm of the riders, and the Lions are to be pitied for the hard work they put into a race that was never going to be very profitable for the charities usually supported.

The Race started and finished at Killarney Race track North of Milnerton, and the route followed the Contermanskloof Road and then Tiekiedraai over the Durbanville Hills to enter Durbanville up the well known avenue of trees. After circling around the centre of town, the riders left via Wellington Rd, turned on to Fisantekraal, and then out to the four-way stop at the R304, where they turned left and up to the crossing with the Philadelphia Rd at the Silos, left towards Philadelphia, and then left again to come down the Adderley Rd (M58), right on to Malanshoogte, and finally back to Killarney via the Contermanskloof Road again, a distance of 74km. A shorter route clipped off some 20km for the less ambitious.

For this race, we ran the JOC out of my Autovilla at Killarney, situated next to the medical and organiser contingents in a large workshop on the site. Eight rovers manned the route, Alister ZS1OK again installed his mobile APRS digipeater on Meerendal, and I managed the JOC on my own. We equipped two ambulances and the two back markers for the races with APRS trackers, so I could report to the organisers on the state of the race.

However, this was the first race we have managed in Cape Town entirely on UHF repeaters. It being Sunday morning, the usual VHF repeaters were occupied with bulletins, and so we used the 434.625 UHF repeater on Tygerberg, which was pretty central to the course, and HAMNET’s portable UHF repeater at the same site as the
APRS digipeater, on 438.700MHz, to cover any gaps. It turned out that there were almost no gaps, and the route was well covered by the 434.625 repeater.

The entries for this race were far fewer, and there were no important incidents, so the field was back at the finish by about 11h00. HAMNET received grateful acknowledgments from the Lions organisers, and we in turn promised to be back for both races next year. Hopefully, the Lion’s race will be separated both geographically and chronologically from the 99er next year, to allow both races to benefit from the number of riders entering.

During the event, a call from Wilderness Search and Rescue was received for helpers to retrieve the body of a climber who had fallen on Table Mountain the night before. ZS1GS and ZS1OSK were given permission to leave their rover duties early, to be able to proceed to the call-out. Please see the report on that retrieval by ZS1GS on this same website.

My thanks go to ZS1’s LN and his wife PTT, PXK, EEE, PDE, YT, OSK, GS, BTD, and OK at the digipeater site. Without ZS1OK, neither of these races would have been as successfully marshaled as they were.

REPORT 19 February 2017

Cyclone Dineo in the Mozambique Channel has been dominating our news.

In a report from the International Business Times, Cyclone Dineo killed seven people in Mozambique this week, injured dozens and levelled 20,000 homes along the African coast. Cyclone Dineo, which has since been downgraded to a tropical depression, continued to flood South Africa on Friday with eight crop-threatening inches of rain as the countries in the storm’s wake attempted to recover, the Herald Live reported.

“We are again appealing to residents to stay close to their radios as disaster management teams will also be keeping a close eye on the vulnerabilities of different areas,” meteorologist Lulama Menze told the Citizen. “We want to reiterate that the effects of the storm will still be felt, despite it having weakened.”

Dineo, a hurricane that produced winds up to 100 mph, made landfall on Mozambique’s coast Wednesday night, bringing with it rough sea conditions and several thunderstorms. Though areas like the Gaza province didn’t suffer much from the bad weather, the Mopani district in the Limpopo province was forced to cancel school and the Inhambane province of Mozambique saw more than 100,000 people impacted by the storm, according to Herald Live. NASA spotted Dineo from space!

As the weekend got underway, parts of the storm were expected to move into Botswana, the South African Weather Service wrote in a news release.

“The vortex of ex-Dineo is becoming more indistinct as the system weakens,” the service wrote. “Notwithstanding this weakening trend, the system will still pose a great risk for the next 36 to 48 hours, particularly in terms of further exceptionally heavy rainfall and resultant flooding. By Saturday, patches of heavy rain occurrence could even persist over the northern parts of Namibia and Botswana.”

Brian Jones ZS6BV, Regional Director for HAMNET Limpopo Province says “Reports I have from farmers and from CCTV visuals in the area north of the Soutpansberg are of normal rains and wind is a fresh breeze. The effect of Dineo was less than was forecast.” End quote.

Hamnet Free State/Vaal says it will be monitoring emergency frequencies as from 08h00 Friday 17-02-2017 SAST.

“This will be to see what band conditions will be, if we are needed for comms with the Tropical Cyclone, and will also be a nice exercise for all,” said Rickus de Lange ZS4A, Regional Director of HAMNET Free State.

Francois Botha ZS6BUU reported to me that Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, Provincial Director for HAMNET KZN and Glenham Duffey ZS5GD indicated that they also had networks in operation. The 40 M band frequency of 7,110 MHz became a hive of activity with members reporting in from all over and exchanging signal reports. The 80 metre frequency of 3,760 MHz was in excellent condition on Thursday evening.

And a final note on Cyclone Dineo yesterday was the mention from Francois ZS6BUU that the cyclone is no more, and the satellite photo posted by Tim Hewitt ZS1TGH on the HAMNET Facebook page showing a tatty cyclonic cloud distribution over the far North of the Northern Cape and perhaps Southern Botswana. Let’s hope patchy rain is falling in these areas.

And now a message from Leon Lessing ZS6LMG of HAMNET Gauteng South:

“HAMNET Gauteng South now has an emergency number:  087 550 2482.

We are currently trying to draw up an operational plan for manning it, so any ideas would be appreciated. We have tested this at the value logistics cycle race and it performed perfectly on 4G and LTE data. With Sunday’s Ride for Sight race this will be the primary emergency contact number for race related incidents.

The idea is to punch this through to our local microwave network, but that is a long term capital intensive plan.” End quote.

The invasion of the Fall Armyworm should be declared a national disaster so that emergency funds can be made available to affected provinces before it reaches “catastrophic levels” said Political Parties on Monday.

South Africa meets all the requirements to declare the crop infestation a national disaster according to section 23(6) of the National Disaster Management Act. The Act allows for a disaster to be declared nationally if more than one province is affected.

“The worm could also compromise food security, pushing the price of food up, affecting the ability of millions of South Africans to put food on the table for their families,” it has been stated.

The worm, which is, of course, a caterpillar, likes maize, sorghum, soybeans, groundnuts and potatoes.

The department of agriculture has asked chemical suppliers urgently to register products that can be used to control it.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Des van Rooyen has been called on to declare the ‘invasion’ of the pest a national disaster, so that it can trigger the release of much-needed funding to assist maize farmers who are currently struggling to fight this plague.

The department was warned in October 2016 by the International Association for the Plan Protection Sciences (IAPPS) which, at the time, confirmed the outbreak of the pest in Nigeria. The IAPPS warned at the time that the pest could spread rapidly.

According to the latest reports, the pest has spread to Limpopo, North West, Gauteng, Free State, Mpumalanga and Northern Cape.

The Department of Water and Sanitation reports this week that all provincial averages for dam levels are slightly better than last week, except for the poor Western Cape, with no prospect for rain in the next 2 months, and dams at 35%, compared to 42% this time last year. I wonder if Cyclone Dineo could be persuaded to put on an encore here in the Western Cape for our benefit.

Cycle and road-running races abound today in the provinces, and we wish all HAMNET operators good comms in their duties shepherding the competitors on their routes. If you’re out driving, and come across some runners or riders, please give them the benefit of a safe journey.

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

REPORT 12 February 2017

The earth got shaky again this week, and produced a magnitude 6.3 earthquake 10km below the ground on the coast of Pakistan near the Iranian border on Tuesday at midnight our time. Although a quarter of a million people could have been affected by the earthquake, no major casualty figures have been released.

Meanwhile, the Philippines has also been struck by an earthquake, this one a magnitude 6.7 earthquake in central Philippines on Friday 10th February, 10km below the surface, and with an effect estimated to damage the property, or threaten the lives, of up to 1.9 million people within 100km of its epicentre. Again, no reports of casualties yet.

And Tropical Cyclone Carlos-17 continues to hover just off the South Eastern coast of Madagascar, having affected none yet, but perilously close to the Eastern coast. Maximum wind-speeds have been measured at 120KpH.

And also from the East comes news of a sound like a foghorn on 7, 10 and 14Mhz, which is apparently emanating from a Chinese over-the-horizon Radar, which jumps around and emits a sound in 66.66 SPS bursts. It is apparently a strong signal and is an easily heard station on 7,10 and 14 megahertz. It has been reported to the IARU monitoring service. Several countries use over-the-horizon radar, which often has frequency-hopping characteristics, making it difficult to pin them down. Amateur radio frequencies are often the first targets of this interference, and invoking the authorities to do something about the interference is difficult.

In Cape Town yesterday, HAMNET assisted at a very successful charity cycle race called the 99er, held in and around Durbanville. This is the 18th time the race has been organised as a fund-raising event for charities by the el Shaddai Christian School in Durbanville, and it ran as smoothly as a well-oiled machine, thanks to the dedicated organisers from the school.

HAMNET fielded sixteen operators, of whom two were in the JOC, one supervised a temporary APRS digipeater installed on the wine farm Meerendal, outside Durbanville, and three accompanied section chief marshals on their rounds and provided a link to the JOC. The remaining ten were spread along the route, and all vehicles carried APRS trackers, including the four ambulances and one rapid response vehicle. The day proved extremely hot, and the organisers pulled the last handful off the race just before the cut-off at 13h00, because of the dangers of heat exhaustion.

The Medical team managing the race operated from Metro Emergency Services Disaster bus, but had a wired feed from the HAMNET ops vehicle to provide them with an APRS map, providing up-to-the-minute position information of all rescue vehicles. No serious injuries were reported, and the stand-down took place at about 13h30. The organisers complimented HAMNET and thanked them for their contribution and APRS coverage, which made management of the race easy. Well done, HAMNET Western Cape.

A similar race takes place next Sunday the 19th, but has a smaller field, shorter distances, and so a similar operation will be mounted, but from a different start/finish site. After that, there is a short rest-period for HAMNET to catch its breath before the Cape Town Cycle Tour in March, and the Two Oceans over the Easter weekend. Later in April, a trail run sponsored by Wildrunners takes place, and HAMNET will be there too.

Our weekly inspection of dam level averages around the country reveals that Lesotho, Limpopo. Mpumalanga, and North West provinces have all shown a single digit improvement over last week, but poor Western Cape continues to deteriorate, and now has dams only 36% full on average. As mentioned last week, nearly a quarter of that 36% will be too muddy to drink, when the water levels in the dams reach the last 10% of their capacity. There has been almost no rain in February yet, and this station has recorded 0.2mm of rain so far, plus another 11.2mm in January.

Hurried research is being conducted into the best pesticides to use for the new “Fall Armyworm” infestation reported in about 5 of our provinces. Apparently, the worm comes from the Americas, and was first reported in Africa in Nigeria, but a strong wind can blow the moths hundreds of miles in one night, to where they lay their eggs, and hundreds to thousands of the caterpillars hatch, to wreak havoc on wheat and corn crops before marching on to their next crops areas. Luckily, the South African grain manufacturer’s pesticide officials are very progressive, and had already chosen the best substances to control the pandemic in the country.

With the one sunspot group on the Sun today, and the low sunspot number and Solar Flux associated, near vertical incidence preferred frequencies remain in the five to six MHz region, so your local sky-wave connections will have to be on the 80m band. But don’t be shy – you won’t get a chance to check your equipment and antennas for faults unless you put out a call, and see who comes back. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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

REPORT 5 February 2017

Maize farmers in Limpopo, Gauteng, Free State, North West and the Western Cape have recently confirmed the presence of armyworms, which derive their name from their tendency to destroy vast quantities of crops in a relatively short space of time, making an infestation difficult to contain.

Reports from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe have detailed the carnage armyworms can wreak on the production of maize crops, and South Africa needs a plan of action in order to prevent a possible food security disaster. Indeed, the armyworm ‘plague’ has already destroyed 70 % of crops in certain areas in Zimbabwe, 100 000 hectares in Zambia and 2000 hectares in Malawi.

Governmental silence on the issue is alarming, especially considering the far-reaching implications of a possible plague. The arrival of armyworms is a threat to our country’s food security and could lead to further increases in food prices, which will have a negative impact on the poorest and most vulnerable in our country.

If the armyworm is confirmed to be of the American variety, South Africa will also not be allowed to export maize which will then impact on this sector’s ability to sustain jobs.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries have been urged to start a process of open dialogue with fellow African countries that have been plagued by armyworms, in order to find a swift solution to this crisis.

From Andrew Gray ZS2G comes this sad news of a rescue attempt at Sardinia Bay, Port Elizabeth. On Sunday afternoon, 29th January,  a 22 year old Zimbabwean student went in to the water to swim. The man entered the water outside of the designated swimming area and this area is not monitored closely by the  lifeguards.

Sardinia Bay is known for its strong backwash and undercurrents. With minutes the swimmer had disappeared under the water. The lifeguards were alerted and swam out to look for the man.

Andrew, ZS2G who was visiting the beach at the time, alerted the PEARS/ HAMNET WattsApp group and asked that those who could come and assist, bring binoculars.

All in all there were 8 people from the PEARS HAMNET group who responded and between them they brought three pairs of binoculars and seven handheld radios. The amateur radio group was tasked to search the rocky shore area next to the beach and this group was the only one on the beach with any binoculars.

The NSRI launched a boat and an Emergency Medical Services helicopter did a search over the water. From the helicopter, a body was seen submerged in the water,  but the waves were too rough for the rescuers  to retrieve it.

On Sunday evening everyone had to stand down. The emergency services have been continuing with the search during the week, but until now the body has not been found.

Andrew, ZS2G ,would like to thank the following who responded to the call:

Mandy ZS2AV, Denise ZS2DG, Colin ZR2CRS,  Graydon ZU2GH,  Mike ZU2MOO,

Dakota ZU2DW, and Bev Higgs , wife of ZS2DH.

Andrew says “A lesson learned by ZS2G during this incident, is always to keep a 2m handheld radio and a pair of binoculars in the car.” Thanks for the insert, Andrew.

And from Riaan Greeff ZS4PR comes a report on the Value Logistics One Cycle Race for 2017, held last Sunday the 29th January. The Vaal Hamnet division was invited by Glynn Chamberlain ZS6GLN of the Gauteng South Hamnet group to assist at this event. Gauteng fielded 18 hams, while Vaal supplied 10, and they assembled on Saturday in the afternoon to install radios and APRS trackers in the ambulances and set up the JOC and the UHF repeaters.

An army marches on its stomach, and so it was that the Vaal team supplied the evening braai and the next morning’s early breakfast. The start was on time, and the race went well, with accident or incident messages clearly relayed to the JOC, manned by a race representative, both ambulance services, traffic and fire department personnel, and HAMNET. 3600 riders were all home by 13h00, and HAMNET Vaal again fed the team at lunchtime.

Riaan says a lot of positive feedback was received from the organisers, and HAMNET in this region left a positive footprint on the community of Midvaal and Meyerton. Thanks Riaan and Glynn for your partnership on the course.

For the second week in a row, the dams in all provinces except the Eastern and Western Cape, are, on average, slightly fuller than last week. The Eastern Cape’s dams are standing at 58% full, like last week, but far behind the 74% full at this time last year. The Western Cape’s dam are on average 38% full, compared to 40% last week, and 46% this time last year. If you remember that the last 10% or so of the dam water will be too muddy to be used for drinking purposes, you realise that the Western Cape is perilously close to a major problem, with enough water perhaps to last until the end of March. The City of Cape Town is cracking down on inconsiderate users, with stiff fines for abuse of water. Potable water may not be used to wash cars or boats, hosepipes may not be used at all, and watering of gardens by bucket or watering can may only happen before 9am or after 6pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Tough times indeed.

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

REPORT 29 January 2017

The Western Cape had a welcome spell of rain on Friday morning early, with some areas measuring 25mm and others in the Northern parts less. This is the first rain since New Year, and definitely not enough to make a measurable difference to the Cape Peninsula’s storage dams. As of this coming Tuesday, the City of Cape Town will place a ban on all watering of gardens for longer than an hour, and then only on Tuesday and Saturdays, before 9am or after 6pm. No potable water may be used to wash cars, and of course, the use of hosepipes is already prohibited.

Countrywide, the news is not very good this week either. Most provinces have dams at more or less the levels as they were last week, but Eastern Cape, KZN, and Western Cape all have lower levels than last year.

In KwaZulu Natal, Keith ZS5WFD advises us that the Albert Falls Dam’s water level has fallen to 26.1% of full as of last week. So, although large parts of the Midlands have had regular rainy spells, and some of their dams are filling up, the Department of Water and Sanitation has taken a decision to impose restrictions to the greater Umgeni River system, since domestic, industrial and commercial consumers have been unable to achieve a 15% reduction in usage, and farming and irrigation use not reduced by 50%. Restrictions were reduced during the holiday season because of the influx of visitors over Christmas. A blanket reduction of 15% is thus now in place, as of 2 weeks ago. The areas of EThekweni directly or indirectly supplied by a chain of reservoirs all stemming from the Mount Moriah reservoir are thus experiencing water cuts between 9pm and 4am, seven days a week. This is a very serious situation, and we hope that all parts of the summer rainfall area in KZN will get enough rain to refill all these systems before winter.

Wherever you live in the country, please be very considerate of the parlous state of our water supplies, and waste nothing!

HAMNET members are reminded again, of their need to update their membership details on the portal on the HAMNET website, < hamnet.co.za >. Click on the portal tab at the top right, enter your call sign and start the process of getting Chad ZS6OPS to send you a temporary password you can use to change or update your details, before saving the info to the portal. If you choose not to do this update, you will be lost to HAMNET, because the hardcopy database previously held by ZS1TR has been phased out.

Interesting news off the Sun is the arrival of the first sunspot that belongs to Cycle 25. When the new cycle starts the sunspots demonstrate opposite polarity to the sunspots of the previous cycle. Thus it is that the first reversed polarity sunspot group was spotted in the Southern Hemisphere of the Sun last week, to the West (or right) of the midline, and busy disappearing off the edge of the Sun. Before you get all excited and rush off to test the bands, please realise that cycle 24 doesn’t stop suddenly, and cycle 25 start dramatically. There is a considerable overlap, and it may be years before cycle 25 is anything to be proud of. However, we desperately need a bit of optimism these days – the bands are that poor. Near Vertical Incidence propagation charts this week suggest that you will not manage intermediate distance communications on anything but the 80metre  band. The Solar Flux yesterday was 80, but the planetary A index was 20 for the previous 24 hours, the K index at that moment 2, and the geomagnetic field unstable, because of a solar wind stream passing by. If we were further from the equator, we might see Auroras by night.

The World Health Organisation has issued its annual pre-flu season encouragement to people to take flu vaccines before winter. They say:

“The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the flu vaccine every year, before influenza season begins, although getting vaccinated at any time during the influenza season can still help prevent flu infections.

Getting the flu shot is especially important for those most at risk: pregnant women, children younger than 5 years, people older than 65 years, people with chronic medical conditions, such as HIV/AIDS, asthma, heart and lung diseases and diabetes, and people with increased risk of exposure to influenza, which includes health care workers.

Influenza viruses evolve constantly. Twice a year WHO makes recommendations to update the vaccine compositions in an effort to match the most common virus types circulating in humans at that time.” End quote.

And while we’re encouraging people to do things, may I please encourage you, being members of the SARL,  quickly to seize the bull by the horns and nominate one of the retiring SARL Councillors or someone else in your area to a post on the Council of the SARL, before Tuesday the 31st January. HAMNET can make more of a difference to the lives of the people of South Africa and our fellow radio amateurs, if we have Councillors who are kindly disposed towards HAMNET.

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

REPORT 22 January 2017

Bad weather continues to plague Europe, and National Emergency Communications coordinators have been reporting in with their details.

Michal SP9XWM says that they started specific weather monitoring 2 weeks ago in Poland, as severe snowfalls started. Networks will be implemented as weather deteriorates. Critical storm weather conditions in coastal areas occurred twice last week.

In Italy Alberto IK1YLO notes that the weather situation in Central to Southern Italy is  very severe, as snow and very low temperatures are experienced.  Communications capabilities are good with no problems experienced. But, after this report came through, Italy was struck by 9 earthquakes of magnitude 4.5 or more on 18 January, and the avalanche we saw reported on, which engulfed a winter hotel and saw many casualties and lives lost.

From Germany, Michael DJ9OZ reports orange warning alerts of very low -15 degree temperatures, a thick layer of snow, some if it banked high by winds of up to 95 km per hour on high mountains in the Black Forrest area.

And in Essex, England, Essex RAYNET was officially notified last Thursday the 12th by Tendring District Council, via the Essex Civil Protection and Emergency Management Team that RAYNET’s support was required due to severe weather warnings in the area. Straight away, Essex RAYNET were en-route to Tendring and, within a few hours, a Control station was operational at Tendring District Council’s Emergency Response Centre in Weeley. Cross-band (2m/70cm) repeaters were active to cover the local area, as well as county-wide for other members of Essex RAYNET.

The group’s primary involvement was to support Tendring District Council, who were coordinating the evacuation of a potential 2,500 residents from Jaywick. Four locations were activated to provide coverage. Essex RAYNET members were deployed to each location making use of a cross-band repeater for robust communication back to Control at the council offices in Weeley. Through the use of cross-band 2m/70cm repeaters, most of the comms could comfortably be achieved using 5 watt handhelds.

In the run-up to an expected tidal surge, most of the effort from the emergency services involved contacting the residents, with police knocking on over 2,000 doors, leafleting residents and messaging via the media, preparing to evacuate the most vulnerable to a rest centre. Fortunately, the tidal surge and the next two high tides turned out to be less severe than expected, and the Raynet members were able to stand down on Friday evening the 13th, after a 40 hour operational involvement.

Thankfully, most of the Western Cape’s severe fires have now been brought under control. Gale-force winds and extremely hot conditions in the Cape have made fire-fighting very difficult, but we know our gales signify your rainfall in the Summer rainfall area, so are content in that knowledge. The fire-fighting teams have been very thinly stretched, some of the firemen working without rest for most of their 24 hour shifts. Local communities have been very generous in their donations of sustenance to the firemen. The most damage to property seems to have been in the Paarl area, where centuries-old farmsteads and large tracts of land under vines or orchards have been destroyed in the blazes.

The situation in our dams around the country, apart from the Western Cape, continue to improve. On average the percentage increase this week compared to last, is 2%, while the Western Cape’s dams have decreased by 2%. The Western Cape’s dams will keep us supplied with drinking water for another 100 days, unless it starts to rain, and rains well. The closer we get to our danger levels, the more stringent will become our restrictions, and it is expected that we will soon be banned completely from watering our gardens. For all to whom this applies, please do everything in your power to use saved water from washing or kitchen usage over and over again, before watering essential parts of your garden with it. Please let no drop of water disappear down the drain unused.

Some of HAMNET Western Cape’s members attended a “think-tank” afternoon yesterday afternoon, to discuss and solve if possible, some of the division’s problems that were raised during the end of 2016 ten-question-survey issued by Grant ZS1GS, the Regional Director. Grant had sent out a list of the accumulated answers to his ten questions previously, and asked those attending to give the responses some thought with a view to planning the training and meeting format for the coming year. The general consensus of opinion seemed to be that more attention needs to be given to the usage of digital communications in emergency situations than is currently the case, and all forms of training or teaching, whether it be in communications, or straightforward advice over antennas, cabling, reusable power options, and suitable radios to own or use, should be encouraged. Unexpected requests to call in on an Emcomm frequency should also be experimented with, to find out who is able to respond, and how quickly.

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

REPORT 15 January 2017

HAMNET South Africa would like to welcome our new SARL Office Administrator Kelley Heslop to her post, and wish her many happy days of interaction with all us crazy folks, as we go about playing radio, and being of service to the community. We hope we don’t drive you mad, Kelly!

Things are looking up a bit, as far as dam levels around the country are concerned. All provinces have recorded higher dam levels this week compared to last week, except the Eastern Cape which is static, and the Western Cape, whose levels have dropped by 2% since last week. Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and Northern Cape dams are all now fuller than this time last year, which is most reassuring.

Sadly, the Western Cape has been battling huge fires this week, with large tracts of land and some properties in the Helderberg and Grabouw area devastated, and around Simonstown, where a huge fire broke out dramatically on Wednesday.  This resulted in road closures, large scale evacuation of suburbs, and even herding of baboon troops away from the fires, while small animals like buck, tortoises and snakes were rescued and released elsewhere. Fifty horses were moved from Glencairn stables. Rumours of arsonists seen starting the fires abound, as the authorities investigate their causes.

Meanwhile, over Europe, Emergency communicators are preparing for bad weather, with very low temperatures, storms, snow and potential floods.

Greg Mossop, G0DUB says that RAYNET groups in the UK have been either active or on standby for the last few days to deal with the effects of flooding on the East coast of the country. He has also seen on Twitter that some ADRASEC groups in France have been ready to respond to the weather conditions and now, through Facebook, a notice that 330 000 homes in France have lost their electricity supplies.

Snow and ice have extended down to Greece, and Adrian YO3HJV says that, in Romania, they had heavy snow and Orange Codes for very low temperatures during the week, but no severe alerts were issued for them (RVSU), so they only had to pass routine type traffic.

In some counties there were Red Codes for snow and freezing weather but fortunately, in big cities, the schools were closed. Also in the Eastern counties of Romania, almost all roads were closed during Orange and Red Codes for severe weather, so there were no significant problems.

They had some warnings issued for potential power failures in some areas from the National Electric Energy Company for the next few days but they are prepared for that. There are also some severe alerts issued for the next week but there is no confirmation yet. They are using this relatively warm weekend to prepare for the worst.

In anticipation, in Bucharest,  they started a Winlink2000 gateway on UHF and a very wide area digipeater, which is heard consistently in Bulgaria and can pass information through LZ digipeaters up to the extreme South West of Romania.

They mainly use Office 365 for routine traffic and have issued some training videos to their members on how to set up and use RMS Express as the tool of choice for Emcomm in RVSU.

Thank you Adrian for that insert.

For a way of dealing with another type of fire, a new smartphone app could help smokers stick to their New Year’s resolutions to quit smoking.

Cigbreak Free works like a regular smartphone game, with players having to complete tasks to progress through levels and gain rewards. However, it also incorporates a combination of 37 behavioural change techniques designed to help smokers quit. Some of the techniques are so subtly embedded in the game, that the player will be unaware of their presence. The app also includes a quit journal where users can calculate how much money they are saving.

Games creation processes lecturer Hope Caton, who was involved in the design of the app, said: “The good thing about a smartphone gaming app is that you can play it anywhere. Craving is a short-term thing, so if you get a craving at 11am, you can play the game in the warm until it passes, rather than going out into the cold for a cigarette. You’ve also got something to do with your hands other than smoke.”

The app will be coming to Android and iPhone platforms.

HAMNET in the Western Cape is looking forward to a busy first quarter of the year, with several sporting events up ahead. The first is the el Shaddai sponsored 99er Cycle Tour which happens on the 11th February outside the Durbanville area. We will be providing 18 operators for that event, including APRS tracking of rovers and ambulances. A week later, we will assist at the Lions Journey for Sight and Service on 19th February, also a cycle tour, and also requiring APRS tracking and about 7 operators.

Then, in March, we always assist at what used to be called the Cape Argus cycle tour, and now called the Cape Town Cycle Tour. We are not the primary communications organisation here, but usually assist Delta Search and Rescue by providing radio operators. And finally, over the Easter weekend, we support the medical division of the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon on 15th April. Here we provide 16 operators, but use the City of Cape Town’s Tetra radio system, and a proprietary cell-tracking system, used in all the vehicles on the course. The organisation and planning of all four of these races is at an advanced stage, and all HAMNET members in the Western Cape are invited to volunteer their services for one or all of these events, by contacting me at zs1dfr@telkomsa.net.

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