HAMNET Report 21 January 2018

Tropical Cyclone Berguitta-18 has been moving South-West all week, missing Madagascar, but pummelling Reunion and Mauritius, and other small French Islands to the East of Madagascar. The FaceBook page entitled “Mauritius Cyclone Updates” has some vivid video of ravines and rivers coming down in torrential flood, threatening to wash bridges and properties away. There has not been much news in the press of damage or loss of life, and Saturday’s reports say that Berguitta had weakened into a moderate tropical storm by Friday evening. Presumably the flooding will take a week or so to subside. HAMNET is not aware of any emergency traffic being passed from that area.

Meanwhile a tropical depression has been present in the Mozambique channel for the last few days, but does not seem to be moving Southwards, so stormy conditions in Mozambique or over the North-East of South Africa have not been experienced. We’ll keep our eye on that one.

Arrangements are being made with the Western Cape HAMNET Division, for the two sporting events soon to happen in the Cape. The 99er Cycle Tour takes place on Saturday 10th February, where at least 16 of our volunteers will do their stuff along the way. Plans are at an advanced stage for that one. And I have been contacted by the organisers of the Two Ocean’s Marathon, on Easter Saturday, to start the wheels turning amongst the HAMNET operators who are already starting to volunteer for that. If you are a Western Cape HAMNET Member, and would like to assist us, please contact the writer at ZS1DFR@TELKOMSA.NET. Thank you.

From the ARRL letter of this week is the news that uncharacteristically cold weather in central Florida in early January prompted members of the North Brevard Amateur Radio Club (K4NBR) to assist the area’s homeless population. The New Year began with a bitter cold front descending upon central Florida, bringing below-freezing temperatures, especially concerning for those lacking regular shelter from the elements. NBARC members Ricky Deluco, K4JTT; Robert Ortiz, KJ4VEH; William Klosowski, K4SVT, and Michael Ellixson, KE4MWZ, set out in their own vehicles, searching the city of Titusville for homeless residents. For the next two evenings, and using Amateur Radio as communications, the group worked in the cold, wet weather for more than 12 hours, logging some 190 Km on the roads around Titusville.

The Disabled American Veteran Centre in Titusville had opened its doors as a cold weather shelter and offered a warm place to sleep and eat. The ham radio group alerted local law enforcement, so they were aware of the effort, and in the hope that on-duty officers might also reach out. The group was able to locate five homeless individuals on its first evening tour of the town and provide them with transportation out of the cold. Local police also contacted the team to help and to provide transportation for other homeless individuals located by on-duty officers.

One additional homeless person located late on the first night had a need for immediate medical attention and was transported to a local hospital. — Thanks to Ricky Deluco, K4JTT

From the same source, we are told that a November 2017 Department of Defence (DoD)-sponsored communications interoperability exercise involving Amateur Radio was a success, according to information received from US Army Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) Program Manager Paul English, WD8DBY. The November 4-6 drill, which focused on interoperability between DoD elements including MARS, other federal agencies, and the Amateur Radio community, simulated a coronal mass ejection (CME) event. Army and Air Force MARS organizations worked in conjunction with the Amateur Radio community, primarily on the 60-meter interoperability channels as well as on HF NVIS frequencies and local VHF and UHF, non-internet linked Amateur Radio repeaters.

The Amateur Radio portion of the exercise kicked off with a high-power information broadcast on 60-meter channel 1 (5,330.5 kHz) from a military station on the east coast and the Fort Huachuca HF gateway station in Arizona. The high-power broadcast provided basic exercise information and requested that amateur stations make contact with MARS stations on 60 meters and provide county-by-county status reports for the 3,143 US counties and county equivalents, in order to gain situational awareness and to determine the extent of impact of the scenario. Radio amateurs also were given the opportunity to submit a reception report and receive a QSL card.

“Leaders from the supported DoD headquarters as well as the chiefs of both the Army and Air Force MARS programs appreciated the nearly 2,000 Amateur Radio stations that trained during this exercise,” English said. — Thanks to US Army MARS Program Manager Paul English, WD8DBY, and The ARRL ARES E-Letter.

Exciting news comes from Mars, the planet, where the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) investigated eight steep and eroded slopes (known as “scarps”) at various locations across Mars. At each of these locations, they found thick shelves of relatively pure water ice located as little as 1 meter below the planet’s surface. Furthermore, some of these massive ice deposits were found to be more than 100 meters thick.

According to the research paper, “The ice exposed by the scarps likely originated as snow that transformed into massive ice sheets, now preserved beneath less than 1 to 2 [metres] of dry and ice-cemented dust or regolith near ±55° latitude.” In 2008, the Phoenix Mars Lander discovered similar ice deposits along Martian scarps, but they were found in regions much closer to the planet’s northern pole.

The discovery of these large reservoirs of pure water ice adds yet another piece of evidence supporting the increasingly held theory that water ice not only exists on Mars, but also is surprisingly common. Although the ice could obviously be used as a source of water for future manned missions to Mars, scientists have a long way to go before then. However, with the Mars 2020 rover just a few years away, the discovery of eight more tantalizing sites ripe for investigation is still an exciting find.

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

HAMNET Report 14 January 2018

Tropical Cyclone Ava passed through Madagascar on Friday and Saturday of last week, hitting mostly the Eastern coast of the island with wind speeds of between 140-190 kph.

“The provisional report of cyclone Ava hitting Madagascar, (shows) 29 people were killed,” Melisa Venance, communications officer of the National Office of Risk and Disaster Management, said.

The administrative region of Haute Matsiatra, located 400 km  South of Antananarivo, said that among those killed were eight people from a family who had been at a funeral vigil on Sunday when their house was hit by a landslide.

“The bodies were searched for all night, and the corpses of eight people, including an 11-month-old baby, and the body of the deceased person were found under rubble on Monday morning,” the post said.

The National Office of Risk and Disaster Management had earlier on Monday put the dead at at least six, and that more than 13,000 people were displaced by the cyclone, while more than 16,000 pupils had classes suspended until Thursday, due to flooding and risk of landslides.

Meanwhile, as AVA has drifted away in a South-Easterly direction, Tropical Cyclone SIX-18, has formed East of Madagascar, and is not threatening the island country yet. It may in fact drift South and miss Madagascar completely. Maximum windspeeds are estimated at 176kph.

Tom Morgan, ZS1AFS/G0CAJ, reports in Southgate Amateur Radio News that many rare DX operations are by hams who are working in that ‘needed’ location – and giving contacts is secondary to the reason the operator is in that far-flung spot. So, operation is limited.

It is very rare that an operator has to go QRT because he or she is in a life-threatening situation. One in which fuel and food are in short supply, happened recently on Marion Island.

With fuel restricted to essential purposes, ham operation ceased in November. There is doubt whether ZS8Z will be on the air again before the South African ship arrives in April 2018 for the changeover.

Fortunately, an Indian relief ship was found that was able to take supplies and is in passage with food and fuel. The fuel is for the one remaining operational generator – two are in need of maintenance and repair.

At the American Astronomy Society’s meetings this week, the intriguing matter of Fast Radio Bursts was discussed. Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, are brief, bright flashes of radio energy from extragalactic sources. They are hard to study because they’re so short and they don’t repeat, except for one. The Repeater, as it’s known, offers a window into the nature of these objects because it repeats, allowing for multiple and higher-precision measurements of this source. It has, for example, allowed astronomers to pin down its location to a dwarf galaxy over 3 billion light-years away. It’s also sitting conveniently close to a source of persistent radio emission.

Based on the duration of the bursts, some of which are only about 30 microseconds, the source itself must be small — only about 10 kilometres across, which is conveniently the size of a neutron star (which was already the likeliest candidate). It was learned that the polarization of the signal is extremely “twisted,” which may hold clues about its environment, which must have strong magnetic fields responsible for twisting it in the first place. The persistent radio source near the burster is also a likely clue. Currently, the best theories state that this Repeater is likely a neutron star bursting from either the region very near its galaxy’s supermassive black hole, or from within its own extremely bright, young nebula. These ideas still remain theories, but within the next few years, we may finally begin getting some answers as more FRB’s are recorded and more is learned about their origins and environments. In response to a question, it was noted that FRB121102 is the only repeating burst, and that it perhaps doesn’t represent the rest of the class of FRBs. It’s still hard to tell, and only more data and more discoveries will hold the answers.

Fortunately, astronomers estimate that about 10,000 of these go off every day, resulting in one about every 10 seconds. As radio telescopes become better able to catch these events, those answers may be just on the horizon.

Perhaps it’s someone out there trying to teach us superfast morse code! Thank you to the AAS for these notes.

The HAMNET Duty Logistics Manager has been busy round and about Table Mountain this week. From Monday morning until Saturday evening, eight rescues were logged, and needed some help from HAMNET. Of course, SANParks rangers, Mountain Club of SA rescuers and the Off-Road Rescue Club were also involved, so it was always a combined effort. Thank you to all who volunteer.

As of the beginning of this week, the Cape dams stood at 29.7% full. A small amount of rain fell last Sunday the 7th, perhaps 5mm in the suburbs, not enough to do anything for the dams. The community in Cape Town is pre-occupied with one mission – to acquire a rainwater tank to catch every last drop of rain or dew that might fall. In that there’s not much rain about, it is going to take a long time to fill all these tanks! Professional water-tank suppliers are having a very good season, and the rest of us are rigging up all sorts of Heath-Robinson devices to get the water from the gutters into the tanks. It’s all quite fun, actually! We have all developed a very healthy respect for that stream of water coming out of our taps, and are catching every wasted drop possible.

And, from your writer’s point of view, a new medical condition has sprung up in Cape Town. It has been termed “bucket-carrier’s elbow”, like tennis elbow, and just as painful, but  can be acquired without ever having played tennis! I wonder whether I should write it up in a medical journal somewhere!

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

HAMNET Report 7 January 2018

May I begin by wishing you all a very happy amateur radio year. May all your signals remain 5 and 9 plus 20, and may all your endeavours to improve your communications skills meet with success! I promise to do my best to keep you informed of matters important to us all, provided you promise to keep tuning in!

Greg Mossop G0DUB, in his New Year’s message says “As 2017 ends I would like to thank all of you, and your families, for your support this year.

“We were ready to respond to events like the wildfires in Portugal, and severe weather events passing over our region such as snow damage in Slovenia. There have also been more National exercises and tests like a successful EmcomSET in Spain, Vapepa in Finland and many more I only see afterwards because I look at your websites or magazines.

“We had a fairly successful IARU Region 1 Triennial conference in September. A request to recognise emergency communications in the new 5MHz band was approved though this does not yet appear on the website. The request for information about frequency usage above 148MHz did not want to know about Emergency Communications now, but I still do not think that this is right and I will produce some information for the IARU separately from the IARU-R1 VHF committee work, as some of them seem to think we concentrate on HF, and ignore all the good work we do on the VHF/UHF bands.

“I was pleased and surprised to receive the Region 1 medal for contributions to Emergency Communications, but this is in recognition of all your work too. Our part of the hobby is absolutely a team effort !

“There is still more to do. We may not live in a region affected by storms in the same way as the Caribbean, but our energy and communications systems are so interconnected, that a problem in one country can soon spread over a wider area.

“I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the next meeting of Emergency Communications Co-Ordinators in Friedrichshafen at HamRadio 2018 on 1st June, and I hope you all have a happy and healthy 2018.” End quotation.

Thank you, Greg, and the same to you and the IARU Region 1 Community, from all of us in South Africa.

One thing we always keep a close eye on is weather, and so I immediately bring to your attention the tropical storm driving down the East Coast of Madagascar. It has been on the “radar” so to speak, since the beginning of the week. With windspeeds of 176kph at maximum, Tropical Storm Ava-18 is expected to affect about 1.3 million people. Luckily, it is sticking to the Eastern Coast, so inland areas haven’t been badly affected yet. Red Cross disaster response teams are readying response plans in anticipation of the cyclone’s landfall.

Right now, our major concern is flooding as a result of the expected heavy rains. We’ve activated our national disaster response team, and Red Cross volunteers in all the districts are on high alert,” said Izaka Harizaka, acting Secretary General, Malagasy Red Cross.

In the event of a disaster, the Red Cross will be able to immediately draw on pre-positioned emergency supplies for 500 families, and plans are under way to top up these stocks with additional relief supplies.

Madagascar is regularly hit by cyclones. In March 2017, Tropical Cyclone Enawo hit the island, claiming dozens of lives and displacing tens of thousands. It was the strongest storm to hit the island nation in more than a decade. In response, the Malagasy Red Cross mobilized 24 disaster response teams alongside nearly 900 volunteers.

HAMNET asks all HF monitoring stations to keep their ears open for emergency traffic on 3760kHz, 7110kHz LSB, and 10.130Mhz and 14.245Mhz USB, and be prepared to react if their reception is better than anyone else’s. I’ll keep you posted of as much information as is available.

And while Madagascar is getting too much rain, the Western Cape isn’t. Dam levels stand at 31% full, and at 13.5%, the taps will be switched off, and we will try to get by on 25 litres per person per day, fetched from a tank truck each day. The logistics of this seem enormous. There will be 200 watering points, and 4 million people will have to be catered for at these points per day. That’s water for 20 000 people per water point per day, 500 000 litres per point per day, and, in some way, the authorities will have to keep track of all who have already collected water, to prevent illegal schemes from hijacking the system! Difficult times indeed.

Hamnet notes with regret the recent decision by Sam Maree ZS1SAM to step down from the Maritime Mobile Net, for which he has mostly been responsible, monitoring yachts coming down the coast of Southern Africa, and conveying messages and weather reports in both directions. The older radio amateurs will remember the original work of the late great Alistair Campbell, as well as Graham Griggs, ZS2ABK, who still helps to run the net. A lot of other radio stations up and down the coasts have assisted and will continue to assist, and we say a huge thank you to Sam, for all the work he has put in to the system in the last ten years. We hope a replacement formal control station can soon be identified, to take over the reins, as Graham has also had a very long innings, and cannot run the net unaided, and forever.

Hamnet has also been involved in both the fatal climbing incidents in the Western Cape this week. David ZS1DAV was duty Logistics Manager during the Table Mountain incident, and was aided by ZS1GS Grant, and ZS1SA Rob, during the overnight rescue of the surviving lady abseiler and retrieval of the male guide and lady climber’s bodies after they fell to their deaths on Monday night/Tuesday morning, just below the cable station.

And, on Wednesday, David again supervised the logistics needed to retrieve the 17 year old who fell and died on the Helderberg Mountain. This time, he was assisted by ZS1KP, Dean. Altogether a sad start to the climbing year in the Western Cape.

But a huge shout out to the two 12-year old friends, Mokoni and Evert, who climbed in and helped rescue trapped passengers at the scene of the tragic train accident outside Kroonstad on Thursday. With youngsters like these in the country, the future looks good!

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

HAMNET Report 31 December 2107

HAMNET REPORT 31 DECEMBER 2017

The ARRL News reports that Philippines Amateur Radio Association’s (PARA) Ham Emergency Radio Operations (HERO) volunteers assisted with emergency communication support in the wake of two severe weather events. Tropical Storm Kai-tak — known locally as Urduja — hit first in the central Philippines on December 16, leaving dozens dead and forcing others to evacuate. It was followed on December 22 by the more-severe Tropical Storm Tembin — known locally as Vinta — which caused significant damage and claimed some 200 lives in the southern Philippines. Hundreds more are reported missing.

Roberto “JoJo” Vicencio, DU1VHY, said HERO volunteers provided HF coordination through a national emergency net at 7.095 MHz. In addition, local clubs embedded with government responders used designated channels and club frequencies. According to Vicencio, TS Kai-Tak ravaged the Central Visayas area, holding in place for nearly 3 days.

“Much rain was dumped in the Samar and Tacloban areas of the Central Visayas region,” he said. “In situations like this, most radio amateurs in the affected areas fold into the government’s regional/provincial disaster risk-reduction management offices to consolidate the actions of the amateur and civic groups as well as the military and police forces.”

Just two days later, TS Tembin threatened the southern island of Mindanao. HERO reported that it was ready for the storm and able to mobilize the assets of radio amateurs and civic communications group as well as of police and armed forces.

Vicencio reported that the wind strength and volume of rains inundated Mindanao, taking a direct east-to-west path. Residential areas were hit by flooding, and many lost their lives after being trapped indoors by the fast-rising waters. The flooding also took out bridges and roads and devastated farm fields,

“There was a shortage of communications too,” Vicencio reported. “Many major transportation arteries were affected, further stranding others who tried to escape.”

This is said to be just the start of the annual adverse weather season in the Philippines, but Vicencio said the HERO Network is prepared. — Thanks to Jim Linton, VK3PC, Chair, IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee for these notes.

Vietnam was next in line to be lashed by Tropical Storm Tembin, and authorities in Vietnam prepared to move a million people from low-lying areas along the south coast on Monday (Dec 25) as the typhoon approached. Vietnam’s disaster prevention committee said 74,000 people had been moved to safety from vulnerable areas, while authorities in 15 provinces and cities were prepared to move more than one million.

The government ordered that oil rigs and vessels be protected and it warned that about 62,000 fishing boats should not venture out to sea.

“Vietnam must ensure the safety of its oil rigs and vessels. If necessary, close the oil rigs and evacuate workers,” Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was quoted as saying on a government website.

Schools were ordered to close in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City on Monday, a working day in Vietnam.

The Journal Gazette reported yesterday that Over 250 ultra-marathoners from around the country gathered at Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Albion for The HUFF 50K Trail Run. The 30-mile event on a wooded trail has attracted runners for over 20 years to northeast Indiana.

Other runners did the three-person 50K relay, and some a single loop of about 17K.

The race started at 8 a.m. for the one loop and first-leg relay runners, and the 50K began at 8:15 a.m.

Volunteers from the Amateur Radio Emergency Service provided safety and communications. Aid stations about every 3 miles provided sustenance, water and a safety check. The heated main tent at the Sand Lake beach house served hot soup and other refreshments to runners who had completed the course. Doesn’t that sound strange – serving hot soup after a race? We don’t need to do that here!

All evidence that emcomm volunteers don’t stop when the holidays start.

Local evidence of amateur involvement in the community comes from Chad Mileham, who reported on Rory ZS6RBJ’s write-up of a chainsaw massacre of a sort. It all started when a huge tree fell in bad weather and blocked the north-bound lane at the S-bend on  Christiaan de Wet Road, Constantia Kloof, Johannesburg. A call for help was sent out, and picked up by the Gauteng South chaps, and Nico Vorster came to the rescue with his trusty chainsaw. With supervision and help from Chad ZS6OPS and Rory ZS6RBJ, the obstruction was cleared. Read all about it on the Hamnet FaceBook page, where this and other bulletins are posted regularly. Subscribe and be notified of any HAMNET reports as they arise in this manner. We welcome your subscriptions there. Thank you to Chad for posting the report.

And so we draw to the end of the year. HAMNET has played a role in activities of one or other sort in all the provinces of the country, and proved our worth everywhere. Sports events, rescues, rallies, and cycle tours have all been grist to our mill, and many a time we have stood by, but not been needed in the end. HAMNET salutes all of you who have been willing to volunteer your time and your valuable radio equipment to make these things possible and safe for the community.

This also marks the end of my third year providing you with these bulletins. I hope you have gained some advantage from listening to them or reading them, and I look forward to continuing in the future. May I finish by wishing each and every one of you, radio operator or not, a very successful and happy 2018, with good health and prosperity in all that you do.

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

HAMNET Report 24 December 2017

The Philippines have been hammered by Tropical Cyclone TEMBIN-17, since Tuesday, and landslides and flooding have claimed many lives. The storm has winds of about 225kph, which have battered the Southern Islands of Philippines, and are now threatening Vietnam as I write this. The tropical storm left more than 133 people dead and 50000 others displaced, mostly due to landslides, and damaged more than 10,000 houses in the central Philippines before weakening and blowing into the South China Sea. The storm drenched Quezon province, on the southern tip of northern Luzon island.

Here’s a good news story from the weekly ARRL Letter of the 21st December. Inveterate inventor and radio amateur Eric Knight, KB1EHE, may be on the cusp of medical history as a device he developed in collaboration with a prominent Alzheimer’s disease researcher enters clinical trials this month. Both are hoping that the device, which essentially saturates the brain with low levels of RF, may prove to be a viable treatment for the dreaded disease affecting millions.

“Sometimes breakthroughs happen in ways that are unexpected,” Knight told ARRL.

Knight learned of experiments that world-renowned Alzheimer’s researcher Dr. Gary Arendash was carrying out on mice specially bred to have the disease, exposing them to low levels of RF. Knight said the effects were dramatic, sometimes even reversing the disease’s effects in the mice. Borrowing some concepts from his early experiments with small rockets and avionics, he set about developing, and later patented, a device that could provide the requisite RF exposure to the human head”In the early 2000s, we were trying to figure out then how to make antennas that would wrap around the airframes of the rockets we were designing,” he said, noting that the diameter of his group’s space vehicle was about the same as that of a human head.

Knight learned that Arendash was attempting to extend his investigations in a similar vein, and eventually they collaborated.”He came at it from mice and science, I came at it from an aerospace and hobby perspective,” said Knight, who patented a device based on a bicycle-type helmet. At the same time, Arendash was developing a similar wearable — a fabric cap resembling an old-time aviator’s headgear. Both devices are embedded with small antennas to bathe the brain in electromagnetic radiation in the 900 MHz spectrum set aside for Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) applications — some 100 MHz higher than a cell phone’s frequency.

“Ironic for sure,” Knight said. “Who would imagine that cell phone radio waves could be a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease?”

Knight, who has no medical background, said the device to be used in the clinical trials consists of the cap plus a palm-sized transmitter and wiring harness worn on the arm. The resulting combination has been dubbed the NeuroEM 1000. Participants will get doses of RF twice a day.

From the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) standpoint, the clinical trials aim primarily to show that the technology is safe, but Knight said he and Arendash are also looking for data that might demonstrate that the device could be beneficial in treating Alzheimer’s. The protocol they’ve developed goes further than what the FDA requires and includes before-and-after baseline data, with cognitive testing, assays of spinal fluid and blood, and PET scans.

“The hope is that there is a tiny bit of efficacy. Then we can work to refine it,” Knight said, adding, “No one is expecting a magic cure.”

Thank you to the ARRL for that story.

As this edition of the HAMNET Report goes to print, we have just heard the sad news of the passing of that great stalwart of communications assistance in the Western Cape for many decades, Bernie Crockford, ZS1BW (usually referred to as “ZS1BoereWors”). Bernie had that magnificent way of being everyone’s “Elmer”, and he never rejected pleas for help with communications. He was also renowned for his “boer-maak-‘n-plan” way of creating all sorts of wizard gadgets and little projects that he would proudly show at meetings, astonishing all with his creativity. He has been in poor health for some years now, and off the air, but his sense of humour and presence will continue to be felt, even if he is not physically with us. Our sincere condolences to his wife Sylvia and his family. Rest in peace, Bernie.

The HAMNET year has wound down, and, apart from rescues taking place in various locations which require radio comms standby, the average HAMNET member is sitting back, and basking in the knowledge that he put his experience to use during the year, providing safety and efficacy to a variety of sporting events. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of you, on behalf of the National and Regional Directors, for your volunteerism and dedication during the year. I’d also like to thank the Directors on your behalf, for their willingness to get stuck in to the dirty work of keeping the regions running. There are many people around the country, who would have been far worse off now, if it weren’t for all your willing assistance and helping hands. I hope that you will all have a brilliant holiday, and Merry Christmas, where appropriate, and a rejuvenation which will keep the spark of enthusiasm going in 2018. No matter in which way the electronics revolution moves, there will always be a place for men and women to come to the party and assist when communications are needed. Please be one of them!

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

HAMNET Report 17 December 2017

Greg Mossop, G0DUB has reported to IARU Region One agencies that Tilen S56CT reported the activation of Radio Amateurs in Slovenia last Saturday after heavy snow caused damage in a small region in Slovenia, Zasavje, affecting about 20000 citizens. Electrical power lines were down and consequently internet and phone networks. A lot of roads were also blocked due to fallen trees.

A large part of the major town, Trbovlje  lost electrical power, including the 112 Emergency Call receiving station. Calls from the public were transferred from Zasavje  region to the Call receiving station in  Ljubljana. Slovenian call centres are also dispatch centres, so this increased their workload dispatching teams outside their normal area.

A few hours after the breakdown, operators from the regional Emergency Communications group S50ATR (Trbovlje) organised themselves to offer help with redundancy communications between the centres in Trbovlje and Ljubljana. The Centre in Trbovlje was very happy to accept the help, so Matjaz S57MK and Roman S56HVF immediately went to Trbovlje with enough charged radios for the professional communications, using Winlink through packet radio P2P connection to a local radio club which had a satellite internet connection and reliable electricity. Also communication through the FM/DMR repeater system was established and has served as a link between Trbovlje and Ljubljana. In Ljubljana the S50ALJ regional team has also been activated to assist NC112 in Ljubljana using the S55DHF FM/DMR wide coverage repeater.

Zasavje region is known for its mountainous terrain and difficult radio coverage. Amateur Radio provides 3 repeater locations in that region along with a packet radio node on a TV tower, satellite internet at the radio club S59DOR in Trbovlje and of course HF with Pactor and Winmor, for Winlink. All good examples of the diversity that amateur radio can bring to emergency communications.

Thanks Greg.

The ARRL Newsletter issued on Friday reports that, since its start on December 4, the massive and only partially contained Thomas Fire in Southern California had consumed nearly 240,000 acres by mid-week, destroyed more than 700 single-family residences and threatened thousands more, and caused residents in fire-threatened areas to evacuate. Amateur Radio volunteers had been supporting communication for American Red Cross shelter sites in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, passing traffic between evacuation centres. One of several fires that broke out across Southern California, the Thomas Fire is far and away the largest. The Ventura County Auxiliary Communication Service (ACS)/Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) Net activated on December 5, “as smoke filled the air, and the fire grew to catastrophic proportions,” said Ray Smith, KI6VED, who volunteered with his wife Jade, KI6VFQ. Their home was included in an evacuation order.

“The worst night for the crew at Nordhoff came Wednesday, December 6, when the fire surrounded the Town of Ojai on three sides,” Smith explained. “The incident commander decided to shelter in place, instead of trying to move 250 refugees out on the only open exit, which was sometimes closed.”

Smith told ARRL that several fire vehicles dispatched to Nordhoff High School, a shelter site, taking up positions around the campus, and fire fighters stood guard by classrooms, opened to accommodate evacuees sleeping in their cars, some with their pets. “They were warned that if the trucks sounded their air horns, they were to pick up the [pet] cages and run for shelter on campus immediately,” Smith said. “The flames moved East to West along Nordhoff Ridge, with an army of fire fighters retreating before them. For a time, the radio operators, like everyone else, did not know what would happen to them.” Smith said the fire passed within 2 miles of the shelter location. Radio amateurs also deployed to the Ventura County Emergency Operations Centre. ARRL Ventura County District Emergency Coordinator Rob Hanson, W6RH, said the ACS/ARES volunteers staffed four evacuation centres, in addition to the EOC.
Santa Barbara Section Manager Jim Fortney, K6IYK, told ARRL that an Amateur Radio digital network (ARDN) MESH video network live-streamed video from several sites. “Loss of primary power has required using the solar power backup capabilities, but, unfortunately, the heavy smoke has made that backup less than fully reliable,” he said. In addition some sites are down because of power outages, and at least one hilltop site was overrun by fire. In addition to power loss to repeater sites, solar panels charging off-grid batteries have been affected by the huge plumes of smoke blocking them.

As of mid-week, FEMA reported, evacuation orders remained in effect for more than 93,000 residents, although shelter occupancy was down to about 300. A boil water advisory has been issued for Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.Thank you to the ARRL report for these excerpts from their weekly news.

Dam levels in the Western Cape continue their dismal drift to empty, with their levels on average 34.2% full, down by 0.9 percentage points on last week. We’ve had a fairly hot week, with intense South-Easters most of the week, which always go with heavy rain in the North East of the country. Water usage in the City of Cape Town’s jurisdiction remains too high at 628 million litres a day, desalination plants are about to come on line, water is starting to flow from boreholes being drilled, but Mr Average Capetonian seems unable to get his personal usage down to less than 87 litres a day. With the prospects for rain in the next four months very slim, it looks like Cape Town’s taps will run dry in May next year. That will result in 25 litres per person being issued per day from collection points around the Peninsula, which will prove an enormous inconvenience to all peoples in all suburbs. If any of you listening have particularly successful rain dances, please contact the author urgently!

Here’s a sobering thought to end with: Do twins ever realise that one of them was unplanned?

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

HAMNET Report 10 December 2017

Thousands of KwaZulu-Natal residents, armed with sieves, have united in a bid to rid its coastline of a toxic threat that has contaminated its water and endangered its beaches and marine life.

People have volunteered their time to collect billions of little white plastic pellets called nurdles, which have infested beaches from Richards Bay on the North Coast right through to the South Coast. So widespread is the problem, that it has even hit Port St John’s in Eastern Cape. The total quantity of nurdles is estimated to weigh 49 tons.

The nurdles have the ability to absorb pollutants that are harmful to both marine life and humans if consumed.

“Nurdles never disappear, but merely break down into smaller and smaller fragments. Both the nurdles and the toxins they have absorbed can enter the food chain, as they are eaten by fish and other marine animals,” according to the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (Saambr).

The disaster started when a container containing a cargo of nurdles was swept off a ship in Durban Harbour during devastating storms in October.

According to The Independent, Di Jones from the Dolphin Coast Conservancy warned that the pollution was “comparable to an oil spill. There is a disaster in the making”.

So far, less than 5% of the nurdles that were swept into the sea have been recovered, according to East Coast Radio. Nurdle Clean-up’s Caroline Reid told the station this week that it was “scary” that they had collected such a small fraction.

“We’re mobilising more people. Local and government bodies have been great in mobilising crews,” she said.

The environmental affairs department, while acknowledging and praising clean-up efforts to date, has urged coastal communities to continue pitching in to clean the affected beaches.

“The department therefore would like to commend all persons involved in the response to the incident to date. Members of the public are encouraged to join in and to contribute toward the protection of the coast,” said environmental affairs minister Dr Edna Molewa.

As a follow-up to the insert of a few weeks ago, referring to the levels of radioactive Ruthenium-106, nearly 1000 times higher than normal, I can confirm that  scientists using sophisticated climate modelling technology, pinpointed the site where the radiation originated. These experts pointed directly to a site in the South Ural mountains in Russia as the probable location.

The site of the radiation spike is conveniently located at what The Guardian calls a “secretive Russian nuclear facility” named Mayak, which was the home of the top secret Russian nuclear bomb program in the late 1940’s.

On November 21, Russia acknowledged the radiation spike was true, and admitted they’d also detected a 986 times increase in the radioactive isotope near the suspected leak site. It remains to be seen what effect the radiation has on biology.

And, on a related subject, Rodina Energy Group and Enerparc Ag will be working on a $1.2 million project that places one megawatt worth of solar panels in close proximity to the deactivated Chernobyl reactor. Both companies are capitalizing on the Ukrainian government redeveloping and offering around 1,000 square miles of the land for cheap. While the area isn’t safe for farming, it creates an ideal situation for renewable energy, as power lines are still connected in the evacuated zone.

“Bit by bit we want to optimize the Chernobyl zone,” Evgeny Variagin, CEO of Rodina Energy, told Bloomberg. “It shouldn’t be a black hole in the middle of Ukraine. Our project is over 300 feet from the reactor.” Rodina has installed 150 megawatts worth of solar panels in their portfolio.

Both Rodina and Enerparc could develop up to 100 megawatts at Chernobyl. The Ukrainian firms aren’t the only energy companies that are developing in the area. According to Bloomberg, companies from France and China are interested in building solar farms on the redeveloped land. In particular, Engie SA in France is “conducting a pre-feasibility test with a gigawatt-sized project in mind.” It’s been a study since last July to see if the project could work.

Now, let me tell you about the Rooster, which is a new robot from Israeli start-up RoboTiCan that can help reach injured victims of natural disasters where it’s not safe to send a human rescue worker.

Rooster got its name from the fowl’s preference for walking but being able to fly when necessary, Ofir Bustan, RoboTiCan’s COO, told ISRAEL21c. “Most of the time it walks, but when it runs into an obstacle, it can hover and fly.”

That makes Rooster different from most other search-and-rescue robots, which can either walk or fly but not both – meaning they can get stuck or are too high above the ground to search effectively for survivors.

RoboTiCan’s highly manoeuvrable Rooster is one tough bird. The 30-by-40-centimeter robot rolls inside a metal “cage,” which allows it “to take some pretty hard hits,” Bustan says. “It can crash from six meters high and keep on working.”

It’s the robot’s communications that really sets it apart, Bustan explains. A team of Roosters, which can be deployed simultaneously by a single operator, set up their own independent “wireless mesh network” so they can talk to each other and the operator over a distance of hundreds of meters. No need for a cellular connection, which may be offline anyway in a disaster situation.

The operator can also send out a single Rooster and, when it reaches as far into the disaster zone as its communications will carry, send a second Rooster out. The signals will be relayed back to the operator piggyback style. Clever indeed!

HAMNET Western Cape’s end-of-year function was enjoyed by a group of regulars who gathered at the Observatory in Cape Town for a bring and braai on Wednesday evening, at which Grant Southey ZS1GS, Western Cape Regional Director, presented certificates of appreciation to the members, and acknowledged their contributions to the comms needed during the year. Your writer joins him in congratulating these members of HAMNET Western Cape.

Finally, a thought for the day: 100 years ago everyone owned a horse and only the rich had cars. Today everyone has cars and only the rich own horses!

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

HAMNET Report 3 December 2017

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, HAMNET”s KZN Provincial Director, has reported the sudden and unexpected  passing of Des Mullen ZS5DDM. Des was a Fireman by profession, but also an active HAMNET member and committee member of the Midlands Amateur Radio Club. We extend HAMNET’s deepest sympathies to his family and friends on their sad loss.

What do selfies from the South Pole have to do with deep space missions? Quite a lot, actually. David Szondy, reporting in New Atlas on Wednesday reported that, on Monday November 20, NASA used a selfie taken outside Antarctica’s McMurdo Station at the bottom of the world and sent to the International Space Station to show off a new technology called Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN). This communication technology will allow spacecraft far from Earth to communicate with mission control using an interplanetary version of the internet.

The internet is an excellent way of moving data from one part of the world to another, but it does have its limitations. One of these is that it’s designed with the assumption that it’s connections from point A to point B can be kept uninterrupted or, if it is broken and can’t be established by another route, it’s possible to restart sending the data packets.

That’s fine on Earth where there are trillions of potential connections across the information superhighway, but deep space missions usually rely on one data link that can be interrupted by distance, the Sun getting in the way, or plain bad luck. If that one link is broken, important mission telemetry and other data can be lost forever. So, though internet technology is very useful for space communications, it does need some important tweaking.

This is where McMurdo and DTN come in. With its remoteness, high latitudes, stormy weather, and scant infrastructure, Antarctic data transmission suffers from demand exceeding capacity and the constant threat of information being lost due to outages. It’s a pain, but it also makes places like the South Pole a perfect analogue for trying to stay in touch with a Mars rover or a Jupiter orbiter.

DTN sends information much the same way as the conventional internet does. Information is encoded and broken into packets, which are bundled and sent through the system to its destination. But, unlike the internet, if a connection isn’t available, DTN stores the bundle until communications are re-established. The bundles can then be sent and the file reconstructed at the destination.

For the demonstration, the selfie was taken with a smartphone camera and the DTN software sent the image file from the McMurdo ground station to NASA’s White Sands Complex using the repurposed Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS). When the transmission reached North America, a series of DTN nodes routed the data bundles to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, from which it was transmitted to the ISS using another TDRS link. On the space station, the bundles were collected by the TeleScience Resource Kit demonstration payload and a final DTN node reconstructed the image.

According to NASA, the open-source DTN technology can not only ensure secure communication links with spacecraft, but can also find applications on Earth – in Antarctica, but also in disaster areas and other places that suffer from disrupted communications.

“We’re cutting our teeth on this software, in real field conditions,” says Patrick Smith, technology development manager for polar research support with the US Antarctic Program. “The simplicity of transmitting from a smart-phone could have significant implications for increasing and diversifying the science we support in the polar regions. This represents a vision of how our remote autonomous field research instrumentation might operate one day.”

This could be used by HAMNET too.

HAMNET Western Cape will be holding its end of year function this Wednesday evening the 6th of December at the South African Astronomical Observatory, with fires lit at 17h30, and the members hopefully presenting themselves there at about 18h00 or so. There will be no business discussed, except for the report by the Regional Director Grant Southey ZS1GS, and the meeting will take the form of a bring-and-braai. We look forward to seeing all Western Cape’s HAMNET members there!

With schools breaking up this week, families who have early leave will be travelling to start their holidays from the end of this week. If you’re one of the holiday makers, please drive carefully, and, if you’re staying at home, please leave your radios on and tuned to your local emergency VHF or HF frequency, to be available if anyone needs help .

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

HAMNET Report 26 November 2017

News coming from mainstream sources in Europe, and being analysed by American sites suggests a huge increase in radioactive toxicity in clouds wafting across Europe, a thousand times stronger than usual. Alex Jones, speaking on InfoWars.com, tells us that the kind of radiation measured is not that which one might expect from ordinary nuclear leaks, which just about any nuclear reactor could be guilty of, as the technology ages, but rather that created by secret nuclear tests or even an explosion in a facility building nuclear weapons.

Russian, French and British sources are identifying a particularly dangerous isotope called RUTHENIUM-106, which arises from fission reactions within a nuclear reactor, and is present at this intense level 968 times more than expected. The origin seems to be in Eastern Central Russia, but the Russian sources have not formally admitted to an accident, or where it has occurred. An area in Russia, bigger than the whole of France, is polluted with Ruthenium-106, and winds are blowing the cloud into Italy, Ukraine, Switzerland, and on to France, as well as up towards Sweden, Finland and Germany.

Alex expresses his huge concern at the cover-ups which continue as the general public is reassured that none of this kind of radioactive leakage is important, and it will be spread out and wafted away, while a million people have been shown to have died of illnesses directly attributable to Chernobyl’s 1986 accident, and Fukushima’s nuclear reactors continue to leach radioactive materials into ground water at the site, and ultimately into the Pacific ocean.

And, as an extension to that, the mind can only boggle at what will happen if a nuclear war breaks out over the Korean Peninsula. In early phases of such a war, local fatalities could run to millions, but radioactive clouds will be relatively confined to the Northern hemisphere for a while, and radiation sickness and deaths in the short-term will be greater there. However, with generalised diffusion, the whole globe will be affected, and you and I could suffer the misery of this chaos too.

Alex Jones pleads for greater attention to be paid to coal-fired power stations, with more modern scrubbing of released fumes, such that coal-dust and lung disease can be restricted, and the only ejecta released by the power stations being carbon dioxide.

The times we live in are very distressing indeed.

In a remarkable show of camaraderie, various and unexpected countries have pitched in to help look for the Argentinean submarine lost off the coast of South America. Unfortunately, it would seem that the supply of oxygen for the 44 crew members trapped has probably run out by now, and the likelihood of survivors being found is very slim. Nevertheless, such disparate countries as England and Russia have sent ships and aeroplanes to try to find the signature of a sunken submarine on the bottom of the ocean.

Tass, the Russian News Agency, says that the Russian oceanographic ship, Yantar, will reach the area by the end of the week, and be able to deploy its high tech survey equipment and submerged search capability.

So far, the countries involved are Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany,  Norway, Peru, Spain, the U.S., the UK, Uruguay and now Russia. Wonderful cooperation indeed, and I hope they are able to locate and retrieve the sub.

A report given to Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille, this week, charts the progress made in various communal water projects as the day the taps in the Western Cape run dry draws nearer.

Boreholes have been completed in Beaufort West, Knysna, Kannaland, and various other projects in Bitou, Saldanha Bay, Matzikama, Langeberg and Theewaterskloof municipalities. Newly appointed Geo-Hydrologists and Provincial Engineers are partnering well with municipalities in all districts. Boreholes have been drilled and water supplies secured at Beaufort West, Stellenbosch, Lentegeur, and Mowbray Maternity hospitals, and further drilling will soon commence at Clanwilliam, Vredendal, Karl Bremer and Red Cross Children’s hospitals.

Approximately one third of schools in the province have an existing borehole, and treatment of groundwater to be able to use it is being tested. Stellenbosch University scientists have developed a  water meter that can be monitored electronically, to be able to notify the school authorities of water leakage before too much is wasted, and these are to be installed in at least 270 schools, as a result of pledges and donations by commerce and industry in the Western Cape to fund their installation. We were lucky to receive 25mm of rain this week, which will help the groundwater levels, though not make a big difference to the dam levels.

Dam storage levels for the City of Cape Town at the beginning of this week, were 36.2% full, down 0.6 percentage points on last week, and usage in the City of Cape Town an average of 602 million litres a day. This is 100 million litres a day more than the city would wish for, so a lot more conservation is needed.

Alister, ZS1OK, has posted a very comprehensive report on the City of Cape Town’s nuclear disaster exercise held this last Thursday. His long report includes photos of strategic positions occupied by disaster managers and HAMNET members, as well as well thought-out arguments on future exercises, and the kinds of digital communications we should be incorporating in these activities.

The report will be posted on our HAMNET website at hamnet.co.za, so do go and have a look there. Thank you for this, Alister.

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

HAMNET Report 19 November 2017

Inasmuch as solar weather can make the life of an emergency communicator very difficult, I thought I’d tell you about a proposed NASA mission to reveal unprecedented details about solar flares, powerful eruptions that explode with enough energy to interfere with radio communications and satellites near Earth.

The proposed mission, Focusing Optics X-ray Solar Imager, or FOXSI, was one of five proposals that received Phase-A funding under NASA’s Small Explorer Program.

Although scientists are familiar with the effects of solar flares, they don’t completely understand the physical mechanisms that unleash these bursts of energy and light, or those which power associated clouds of electrons and ions that can be accelerated to near the speed of light.

Once unleashed, the particles affect all the Sun’s atmospheric layers. They pass through the Sun’s outermost layer – the corona where they also are known to originate – and race across the solar system. When they travel toward Earth, the particles and energy can interfere with space-based communications systems or even trip onboard electronics. The more scientists understand this process, the more situational awareness they have to protect assets in space.

“FOXSI is very new and very different,” said Principal Investigator Steven Christe, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who leads the multinational FOXSI team developing the satellite mission.

“We’ve not done a mission like this before. For the first time, we’re going to actually peer into the region where electrons are accelerated by applying technology that was developed to study the faintest sources in the galaxy but now pointed at the Sun.”

The combination of new technologies used is expected to result in a mission that is 20 times more sensitive, 10 times faster at imaging solar-flare events, and 10 to 100 times better at imaging the relatively faint regions within flares.

Thank you to SPACE DAILY for these notes.

Business Day carried a report on Thursday about Western Cape Hospitals drilling new boreholes, or re-activating old ones, to provide extra water on their premises. Tygerberg, Karl Bremer, and Khayelitsha Hospitals have all augmented their supply of water from Province this way. The water is being used at health facilities for “cleaning linen‚ floors‚ toilets‚ scrubbing‚ disinfecting equipment‚ bathing‚ drinking and others”. Water from boreholes was tested at a laboratory for safety before use.

However‚ caution is needed. Chris Jack‚ a researcher at the Climate System Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town‚ said boreholes were helpful in times of a lack of municipal water supply, but that groundwater extraction “can have negative impacts such as land sinking‚ salt water intrusion in coastal areas like Cape Town‚ and a drop in water quality”.

The department is aware of this‚ and is being careful “not to exhaust the resource”.

And, according to the website of the National Drought Mitigation Centre in the US‚ “health problems related to low water flows and poor-quality water‚ and health problems related to dust‚ reduced incomes and fewer recreational activities” can be expected in any country where a drought unfolds.

Greg Mossop G0DUB reports that Emcomm SPAIN was active yesterday on 40 metres for their national EMCOMSET2k17. The exercise was organised as a “no notice” event, and ran all day. Operations took place around the 40 metre Centre of Activity of 7110 Khz, as well as on another frequency on 40 metres not being announced. They also used frequencies in VHF/UHF as well as DMR and Winlink.

HAMNET Western Cape has been contacted by the organisers of the annual el Shaddai 99er cycle tour in early February next year, who are looking for our usual contingent of volunteers and our APRS support for their ambulance system. So this is an early invitation to Capetonians to join me on the scene on Saturday the 10th February next year. We’ll be sending out further invitations locally.

Then, a reminder that HAMNET in the Western Cape will be assisting the City of Cape Town in a disaster exercise on Thursday the 23rd November. The scenario is a nuclear scare at Koeberg power station. At least 4 operators will be needed between 09h00 and 14h00 on that day, and Alister, ZS1OK will welcome your mail to volunteer at zs1ok.alister@gmail.com if you can help. His volunteer list is almost complete.

Finally, a further inspection of interesting units of measurement, and, in this case, one “New York Second”, defined as the period of time between the traffic lights turning green and the car behind you hooting! A very short time indeed. Perhaps it should be used to describe the time between your signing your callsign on the repeater, and the other fellow answering you!

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