HAMNET Report 11 June 2017

It has been a tumultuous week for the Western and Southern Cape. The warnings started going out last Sunday, when our maritime connections started to talk about a severe frontal system hitting the Western Cape on Wednesday, with storm strength winds up to 90 kph, and severe rain. The WeatherSA forecasters followed soon after with predictions of up to 75mm of rain between Tuesday evening and Thursday midday, snow, and extreme cold over the Cape and the Overberg. Radio amateurs shared warnings to drop any telescoping antenna systems they had, or check the guying involved.

The NSRI was not far behind, with warnings of very heavy swells up to 12 metres or more in height along the West Coast, the Cape Coast, and Southern and Eastern Cape Coasts. All seamen were advised to stay off the sea, particularly because the end of the week saw the full moon Spring tide, which brings higher than  normal high tides, and stronger currents, including very strong rip currents. Winds of up to 120kph were forecast for Cape Agulhas!

The South African Weather Service followed it all up with their formal Severe Weather Report for 7 and 8 June, covering heavy rain, snow falls, gale force winds and very high seas!  Synoptic charts of the  trough of low pressure and the cut-off low prolonging the rain fall were displayed.

We were well and truly warned!

Tuesday started a nice day in the Cape, with wispy high cloud, and filtered sun. By the evening, clouds were gathering and the wind started to gather speed from the North-west, blustery and unsettling, followed by the rain in squalls at about 22h00 our time that evening.

For the rest of the night, gusting winds took out trees, ripped off branches around the Cape,  whipped up the foamy surf, which crashed the Sea Point promenade, and flooded the car parks there. The fairly horizontal rain continued on and off all day, which may have confused all the rain gauges, unable to catch rain that wasn’t raining downwards, so the rain figures weren’t as impressive as expected. One or two areas experienced up to 50mm rain on Wednesday, but for the rest, measurements of 15 to 30mm were made.

Disaster Management crews were magnificent, responding to reports of downed trees and blocked roads as soon as they were received, and half of the chaos was cleared up by daylight the next morning. Rain and wind carried on intermittently all Wednesday, but the Cape was prepared, because Schools had been closed for the day in preparation, and many businesses had told their workers to stay at home.

HAMNET cancelled our monthly meeting for that night, and arranged a special call-in at 19h30 that evening on our 145.700 repeater on Constantiaberg, followed by a call-in on 145.225 simplex, and it was gratifying to see and hear how many operators were there to report on their areas, and make contact on simplex. Regional Director Grant Southey ZS1GS issued a directive to local amateurs, and requested other divisions to monitor 3770kHz and 7110kHz LSB, and 5260kHz and 10125kHz USB if at home, and to be available to assist with communications if needed.

Wednesday night was less dramatic, as far as wind and rain was concerned, and by midmorning Thursday, the Cape was licking its wounds and starting to settle down.

What nobody had paid much attention to were the very extreme Berg Wind conditions occurring in the tinder-dry Southern Cape, and so it was that multiple fires started up in the region of Knysna, Belvedere, and Brenton, causing a far greater humanitarian disaster than we experienced in the Western cape. You have all been following the press reports, so will know of the hundreds of dwellings burnt out, properties devastated, and some lives lost.

When it became clear that communications were proving difficult in the area,  National Director of HAMNET Paul van Spronsen ZS1V was called in by Western Cape Provincial Disaster Management, to establish communications between Eden Disaster Management Centre and the Emergency Management Centre at Tygerberg. The ionosphere of course was not playing along, 80 and 40 metre bands were not of much good, and 60 metres not available to most. The usual telephony infrastructure was soon back online and so the focus changed to ensuring that the Cape Nature fire fighters who were being deployed from Cape Town to assist and who operate on midband frequencies, would have the necessary communications in the operational area. On Friday, a team of 3 HAMNET operatives from division 2 deployed to the area to assist with message handling and the operation of a Cape Nature portable repeater. WhatsApp signals were whizzing back and forth, and, at any time, I have been seeing 60 to 80 messages being spread amongst the members of the groups, together with many pictures, videos and voice messages. Of course these only work where the internet, phone lines and cell towers are not damaged, so have been of use to those at a bit of a distance from the centres of high impact.

As I write this on Saturday afternoon, I have 50 messages on WhatsApp, referring to the N2 closed due to poor visibility due to smoke, fires having reached the East end of Groenvlei, spreading against the winds coming in from the West-north-west, and little or no rain in  the area to help dampen the embers. Amateurs along the South Coast continue to maintain listening watches on the repeaters and on simplex where repeaters don’t reach. Gale Force winds from the West have forced the grounding of the many helicopters available to dump water on the fires. Buffalo Bay is also being threatened, and, in some places, electricity has been cut to areas that might suffer cable damage due to fire.

Disaster Risk Management at Tygerberg has despatched the Metro Four disaster bus to Knysna, and radio amateurs may be called to help man it once there.

Another cold front has arrived in the Western Cape today (Saturday), and 5 to 10mm of rain have been measured so far, but not much has filtered through to the Eden Disaster Management area, so the fires continue unabated. Our thoughts are with those who have lost so much in the last four days.

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

HAMNET Report 4 June 2017

Keith Lowes ZS5WFD says HAMNET KZN has been exhibiting at this year’s Comrades Expo following the fantastic support received during their participation for the first time last year.

The Comrades Expo is the official registration point for the Comrades Marathon and therefore one of the highlights of this historic ultra-marathon. As the largest running related Expo in South Africa, the Expo boasted more than 110 exhibitors and attracted over 50 000 visitors during the 3 days.

The Comrades Expo featured all the major athletic brands with a multitude of other exhibitors promoting and selling everything from supplements and nutrition to the latest in running technology.  The Expo was aimed at sport enthusiasts of all ages who were in the market to purchase new apparel or stock up on race day essentials.

The Comrades is being run as I speak, and we hope to have more reports from Keith or Dave after the event. Thank you to all HAMNET members making the Comrades safe for the runners.

Members of the Radio Society of Sri Lanka (RSSL) responded to an urgent call for help in the wake of torrential monsoon rainfall in South-western Sri Lanka on May 28, that caused flooding and landslides. The Road Development Authority (RDA) contacted RSSL President Jaliya Lokeshwara, 4S7JL, seeking communication help from radio amateurs. The RSSL reports that emergency communications were needed to link remote Kalawana, one of the worst hit areas, and Ratnapura. All communications had failed due to heavy flooding, landslides, and damage to the telecommunications infrastructure.

The RDA declared roads were impassable. Only air rescue by the Sri Lanka Air Force helicopters was possible, and the lack of communication support made that task even more difficult. A plan was quickly put into place to airlift four radio amateurs from the capital, Colombo, to both affected locations to form a communications link.

Jaliya Lokeshwara, 4S7JL, and Nadika Hapuarachchi, 4S6NCH, were the first ready to go. A second team consisted of Victor Goonetilleke, 4S7VK, and Dimuthu Wickramasinghe, 4S7DZ.

“We knew we could do it. We were self-sufficient and willing to rough it out,” Goonetilleke said. “It was a hard task, but within 30 minutes of landing, the high frequency link was established.” They used 40 and 75 meters, as well as 2 meters. He said they spent 2 days coordinating rescue flights, the movement of patients from Kalawana hospital to Ratnapura, and food drops.

The emergency link remained in place until mobile phone service was restored and roadways cleared. “We are happy we could win the day for simple high-frequency radio,” Goonetilleke said.

The disaster recovery continues. Over 200 people died, and thousands were displaced by the weather disaster. — Thanks to Jim Linton, VK3PC, Chairman IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee, with Jayamt Bhide, VU2JUA, National Coordinator for Disaster Communication in India (ARSI), and Victor Goonetilleke, 4S7VK.

Victor Goonetilleke 4S7VK has in fact posted a very comprehensive report on the help given by Sri Lankan hams during this disaster, at www.rssl.lk/rssl_response_to_flood_disaster_may_2017/. It makes very interesting reading, is well laid out, and has many accompanying photographs.

Mike Eaton has drawn my attention to an article in New Atlas about technology I have mentioned before, that could have aided the Sri Lankans during their floods, had it been available, namely, drones acting as flying cell towers during disasters.

Nick Lavars, writing on 31 May in New Atlas says “drones can bring benefits to disaster-relief scenarios in a few ways. One is by providing search and rescue workers with an eye in the sky, another is by delivering aid, and a third is serving as temporary communications networks in place of those destroyed by the event. Researchers at the University of North Texas (UNT) have taken a promising step forward in this last area by demonstrating a drone-based cell network system that offers coverage kilometres away.

When violent storms strike, they can not only bring buildings to the ground but communication infrastructure too. This makes things even harder for workers relying on these networks to coordinate their relief efforts, and the idea behind research projects such as these is to provide a temporary solution.

The scientists in the University of North Texas’ electrical engineering department have also been active players in this field. In 2014 they exhibited a new kind of directional antenna they said could be attached to drones to provide Wi-Fi signals up to 5 km away.

Now, in what the team is calling the “first-ever drone-provided cell service,” the researchers have taken their airborne communications tech into the field. It says its Aerial Deployable Communication System is the first of its kind, and they were able to successfully test it in Waxahachie, Texas. This involved fixing the system to a drone and sending it up to an altitude of 400 ft (121 m). The cellular technology was programmed to tune into the bandwidth assigned to first responders, offering them a high-flying replacement for damaged cell towers.

“We demonstrated a portable communication system that can be attached to a drone,” said Kamesh Namuduri, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at UNT. “The system, with just 250 milliwatts (of) transmit power, is capable of providing instant cellular coverage (of) up to two kilometres during disaster-relief operations. If the system is scaled with a 10 watt transmit power, the system can provide cellular coverage to the entire city of Denton (Texas).” End quote.

Clearly, this technology can’t be released soon enough, and we wait eagerly to see its launch internationally.

The news of Western Cape drought conditions continues to be dismal. No rain has fallen in the last week, though 15mm has been forecast for this weekend, and about 40mm on Wednesday and Thursday coming. The average dam levels stand at 18% of capacity, though only 8% of that is really usable. Level 4 water restrictions have now been imposed, and potable water may only be used for drinking, preparing food and washing. Plans to provide extra water seem to be proceeding at snail’s pace, and our lack of confidence in the art of weather forecasting is starting to show.

Perhaps I’ll have better news for you next week!

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

HAMNET Report 28 May 2017

HAMNET South Africa would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the RAE candidates who passed their exams last week, and are now sporting swanky new call signs. We welcome you all to the wonderful world of amateur radio, and hope you will add to your enjoyment of the hobby by joining HAMNET, the emergency communications arm of the SARL. Our aim is to prepare ourselves, and volunteer to help in any situation where communications will help in the management of a natural or manmade disaster, or in a sporting event. There are Divisions of HAMNET in each region, and a request to your local club, or RAE tutor, will give you the name of your Divisional Director. Contact him, and join, at no cost, the part of amateur radio that makes a difference in the lives of the community. You are also welcome to contact me at zs1dfr@telkomsa.net

Riaan ZS4PR of the Vaal HAMNET team sent me this report on Wednesday:

Just before 8 am on Monday morning of 22 May, Sasolburg was shaken by a massive explosion at NATREF.  The shockwave was felt as far away as Vereeniging some 25km’s from the Sasolburg industries.

The Vaal HAMNET team immediately activated on the 145.600 MHz repeater, located at SASOL 1. The radio amateurs working at the NATREF, OMNIA and SASOL plants were contacted via WhatsApp and the Sasolburg fire department was contacted to confirm their involvement.  Within 25 minutes of the explosion the total plant was evacuated and the fire teams, ER24 and various other services had arrived on the scene. The fire brigade managed to put out the fire after about 50 minutes of hard work.

While this drama played out, the HAMNET team was on standby, and liaising with some of the authorities, since the GSM network was taking strain with all the localised chatter happening around the area and between the various support organisations, CPF and social media.  The event was covered on the national news services as well.

By 10 am the HAMNET standby was cancelled as the authorities had managed to complete the roll calls, and the injured workers had been taken to local medical centres.

A hydrogen compressor had exploded, causing injuries to 14 workers.  At the time of writing this article, the cause of this explosion and malfunction was still being investigated.

HAMNET members were in contact with the ER24 team, and some of the radio amateurs working at and nearby the area of the disaster.  This speedy reaction and HAMNET standby helped to ensure that the correct authorities were contacted first, so that they could then receive accurate information to assess and then deal with the problems. Because the GSM network was taking strain, HAMNET members used the Sasolburg repeater, allowing critical information to get out of the plant to the authorities in a more effective manner.

Thank you to Riaan and the group for their assistance, and for the report.

The Western Province has been declared a drought disaster area by Premier Helen Zille, thus freeing up a variety of funds to be used to mitigate the effects of the drought. Dam levels are at 20.7% full and level four water restrictions are due to be implemented next week. Extra moneys will become available to sink boreholes at strategic places like hospitals and clinics, drill more effectively in to the Table Mountain Aquifer, and bring in a portable desalination plant, something I pondered on in this bulletin about three months ago. I wonder if Helen Zille reads these bulletins and got the idea from me!

Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip has also signed a disaster declaration‚ setting in motion a process for the Bay to be declared a disaster area. Speaking at a briefing at City Hall on Wednesday‚ Trollip said the metro would be declared a disaster area “once the water crisis is promulgated and gazetted”.

He described the water situation in the Bay as “precarious”. “We are not the only municipality preparing for disaster declaration. Many other metros are affected‚” Trollip said.

Mayoral committee member for infrastructure‚ engineering‚ electricity and energy Annette Lovemore said they had indicated earlier they would initiate the process of declaring the Bay a disaster area once dam levels dropped below 40%. The current levels are 38.5%.

The Dayton Hamvention has come and gone. From all reports, last week’s convention at its new venue at Xenia, just outside Dayton, went very well. There are countless blogs and reports available on the web, with news of new rigs, new interfaces, and new antennas. As usual, it rained heavily on the Saturday, turning the out-of-doors fleamarket into a “mudfest”! Indoors, the presentations and seminars were greatly appreciated, and there will be many youtube videos of talks given to come. A useful weekly report, entitled Amateur Radio Weekly, and available on the URL k4hck@hamweekly.com shows a set of links to reviews and interviews, a hamvention report, photos inside and outside the buildings, and reflections on the new venue.

ICOM and FLEX radio went head-to-head over their respective new SDR radios, the much talked-about IC-7610, and the surprise Flex-6600M, and the talkgroups are abuzz with comparisons. Neither radio is available yet, but specifications are keeping speculation about the two rife. My money is with the IC-7610, a complete SDR radio in a box, with two separate receivers, a touch-sensitive screen, a DVI socket for an LCD screen, and capable of being used by pointing and clicking on the screen with a mouse. It also has Ethernet software built in, and can be connected directly to the internet for remote-functioning. All SDR functionality occurs in a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), and there is hardware space for multiple firmware updates in the future. This radio replaces the IC-7600, and very nearly eclipses the IC-7851 for receive sensitivity, filter variability, and all-round good looks. It has transverter ports, three antenna ports, three USB ports, and an SD card slot on the front for saving settings, recording QSO’s, or sending pre-recorded CW or voice calls during contests.

As quoted in the headquarters bulletin this morning, the amateur radio hobby of today has advanced very far in the last decade or so, and we must stay with-it and keep up. SDR is here to stay.

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

HAMNET Report 21 May 2017

In a communiqué issued on Wednesday,  Johann Marais ZS1JM has advised that he has decided to resign as Deputy National Director for HAMNET. He says “In the beginning I requested Paul to be the Director and undertook to assist him with the job. It is however the prerogative of the Director to appoint this deputy. I therefore resign with immediate effect to allow Paul to exercise this discretion. I remain a loyal and active member of HAMNET in the Western Cape.” End quote.

And a message received from Paul van Spronsen, HAMNET National Director, says “We wish to express our thanks to Johann Marais ZS1JM, who has served as Deputy National Director of HAMNET for the past several years.  We wish Johann well in his further efforts within the Offroad Rescue Unit, Wilderness Search and Rescue and as a continued member of HAMNET.  Johann’s replacement will be announced in due course.” End quote.

Rory ZS6RBJ of the West Rand Unit of HAMNET Gauteng South has sent me a report of their involvement in a bike ride held on 14th May. The Think Bike marshals have been experiencing difficulties communicating  between their marshal’s on bikes over varying distances using only their Hand Held Radios, even though some of the marshal bikes have been fitted with mobile whip antennas.

Chad ZS6OPS felt that the HAMNET unit could assist with this, and various communications tests were conducted amongst the HAMNET Gauteng South West Rand Unit members and several members obtained licences in their personal capacities for the frequency used by Think Bike in order to communicate with the Think Bike marshals. Tests conducted between the HAMNET vehicles on the Think Bike simplex frequencies yielded positive results amongst the West Rand HAMNET members. The duty on the 14th May was twofold. One, to provide communications for the event, and Two, to provide feedback and possible solutions for the marshals communications moving forward.

The event started with a briefing held at the Sasol Garage on Republic Road from 06h45 by the Think Bike event coordinator, Bill Nash, on the planned formation and route which the bikes would take along the highway. HAMNET gave a brief talk on radio procedure and their role in the morning’s activities and at about 08h00 all Think Bike marshals escorted the HAMNET vehicles to the World Wear Centre on Beyer’s Naude Road from where all bikers participating in the Bike Awareness Run would start.

We had 7 HAMNET vehicles in attendance which were crewed by a driver and two radio operators (one on amateur bands and the other on the Think Bike frequency) ensuring drivers could concentrate on the road during the run.

Although the event was expected to be attended by around 500 bikes, on the day only around 80-90 bikes took part. This was likely due to the cold weather, and the fact that this was the first event of its kind, not to mention it being Mother’s Day!

The group set off in convoy at 09h00, Think Bike marshals blocking the on ramp, left and centre lanes of the N1 South to allow the bikers to join the highway safely.

They rode the route which took the convoy along the N1 South, N12 West, N3 North and finally the Modderfontein off-ramp, with the final destination being the Fireman’s Tavern.

Think Bike marshals and JMPD crew (who unexpectedly joined the run) provided a vital role in traffic control as well as ensuring safety for all. Think Bike marshals are well trained and extremely professional and it was really eye opening to watch them at work. Before the convoy reached the next on-ramp along the route, the marshals along with JMPD had stopped traffic, which allowed the bikers to pass safely. Our HAMNET vehicles travelled on the left of the convoy which took up the centre lane on the highway for about a 1Km stretch of road.

Radio communications were good between Think Bike and HAMNET, with all teams and marshals in contact along the route. Think Bike’s radio procedure was also on point, and it made it very easy for us to keep in touch along the route. Fortunately there were no incidents along the way, and everyone arrived safely at Fireman’s Tavern.

From a HAMNET perspective we gained a lot of valuable knowledge. This was the West Rand Unit’s first official role in a “mobile” event, as we are all used to setting up field stations and control points during exercises and club activities, and working in convoy while on the move was a completely different challenge. VHF simplex operation was very reliable in this instance.

Another good learning curve was the ability to communicate with non-amateur radio organisations. We were given the opportunity to utilise the Think Bike frequencies during this event, which meant a lot of planning and equipment gathering before the event. However on the day of the event all the planning and testing certainly paid off.

Huge thanks to Think Bike for allowing us to take part. We look forward to working with them in the future. Another big thanks to all our HAMNET members who gave up their Sunday Morning and braved the cold to assist with the event, which from everyone’s comments afterwards, was a success.

Thank you to Rory, and the HAMNET volunteers.

And in an extraordinarily precise document, Dave Holiday ZS5HN of HAMNET KZN has sent me further information of the deployment of radio operators during the upcoming Comrades Marathon. I counted 28 amateur call signs in the list, and a lot of Land Cruiser Club members and CB operators as well. The forward planning in Dave’s document has to be seen to be believed, and, in that we are about 3 weeks ahead of the race, he and HAMNET KZN are to be congratulated on organisation well planned and well in advance! Thank you for keeping me in the loop Dave.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR, continuing to hold thumbs for rain in the Western Cape, and reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 14 May 2017

Firstly, may I echo the wishes mentioned in the Headquarters bulletin, to all Mothers out there, for a very special and happy Mother’s day. Without you, we wouldn’t be here listening to this bulletin. In fact, without you, we wouldn’t be!

From, Globes, Israel’s Business Arena, comes news about disaster forecasting.

There are not yet any technologies capable of detecting in advance signs of an approaching natural disaster and providing people with reliable and adequate warning that can save human life. A new system being developed by Motorola Solutions, however, is designed to make coping with such crises and managing them substantially easier.

Development of this system began recently, after Motorola Solutions Israel won a  European Union tender for rapid and precise management of natural disasters and extreme events, based on data from sensors and indices that, when processed and analyzed, can provide the relevant forces in the field with an up-to-date status report.

Research and academic institutions in European countries are also partners in the venture led by Motorola Solutions. The pilot will take place in three cities, each of which has a problem with natural disasters: Thessaloniki, Greece, which suffers from extreme heat waves; Venice, Italy, which experiences frequent flooding; and Valencia, Spain, where forest fires are a frequent occurrence.

Although the developers of the system would have loved to develop a means of warning long in advance of a deadly impending natural disaster, at this stage, they will settle for a system able to manage the large quantity of relevant data that will enable hospital managers, police commanders, fire departments, and other initial responding rescue forces to make correct decisions, and  rapidly to take control of any catastrophe with a minimum number of casualties.

The system is being developed in the framework of a project called BeAware. It will be adapted to any scenario designed for it by the end user. The system is based on special physical sensors and databases of many authorities, including data from similar past extreme events; sensors adapted when necessary to testing the level of humidity in the air, the direction and strength of the wind, weather forecasting, and temperatures in real time; the sea level; traffic light control systems in the designated cities, etc. To these are added many other indices to be gathered by the system in real time: mobile phones of residents or visitors in each area will inform the system in real time how many people are in each area relevant to an analysis of an event, the state of occupancy in hotels or leisure centres, the number of students in schools at any given moment, the level of crowding in nearby hospitals and the state of the roads, so that rescue forces can select available access routes without getting stuck in endless traffic jams at a time when they are hurrying to extinguish fires or evacuating casualties for first aid treatment.

“Statistically, in every year for the past 30 years, tens of millions of people in the world have been affected by natural disasters of various types. It has been predicted that natural disasters will become more frequent in the coming years,” Motorola Solutions Israel VP business development Boris Kantsepolsky told “Globes.” “As of now, at least, the only possible way of handling such disasters is to find a better way of minimizing them, and we can do that using the existing available technological means developed over the past decade.”

The world has already been in an environment of large quantities of dynamic data. Almost every broadcasting device user can constitute a sensor in himself for such a system. Usually, however, these data are not processed or analyzed to produce an integrated and indicative picture which, if it does not prevent the next natural disaster, will at least make its management possible. “The challenge is sharing data and fusing information,” Kantsepolsky says. “The system will operate all the time, collect data, analyze them, and make correlations between them and the relevant reference scenarios for any entity that operates it. In an exceptional event scenario, it will facilitate a smooth transition from a routine situation to an emergency, in which every party involved in managing the event receives information relevant to him via a comfortable interface on the computer, tablet, smartphone, or communications device of the initial responders in the various theatres.”

Concern about flooding in Venice does not mean much to the average Israeli, who has his own troubles involving terrorism and military conflicts in one of the world’s craziest regions. For Motorola Solutions, the same thing that will improve the handling of the civilian population in the event of heat waves in Thessaloniki or widespread forest fires in Valencia can also be good for a small country surrounded by enemies, rockets, missiles, and nervous terrorists with machetes.

This all adds up to a very wide network of information assimilation, making available to all agencies all the data needed at the time to formulate a rapid response to disaster situations, both natural and manmade. It needed the development of the “Internet of Things” to make this data-gathering and distribution possible.

There’s just time left at the end of this bulletin to mention the dam situation. Apart from the Eastern Cape, whose dams are steady at 62% full, below the 72% of last year, poor Western Cape’s dams are the only ones to be a percentage point lower than last week at 20% full, compared to 31% this time last year. Remember, at least half of this 20% is unusable, because it will be too muddy and contaminated to be purified for domestic use. So we have water for about 30 days left in our storage dams. Further drastic steps are about to be implemented to reduce wastage, by reducing pressure in taps, and perhaps shedding, as was practised during the electricity shortages of a few years ago. There has been minimal rainfall this week in the Western Cape, and very little in the catchment areas. We watch the Western skies for signs of cold fronts with keen anticipation.

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

HAMNET Report 7 May 2017

HAMNET South Africa would like to take the opportunity to congratulate Trevor Brinch ZS1TR, on being awarded the HAMNET SHIELD at this year’s SARL Awards Ceremony. He really does epitomize the radio operator of high standing, who goes out of his way to interact with relief organisations, and provide all sorts of emergency communications, without being asked. Well done, Trevor, you truly deserve this award!

Nearly 280 Amateur Radio communication volunteers on April 17 participated at the 2017 Boston Marathon, the 121st running of the event organized by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), according to the ARRL Newsline. Warmer-than-typical temperatures for the Patriots’ Day race raised concern for increased medical issues, but lower humidity and some cloud cover later in the afternoon mitigated the potential for problems.

Amateur Radio’s primary communication role involved logistics. Amateur Radio operations included relaying medical resupply requests, picking up runners via medical sweep buses, conveying medical statistics as required by the Red Cross and Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and providing situational awareness as needed along the entire 26-mile route. Amateur Radio also backed up EMS communications, and the team relayed several ambulance requests along the route. Brett Smith, AB1RL, one of the BAA Organizational Committee representatives, said Marathon organizers were very pleased with the efforts of Amateur Radio Operators.

“Congratulations to everyone on a job very well done,” Smith said afterwards. “We were braced for a busy day, and our preparation helped see us through to make sure it was never anything we couldn’t handle.” Smith said that many volunteers enjoyed spending their day supporting the Marathon this year.

“We’re already seeing e-mails from our volunteers thanking us for our work too. So the work was appreciated not only by organizers from the BAA but the volunteers as well,” he said.

Course volunteer Matt Knowles, KC1AEI, was among them. “I feel like Amateur Radio plays an important role in the safety and security of the Boston Marathon,” said Knowles. “Our net operators were succinct, clear, and very patient, as we took care of our individual responsibilities on the course. All of the communications volunteers put forth a unified effort on Monday, which made for another successful race.

Rob Macedo, KD1CY, the other BAA Organizational Committee representative, reported that state emergency managers were very pleased with the logistics and situational awareness support from Amateur Radio operators. He was stationed at the Multi-Agency Coordination Centre (MACC), located at the State Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Framingham.

“At one point mid-afternoon, one of the two finish line medical tents was filled to capacity,” Macedo recounted. “The BAA and EMS representatives at the MACC were impressed at receiving the on- and off-diversion reports in a timely fashion from Finish Segment Coordinator Matt Brennan, NM1B.”

Start Segment Coordinator Mark Richards, K1MGY, said all of the planning and setup at the race’s starting point of Hopkinton paid off. “We provided BAA organizers at the start with an analysis that looks to correlate the planned and actual times of the start of the race very well,” he said.

Course Field Operations/Course Net Control Segment Coordinator Jim Palmer, KB1KQW, said he was pleased with the performance of the Amateur Radio teams throughout the event. “Numerous course Amateur Radio volunteers have already expressed their appreciation for a well-run, highly organized event, and are already looking forward to volunteering at the 2018 Marathon,” he said. Course volunteers logged an estimated nearly 1,000 volunteer hours, and Palmer said their support was instrumental to the success of the communication support mission.

At the Course Net Control Operations Centre in Brookline, students from Dexter-Southfield School provided support to net control operators during the event. Numerous nets cover the Marathon course, and all are run from this single location. Students regularly updated status boards, informing both local net control operators and the other net control operations centres of each ham radio volunteer’s location. Veteran net control operators dedicated some time to work with the students to teach them how marathon nets operate, providing a robust ham radio learning experience in an educational setting.

Amateur Radio is one of three radio communication systems used for the Boston Marathon. Eight Amateur Radio representatives, including segment coordinators, sit on the BAA Communications Committee with BAA officials and representatives of the Massachusetts State Police and a commercial communications contractor. Boston Marathon Medical Coordinator Chris Troyanos, who chairs the Communications Committee, has let the Amateur Radio community know that it is — and will remain — a vital component of Marathon communication support. — Thanks to Rob Macedo, KD1CY, and the ARRL News for this insert.

On a smaller scale, here in the Eastern Cape, Andrew Gray, ZS2G, of HAMNET Eastern Cape, tells me that 2 HAMNET members and 2 PEARS members assisted in the search for a man missing since Sunday last week. The man was finally found in the Van Stadens Gorge near the old bridge on Wednesday at midday. Andrew says there is no cell-phone coverage in that gorge, and 2 metre simplex communications were used. The Lady Slipper repeater is accessible from the bottom of the gorge, on 145.700MHz, and so the search group had contact with the outside world during the search.

We’ve also heard from HAMNET KZN that the volunteer group for the Comrades Marathon is increasing, with 36 of their target of 42 operators signed up. They now have 4 weeks to get another 6 people to volunteer. Come on, Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s for a good cause, and good fun to boot. Come out and exercise your mobile station, and your lungs, by contacting Dave Holliday ZS5HN in KwaZulu Natal. Thank you!

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

HAMNET Report 30 April 2017

While the rest of the world is concerned about the economy, weather, armed conflict and amateur radio conventions, the Philippines has quietly suffered a 7.2 magnitude earthquake 10km below the sea just off its Southern corner. It happened at 22h23 our time on Friday evening, and was close enough to the shoreline potentially to affect 1.8 million people within a radius of 100km of the epicentre. This magnitude is very similar to the earthquake which struck off the coast of Japan in 2011, creating the huge tsunami which damaged the nuclear reactors at Fukushima, and which is still being mopped up. I am aware of two slightly weaker aftershocks, but, so far, there have been no reports of major casualties, so I guess the tectonic plates didn’t shift enough to create waves or destroy infrastructure on shore. And across the Pacific, Chile suffered 12 earthquakes in one coastal area in the 24 hours to midnight on Friday, with magnitudes between 4.3 and 5.9.

The International Amateur Radio Union Region One emergency communications coordinator, Greg Mossop G0DUB, has announced the availability of a downloadable emergency telecommunications guide, developed to provide materials suitable for training Radio Amateurs to participate in emergency events, and guidance to the individual amateur radio operator who wants to improve his ability to participate in such events or to simply have a better understanding of the process.
The guide has been translated from English into Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian, and is available at www.iaru.org/emergency-telecommunications-guide.html, so please download yourself a copy and keep it for reference. Thanks to Greg and the IARU Region 1 team.

The Sixth of May sees the Annual General Meeting of the SA Radio League, but unfortunately not all HAMNET members will be able to attend. If you are not attending, please give your proxy to a Hamnet member who will be there. For best advice, please contact your regional director, who should be able to put you in touch with the member attending closest to you. Remember, 240 attendees and proxies are needed to vote on any motions, so every attendance or proxy counts. Your proxy holder may arrive at the AGM with his handful of proxies and register them, so you can arrange to email them to your representative before he or she leaves for the venue, and they can be printed out for delivery. You can also email them to the venue before the meeting starts. So please do that now!

In a very nice write-up in the “Off Grid Ham” blog, Chris Warren, the author, lists the dangerous practices and warnings that should be on a laminated plastic card with every generator ever purchased. The kind of generator you and I might purchase for use at home or while camping is not cheap, and deserves to be well looked-after, run regularly, and kept where it is easily accessible when needed.

The author has put together a short list of important safety points:

  • Always store your generator and accessories in a way they can be quickly & easily accessible under adverse conditions.
  • Always use the correct type and size cables or cords to power your equipment from a generator. Never plug two extension cords together in series.
  • Generators should be bonded to earth ground whenever possible.
  • A transfer switch is the best and safest way to connect a generator to multiple loads, in other words, to your distribution board. This should only be installed by a qualified electrician.
  • Generators are the number 1 cause of non fire-related carbon monoxide poisoning deaths. Please use some basic sense to keep the area around a running generator well ventilated and to assure you don’t become a statistic.
  • Hearing protection should be used when constantly around running generators.
  • The use of a cable with a three-pin plug on each end, so you can plug your generator into a wall socket and thereby activate your house’s electrical supply in reverse, is an extremely dangerous hack and should never, ever be used to connect a generator to home wiring, or anything else.

Thank you to Chris Warren for this summary.

It’s time to look at the average dam levels across the country again. All province’s dam levels are as good now or better than they were this time last year, except for the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape. The Eastern Cape’s dams are steady at 62% full, compared to last week, but 9 percentage points lower than this time last year. The Western Cape’s dams continue to show a decline, by 1 percentage point per week, and are now at 21% full, compared to 29% last year. There is enough water to last the Cape Peninsula another 88 days, by which time we hope the Winter rains will have started. We were treated to a day of intermittent heavy showers on Wednesday just past, with an average of about 20mm of rain measured in the suburbs, and a good bit of thunder and lightning. The dam figures I just quoted were issued before Wednesday’s rain, so it remains to be seen if anything fell in the catchment areas of our main storage dams.

If you’re enjoying a well-earned long weekend on holiday this weekend, have a good time, and please drive safely when you drive home.

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

HAMNET Report 23 April 2017

From ITWeb, dated 20 April, comes news that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has signed a technical agreement with Mozambique’s communications regulatory authority, the Autoridade Reguladora Das Comunicações.

ICASA says it is an agreement of co-operation and co-ordination in respect of spectrum management for telecommunications and broadcasting services. This will see the establishment of a technical committee which will address matters of common interest between the two regulators on radio frequency co-ordination.

In terms of this deal, the regulators will work together to ensure, among others, co-operation on the co-ordination, control and management of radio transmission spill-overs, and exchange of information and expertise in the field of radio communications.

“It is our commitment as regulators to make expertise, infrastructure and equipment available to assist each other on regulatory matters, including radio frequency spectrum investigations, possible cross-border spill-overs, and of course, co-ordination of our services,” says ICASA acting chairperson Rubben Mohlaloga.

The technical agreement is a culmination of the memorandum of agreement entered into by the two governments in June 2015, aimed at finding new approaches and strategies for consolidating, expanding and deepening areas of economic development, industrial and trade co-operation between Mozambique and SA.

This seems to me to have value for amateur radio, in that cooperation between South African and Mozambican radio operators in times of disaster will be more streamlined, and less likely to incur the wrath of the authorities.

Dave Holiday, ZS5HN, from HAMNET KZN says that Comrades Marathon planning is going well with 24 confirmed Ham Stations and 4 CB Stations so far.

The Event is on the 4th of June. Their Target is 42 Stations in total. Many of the HAMNET operators will in fact be stationary mobile, manning the watering stations along the route. HAMNET does not patrol the Comrades route as much as it does in Cape Town during the Two Oceans. The work of picking up stragglers during the Comrades is left to the race officials. However, it is important during the Comrades to have radio stations well spaced along the route, because the race is a good 30km longer than the Two Oceans, and the watering spots are places where reports come in of runners further back who want to be fetched.

Also, because the communications along the Comrades route is easier than the Two Oceans, which hides partly around the back of Table Mountain, Ham frequencies are used between stations and the local repeaters are more than adequate to keep channels open along the entire route.

The reason why HAMNET Western Cape used the City of Cape Town’s TeTRA system radios and channels last week, is that parts of the route are very difficult to access with amateur frequencies, and repeaters don’t cover them so well. In fact, even TeTRA doesn’t cover some of the parts of Chapman’s Peak Drive well, and we discussed subsequently the possible installation of double cross-band repeaters temporarily from the far side of Constantiaberg, so that mobile stations could still get in to our 145.700 repeater on Constantiaberg without direct access, and particularly when the TeTRA system fails as well. We monitored the 145.700 repeater in the JOC throughout the Two Oceans, but didn’t use it much, because wherever the TeTRA system was inaudible, so was the 145.700 repeater! The Western slopes of Chapman’s Peak are very precipitous, and the way to get communications out of there, is by pointing your signals directly South, perhaps to a temporary repeater to the South, and from there back into the 700 repeater. Something to consider for next year.

We wish Keith ZS5WFD and Dave ZS5HN good luck in collecting together their volunteers and working their usual magic on the Comrades route in June. If you assist at the Comrades each year, and haven’t offered your services yet, please contact Keith or Dave through your usual KZN HAMNET channels? Thank you.

Amateur radio in the future is going to be significantly intertwined with Information Technology, if it isn’t already so. The young amateur of the future, and the next generation of HAMNET volunteers, is going to be attracted to the ways in which they can merge their IT knowledge with the need to convey emergency messages, or data and picture files during times of disaster. The modern HF radios that attract new blood will be those with touch screens, and interactive menus like one finds in all the smart phones of today. In fact, being able to get your smart phone to interact with your radio will make it all even more attractive to you.

So I watch with interest the development of apps for Android and iOS platforms which allow the operator to control his radio from the phone, or send messages from phone to radio or vice versa. I’ve noted that some radios have Bluetooth capability, and that the audio in both directions from the radio can be received via Bluetooth headsets. Also, the programming of the radio can sometimes be done via Bluetooth, although I think this is unsafe, in case the data transfer is garbled by some interference of sorts. More importantly, the radio can be controlled and configured by Bluetooth, such that your handheld can be carried in your backpack, for example, while you operate it via your cell phone.

Digital Mobile Radio, or DMR, will have this capability, Android software can be used to drive the Digital Position Reporting System on D-STAR on the ICOM D5100, via Bluetooth, and AX-25 packet can be monitored off the Kenwood TH-D74 using iOS and an iPhone. These are encouraging advances, and I hope the systems will become more and more integrated, to allow data and pictures to be sent from cell phone sources at scenes of disaster, where a Laptop installation and USB connections to a radio are cumbersome. Let’s hope so.

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

HAMNET Report 16 April 2017

HAMNET Western Cape participated yesterday in the management of the Two Oceans Marathon, said to be the most beautiful marathon in the world. In fairly decent weather, 17000 runners set off on the 21km  half-marathon event, and another 11000 ran the 56km Ultra race.

HAMNET’S role was to support the medical management of runners who were injured or retired along the way. To that end, we activated 6 minibus sweep vans, with a radio operator in each, patrolling the route and responding to calls to pick up runners who had opted out for one or other reason. We also had 3 Rover vehicles patrolling and being available to respond rapidly to any kind of emergency situation, relating to accidents, weather, or community situations along the way. There was also a courtesy vehicle manned to fetch any runners seen at a hospital and discharged, and return them to the finish; and a back marker, driven by a HAMNET member following behind the last runner. There were three timed cut-off points, one on the half-marathon, and two on the ultra, one at the 25Km mark, and another at the 42,2km marathon mark, removing from the field runners who had no chance of reaching the finish by 13h40, the final cut-off. These three cut-off points were manned by HAMNET members, all advertising their presence with our brand-new HAMNET feather banners, and helping to supervise, and report on, the cut-offs as laid out in the race regulations. Two of us manned the HAMNET radio room at the main Venue Operations Centre at Tygerberg Hospital’s Provincial Emergency Management Centre, and conveyed messages of a medical nature to the ambulance despatch team, as well as SAPS and Traffic Police, and Race organisers.

All mobile vehicles were tracked using a commercial tracking system, and the entire race route was visible, and all the vehicles tracked, on a huge TV wall in the disaster centre. Satellite weather pictures, and live TV coverage of important spots and front runners were all visible, and the senior medical personnel reacted to situations as they arose, and directed the response to situations.

Luckily the weather played ball, and the runners ran in a mild south-easterly wind, with maximum temperature of 25 degrees, and clear skies. There were no serious accidents or injuries on the route, though several runners were seen at hospitals, and kept overnight, or discharged after minor treatment. As so often happens in situations like this, the ones that are so organised that they cater for all eventualities, are the ones in which nothing calamitous happens. Thank goodness for that. Thank you to all the volunteers who made the race a success. I hope you slept well last night after the early start.

I promised you last week I’d tell you about early plans for the Comrades Marathon. Keith Lowes ZS5WFD, KZN Regional Director, says his team attended their first planning meeting at Comrades House in Pietermaritzburg on Wednesday 5th April.  The race is an up run starting outside the Durban (Ethekwini) City Hall at 05H30 on Sunday 4th June 2017.  The route remains the same as in 2015 except for the last 6Km before the finish into the stadium.  The race distance is just under 88Km.  A total of 46 water tables have been provided, of which at least 40 will require manning by radio operators.

The race will proceed along Old Main Road in Pinetown again, as the contractors of the “Go Durban” rapid transit system have assured race organisers that all road works will be completed in time. The finish will be at the Scottsville Race Course, as the previous venue at Alexander park was very congested, and the infrastructure did not comply with safety requirements.

Once again it will be a team effort between Hamnet, and REACT (the Citizen Band Radio organisation), and hopefully the Land Cruiser Club will assist us again this year. The main frequencies to be used will be 145.625MHz (the Highway Club repeater) and 145.750MHz (the Midlands Club repeater).

We look forward to hearing more of this combined exercise by KwaZulu Natal HAMNET and other helpers. Thanks for the news so far, Keith.

From what I can gather, our former HAMNET National Director, Francois Botha, has relinquished his ZS6 call-sign, by taking up residence in the Judicial Capital of the country, Bloemfontein. This is, of course, a very sensible choice, because Bloemfontein is a very nice place. I should know because I was born there! Francois and Estelle had recognised the value of scaling down, and moving to a gated retirement community in Bloemfontein was their ideal. And so we are going to have to get used to his Division 4 call sign, which is ZS4X. We hope you have formally moved in, Francois, and that you and Estelle will rapidly settle in and feel at home in your new environment. I’m sure HAMNET South Africa joins me in wishing you both well.

You digital communications enthusiasts will be happy to hear that Cape Town has finally entered the VHF and UHF digital era, with the installation of the first formal DMR/D-STAR repeater system on Bottelary mountain in the mid-southern Peninsula. Repeating D-STAR on both VHF and UHF, and DMR on UHF, capable of handling Yaesu’s System Fusion, and connected to the internet in the usual way, its presence will soon be found on the repeater lists for enthusiasts. There are not many digitally-equipped amateurs in Cape Town yet, but let’s hope the technology “goes viral”, to borrow a phrase, and users quickly join the ranks. Thank you to the Repeater Working Group’s senior technical boffins for installing this one quietly in the last 2 weeks.

May I take the opportunity to wish you all a Happy Easter, and a relaxing long weekend? And please drive carefully!

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

HAMNET Report 9 April 2017

In further news about Tropical Cyclone Debbie, the worst since 2011, it made landfall between Bowen and Airlie Beach on March 28 and damaged many buildings, destroyed millions of dollars in crops, hit vital infrastructure, dumped lots of rain and caused flash flooding.

Radio amateurs experienced in dealing with cyclones prepared by checking their radio gear, dismantling fragile antenna systems, running emergency power generators and doing checks on the local repeaters in Bowen, Mackay, Central Highlands and Townsville regions. Those radio amateurs that still had HF antennas checked into the 20m and 40m Queensland WICEN Nets, and other established nets.

One of the affected towns, Bowen, had its VHF repeater on-air throughout, despite lack of mains power in the town, thanks to the Bowen Radio Amateur Group and in particular Geoff Buchanan VK4JDW who had the repeater at his house. That antenna system survived 200kph winds and the repeater was powered by the household emergency generator.

Further inland the Central Highlands Linked Repeater System was functional, however its northern coastal node, the Midge Point Repeater, went off-line due to power system and structural damage.

Hams have been part of the recovery efforts with many embedded in the Queensland State Emergency Service, Queensland Rural Fire Brigade, care organisations and support teams for power companies. Throughout the area many radio amateurs used emergency power to keep their stations on-air.

This report comes from information supplied by The Townsville Amateur Radio Club and the Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network’s Queensland Northern Region by Gavin Reibelt VK4ZZ, and was issued by Jim Linton VK3PC, Chairman IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee.

Meanwhile, the Western Cape may soon be declared a disaster area. Dam levels in the province stand at 24.3%. James-Brent Styan, spokesperson for the Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Anton Bredell, said: “We are still assessing the need to have the province declared a disaster area. These assessments get updated daily.”

The central Karoo district, West Coast district and Prince Albert have already been declared existing and ongoing disaster areas. As of March this year, new current disaster declarations supported by the provincial executive include the City of Cape Town, Witzenberg and Kannaland.

Additional and awaited new declarations are to be made for Knysna, Bitou,  Hessequa and the Oudtshoorn municipalities.

Bredell said that to date the province has already initiated certain interventions which have improved water security in some significant risk areas.

These interventions include equipped new boreholes as well as connections to the reservoir and pipe network in Laingsburg at a cost of R500000, a borehole drilled and equipped at a cost of R1.8million in Algeria, and two new boreholes at a cost of R2m in Tulbagh. The department has also allocated R2m to awareness programmes to drive water savings messages across the province.

The City, meanwhile, says the amount of rain that has fallen over parts of the metro will not materially change the low levels of dams and it is critical that we do not draw more from dams than is necessary during the upcoming winter months. The City, which utilises water from fewer dams than the province, says dam levels have declined to 26.2% – effectively about 16,2% – with approximately 100 days of useable water left at current consumption levels.

City Mayco member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, Xanthea Limberg, said the City is in the process of bringing forward several emergency supply schemes.

“This includes the Table Mountain Group Aquifer, a small-scale desalination plant, intensifying the City’s pressure management and water demand management programmes, and a R120m small-scale wastewater reuse plant at the Zandvliet water treatment works which will be capable of producing 10 million litres of high quality drinking water per day to the central and southern suburbs of Cape Town,” she said.

More exciting news in the City of Cape Town surrounds the preparation for the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, which takes place this coming Saturday, the 15th April. 16000 runners will compete in the half marathon, and another 11000 will contest the 56km ultra race.

HAMNET is strongly represented, with 14 vehicles on the route, roving, sweeping for stragglers, or supervising at timed cut-offs. Medical headquarters are at Tygerberg Hospital’s Provincial Emergency Management Centre, from where Ambulances, Motorbike Paramedics, HAMNET vehicles, Traffic Police, SAPS, Refreshment station support and the likes will be managed. All vehicles on the route will be tracked, and trunked radio systems, set up in talk groups for each separate deployment, will be used. Back-up plans have been made in case weather interferes with the intention to run along Chapman’s Peak Drive, and decisions will be made before the race starts.

Weather predictions for Cape Town next Saturday so far suggest a cloudless sky, a gentle Southerly breeze of about 8kph, no rain, and a maximum temperature of 22 degrees.

The Sponsors, the Race Organisers, and Metro Emergency Medical Services are to be congratulated on a very finely tuned system, which is already running like clockwork, and we wish them all, and the 27000 runners, a successful and safe race.

Next week, I’ll tell you more about HAMNET’s other major event support, the Comrades Marathon, run during June in Kwazulu Natal.

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