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.

HAMNET Report 2 April 2017

Cyclone Debbie caused major damage, torrential rain and power cuts to tens of thousands of homes this week. Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull has activated a disaster response plan. With up to 250mm of rain forecast on Wednesday, authorities pleaded with people to stay off roads to avoid being stranded in floodwaters.

“We’ve already had two instances of people who were caught in a vehicle,” said Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll, adding flood rescues were now her “biggest concern”.

Her warning was reiterated by Mr Turnbull, who said nature had “flung her worst” at Queensland. Cyclone Debbie made landfall between Bowen and Airlie Beach as a category four storm, whipping gusts of up to 263km/h, and started moving inland as a tropical low storm.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said three people had been confirmed injured, but that number could rise. She also expressed concerns that injured people were unable to contact emergency services.

Troops have arrived, the helicopters are overhead and Queensland has swung into full recovery mode.

At Ayr Fire Station, emergency workers were packing up their kits and waiting to be deployed. They expected to be airlifted to one of the remote towns cut off by the storm. There, they’d knock on doors and check on people – provided of course that the doors had not blown away.

Another fireman explained how he was itching to get out and help, even if just to give a comforting hug to someone who might be shell-shocked by the cyclone. Even in a massive emergency operation like this, it is those small gestures that make a difference.

Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said the worst-hit towns included Bowen, Airlie Beach, Proserpine and Collinsville.

“Those areas and the Whitsunday Islands remain difficult for us to contact and to get into,” he said.

Cyclone Debbie made landfall at close to its peak intensity, Dr Jeffrey D Kepert, head of the Bureau of Meteorology’s High Impact Weather Research said. Crucially, it was also very slow-moving. That “can be more damaging because the duration of strong winds is longer. As structures experience a longer battering, things like metal fatigue set in, leading to more damage. Also, more of the rain falls in the same area rather than being spread out, leading to a greater flood risk”.

Fortunately Debbie missed some key population centres, but the extent of damage remains unclear. Although tourists were hit hard, their hotels were “likely to have higher foundations” and be built more solidly than many ordinary homes near the coast, said Associate Professor David King from James Cook University.

Thank you to BBC News for that report.

Keith Lowes, KZN’s HAMNET Regional Director sent me a report and photos of a huge fire in a plastics warehouse last week.

The fire was reported to Ethekwini Fire & Emergency Services control centre at 09H42. The caller further stated that the company handles plastic products. The first Rescue Pump was despatched from the Jacobs fire station and arrived on scene at 09H50.  The officer reported that the building was already well alight and fire had penetrated the roof structure.

As further supporting Rescue Pumps arrived, a serious water shortage was experienced on the site and the fire continued to spread.  An assistance message at 10H30 from the officer in charge requested all available water tankers within the Ethekwini Region to be despatched to the incident.  The size of the  warehouse is approx. 900 metres by 600 metres.

The incident received international press coverage and local social media was abuzz with updates and images of the incident.  It also created quite a lot of panic and uncertainty regarding toxic smoke clouds and the possibility of evacuation.

By 19H00  with the spread of fire still not contained, a message reporting that 100 tonnes of fertiliser product, of which 40 tonnes was volatile, prompted Ethekwini Disaster Management to consider possible evacuation of what was proposed to be a 3-4 Km radius around the site.

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, had been monitoring his Fire Department radio and had been in discussion with his Deputy Provincial Director Dave ZS5HN, with a view to setting up an emergency net on the local Highway Club 145.625 repeater.

A WhatsApp group created for the recent Tour Natal Motor Rally was receiving numerous messages from HAMNET members, reporting their availability to assist, in addition to call-in’s on the repeater.

A local HAMNET Emergency WhatsApp Group was born during this incident, and  proved to be very effective.

At 20H30 Keith notified the Disaster Management Control Centre of HAMNET  member’s availability to assist with the evacuation should it be required, and that he was proceeding to activate ZS5DCC at the centre.  Dave ZS5HN co-ordinated the available stations on the repeater from his home in Amanzimtoti.

By 21H45, ZS5DCC was operational and  15 Hamnet members were available to assist if required.

Ethekwini Transport Authority had been informed by Disaster Management of the possibility of large scale evacuation and a fleet of busses had been placed on standby.  Sites had been identified as possible holding areas for the public at the University of KZN sports grounds, the Bluff Golf Course and Cato Manor sports grounds.

An update provided by Ethekwini Fire Chief Enoch Mchunu at 22H30 indicated that they had prevented the fire from spreading towards the fertiliser, and that evacuation of the surrounding area would not be required.

The JOC was stood down for the night at 23H30.

The use of WhatsApp is a very useful tool to keep members in touch with what is happening.  Keith has since created a “social” and an “Emergency” WhatsApp group. He thanked all those members who offered their services should the evacuation have been implemented. Thank you Keith for the comprehensive report.

As, usual, we finish our report with a quick look at the dams. On average, the country’s dams are 74% full, stable from last week, and better than the same time last year, by 19 percentage points. However, the Western Cape’s levels continue to drop, by yet another point to 26%, compared to 27% last week, and 32% this time last year. The City of Cape Town’s water department is considering increasing water tariffs, and reducing the allocation of free water to owners of low-cost homesteads, with a view to increasing capital to manage the shortage, and possibly to installing small scale desalination. It doesn’t get much more serious than this.

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

REPORT 26 March 2017

From Express.co.uk this week comes news that a whole host of experts on eastern Europe have lined up to warn that the conflict in the eastern Ukraine could spark a widespread chemical disaster if industrial storage units of chlorine gas are damaged and the contents released into the environment.

The threat is not just hypothetical. On February 24 a stray artillery shell hit the Donetsk Filter Station’s chlorine gas depot, which stores around 7,000kg of the gas.

Fortunately, none of the storage units were damaged.

Robert Amsterdam, Russian political expert and lawyer at international law firm Amsterdam & Partners, said: “If one of those uncontrolled sites containing chemicals were to detonate, tens of thousands of people could be poisoned. It is a potential disaster on the scale of Chernobyl.”

Rudy Richardson, Professor of Toxicology at the University of Michigan backed up that view. He said: “In a situation like this, where a war zone is near a concentration of industrial facilities where toxic and explosive chemicals are manufactured and stored, it is possible that massive releases of toxic chemicals could occur.

“And that would result in high levels of civilian casualties.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances Basket Tuncak indicated that damage to just one chlorine-filled, 2,000-pound container has the potential to kill anyone within a 600-foot (200 metre) distance and poses dire health risks to the tens of thousands of surrounding residents.

In case of extensive damage, people living up to 4.5 miles (10km) downwind of the facility would need to be moved away within 24 hours.

Mr Tuncak told the UN: “Large chemical and industrial facilities are in areas where fighting is ongoing.

“Battles are now being fought in cities, close to industrial centres with factories increasingly at risk of being hit: The consequences for anyone living close by would be severe.”

He added: “All parties to the conflict need to be aware of the risks that continuous insecurity brings, including for a chemical disaster. Ultimately, it is about ensuring that all precautions are being taken to prevent such catastrophe to occur, and mainly for the fighting to stop.”

Clever technology coming out of Toronto, Canada, involves “insulated concrete forms”, or ICFs, (which) consist of two panels of Expanded Polystyrene foam, which are called EPS, with a hollow core in between. The panels are held tightly together by a patented web system, and can be stacked on top of each other in a way similar to Lego blocks,” says Keven Rector, Technical Services Manager at the company NUDURA.

These high-tech industry-leading forms have proven technologies to make building easier and faster, and are available in all form types and sizes, to accommodate all types of building and design requirements in times of disaster rebuilding. Each form is stacked, steel reinforced and filled with concrete to complete the building envelope of a home in one building step.

With their steel reinforced solid concrete core, these structures can withstand some of Mother Nature’s worst. NUDURA ICFs can endure winds of up to 400 kph and the non-toxic fire-retardant expanded polystyrene foam provides a fire protection rating of up to 4 hours, ensuring that your family and home are safe and secure in almost any situation.

The empty shells of expanded polystyrene foam can be put in place by hand, and once the “wall” has been built, filling the shell with concrete quickly surrounds the reinforcing steel holding the two panels together, and creates a solid weather-proof protection. Clever indeed!

And while we’re talking of clever protection, I heard today of a company in South Africa that has found a way to insert more or less invisible wiring into the transparent polycarbonate burglar bars becoming popular these days. The wires can be connected up into a mesh alarm system, such that sawing through, or burning the polycarbonate to gain entry to the building sets off the alarm, and makes a successful burglary unlikely. This is an extremely clever idea, protecting the contents of the building more effectively than the polycarbonate burglar bar on its own.

ARRL News reports that a thorough and fully annotated discussion of Near Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) is available in the research paper, “Radio Communication via Near Vertical Incidence Skywave Propagation: An Overview,” by Ben A. Witvliet, PE5B/5R8DS, and Rosa Ma Alsina-Pagès.

First investigated in the 1920s, NVIS propagation was rediscovered during World War II as “an essential means to establish communications in large war zones such as the D-Day invasion in Normandy,” the paper notes, adding that the US Army subsequently sponsored a lot of NVIS field research, especially between 1966 and 1973. More recently, NVIS has become a popular means to enable close-in communication on Amateur Radio HF bands between 3 and 10 MHZ. NVIS can be used for radio communication in a large area (200-kilometer radius) without any intermediate manmade infrastructure, and it has been found to be especially suited for disaster relief communication, among other applications, according to the paper. Good reading for all amateurs expecting to erect an emergency station in the field.

Sadly, the dams in the Western Cape continued to drop their average content by another 2 percentage points, compared to last week, at 27%, and 6 percentage points lower than this time last year. The rest of the country’s dams are about the same as last week, or slightly higher, but none of them is in  a danger zone except the Western Cape. After some unusually hot weather this week, the Peninsula experienced 3 to 5mm of rain, which flattened the dust, but did nothing more. The evenings are cooler but any early frontal systems from the North-west continue to evade us!

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

REPORT 19 March 2017

I didn’t realise last week how prophetic my words would be, when I wrote about the Cape Town Cycle Tour being subject to the mercies of the wind! Within twenty minutes of the first riders setting off from the Foreshore in Cape Town, the organisers had called the race off because of the dangerous South Easter whipping from the False Bay direction. You probably all saw the amazing videos of the bicycles floating like kites in the wind as the riders hung on to them for dear life. And if the front riders bailed out of their own volition because of the wind, you can imagine how difficult it would have been for the back riders, who are far less experienced, and less able to weather the headwind. Other endangering factors to the race were fires near the route in Hout Bay, and some risk to the riders from protesters down in the Southern Peninsula, which had already resulted in the organisers reducing the distance to about 74km. All in all, a wise decision by the organisers on a day of potential conspiring calamities, but bad luck indeed for the riders.

Roy Walsh ZS3RW wrote to tell of a simple incident in his neighbourhood that made him proud to be a HAMNET member. On Sunday 12 March, some fellows from the local clubs played cricket. One of the cricket players got hit by a bouncing cricket ball just above the eye. He should have had stitches but the medics at the field used steristrips and put them on his wound, which worked. After the game the guy wanted to clean his wound not knowing he should not have taken the plasters off.

“At church that evening I saw the wound still bleeding and because he did not have a medical aid I said I would contact someone and this is where the greatness of being a member of HAMNET came in” said Roy.

“I (ZS3RW) called Kobus Jooste ZS3KJ who is also a Paramedic at a local mine. He was very helpful and came to my house where he treated the young lad and off he went. The price? A great cup of coffee that I made for him (ZS3KJ) and his wife. This to me was just something that made me proud to say I am a member of HAMNET, where we could help someone.” Thanks for that Roy, and for being considerate.

From the Malagasy Daily Nation, comes the report that Madagascar has declared a national disaster after last week’s cyclone tore through the northern and eastern parts of the Indian Ocean island, leaving 78 dead and destroying thousands of homes.

According to the country’s National Bureau for Risks and Hazards Preparedness, Cyclone Enawo affected more than 390,000 people with 246,987 left homeless, 18 missing and 250 injured.

Madagascar’s President, Hery Rajaonarimampianina has asked for support from the international community. The Malagasy leader has been visiting the storm-hit areas to offer condolences and show support. He said the government will release a document that will highlight the issues in need of urgent relief.

Meanwhile, a cargo flight carrying 100 tonnes of humanitarian supplies from the United Arab Emirates arrived in the capital Antananarivo on Monday night. The aid includes medicine, food, and shelter kits which will be handed to the Malagasy government by the United Nations. Madagascar, a nation of an estimated 23 million people, has been hit by 46 natural disasters over the last 35 years.

And, for those who don’t live in Durban, the beachfront there was hit by storm-surge type waves on the 12th of March, as a side effect of Madagascar’s Cyclone, which finally spent its last energy on the KZN coast. The waves were not very high, but certainly washed across the front rows of car parking, and up to the doorways of the beachfront restaurants and cafes. Fortunately, the surge was not severe, but evidence that Mother Nature had been hard at work relatively nearby!

In general, the state of the water reservoirs around the country is fairly stable, with all but 2 of the provinces recording increases in dam levels this week, compared with last week and this time last year. Free State levels are 35% higher than this time last year, Gauteng and Kwazulu Natal 5%, Limpopo and Mpumalanga 19%, and North West and Northern Cape at least 40% more than last year. At 63%, the Eastern Cape is 10% down on last year, but the poor old Western Cape is 6% less than last year, at 29%. The situation here is becoming critical, because, apart from potable water for the population, water for industrial and commercial use will soon have to be restricted. Drinking water can always be brought in by tanker, or in bottles for consumers, but thousands of litres for factories and commercial users are harder to import. I wonder whether anyone in the world has considered the idea of building a desalination plant on a ship, which can sail from port to port, and provide emergency supplies where needed. The disadvantage apparently of a desalination plant is that it’s technology and catalytic materials deteriorate and it becomes a liability for the country to which it belongs, if it is not used all the time. Now a floating desalination plant could sail the seas and be used more or less continuously, thus “paying for itself”, so to speak.

Anybody got a couple of hundred million lying around unused, for us to corner this market?

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

REPORT 12 March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without a significant filter, communication would be impossible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAMNET Report 5 March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REPORT 26 February 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REPORT 19 February 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REPORT 12 February 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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