A group of six Hamnet operators from the Western Cape, assisted with the event communications at the Kogelberg WIldrunner which took place in rainy conditions at Kleinmond on Saturday morning, 12th of August. The six operators consisted of: Matt (ZS1MTF) and Steven (ZS1DAD) who operated from a location where having vehicles with high ground clearance was essential. John (ZS1JNT) and Douw (ZS1DGK) operated from the golf course parking area while Peter (ZS1PDE) and Alister (ZS1OK) operated the base station located in the parking area of the Kleinmond beach and lagoon. It was the first time for Steven and John were involved in a trail running event.

Conditions were rather wet, with regular rain squalls during the event and this impacted the runners having to negotiate areas of large standing water in some of the trail areas. Because of the wet conditions we mostly operated from within our vehicles.

Fortunately there were no serious incidents during the event and support of the comms went off well without issues.

HAMNET Report 13 August 2017

Keith Lowes ZS5WFD says that the route of the 18,6Km run, and 6,5Km fun walk, of the Kloof Conservancy Three Falls Trail Run offers magnificent views of the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve, including its rich fauna and flora, as well as the Kloof Falls, Uve Falls, and mPhiti Falls.  Hamnet provided 14 operators this year to assist with the event which started at 06H30 on Sunday 6th August 2017 from Forest View Primary School in Waterfall.  306 runners entered the event and were joined by 41 walkers. A total of 294 runners finished the race, making for 12 that did not complete the course for various reasons.

Communications were via 145.500 or 550 simplex as well as the 145.625 Highway Amateur Radio Club repeater.  Keith had a link to the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife repeater which a number of other marshals were using.

At approximately 09H50 a report was received from Jon Sargood who was a volunteer with Rescuetech and also running the race, of a female runner with a suspected broken ankle that required assistance.  Brad ZS5Z was requested to proceed to the location to establish a direct communications link from the scene.  Information to hand was that the patient would be unable to make her own way out and Rescuetech would be required to assist in carrying her out in a Stokes Basket Stretcher.  Meditech had already been notified and despatched to the scene.

Rescuetech’s Chris Williams (ZS5CJW) was notified and requested to mobilise his team to a point approximately 600m down from the Kloof Falls picnic site.  It took approximately 1 hour to stabilise and safely bring the patient to the picnic site where Meditech’s ambulance was waiting to transport the patient to hospital.

Keith extends his sincere thanks to all that assisted with the event to ensure a successful outcome for all involved.  It was a great opportunity to forge good working relationships with all of the emergency services involved.

There are lots more trail run events taking place in the Western Cape these next four weeks. Yesterday saw the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve hosting the Wildrunner Cape Winter Trail race at Kleinmond. Alister ZS1OK managed the six operators who helped shepherd the runners, and all seems to have gone well.

Next weekend, the17-20th August, the third iSimangaliso Mountain Bike Ride takes place, this year starting in Mkuze Game Reserve and going through Phinda Game Reserve (both home to the Big Five), passing Lake Sibaya and ending at Lake St Lucia.

Hamnet KZN will be providing the Communications, linking the Event Control, the JOC, 2 High Site Relays, 3 Sweeper Vehicles, the Mkuze & Phinda Rangers, a Spotter Chopper to look out for any dangerous game along the Route, 2 Paramedics and the Ambulance!

We greatly look forward to hearing and perhaps reading about this event on the HAMNET webpage. Thanks to Dave Holliday ZS5HN for that news.

Then, next Sunday the 20th August, Peter ZS1PDE is organising the communications during the Helderberg Mountain Challenge, in Somerset West. Four operators are needed for this race, and we wish him luck with the undertaking.

Alister ZS1OK is looking for six HAMNET operators to assist him at the Sanlam Cape Town Peace Trail Run on Saturday the 17th September. This forms part of the multi-day Sanlam Cape Town Marathon event. The two races he is working for, are the 22 and 12km trail runs to be run on the 17th, along Signal Hill and Lions Head before descending to finish at the Green Point Athletics track. If you haven’t volunteered your help yet, please consider doing so.

Finally, in the Western Cape early Spring, we have the Marloth Mountain Challenge run outside Swellendam on Sunday the 24th September. This is a big race, needing fourteen operators, but the weekend is a long one, making it easy for the radio operators to get into position on Sunday morning early, and overnighting on Sunday evening before coming back to Cape Town on Monday. Please volunteer your services to Grant ZS1GS if you haven’t already done so.

From the ARRL News Letter this week, we have news that the Hurricane Watch Net activated for Tropical Cyclone Franklin.

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) activated on August 9 to keep an eye on then-Tropical Cyclone Franklin — which was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane when it made landfall between Tampico and Veracruz, Mexico, early on August 10.

“Reports from Mexico were few and far between,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, reported afterward. “We did hear from hams in Campeche and Puebla. Our Spanish operators did a great job in working to find reporting stations on the Mexican 40-meter emergency nets, but we were never able to find stations on the air or else we received interference from elsewhere. During the day, 20-meter propagation was not that good, but we had members in various locations throughout the US, Caribbean, and Central America that were able to reach the affected area.” After an 11-hour activation, HWN suspended operations. “We will continue working to encourage radio amateurs throughout the Caribbean to get on the air and participate whenever a hurricane threatens their area,” Graves said.

The net was monitoring 14.325 MHz on August 10 to gather post-storm reports.

The VoIP Hurricane Net reported that it was informally active from about 1200 UTC on August 9 until 0600 UTC on August 10.

Franklin is now weakening rapidly over the mountains of Mexico and is expected to produce total rainfall of 4 to 8 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches possible. — Thanks to Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, and Rob Macedo, KD1CY and the ARRL News Letter.

This Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 6 August 2017

Michael Muller, ZS6MLV/1  has invited all WSAR operatives in the Western Cape to attend a training lecture to be held on Wednesday 16 August 2017. This will be the first of regular training sessions to be held for WSAR operatives. Although these sessions will be hosted by the Logistics Component, all operatives will benefit from attending.  During this session, we will introduce revisions to the call out process as well as provide updates on current Logistics and Communications issues.

Peter Dekker ZS1PDE has reminded us that the Helderberg Mountain Challenge will be held this year on Sunday August 20th. That is only two weeks away. He says he will need four Ham operators, two at base and two who will have to hike up the mountain with a field medic. The mountain team will have to start hiking not later than 6 AM , because all teams have to be in place at 6:50. Base comms have to be operational by 6 AM.

News of an IARU Region 2 communications exercise in August has been released.

This Emergency Communications Exercise is aimed mainly at amateur radio stations in the countries of IARU R2 Area G: Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The objectives are firstly, to help radio amateurs in Area G acquire experience in Emergency Communications, measure response capacity and promote work and cooperation among operators; secondly to count on a database of radio amateurs interested in participating in Emergency Communications; and thirdly, to encourage the operation of stations operating with their own energy, low power, portable and mobile.

The participants will specifically be individual radio amateurs, radio clubs and institutions with a valid amateur radio license in Area G countries: Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, but also operators from other countries willing to join the Exercise.

It will take place on Saturday, August 26, 2017, from 21:00 to 23:00 UTC, and  bands, frequencies and modes will be in the 40-meter band, on 7.050 kHz SSB, and
in the 20-meter band, on 14.255 kHz, SSB.

Radio amateurs who, because of their category or equipment, don’t have access to these bands, can participate as listeners. We suggest that they contact a participating radio club or group to follow the exercise jointly with more experienced radio amateurs so that they begin to understand how traffic is managed within a Net.

During the exercise hours, a Control Station will be on the air for each Area G country, and they will operate as Net Control in an consecutive manner, in order to have coverage in the entire Area. The Member Stations from each country in the Area will be available to act as Control Stations, or should delegate this activity to another station, which will be reported before the Exercise.

Given that it is an Emergency Communications Exercise, the retransmission or “bridge” mode must be used whenever necessary, because if someone wants to be heard by the Control but cannot achieve this, it is important that its presence is acknowledged and its message arrives and is recorded, according to the objectives of the Exercise mentioned above.

Stations reporting in the Net will send to the Control Station their Callsign, Name and Location (location and province, department or region).

Thank you to Greg G0DUB, for distributing this information.

The weekly ARRL letter has a very interesting description of the research to be done during the eclipse next week.

Virginia Tech electrical engineering professor Greg Earle, W4GDE, is heading up a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded solar eclipse experiment dubbed CEDAR — Coupling, Energetics, and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions. The experiment proposes to study the effects on the ionosphere of the August 21 total eclipse of the Sun, using a combination of GPS receivers, the university’s SUPERDARN (Super Dual Auroral Radar Network) radar system, HF Amateur Radio, and plasma modelling. Several graduate students and researchers, as well as the Virginia Tech Amateur Radio Association (K4KDJ) and the Amateur Radio community at large have been recruited to help.

“We want to understand how the ionosphere is affected by blockage of sunlight over a relatively short interval (~2 hours), understand how man-made systems are affected by the changes in the ionosphere, and use the data to improve our numerical models,” Earle told the ARRL.  Virginia Tech students Magdalina Moses, KM4EGE, and Xiaoyu “Harry” Han, KM4ICI, along with Virginia Tech electrical engineering professor Bob McGwier, N4HY, are among those pitching in.

Earle and his team  will use the data they collect to characterize ionospheric plasma density variations caused by the eclipse, measure HF scintillation, which are rapid fluctuations of signal phase and/or amplitude, during the eclipse, study the motions of plasma irregularities produced in both the E and F layers, and use numerical models to test cause-and-effect scenarios to compare with empirical data.

“The proposed study will utilize diagnostic capabilities that have never before been used to study a mid-latitude eclipse,” the CEDAR abstract explains. “Through this work we will answer several fundamental questions that remain unresolved, despite previous eclipse studies, and we will engage a huge cohort of non-scientists in gathering data that will constrain our models and enrich our understanding of ionospheric behaviour.”

That “huge cohort” includes participants in the Solar Eclipse QSO Party (SEQP), sponsored by ARRL and HamSCI. “During this event, radio operators will actively communicate throughout the eclipse interval over paths that transect the eclipsed region of the ionosphere,” the CEDAR proposal outlines. “These data will include information on the signal strength and maximum usable frequency in various HF bands, which are directly related to the density and altitude of the ionosphere.” The experiment will also draw on data generated by WSPR Net and the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).

This research may aid understanding of Near Vertical Incidence Skywave propagation during short distance emergency contacts. Thank you to the ARRL for disseminating the advance information .

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

HAMNET Report 30 July 2017

HAMNET in the Western Cape has been busy searching and rescuing again. While the weather has been very un-Wintery, it has suited the walkers and hikers, who have as usual misjudged both the mountains and the weather. A walker in Bainskloof on Sunday last injured his ankle, and phoned his family to ask to be picked up at a rendezvous spot, but never pitched up. By Monday evening, Wilderness Search and Rescue, and HAMNET were involved, and spent Tuesday and Wednesday searching fruitlessly for him. His cell-phone had died, so there were no further contact with him, and as far as I am aware, he has still not been found. The nights are bitterly cold at this time of year, and he wouldn’t have had provisions to last him a week, so the outlook is bleak.

On Wednesday, another call for rescue volunteers came through for a person stuck on Table Mountain. This person was found, made comfortable on Wednesday evening, and extracted off the mountain by Skymed helicopter on Thursday morning.

And on Thursday, a 57 year old male went up the mountain on his own, without his cell-phone, and without telling his family his route, but asking to be fetched at Constantia Neck at 16h30 local time. By 18h28, he still hadn’t been seen, and his family were naturally panicking. Luckily, he was found by 18h48, so all ended well.

A friendly word of advice to everybody who ever goes walking anywhere, not just on mountains: Please tell your family where you’re going, and when you’ll be back; take precautionary food and protective gear, not to mention battery back-up for your phone, and NEVER hike alone! You’ll cause unnecessary anguish to your family, not to mention inconvenience to authorities and volunteers who have to try to find you.

HAMNET could probably have used the services of the Mars Rover, Opportunity, to help search for these hikers, but, believe it or not, Opportunity has “sprained its ankle”, so to speak! During a two-week driving moratorium in June 2017, the rover team diagnosed a stall in the left-front wheel’s steering actuator. The wheel was stuck pointed outward more than 30 degrees.

The rover team was able to turn the wheel to point straight ahead, and now the rover only uses its rear wheels to steer. The steering actuator of the right-front wheel has been disabled since 2006. Since landing on Mars in 2006, Opportunity has driven 45 kilometres.

On July 7, 2017, Opportunity drove to a site in upper Perseverance Valley where it will spend about three weeks not driving while Mars’ passes nearly behind the Sun from Earth’s perspective, affecting radio communications. Opportunity is using its Panoramic Camera to record another scenic vista from its current location. Once full communications resume in early August, the team plans to drive Opportunity farther down Perseverance Valley in order to learn more about the process that carved it.
Thanks to Spaceflight Insider for those notes. HAMNET will in the meanwhile have to resort to humans with tracking beacons and two-way radios to find people!

In an amusing report in the Albany Democratic Herald, Linn County Sheriff Bruce Riley, his deputies, and a collection of other agencies are preparing for the total solar eclipse weekend, Aug. 18-21, just like they would any emergency situation or natural disaster.

The only difference is, they know when and where it will happen. But to make matters worse, the eclipse, which threatens to bring a huge influx of visitors to the valley, will take place right on the heels of the Willamette Country Music Festival, an event that adds an entire city-worth of people to the county.

“It couldn’t be worse timing,” Riley said.

Riley added with a wry smile that he has tried unsuccessfully to have organizers reschedule the eclipse, his logic being that such a feat would be easier than calling off the country music fans!

Let’s hope his fears are unfounded – a total eclipse of the sun doesn’t happen every day, so hopefully the people there will be too pre-occupied looking up than with planning any criminal activities!

Greg Mossop G0DUB’s report on the EmComm aspects of the 42nd HamRadio Exhibition at Friedrichshafen says:

The Exhibition attracted 17110 visitors, among them many Emergency Communicators who attended the two meetings for Emergency Communicators at the event or looked at the exhibits in the main hall.

On Friday 14th July, the first IARU Region 1 Emergency Communications meeting was held in the English language with an average 15 attendees from 10 countries. The Open Forum as usual could have lasted longer with many good discussions and points raised. There was a very well received presentation from Alberto IK1YLO and Marco IU1GJE about the RNRE response to the Earthquakes and disasters in Italy in 2016. The results from the RAYNET-UK survey of their groups about the technology they used and how it matched the needs of their users were provided. The session closed with two discussion sessions about how we could organise international networks and when we should think of an event as an emergency. The discussion session presentations have been modified to provide a very short summary of what the session wanted to achieve. Thanks to Greg for the summary.

With the usual gloom, I can report that the Western Cape’s dam levels have risen by only one percentage point since this time last week, at 27% in total. Our biggest supplier, the Theewaterskloof Dam is 20.93% full, half a point up from last week, and 18 percentage points lower than this time last year. We had one rainy day this week, and for the rest, it looks like Spring down here.

Oh well, as Marcelline Cox once said: “One way to make the weather make up its mind and rain, is to hang out washing!”

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

HAMNET Report 23 July 2017

Keeping everyone connected when disaster strikes is a key component of all emergency communications efforts. Without communication, everything else breaks down.

Knowing which roads are open, which ones are jammed or damaged contribute enormously to rescue efforts. Emergency responders have all sorts of tools at their disposal to make sure first responders know what’s going on, but what about your family? How would you make sure everyone is safe?

A cell phone call likely won’t be an option. Cellular networks will be overloaded, land lines could be cut off, and internet disrupted as well. Email and texting may be viable options since they work on different systems than cell phones.

To avoid trouble contacting your loved ones, establish a pre-arranged contact out of your area. If someone is trying to call home in the disaster zone, the call may not go through. Your chances are better outside the zone.

Everybody should call a designated person, and tell them where they are, how they’re doing, and what they’re going to do. Then, you have one point of contact who can help coordinate things.

Amateur radio operators can be the hub that hold communications together in an emergency. They can reach anywhere in the world without the issues linked to phone and cell service. A radio operator might not be able to get you directly to your loved ones, but he or she can get you very close.

Thank you to King 5’s Disaster Preparedness Facebook page for these wise words.

Ward Silver N0AX has written a long article for Nuts and Volts magazine about the effects of the coming solar eclipse on radio signals. He notes that the usual slow change in ionisation in the upper atmosphere as evening approaches and nightfall arrives, will be speeded up and the temporary night-time conditions will last about 3 hours, bearing in mind the slow start of the eclipse and the final clearance of the moon’s shadow. Areas directly within the total eclipse will experience the most unusual phenomena, but areas North and South of the path of totality will also be affected, and DX to all parts of the world may be improved or reduced in intensity.

Radio amateurs will use the eclipse to hold a huge QSO party, to make as many contacts as possible, collecting data at the same time, and documenting the effect the eclipse has on their propagation. Automated receiving decoders, such as CW Skimmer, a programme written by VE3NEA, the Reverse Beacon Net and WSPRNet, will receive CW, RTTY, WSPR and PSK signals and store them. Professional researchers at Virginia Tech will turn all the data into a database that geophysics researchers can use.

Hams enjoy doing this kind of research. Science is what led to ham radio in the first place, and hams have worked with the scientific community since the early days of wireless.  Listening tests by radio amateurs conducted in the early 1920’s confirmed the presence of a reflecting mechanism in the atmosphere, now called the ionosphere.

So the eclipse will not just be a visual delight for those within its path. We wait to hear whether unusual effects were noted this time round. It will be a long time before we experience an eclipse in Southern Africa again.

Solar flux figures continue to deteriorate over this weekend, as the sun settles down again after the coronal mass ejection and resulting solar wind last week, pushed both the solar flux figures and the A and K indices up, both helping and harming our attempts at propagation during the week. The sun is basically spotless this weekend, but  an elevated solar wind stream is continuing to contribute to minor  geomagnetic storming at higher latitudes. Isolated periods of enhanced activity were possible during the last 24 hours. The K index is 5 as I write this, making DX communications poor.

The office of the Premier of the Western Province announced plans some time ago to use a mobile desalination plant, and tap the natural aquifer under Cape Town’s Table Mountain, to prevent a disaster in Cape Town. Boreholes are also to be drilled in hospitals and schools in high-risk areas in an effort to collect additional ground water.

The Western Cape province is facing its worst water shortage in 113 years. The Karoo and West Coast areas of the Western Cape previously declared drought disasters in 2016.

The southern African region has been experiencing a severe drought for almost three years, as a result of the devastating effects of the climatic phenomenon El Niño. The United Nations estimates that over 40 million people have been affected by the drought, which has resulted in the decimation of crops and water resources, leaving millions dependent on aid. While areas such as northern South Africa, parts of Mozambique, and Zimbabwe have benefited from heavy rainfall this year, other areas, such as in southern Angola, remain seriously affected by low precipitation levels.

Examination of the Provincial dam level averages, reveals that the provinces that don’t experience rain in Winter have dams emptying by about one percentage point this week, while the Western Cape has gained one percentage point over last week’s readings. The snow that fell over last weekend can be expected to add considerably to our dam levels as it slowly melts, but, at 25% full, Western Cape dams are very far from the 47% level they were at this time last year. And high pressure cells over the South-Western Atlantic  and Western half of the country are keeping the cold fronts far to the South of us, continuing to keep our Winter rainfall averages very low.

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

HAMNET Report 16 July 2017

Johann Marais, ZS1JM, of HAMNET Western Cape, and Wilderness Search and Rescue, issued a copy of the letter he received from Sanparks in the Eden district this week, after WSAR had assisted in the post-fire period. It read:

“On behalf of South African National Parks, I would like to extend  heart-felt thanks and sincere gratitude to you for taking time out from your work responsibilities and life, to assist in the infrastructure damage assessment of the Garden Route fires.

Without your dedication, commitment and professionalism this operation would not have been a success. It is generous people like you who make our communities a better place, and we thank you for your involvement and support, without you these things would not be possible. Yours sincerely, Len du Plessis.”

Len is the Manager, Planning, of the Garden Route National Park, and in charge of the damage assessment after the fires. While he addressed the remarks to Johann, I’m sure the thanks were also addressed to the nine operators who drove from Cape Town to do the grid-assessment of all the damage. Well done, all!

Talking of fires, there has been a wonderful fire on the Sun this week, in the form of a huge solar flare and a coronal mass ejection from sunspot region 2665, possibly celebrating Bastille Day on Friday! The M-class 2.4 flare was associated with a 10cm radio burst lasting 44 minutes. A minor S1 radiation storm occurred yesterday, a moderate G2 geomagnetic storm may occur today the 16th, and the coronal mass ejection may affect the earth today and tomorrow the 17th.

This mostly affects HF communications across the earth’s poles with commercial pilots flying over the North Pole. Occasionally airlines delay or cancel flights, fearing radio blackouts. Beautiful auroras will also be visible at high latitudes, both North and South, of the equator.

The Sunspot number is currently 58, Solar Flux 94, and K index 1, as I write this on Saturday afternoon. Let’s hope the bands open for a bit while the numbers are temporarily higher than usual.

In a message from Greg Mossop, G0DUB, of IARU Region One, he says that the Winlink development team will be testing a new central messaging server (CMS) system on July 16th from 15:00 UTC until 17:00 UTC (that’s today for two hours). The team says:

“This test requires no action on your part, other than to use the system as you normally would during the period.

However, if you do use it during this period, potential impacts could include:

-Temporary system outage (unlikely)

-Messages from a winlink account to another winlink account that are not retrieved by the addressee before the end of the testing period will be lost. Mail to Internet (SMTP) accounts as well as mail from Internet accounts will not be impacted.

-Mail from Internet accounts may be duplicated (received a second time) after the testing period.

-Changes made to account settings (password, forwarding address, sysop details, etc.) during the test period will be lost.

With these impacts in mind, we hope you help us by using the system during this period.”

The notice is issued by Steve, K4CJX, for the Winlink Development Team. So, if you’re experimenting with Winlink this afternoon, to use during your emergency comms, please bear this in mind.

Then, the TX Factor team has announced that Episode 17 is now available. This regular HD video insert features an intro to DMR, System Fusion and D-STAR, the path taken by QSL cards in getting to and from you, and a visit to a Field Day event with the Norfolk Amateur Radio Club. The URL is at: www.txfactor.co.uk

Then a major disaster was averted in San Francisco by the wonder of radio communications, when the landing of an Air Canada flight at San Francisco International Airport was aborted.

An Air Canada plane with 140 people on board came within 30 metres of crashing on to two of four planes lined up to take off at San Francisco International Airport last week, according to a preliminary report Canadian air safety regulators released on Thursday.

Instead of lining up to land on the runway, the pilot of the flight from Toronto mistakenly descended toward a parallel taxiway just to the right, where four other airliners were idling in the darkness, on Friday the 7th.

As the Airbus 320 pulled up sharply it flew 30 metres over the first two jets, about 60 metres above the third and about 90 metres over the fourth, the summary said.

“This was very close to a catastrophic event,” said John Cox, a safety consultant and retired airline pilot.

Collisions on the ground are particularly dangerous because planes waiting to take off are loaded with fuel. The deadliest crash in aviation history occurred in 1977 when a KLM Boeing 747 taking off in the Canary Islands ploughed into a Pan Am 747 that was waiting to take off; 583 people died in the crash and fires.

According to the report released on Thursday, the plane was less than a mile from the taxiway, flying well over 160 kilometres per hour, when a voice — apparently one of the pilots on the taxiway — interjected on the landing radio frequency, “Where’s this guy going? He’s on the taxiway!”

Only at that point did the controller order the Air Canada jet to pull up. The jet then did another circuit and landed safely on the correct runway. At worst, five aeroplanes would have been involved in the smash, each with 140 people or more on board, and the risk of about 800 casualties or deaths. The matter is under investigation.

Finally, a strong cold front has just passed across the Western Cape, bringing a fair amount of cold rain to this province, snow to high-lying areas, and cold with snow to inland mountainous areas. If the forecast is correct, the Cape should experience about 50mm of rain, which will be nice, but the snow is equally welcome, because when it melts it runs into our dam catchment areas. Here’s hoping…..

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

HAMNET Report 9 July 2017

From Michael ZS1MJT, of the Cape Rally Group, comes the news that, on 1 July, the Riebeek Valley Rally was held in the Riebeek Kasteel area. Control was at the Meiring Primary School in Riebeek Kasteel.

Communications worked extremely well as all stages and radio operator positions were in ‘open’ areas and were in line of sight of the 145.650 repeater.

Michael thanks all who helped and the users of the 650 repeater, who allowed them the opportunity to use the repeater for the day.

He says the next rally is the All Tar Rally in Killarney on the 28 & 29th July.

Also in the Western Cape, a particularly difficult rescue of an injured person from the Yellowwood Amphitheatre in du Toit’s Kloof took place over Thursday night and Friday morning. HAMNET’s Johann Marais, ZS1JM, coordinated Wilderness Search and Rescue’s efforts from 13h00 on Thursday to assist with the rescue. Members of the Mountain Club of South Africa and Metro Rescue services all gathered on the Eastern Side of the  tunnel, to await instructions. An Oryx helicopter was deployed from Ysterplaat Air Force Base and could not proceed because of bad flying weather, but did manage to drop off a paramedic and a technical rescuer a little way away from the patient. Another team of 3 rescuers walked in to the spot with supplies, warm clothing and food to allow the group to spend the night on the mountain. The patient was reported as being in a serious but stable condition.

Next morning, the Oryx was able to fly in and extract the injured man, from where he was transported directly to Groote Schuur hospital. Thank you to all the WSAR operatives involved, and the SAAF helicopter crew for completing the rescue.

The Seattle Times reported on Monday the 3rd that the British Airline Pilots Association is warning of a looming catastrophe unless drones are subject to tougher regulations.

The association demanded the compulsory registration of drones on Monday after Gatwick Airport briefly closed its runway over safety concerns when a drone was spotted in the area.

Authorities diverted four EasyJet flights. One British Airways flight was sent to Bournemouth Airport.

The union’s flight safety specialist, Steve Landells, says the incident shows “the threat of drones being flown near manned aircraft must be addressed before we see a disaster.”

There have been several near-misses between drones and aircraft in Britain, with sheer chance averting collision in some cases.

Under British rules, a drone operator must be able to see it at all times and keep it away from planes, helicopters, airports and airfields.

From the West Australian, a report says commercial pilots are reporting near misses with drones in WA, prompting warnings that it is “only a matter of time” before an incident occurs.

WA Labour senator Glenn Sterle, who chairs a Senate inquiry into drone safety and regulation, wants tighter restrictions on recreational drone use after the Australian Transport Safety Bureau received 170 reports of remotely piloted aircraft being flown in flight paths, near airports and at dangerous heights.

“They’ve had incidences at Jandakot (Airport) where they’ve had drones at the end of the runway, with someone operating one out of the park,” Senator Sterle said.

“Anyone can walk in and buy a drone and they have no training, no awareness. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

On the other side of the argument comes another report about a group of students from MIT trying to ease the burden on emergency responders by providing a high-flying solution to downed communication lines. The team has designed and tested an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can fly for more than five days straight, offering a new solution for bolstering telecommunications systems during disaster situations. I wrote about this briefly in a previous bulletin.

In emergency situations, especially natural disasters and fires, the very communications networks that are so important to coordinating response are often damaged or overloaded. MIT’s long-flying drone is poised to change that.

The UAV, which resembles a glider, weighs less than 150 pounds and has a 24-foot wingspan. The petrol-powered craft can carry up to 20 pounds of telecommunications equipment at an altitude of 15,000 feet and in winds up to the 94th percentile, according to the students’ calculations.

The drone has passed initial tests after being modified to fit the FAA’s regulations for small drones, which required the payload and amount of fuel to be reduced to meet the FAA’s overall weight limit of 55 pounds. Future tests are needed to determine if the UAV can actually fly for more than five days straight.

“There are a few aspects to flying for five straight days,” Warren Hoburg, Boeing assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, said in a statement. “But we’re pretty confident that we have the right fuel burn rate and right engine that we could fly it for five days.”

The drone was designed as part of the Beaver Works capstone project at MIT in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force. The original goal of the project was to create a long-duration UAV powered by solar, but the team ultimately found that solar power was not conducive to emergency response, a field that demands reliable tools, regardless of the availability of sunlight.

A prototype constructed last fall featured a petrol engine instead, along with a frame made of lightweight materials like carbon fibre and Kevlar. It is designed to be easily dismantled and reassembled for easy transport.

The design makes the drone suitable for many long-term missions, said R. John Hansman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics.

“These vehicles could be used not only for disaster relief but also other missions, such as environmental monitoring. You might want to keep watch on wildfires or the outflow of a river,” Hansman said. Thank you to Statescoop for the body of this report.

Join us next week for more news relating to emergency communications.

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

HAMNET Report 2 July 2017

Last weekend saw the ARRL’s annual Field Day contest, and this week saw the hundreds of inserts in the local newspapers around the US, as amateur radio in general, and emergency communications in particular, got the greatest publicity of the year there. I have been watching communications posts on Google all week, and it seems all the clubs who mounted field stations last weekend, had their activities written up in their local paper. There can be very few people in the US who have never heard of amateur radio, and the ARRL is to be congratulated on the way the public’s attention has been captured.

Not all reports I read were entirely positive. The ionosphere didn’t play along, of course, so contacts were down a bit on last year. A big contributor to difficulties was the problem of overloading of nearby receivers by transmissions on adjacent bands by other transmitters in the same deployment. Some operators had bandpass filters for each radio as it swung across the bands, but not everyone was so lucky. Some radios are more robust, and able to withstand adjacent band interference, but not all. Field Day allows one to test these things, and reflections of some operators are that they will not use, for example, Radio X next year, because they were flooded by interference. This is the inherent value of Field Day. Would that we could mount such a comprehensive weekend exercise in this country!

Friedrichshafen in Germany has posted an itinerary of some of its activities for the Hamfest on July 14 to 16. “Germany Welcomes the World” is the theme of the 2017 edition of Europe’s major annual Amateur Radio gathering, known simply as “Ham Radio” but more commonly called “Friedrichshafen,” the city on the shores of Lake Constance where it takes place each summer. ARRL President Rick Roderick, K5UR, will head a League contingent to the event, which this year runs from Friday, July 14, until Sunday, July 16.

The 42nd edition of Ham Radio will feature some 200 exhibitors from 30 countries, including around 70 associations. This year, the German Amateur Radio Club (DARC) will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Amateur Radio center in Baunatal and will welcome visitors to the Lake Constance Conference. Among its show activities, the DARC will sponsor a competition for radio or electronics kits suitable for young people. Young radio enthusiasts aged 11 and older should be able to assemble the kits within 30 minutes, without having to etch circuit boards.

There will be an on-site Amateur Radio flea market.

The Chair of the IARU Region 1 Youth Working Group, Lisa Leenders, PA2LS, has invited young radio amateurs to join the International Youth Meeting on Saturday, July 15, at 10 AM, in the Liechtenstein Room. The program will include a rundown of the youth contesting program at 9A1A, plus an open mic session, where participants can share their experiences on youth activities. “This is the moment to share your experiences on youth activities and to ask questions to other attendees,” Leenders said. Members of the UK YOTA 2017 team will be at Ham Radio in Friedrichshafen to receive the official Youth on the Air (YOTA) flag from the YOTA Austria 2016 team.

A Ham Rally will take place on Friday and Saturday, offering a varied program for young Amateur Radio operators between the ages of 8 and 18, and a Ham Youth Camp — organized by the fairgrounds and DARC for participants aged 27 and younger — will take place during all 3 days of Ham Radio 2017.

World Radiosport Team Championship 2018 (WRTC 2018), which takes place next July in Germany, will be a particular focus at Ham Radio 2017. The show will include an exhibit of WRTC equipment, plus a demonstration of the competition, as well as video presentations about WRTC 2018. Ham Radio sponsors say several other presentations at the show also will highlight the upcoming international event.

A foxhunt will be held in the wooded area near the fairgrounds on the final day of the show.

The concurrent and fourth annual Maker Faire will open its doors at the Fairground on Saturday and Sunday, offering creative minds and tinkerers ideas and accessories at about 80 exhibitors.

And don’t overlook the Emergency Communications meetings on Friday the 14th July that I mentioned last week.

Thank you to the weekly ARRL letter for these extracts.

I’d like to draw your attention to a slightly dated but very good series of “Basic Soldering Lesson(s)” from Pace Worldwide, to be found on the hackaday.com website. Definitely worth a watch if you want to brush up on your skills. If you can’t find the site, just Google the following words, all joined up by hyphens: key-to-soldering-pace-yourself and you’re sure to find the series. Enjoy the revision!

A quick revue of the dam levels in South Africa this week reveals that most of the provincial average capacities have gone down by one percentage point compared to last week, except the Western Cape, whose capacities have gone up by 2 percentage points compared to last week, but still 15 percentage points lower than this time last year. Urban areas in the Cape are experiencing about 5 to 10mm of rain a week at the moment, so irrigation is probably unnecessary now. The City of Cape Town has introduced harsher water restrictions as of yesterday, hoping that the population will use less that 87 litres of water per person per day. We’re not out of trouble yet!

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

HAMNET Report 25 June 2017

Those of you wishing to practise your DX communications may care to listen out for the American Radio Relay League’s Field Day contest, which finishes today. From the correspondence on websites, blogs, the ARRL and You Tube, it seems about 30 000 American radio amateurs will be running  portable stations, doing their best to qualify for all the points the ARRL offers for extra activities to make their stations capable of transmitting an emergency message if called upon so to do . I wish South Africans had the kind of enthusiasm for contest and events like this that the Americans demonstrate. Anyway, listen out if you have time today, and try and make a contact on twenty and fifteen metres, if they’re open.

Part of a communication from Greg Mossop, G0DUB, Emergency Communications Co-ordinator of Region One of the IARU, involves the arrangements for meetings to be held in July.

He writes: “14-16 July begins the largest gathering of Radio Amateurs in Europe and also the largest gathering of Emergency Communicators at HAMRADIO 2017 in Friedrichshafen. IARU Region 1 will be hosting a meeting for Radio Amateurs interested in Emergency Communications in Room Rom on Friday 14th July between 12.00 and 16.00 local time with the following preliminary programme (times may change):

12.00-12.30 Reports from the IARU region 1 Emergency Communications Co-Ordinators

12.30-13.30 Open forum for National Co-Ordinators to report on activities in their countries.

13.30-14.00 Italian Earthquake response 2016 – Alberto IK1YLO

14.00-14.45 RAYNET-UK – What Technology should we use for emergency communication?

14.45-15.15 Discussion- What is an emergency and when should we activate?

15.15-15.45 Discussion – How can we have an international network?

15.45-16.00 Closure and discussion around Friedrichshafen 2018

The Working language for this meeting will be English.”

Thank you for these notes, Greg – we wish you all success with the meetings.

Over and above the Grenfell fire disaster in London, and the forest fires in Portugal, news has come of an earthquake off the coast of Guatemala on Thursday afternoon our time, at a depth of 10km, and with a magnitude of 6.8 on the Richter scale. Some 1 275 000 people live within 100km of its epicentre, but no reports of large scale damage or casualties have been received.

And closer to home, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck at a depth of 10km in Mozambique yesterday morning, at 04h37 our time, 61km North-West of Beira, where about 1 370 000 people live within 100km of that epicentre. Damage appears to have been light, and no casualties have been reported yet.

Melanie Gosling, reporting in AllAfrica this week, writes “A major problem fighting the massive fires that ravaged Knysna last week was the lack of communications and electricity outages, according to local councillor Mark Willemse.

“Landlines were down and Cell C and MTN were not operating. Vodacom was working.

” ‘Comms were an issue. We used SMSes and loud hailers. One thing we can work on better and can change is communications,’ Willemse said at a report-back meeting in the town on Tuesday.

“Another problem was that the Joint Operating Centre, co-ordinating the fire-fighting and evacuation operations, had been without electricity.

“The Garden Route fires that began on 7 June and stretched from Great Brak to Plettenberg Bay, wreaked the most destruction in Knysna where 846 houses were gutted and another 307 were damaged. Of the 846 houses destroyed, 150 were informal structures, and the rest formal dwellings. The suburb hit hardest was Knysna Heights, where nearly 22% of houses burnt down.

“Willemse said Knysna’s entire disaster management plan would be changed ‘drastically’ in the wake of the massive fires, which at times were burning in 26 different places.

” ‘The fires have been a good wake-up call to us as to just what disasters can cause. We will look at anything and everything to make sure it doesn’t happen again,’ he said.

“Knysna’s executive mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies said at the meeting that a major lesson learned was the difficulty in getting in and out of Knysna in the event of extensive fires.

” ‘The road network is a problem. At one time both exits from Knysna were closed because of fires. At one stage we were looking at evacuating 6,000 people from Rheenendal, but we couldn’t get  buses in from George. Luckily we didn’t have to evacuate them,’ Bouw-Spies said.

“Experts have said the number of natural disasters such as fires, floods, droughts and extreme weather events is increasing as a result of global climate change. Asked if Knysna would take the reality of climate change into account in its future disaster management plan, Bouw-Spies said: ‘We will adopt a climate change adaptation strategy. It is time for us to make sure that we do that.’

“Another factor which fuelled the fires was the vast amount of alien vegetation in the area, which burns hotter and spreads faster than a fire in indigenous vegetation. Willemse said the council would tackle the enforcement of alien tree clearing. Landowners outside the urban edge are legally bound to clear their properties of certain invasive alien vegetation, which consumes large quantities of water and is a fire hazard.

“Asked if the council would ensure that controlled burns were done at Knysna’s large housing estates, where this was a condition by the provincial government when the estates were given development approval, Willemse said the council would do so.

“There were 25 tourist establishments damaged, which represented about 500 beds. About 2,500 people had lost jobs. The mayor said she was concerned that domestic workers would also lose their jobs where their employers had lost their houses.

“However, she said national government had already said it could help immediately with the creation of 500 jobs in the fire clean-up programme.” End quote.

Join us next week for another look at disasters and emergency communications. This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 18 June 2017

From the disaster in the Eden district comes the story that SANParks has been requesting help to coordinate the rescues and management of the fire damage in the area. When Johann Marais ZS1JM, of Wilderness Search and Rescue reminded them that WSAR had handled 407 rescues in the Western Cape last year, WSAR was asked to provide about ten 4×4 teams to drive to outlying areas, assessing fire damage and offering medical assistance. HAMNET operators in the teams would maintain communications with a central Joint Operations Centre near Knysna to be manned by two of our experienced lady operators.

Western Cape Regional Director Grant Southey ZS1GS sent out a request to all HAMNET members to volunteer to spend from Thursday the 15th to Sunday the 18th in the Eden district supplying the vehicles, radios and operators, to comb the areas, releasing trapped communities, distributing brochures and completing a survey of the status of the countryside. The Off Road Rescue Unit and the Land Cruiser Club of South Africa, being part of WSAR, were very quick to offer their assistance and provided some of the vehicles. Each vehicle had a Medic, a chainsaw operator to clear fallen trees, and a Ham station. The teams were required to provide their own camping equipment, but food and petrol expenses were sponsored by SANParks.

Teams left Cape Town on Wednesday and Thursday, and we’ll bring you some more news of their activities next week.

Keith Lowes, ZS1WFD of HAMNET KZN has sent me the basic arrangements for the Standard Bank Ironman 70.3 being swum, ridden and run today. Ten HAMNET operators are assisting at the event this year, which starts with a 1.9km swim at uShaka Pier, followed by a bike ride and then a road race to finish in front of SUNCOAST, where the race course closes at 16h00. Good luck to all those participants, and thank you to the HAMNET volunteers for giving up their Father’s Day to assist at the event.

From Birmingham City University comes news of a portable system which allows communications to be restored in the wake of a disaster and help direct survivors to safety.

Ron Austin, Associate Professor of Networks and Security at Birmingham City University, has created the prototype system which could be used to plug a crucial gap in systems such as telephone, GPS and internet links during the first 24-hours following a disaster.

The network runs using Raspberry Pi computer development boards, which can be linked together to form a bespoke setup, tailored to the needs of a site, which could also be used to monitor environmental factors such as earthquake aftershocks and tsunami second waves.

Around 90 per cent of live rescues are made during the first 24-48 hours following a disaster – a period known as the ‘golden 24 hours’ – but large scale infrastructure takes around two days to ship to a disaster site.

The new portable system could help save lives by allowing basic systems to be put in place to plug the gap during that critical window and allow communication with emergency services and survivors until full scale systems can be restored.

The system would be used by first responders to restore telephone systems, provide internet services and GPS links, help direct survivors to areas of safety, monitor the environment for key factors such as aftershocks following an earthquake, or second waves of a tsunami, provide links with emergency services, eliminate the reliance on heavy duty equipment which is unavailable during the first 48-hours, and provide an expandable network which is easily adjusted.

Ron Austin, Associate Professor of Networks and Security at Birmingham City University, said: “It was while experimenting with Raspberry Pi’s that I first came up with the idea of using them in this way.

“By connecting a number of Raspberry Pi’s together I’ve found that we could have a genuine solution to the gap in services following a disaster.

“We know it takes a long time to ship out heavy duty equipment to get the full scale systems back up and running, but we also know that that first 24-hour period is crucial in saving lives during disasters.

“If we can provide a system that gets these important services back up and running swiftly and simply then we would have a real opportunity at getting people the information they need which could save lives.”

First responders would be able to transport the system in a single box or briefcase to the site and instantly setup communications systems which have been damaged or eliminated during a disaster.

Inbuilt battery power supplies fitted to briefcases or transportation boxes would provide power for up to two days, while solar panels could also be used in areas of good lighting.

Researchers hope to work alongside emergency services and disaster recovery organisations to see how the system might be best utilised.

Thank you to the Phys.Org website for this insert.

To end this bulletin, I have the tiniest bit of good news for you. The Dam Level report issued last Monday shows that all provinces have maintained their water levels compared with last week, and the Western Cape has recorded two percentage points of increase over the previous week, for the first time this year! Western Cape dams stand at 20% full, compared to 18% last week, and 30% at this time last year. We’ve got a long way still to go!

Finally, may I take the opportunity to wish all fathers out there “Happy Father’s Day”! May your children make it a day to be remembered by all of you.

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