REPORT 2016-08-21

Amateur Radio volunteers this week responded to help, after flooding of historic proportions struck parts of Louisiana and Mississippi over the weekend in the wake of torrential rainfall. States of emergency were declared in both states, the federal government has declared Louisiana a major disaster area, and the Louisiana Emergency Operations Centre was at full activation. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, KK4INZ, visited the stricken region on August 16. Louisiana Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) was activated, and Section Emergency Coordinator Adam Tamplain, KD5LEH, put out a call for volunteers to support communication at Red Cross shelters in the hard-hit Livingston Parish and Baton Rouge area. On August 16, the Red Cross was still requesting shelter operators. Although some residents were being allowed to return home at mid-week, about 4000 people remain in shelters.

“While we have had an increase in response from the South Eastern area, it’s still not quite enough,” Tamplain said on Tuesday. “Alabama ARES is attempting to put together a team for us. We have seen support from Southwest Mississippi as well. We had Operators at Red Cross New Orleans, Lafayette, and Baton Rouge today.” Tamplain said a dozen or so operators were staffing eight shelters; nearly 30 remained open at mid-week. He asked additional volunteers to check in at Red Cross Headquarters in Baton Rouge.

Red Cross Vice President of Disaster Services, Operations, and Logistics Brad Kieserman called the Louisiana flooding the worst natural disaster to strike the US since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Area waterways have reached record flood levels, affecting some 135,000 households and displacing thousands of residents. More than a dozen have died. Roads, including parts of Interstates 10 and 12, had to be closed, and some highways remain impassable. Most conventional telecommunication systems have remained operational. Thank you to the ARRL Newsline for this information.

Meanwhile in California, raging fires have caused the evacuation of more than 50,000 people, with huge loss of homes and property. The fire has spread fiercely in all directions, and thousands of houses have been destroyed, the fire being too strong to be contained by burning firebreaks, and flying fire aircraft dumping water on the fires. The flooding in Louisiana has overshadowed the fire problems in California in the news.

In London, an Indian-origin student has developed a novel drone platform called Exigency, that provides temporary communications immediately after the occurrence of a natural disaster, allowing victims quickly to contact family and rescue groups. This in turn allows organisations to set up evacuation camps quickly too. Basically, it is a cell-phone repeater on a drone, which can immediately be flown above a disaster area, allowing stranded or injured people the ability to have cell-phone coverage, even though ground-based systems have been disabled.

And at the Tokyo HamFair of 2016, Icom has provided excitement with 4 new products, some of them very appropriate to emergency communications ops. The most obvious is the new ID-51E PLUS 2 D-Star handheld, with lots of digital facilities for data transfer from an event or disaster scene. But the two highlights are the new IC-7610 base station, an upgrade to the IC-7600, and the IC-R8600, a very wide-band receiver, in the mould of the 7300, but with receive range from 100kHz to 3 GHz, and reception of all digital modes, to replace the aging R8500. Few details of the 7610 have been released, but it appears to have 2 antenna outputs on the back, all the options of the 7300 on the front panel, and what looks like a USB socket on the front, perhaps for a USB keyboard. You can Google IC-7610 to see a video of the fair on YouTube. A Yahoo group has already sprung up to post news of the 7610 to the eager enthusiasts. I hope it is the Software Defined Radio with the extra features that 7300 users have been wishing for.

Hamnet Western Cape’s bulletin this past week at 19h30 on Wednesday the 17th had its range of reception extended, by a crossband repeat on to 434.600 MHz, from whence it was picked up by the linked repeater system in the Western Cape and re-transmitted on 145.675 from the Jonaskop site, on 145.650 from Riversdale, from 434.800 at Dana Bay, and finally 145.700 in George. The relay also went North West via UHF links to the Piketberg repeater on 145.625. Two VHF repeaters, namely the 145.600 on Hanskop and the 145.650 on du Toit’s Kloof were unlinked, to leave important voice channels over the Hottentot’s Holland mountains and in the direction of Worcester open. HF communications have become so bad lately that our outlying areas have no reception on 40 or 80 metres, as in the past. If you live in outlying areas of the Western Cape, and previously listened to our bulletin on HF, consider looking on your nearest repeater for a relay.

Wintery weather around the country isn’t over yet, although a low-pressure trough, extending from mid-Namibia diagonally down to the Eastern Cape was visible on Wednesday’s weather satellite’s pictures, suggesting Spring conditions. Twenty millimetres of rain is to fall over 100% of the Western Cape today, brought by a very impressive cold front, which may have lots of cold air behind it to chill the Western half of the country, and make the closing down of the Lighthouse stations soggy affairs. In contrast, KwaZulu Natal has had early Spring rain this weekend, spoiling the cricket a bit yesterday, so dangerous driving conditions are still being experienced on the roads. Please exercise caution, drive with your headlights on all the time, and remain radioactive for the sake of your fellow countrymen.

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