HAMNET Report 28 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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