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.

HAMNET Report 11 June 2017

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

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

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

We were well and truly warned!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAMNET Report 4 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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