HAMNET Report 3 September 2017

The World Wide Web this week has been flooded, if you’ll pardon my choice of words, by news of Hurricanes and Monsoon rains.

In Texas, one meteorologist estimated that by the time Hurricane Harvey subsides it will have dropped a mind-boggling 95 trillion litres of water across the state. Certain locations along the Gulf of Mexico are expected to see as much rain in a few short days as is typical in an entire year. Harvey has wrought havoc along the Texas Gulf Coast, just as meteorologists warned it would. The previous benchmark for flooding in an American city was Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, which dumped 40 inches of rain on Houston in five days, killing nearly two dozen people and causing $5 billion in damage. Harvey delivered as much rain as Allison in roughly half the time

Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES®) volunteers have been pitching in to support communication at some Red Cross shelters in south Texas in the ongoing aftermath of catastrophic and unprecedented flooding resulting from Hurricane Harvey, now a Tropical Depression. ARES members also have been serving as net control liaisons to the Harris County Office of Emergency Management (OEM). At mid-week, some 3 dozen volunteers were assisting at shelters. Another dozen were on tap to serve as OEM liaisons. ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U, said the Red Cross is in need of Red Cross-trained shelter managers and volunteer management specialists.

A variety of emergency, health-and-welfare traffic, and tactical nets in south Texas have been active on HF at various times of the day as well as on a wide array of VHF and UHF repeaters, which remain available as needed. On August 31st, the National Hurricane Centre reported that flooding rains were continuing across far eastern Texas and western Louisiana, with heavy rainfall expected to spread north-eastward through the lower Mississippi Valley and into the Tennessee Valley over the next day or two. ARES volunteers are on standby in Louisiana.

Earlier this week, ARES team members were advised that the impact to the region’s communications infrastructure had been relatively minimal, considering the strength of the storm and the magnitude of the flooding. The storm did ravage cellular service in some Texas counties, however, especially Aransas (84%) and Refugio (73%) counties, the FCC reported. Overall, however, the FCC deemed the cellular system 95% functional.

ARRL South Texas Public Information Officer Mike Urich, KA5CVH, told ARRL on August 30th that “hardening” of the telecommunications infrastructure to make it more immune to storm damage had diminished the need for Amateur Radio communication support and altered hams’ traditional role there. Urich pointed out, however, that the Amateur Radio telecommunications infrastructure in South Texas has remained analogue, as “the lowest common denominator” of technology — VHF/UHF FM, and HF — and has the highest degree of interoperability. “That’s what we train to, that’s what we teach, that’s what we practice,” he said. Urich said the area’s extensive system of repeaters makes it possible for local radio amateurs to serve as “another set of eyes and ears” in spotting and reporting problems that may require official attention.

320, or 4%, of the 7,804 cell sites in the region were out of service, the WSJ reported. And although most cell towers have backup batteries, they only last about 8 hours, and if they’re flooded or their equipment is blown away, they’re toast.

On the government side, FEMA does have an app to push information about disaster preparedness, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the FCC is working to protect communications networks, monitoring outages, working with the Department of Homeland Security and state and local partners, and has activated the Disaster Information Reporting System.

Thank you to the ARRL and many American News agencies for these details.

Another Hurricane, this one called “Irma” is starting to be felt in the Atlantic and predictions forecast that this storm will be heading toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Meanwhile, across the globe, seasonal monsoon rain has inundated the Eastern side of India, with the major affected area being most of the Bihar state villages. National Coordinator for Disaster Communication in India, Jayu S. Bhide VU2JAU, reports that HAMS from East Bengal and Patna were in action passing messages during the flooding. 1300 deaths were reported and about 8 million people have been displaced. This kind of makes Hurricane Harvey seem mild, by comparison.

The emergency communications teams helped the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams. All HAMS assisted in controlling the communication on VHF mainly. The situation was brought under control, and the NDRF rescued most of the people identified by the HAMS in their message handling. The affected areas now mainly face a problem with drinking water as all the boring pumps are contaminated due to the flood. Fresh water and food packets are reaching the flood area. The monsoonal rain also affected neighbouring Bangladesh but no report on emergency communications from there has been provided.

Monsoon rains also hit early on Tuesday August 29 causing flooding in the Mumbai and Pune areas with immediate action by local HAMS helping out during the adverse weather. All traffic was disrupted, even local trains and buses were submerged and unable to move. Children stranded in a school were left hungry and the electricity also went off.

Satish Shah VU2SVS and Ankur Puranik VU2AXN and 50 HAMS involved arranging food and power for the school. The HAMs of Mumbai were in touch with each other, even those who don’t have a VHF transceiver. The ‘ZELLO app’ was used to connect those without suitable radio equipment to interface with a VHF HAM radio frequency. Many workers were stranded in their offices or at railway stations until midnight. Looking after the central railway in Mumbai were the Bharat Scouts & Guides that had undergone previous disaster communication training. The recent rain is likely to remain for a while, with schools and offices closed. All the HAMS are kept on alert by government and local bodies should their communications be needed

– Jim Linton VK3PC, Chairman IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee with Jayu S. Bhide VU2JAU National Coordinator for Disaster Communication in India.

As the saying goes “Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink!”

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