HAMNET Report 31 December 2107


The ARRL News reports that Philippines Amateur Radio Association’s (PARA) Ham Emergency Radio Operations (HERO) volunteers assisted with emergency communication support in the wake of two severe weather events. Tropical Storm Kai-tak — known locally as Urduja — hit first in the central Philippines on December 16, leaving dozens dead and forcing others to evacuate. It was followed on December 22 by the more-severe Tropical Storm Tembin — known locally as Vinta — which caused significant damage and claimed some 200 lives in the southern Philippines. Hundreds more are reported missing.

Roberto “JoJo” Vicencio, DU1VHY, said HERO volunteers provided HF coordination through a national emergency net at 7.095 MHz. In addition, local clubs embedded with government responders used designated channels and club frequencies. According to Vicencio, TS Kai-Tak ravaged the Central Visayas area, holding in place for nearly 3 days.

“Much rain was dumped in the Samar and Tacloban areas of the Central Visayas region,” he said. “In situations like this, most radio amateurs in the affected areas fold into the government’s regional/provincial disaster risk-reduction management offices to consolidate the actions of the amateur and civic groups as well as the military and police forces.”

Just two days later, TS Tembin threatened the southern island of Mindanao. HERO reported that it was ready for the storm and able to mobilize the assets of radio amateurs and civic communications group as well as of police and armed forces.

Vicencio reported that the wind strength and volume of rains inundated Mindanao, taking a direct east-to-west path. Residential areas were hit by flooding, and many lost their lives after being trapped indoors by the fast-rising waters. The flooding also took out bridges and roads and devastated farm fields,

“There was a shortage of communications too,” Vicencio reported. “Many major transportation arteries were affected, further stranding others who tried to escape.”

This is said to be just the start of the annual adverse weather season in the Philippines, but Vicencio said the HERO Network is prepared. — Thanks to Jim Linton, VK3PC, Chair, IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee for these notes.

Vietnam was next in line to be lashed by Tropical Storm Tembin, and authorities in Vietnam prepared to move a million people from low-lying areas along the south coast on Monday (Dec 25) as the typhoon approached. Vietnam’s disaster prevention committee said 74,000 people had been moved to safety from vulnerable areas, while authorities in 15 provinces and cities were prepared to move more than one million.

The government ordered that oil rigs and vessels be protected and it warned that about 62,000 fishing boats should not venture out to sea.

“Vietnam must ensure the safety of its oil rigs and vessels. If necessary, close the oil rigs and evacuate workers,” Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was quoted as saying on a government website.

Schools were ordered to close in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City on Monday, a working day in Vietnam.

The Journal Gazette reported yesterday that Over 250 ultra-marathoners from around the country gathered at Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Albion for The HUFF 50K Trail Run. The 30-mile event on a wooded trail has attracted runners for over 20 years to northeast Indiana.

Other runners did the three-person 50K relay, and some a single loop of about 17K.

The race started at 8 a.m. for the one loop and first-leg relay runners, and the 50K began at 8:15 a.m.

Volunteers from the Amateur Radio Emergency Service provided safety and communications. Aid stations about every 3 miles provided sustenance, water and a safety check. The heated main tent at the Sand Lake beach house served hot soup and other refreshments to runners who had completed the course. Doesn’t that sound strange – serving hot soup after a race? We don’t need to do that here!

All evidence that emcomm volunteers don’t stop when the holidays start.

Local evidence of amateur involvement in the community comes from Chad Mileham, who reported on Rory ZS6RBJ’s write-up of a chainsaw massacre of a sort. It all started when a huge tree fell in bad weather and blocked the north-bound lane at the S-bend on  Christiaan de Wet Road, Constantia Kloof, Johannesburg. A call for help was sent out, and picked up by the Gauteng South chaps, and Nico Vorster came to the rescue with his trusty chainsaw. With supervision and help from Chad ZS6OPS and Rory ZS6RBJ, the obstruction was cleared. Read all about it on the Hamnet FaceBook page, where this and other bulletins are posted regularly. Subscribe and be notified of any HAMNET reports as they arise in this manner. We welcome your subscriptions there. Thank you to Chad for posting the report.

And so we draw to the end of the year. HAMNET has played a role in activities of one or other sort in all the provinces of the country, and proved our worth everywhere. Sports events, rescues, rallies, and cycle tours have all been grist to our mill, and many a time we have stood by, but not been needed in the end. HAMNET salutes all of you who have been willing to volunteer your time and your valuable radio equipment to make these things possible and safe for the community.

This also marks the end of my third year providing you with these bulletins. I hope you have gained some advantage from listening to them or reading them, and I look forward to continuing in the future. May I finish by wishing each and every one of you, radio operator or not, a very successful and happy 2018, with good health and prosperity in all that you do.

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

HAMNET Report 24 December 2017

The Philippines have been hammered by Tropical Cyclone TEMBIN-17, since Tuesday, and landslides and flooding have claimed many lives. The storm has winds of about 225kph, which have battered the Southern Islands of Philippines, and are now threatening Vietnam as I write this. The tropical storm left more than 133 people dead and 50000 others displaced, mostly due to landslides, and damaged more than 10,000 houses in the central Philippines before weakening and blowing into the South China Sea. The storm drenched Quezon province, on the southern tip of northern Luzon island.

Here’s a good news story from the weekly ARRL Letter of the 21st December. Inveterate inventor and radio amateur Eric Knight, KB1EHE, may be on the cusp of medical history as a device he developed in collaboration with a prominent Alzheimer’s disease researcher enters clinical trials this month. Both are hoping that the device, which essentially saturates the brain with low levels of RF, may prove to be a viable treatment for the dreaded disease affecting millions.

“Sometimes breakthroughs happen in ways that are unexpected,” Knight told ARRL.

Knight learned of experiments that world-renowned Alzheimer’s researcher Dr. Gary Arendash was carrying out on mice specially bred to have the disease, exposing them to low levels of RF. Knight said the effects were dramatic, sometimes even reversing the disease’s effects in the mice. Borrowing some concepts from his early experiments with small rockets and avionics, he set about developing, and later patented, a device that could provide the requisite RF exposure to the human head”In the early 2000s, we were trying to figure out then how to make antennas that would wrap around the airframes of the rockets we were designing,” he said, noting that the diameter of his group’s space vehicle was about the same as that of a human head.

Knight learned that Arendash was attempting to extend his investigations in a similar vein, and eventually they collaborated.”He came at it from mice and science, I came at it from an aerospace and hobby perspective,” said Knight, who patented a device based on a bicycle-type helmet. At the same time, Arendash was developing a similar wearable — a fabric cap resembling an old-time aviator’s headgear. Both devices are embedded with small antennas to bathe the brain in electromagnetic radiation in the 900 MHz spectrum set aside for Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) applications — some 100 MHz higher than a cell phone’s frequency.

“Ironic for sure,” Knight said. “Who would imagine that cell phone radio waves could be a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease?”

Knight, who has no medical background, said the device to be used in the clinical trials consists of the cap plus a palm-sized transmitter and wiring harness worn on the arm. The resulting combination has been dubbed the NeuroEM 1000. Participants will get doses of RF twice a day.

From the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) standpoint, the clinical trials aim primarily to show that the technology is safe, but Knight said he and Arendash are also looking for data that might demonstrate that the device could be beneficial in treating Alzheimer’s. The protocol they’ve developed goes further than what the FDA requires and includes before-and-after baseline data, with cognitive testing, assays of spinal fluid and blood, and PET scans.

“The hope is that there is a tiny bit of efficacy. Then we can work to refine it,” Knight said, adding, “No one is expecting a magic cure.”

Thank you to the ARRL for that story.

As this edition of the HAMNET Report goes to print, we have just heard the sad news of the passing of that great stalwart of communications assistance in the Western Cape for many decades, Bernie Crockford, ZS1BW (usually referred to as “ZS1BoereWors”). Bernie had that magnificent way of being everyone’s “Elmer”, and he never rejected pleas for help with communications. He was also renowned for his “boer-maak-‘n-plan” way of creating all sorts of wizard gadgets and little projects that he would proudly show at meetings, astonishing all with his creativity. He has been in poor health for some years now, and off the air, but his sense of humour and presence will continue to be felt, even if he is not physically with us. Our sincere condolences to his wife Sylvia and his family. Rest in peace, Bernie.

The HAMNET year has wound down, and, apart from rescues taking place in various locations which require radio comms standby, the average HAMNET member is sitting back, and basking in the knowledge that he put his experience to use during the year, providing safety and efficacy to a variety of sporting events. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of you, on behalf of the National and Regional Directors, for your volunteerism and dedication during the year. I’d also like to thank the Directors on your behalf, for their willingness to get stuck in to the dirty work of keeping the regions running. There are many people around the country, who would have been far worse off now, if it weren’t for all your willing assistance and helping hands. I hope that you will all have a brilliant holiday, and Merry Christmas, where appropriate, and a rejuvenation which will keep the spark of enthusiasm going in 2018. No matter in which way the electronics revolution moves, there will always be a place for men and women to come to the party and assist when communications are needed. Please be one of them!

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

HAMNET Report 17 December 2017

Greg Mossop, G0DUB has reported to IARU Region One agencies that Tilen S56CT reported the activation of Radio Amateurs in Slovenia last Saturday after heavy snow caused damage in a small region in Slovenia, Zasavje, affecting about 20000 citizens. Electrical power lines were down and consequently internet and phone networks. A lot of roads were also blocked due to fallen trees.

A large part of the major town, Trbovlje  lost electrical power, including the 112 Emergency Call receiving station. Calls from the public were transferred from Zasavje  region to the Call receiving station in  Ljubljana. Slovenian call centres are also dispatch centres, so this increased their workload dispatching teams outside their normal area.

A few hours after the breakdown, operators from the regional Emergency Communications group S50ATR (Trbovlje) organised themselves to offer help with redundancy communications between the centres in Trbovlje and Ljubljana. The Centre in Trbovlje was very happy to accept the help, so Matjaz S57MK and Roman S56HVF immediately went to Trbovlje with enough charged radios for the professional communications, using Winlink through packet radio P2P connection to a local radio club which had a satellite internet connection and reliable electricity. Also communication through the FM/DMR repeater system was established and has served as a link between Trbovlje and Ljubljana. In Ljubljana the S50ALJ regional team has also been activated to assist NC112 in Ljubljana using the S55DHF FM/DMR wide coverage repeater.

Zasavje region is known for its mountainous terrain and difficult radio coverage. Amateur Radio provides 3 repeater locations in that region along with a packet radio node on a TV tower, satellite internet at the radio club S59DOR in Trbovlje and of course HF with Pactor and Winmor, for Winlink. All good examples of the diversity that amateur radio can bring to emergency communications.

Thanks Greg.

The ARRL Newsletter issued on Friday reports that, since its start on December 4, the massive and only partially contained Thomas Fire in Southern California had consumed nearly 240,000 acres by mid-week, destroyed more than 700 single-family residences and threatened thousands more, and caused residents in fire-threatened areas to evacuate. Amateur Radio volunteers had been supporting communication for American Red Cross shelter sites in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, passing traffic between evacuation centres. One of several fires that broke out across Southern California, the Thomas Fire is far and away the largest. The Ventura County Auxiliary Communication Service (ACS)/Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) Net activated on December 5, “as smoke filled the air, and the fire grew to catastrophic proportions,” said Ray Smith, KI6VED, who volunteered with his wife Jade, KI6VFQ. Their home was included in an evacuation order.

“The worst night for the crew at Nordhoff came Wednesday, December 6, when the fire surrounded the Town of Ojai on three sides,” Smith explained. “The incident commander decided to shelter in place, instead of trying to move 250 refugees out on the only open exit, which was sometimes closed.”

Smith told ARRL that several fire vehicles dispatched to Nordhoff High School, a shelter site, taking up positions around the campus, and fire fighters stood guard by classrooms, opened to accommodate evacuees sleeping in their cars, some with their pets. “They were warned that if the trucks sounded their air horns, they were to pick up the [pet] cages and run for shelter on campus immediately,” Smith said. “The flames moved East to West along Nordhoff Ridge, with an army of fire fighters retreating before them. For a time, the radio operators, like everyone else, did not know what would happen to them.” Smith said the fire passed within 2 miles of the shelter location. Radio amateurs also deployed to the Ventura County Emergency Operations Centre. ARRL Ventura County District Emergency Coordinator Rob Hanson, W6RH, said the ACS/ARES volunteers staffed four evacuation centres, in addition to the EOC.
Santa Barbara Section Manager Jim Fortney, K6IYK, told ARRL that an Amateur Radio digital network (ARDN) MESH video network live-streamed video from several sites. “Loss of primary power has required using the solar power backup capabilities, but, unfortunately, the heavy smoke has made that backup less than fully reliable,” he said. In addition some sites are down because of power outages, and at least one hilltop site was overrun by fire. In addition to power loss to repeater sites, solar panels charging off-grid batteries have been affected by the huge plumes of smoke blocking them.

As of mid-week, FEMA reported, evacuation orders remained in effect for more than 93,000 residents, although shelter occupancy was down to about 300. A boil water advisory has been issued for Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.Thank you to the ARRL report for these excerpts from their weekly news.

Dam levels in the Western Cape continue their dismal drift to empty, with their levels on average 34.2% full, down by 0.9 percentage points on last week. We’ve had a fairly hot week, with intense South-Easters most of the week, which always go with heavy rain in the North East of the country. Water usage in the City of Cape Town’s jurisdiction remains too high at 628 million litres a day, desalination plants are about to come on line, water is starting to flow from boreholes being drilled, but Mr Average Capetonian seems unable to get his personal usage down to less than 87 litres a day. With the prospects for rain in the next four months very slim, it looks like Cape Town’s taps will run dry in May next year. That will result in 25 litres per person being issued per day from collection points around the Peninsula, which will prove an enormous inconvenience to all peoples in all suburbs. If any of you listening have particularly successful rain dances, please contact the author urgently!

Here’s a sobering thought to end with: Do twins ever realise that one of them was unplanned?

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

HAMNET Report 10 December 2017

Thousands of KwaZulu-Natal residents, armed with sieves, have united in a bid to rid its coastline of a toxic threat that has contaminated its water and endangered its beaches and marine life.

People have volunteered their time to collect billions of little white plastic pellets called nurdles, which have infested beaches from Richards Bay on the North Coast right through to the South Coast. So widespread is the problem, that it has even hit Port St John’s in Eastern Cape. The total quantity of nurdles is estimated to weigh 49 tons.

The nurdles have the ability to absorb pollutants that are harmful to both marine life and humans if consumed.

“Nurdles never disappear, but merely break down into smaller and smaller fragments. Both the nurdles and the toxins they have absorbed can enter the food chain, as they are eaten by fish and other marine animals,” according to the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (Saambr).

The disaster started when a container containing a cargo of nurdles was swept off a ship in Durban Harbour during devastating storms in October.

According to The Independent, Di Jones from the Dolphin Coast Conservancy warned that the pollution was “comparable to an oil spill. There is a disaster in the making”.

So far, less than 5% of the nurdles that were swept into the sea have been recovered, according to East Coast Radio. Nurdle Clean-up’s Caroline Reid told the station this week that it was “scary” that they had collected such a small fraction.

“We’re mobilising more people. Local and government bodies have been great in mobilising crews,” she said.

The environmental affairs department, while acknowledging and praising clean-up efforts to date, has urged coastal communities to continue pitching in to clean the affected beaches.

“The department therefore would like to commend all persons involved in the response to the incident to date. Members of the public are encouraged to join in and to contribute toward the protection of the coast,” said environmental affairs minister Dr Edna Molewa.

As a follow-up to the insert of a few weeks ago, referring to the levels of radioactive Ruthenium-106, nearly 1000 times higher than normal, I can confirm that  scientists using sophisticated climate modelling technology, pinpointed the site where the radiation originated. These experts pointed directly to a site in the South Ural mountains in Russia as the probable location.

The site of the radiation spike is conveniently located at what The Guardian calls a “secretive Russian nuclear facility” named Mayak, which was the home of the top secret Russian nuclear bomb program in the late 1940’s.

On November 21, Russia acknowledged the radiation spike was true, and admitted they’d also detected a 986 times increase in the radioactive isotope near the suspected leak site. It remains to be seen what effect the radiation has on biology.

And, on a related subject, Rodina Energy Group and Enerparc Ag will be working on a $1.2 million project that places one megawatt worth of solar panels in close proximity to the deactivated Chernobyl reactor. Both companies are capitalizing on the Ukrainian government redeveloping and offering around 1,000 square miles of the land for cheap. While the area isn’t safe for farming, it creates an ideal situation for renewable energy, as power lines are still connected in the evacuated zone.

“Bit by bit we want to optimize the Chernobyl zone,” Evgeny Variagin, CEO of Rodina Energy, told Bloomberg. “It shouldn’t be a black hole in the middle of Ukraine. Our project is over 300 feet from the reactor.” Rodina has installed 150 megawatts worth of solar panels in their portfolio.

Both Rodina and Enerparc could develop up to 100 megawatts at Chernobyl. The Ukrainian firms aren’t the only energy companies that are developing in the area. According to Bloomberg, companies from France and China are interested in building solar farms on the redeveloped land. In particular, Engie SA in France is “conducting a pre-feasibility test with a gigawatt-sized project in mind.” It’s been a study since last July to see if the project could work.

Now, let me tell you about the Rooster, which is a new robot from Israeli start-up RoboTiCan that can help reach injured victims of natural disasters where it’s not safe to send a human rescue worker.

Rooster got its name from the fowl’s preference for walking but being able to fly when necessary, Ofir Bustan, RoboTiCan’s COO, told ISRAEL21c. “Most of the time it walks, but when it runs into an obstacle, it can hover and fly.”

That makes Rooster different from most other search-and-rescue robots, which can either walk or fly but not both – meaning they can get stuck or are too high above the ground to search effectively for survivors.

RoboTiCan’s highly manoeuvrable Rooster is one tough bird. The 30-by-40-centimeter robot rolls inside a metal “cage,” which allows it “to take some pretty hard hits,” Bustan says. “It can crash from six meters high and keep on working.”

It’s the robot’s communications that really sets it apart, Bustan explains. A team of Roosters, which can be deployed simultaneously by a single operator, set up their own independent “wireless mesh network” so they can talk to each other and the operator over a distance of hundreds of meters. No need for a cellular connection, which may be offline anyway in a disaster situation.

The operator can also send out a single Rooster and, when it reaches as far into the disaster zone as its communications will carry, send a second Rooster out. The signals will be relayed back to the operator piggyback style. Clever indeed!

HAMNET Western Cape’s end-of-year function was enjoyed by a group of regulars who gathered at the Observatory in Cape Town for a bring and braai on Wednesday evening, at which Grant Southey ZS1GS, Western Cape Regional Director, presented certificates of appreciation to the members, and acknowledged their contributions to the comms needed during the year. Your writer joins him in congratulating these members of HAMNET Western Cape.

Finally, a thought for the day: 100 years ago everyone owned a horse and only the rich had cars. Today everyone has cars and only the rich own horses!

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

HAMNET Report 3 December 2017

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, HAMNET”s KZN Provincial Director, has reported the sudden and unexpected  passing of Des Mullen ZS5DDM. Des was a Fireman by profession, but also an active HAMNET member and committee member of the Midlands Amateur Radio Club. We extend HAMNET’s deepest sympathies to his family and friends on their sad loss.

What do selfies from the South Pole have to do with deep space missions? Quite a lot, actually. David Szondy, reporting in New Atlas on Wednesday reported that, on Monday November 20, NASA used a selfie taken outside Antarctica’s McMurdo Station at the bottom of the world and sent to the International Space Station to show off a new technology called Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN). This communication technology will allow spacecraft far from Earth to communicate with mission control using an interplanetary version of the internet.

The internet is an excellent way of moving data from one part of the world to another, but it does have its limitations. One of these is that it’s designed with the assumption that it’s connections from point A to point B can be kept uninterrupted or, if it is broken and can’t be established by another route, it’s possible to restart sending the data packets.

That’s fine on Earth where there are trillions of potential connections across the information superhighway, but deep space missions usually rely on one data link that can be interrupted by distance, the Sun getting in the way, or plain bad luck. If that one link is broken, important mission telemetry and other data can be lost forever. So, though internet technology is very useful for space communications, it does need some important tweaking.

This is where McMurdo and DTN come in. With its remoteness, high latitudes, stormy weather, and scant infrastructure, Antarctic data transmission suffers from demand exceeding capacity and the constant threat of information being lost due to outages. It’s a pain, but it also makes places like the South Pole a perfect analogue for trying to stay in touch with a Mars rover or a Jupiter orbiter.

DTN sends information much the same way as the conventional internet does. Information is encoded and broken into packets, which are bundled and sent through the system to its destination. But, unlike the internet, if a connection isn’t available, DTN stores the bundle until communications are re-established. The bundles can then be sent and the file reconstructed at the destination.

For the demonstration, the selfie was taken with a smartphone camera and the DTN software sent the image file from the McMurdo ground station to NASA’s White Sands Complex using the repurposed Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS). When the transmission reached North America, a series of DTN nodes routed the data bundles to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, from which it was transmitted to the ISS using another TDRS link. On the space station, the bundles were collected by the TeleScience Resource Kit demonstration payload and a final DTN node reconstructed the image.

According to NASA, the open-source DTN technology can not only ensure secure communication links with spacecraft, but can also find applications on Earth – in Antarctica, but also in disaster areas and other places that suffer from disrupted communications.

“We’re cutting our teeth on this software, in real field conditions,” says Patrick Smith, technology development manager for polar research support with the US Antarctic Program. “The simplicity of transmitting from a smart-phone could have significant implications for increasing and diversifying the science we support in the polar regions. This represents a vision of how our remote autonomous field research instrumentation might operate one day.”

This could be used by HAMNET too.

HAMNET Western Cape will be holding its end of year function this Wednesday evening the 6th of December at the South African Astronomical Observatory, with fires lit at 17h30, and the members hopefully presenting themselves there at about 18h00 or so. There will be no business discussed, except for the report by the Regional Director Grant Southey ZS1GS, and the meeting will take the form of a bring-and-braai. We look forward to seeing all Western Cape’s HAMNET members there!

With schools breaking up this week, families who have early leave will be travelling to start their holidays from the end of this week. If you’re one of the holiday makers, please drive carefully, and, if you’re staying at home, please leave your radios on and tuned to your local emergency VHF or HF frequency, to be available if anyone needs help .

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