HAMNET Report 13 May 2018

Bad news out of the Democratic Republic of Congo this week is the announcement of a new outbreak of Ebola. Of 32 potential cases reported, 2 are confirmed, 18 are probable and 12 are suspected cases. Eighteen of these people have died, though not all of them are confirmed to have had Ebola. All cases were reported from a single health facility, and 17 of them were shown to have had good contact with each other – in other words cases were not spontaneous and unrelated.

This is the eighth outbreak of Ebola in the last 40 years in DRC. The Ministry of Health has deployed rapid response teams to investigate cases, one million dollars has been mobilized by the World Health Organisation’s contingency fund for emergencies, and risk communications materials have been distributed in all the local languages.

To date, the outbreak seems to be geographically limited, but the population density makes the risks in the area high, and the lack of epidemiological and demographic information hampers an estimation of the magnitude of the epidemic.

I asked Dave Higgs ZS2DH, the organiser of last week’s blackout exercise, to send me an informal report about the 24 hour exercise held over the weekend. He writes:

“It is very easy to put together a bunch of messages and then expect a bunch of other people to give up their time, drag their equipment out of the shack and spend a long (and at times cold) 24 hours sending these messages around the country. Well I did the easy part. A bunch of very willing people gave up valuable family time to undertake training and for that a big thank you is due to them and their families. Clearly not everyone needed training, but the old hands were there showing the ropes and that was also appreciated.

Comments made after the event point to everyone having fun and noting the professionalism of the other teams. In spite of some pressure periods, everyone maintained a polite, courteous, and professional air about them. Another common comment in the various emails is that a lot was learned – and that was ultimately the goal.

What stood out for me was the participation and enthusiasm with which the event took place. 11 teams from around the country took part – each with both a VHF and an HF team!

Digital modes were given a try and perhaps warrant more attention as part of our “out of the box” emergency field stations.”

Thank you, Dave, and to you also for the huge amount of work you put into organising the event.

From our perspective, we in the Cape received messages by electronic means at our VHF station, which required us either to send, or request, information from stations elsewhere in the country. Our VHF station then contacted our HF station by VHF, UHF, or even digital means, with a message to send, or information to request, from other stations via HF means. Being so far from the rest of the country, we were at a disadvantage, and suffered from poor propagation at various times during the event. There was a lot of fading on the bands, and 40 and later 80 metres was all we could use. I’m sure the other divisions had similar problems, but were often able to relay on our behalf because of their relative proximity to each other. During the lulls, our HF and VHF stations tested out various digital modes between each other, which proved to be useful experience. So all was not lost in Cape Town. ZS2 and ZS4 stations seemed to be heard the best here, though fade often prevented us from completing the message transfer.

I look forward to another exercise like this, but hope Dave Higgs can get the ionosphere working properly before then!

In a mail from Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, Regional Director of HAMNET KZN, we have been informed that “In an effort to improve local co-ordination of members living on the lower South Coast who are not in range of our local 2M repeaters, Sid Tyler ZS5AYC, has kindly agreed to take on the role of, and I have accordingly appointed him as, an Assistant Provincial Director in KZN.  My thanks to Sid in also putting a team together that participated in the recent Blackout exercise.”

Congratulations, Sid, I can’t think of a better candidate! What Sid doesn’t know about radio operations off the grid and in the wild could be written on the back of a postage stamp!

Keith also mentions that he has discovered that only a third of his members were reachable by the email addresses he had on the portal. The rest of the messages all bounced back with error strings. He asks all KZN members to update their details on the portal, and volunteers his services in getting everyone connected again.

Good luck in getting that fixed quickly, Keith!

And in a deliciously sad story from Poland, The New York Times reports that a horse and trailer overturned on a highway, spilling tons of hot liquid chocolate over six lanes on the N2 motorway, blocking traffic in both directions!

Rescue officials said the chocolate was solidifying as it cooled, and would require large amounts of hot water to clear away! I reckon they should have declared a school holiday in the country and sent all the kids there with spoons. The mess would have been cleared up in no time at all! Why don’t we get disasters like that in our country?!

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