An Amateur Radio Emergency Network activated as Hurricane Lorenzo approached the Azores — an autonomous region of Portugal in the Atlantic. Amateur Radio volunteers worked with the government and emergency response teams, using VHF and UHF repeaters, HF, and Amateur Radio satellite. A request was issued for stations to yield to any emergency traffic coming in and out of the Azores (CU, CQ8, CR8, CS8 and CT8 prefixes).
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) in the US reported that a hurricane warning was in effect for Flores, Corvo, Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Graciosa, and Terceira islands. Lorenzo, a Category 2 storm, was maintaining its strength as it headed toward the Azores, where it was expected to bring hurricane conditions to some areas early on Wednesday.
Lorenzo at one point was a Category 5 storm, the first ever recorded as far north and east in the Atlantic.
As of 18h00 UTC on Tuesday, Hurricane Lorenzo was some 385 miles southwest of Flores with maximum sustained winds of 160 kph, moving to the northeast at 40 kph.
Radio amateurs established HF inter-island links on 80, 40, and 20 meters — 3760, 3770, and 3750 kHz; 7110, 7100, and 7060 kHz; and 14 300, 14 310, and 14 320 kHz. The 20-meter frequencies were designated for communications with stations outside of the Azores.
Over the weekend, AMSAT-NA received a request from radio amateurs involved with emergency communications in the Azores to forgo operation of the AO-92 satellite this week. They asked that AO-92 remain in U/v to handle potential emergency traffic, with passes covering the Azores and Portugal the most critical.
Thanks to the ARRL News for this precis of their statement.
From Matt Hamblen, writing in FierceElectronics, comes the story of Pedro Cruz, who spent weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in September 2017 helping bring food and water to people trapped in remote areas.
He quickly realized he could use an airborne drone to help, using its video connection to read dozens of messages painted on the ground asking rescue crews to bring water, food or medicine.
It wasn’t until nearly a year after the hurricane devastated the island territory in September 2017 that Cruz figured out a way to connect his drone to disaster aid through a computerized visual recognition tool.
Almost by luck, he said in an interview with FierceElectronics, he learned about an IBM Call for Code hackathon being held in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, in August 2018. Developers were asked to find tech solutions for natural disaster preparedness, and as a self-taught developer, Cruz decided to join up.
Cruz ended up winning first place at the hackathon for a tool he introduced and later developed into DroneAid.
It uses visual recognition to detect and count emergency icons like SOS on the ground from video streams overhead. Then, it automatically plots the emergency needs on a map for first responders.
Following the hackathon, Cruz further developed DroneAid and later became a full-time developer advocate for IBM. On Wednesday, IBM also made DroneAid an open source project as part of its Code and Response initiative, a $25 million program to encourage development of open source technology designed to address global problems like disaster relief.
“Our team decided to open source DroneAid because I feel it’s important to make this technology available to as many people as possible,” Cruz said in a blog posted on Wednesday.
As a freelance web developer, he couldn’t reach clients for weeks after Maria hit. Just afterwards, he used his drone to locate his grandmother who waved from outside her isolated home that she was doing OK. Two weeks after the storm passed, “we would go out to the mountains in the centre of island and it still looked like the hurricane had passed just two days earlier…That’s where the inspiration for DroneAid came from. With a tool like this we can make our response a lot faster and many organizations can go out and help.”
Weeks after the hurricane passed, Cruz’s grandmother was hospitalized with a respiratory condition and later died. He later dedicated DroneAid to her memory.
Cruz plans to work from the bottom-up to get more people trained on using drones for emergency response. He has also worked top-down and has reached out to San Juan officials and the Red Cross. He hopes to talk to leaders in other cities about drone responses for all kinds of natural disasters.
One discovery Cruz made early on was that artificial intelligence computer vision systems needed to read a standard set of icons asking for assistance instead of reading handwritten messages on the ground in various languages through optical character recognition. He settled on eight different icons – such as SOS, OK, food, water, medicine – drawn from a recognized set of icons used by the United Nations. They can be printed on mats that are distributed prior to a storm or spray-painted or drawn by hand.
Cruz explained that a drone can survey an area for the icons placed on the ground by people in need or community groups. As DroneAid detects and counts the images, they are plotted on a map in a Web dashboard to help first responders prioritize needs. The AI model has to be trained on the standard icons to be able to detect them in low light and faded conditions.
When the AI model is applied to the live stream of images coming from the drone, each video frame is analysed and, if any emergency icons are found, their location is captured and plotted on a map. Any drone that can capture a video stream can be used.
The Disasters Emergency Committee tells us they launched the Cyclone Idai Appeal on 21st March 2019, after the cyclone swept through Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, leaving behind a trail of destruction. Across the three countries, at least 900 people were killed and around three million were left in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.
Just a few weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth followed, further weakening Mozambique’s ability to respond to the destruction. This was the first time in recorded history that two strong tropical cyclones hit Mozambique in the same season, further weakening the country’s ability to respond to the destruction caused by Idai.
Idai brought strong winds and widespread flooding, ripping apart roads, bridges, houses, schools, and health facilities and submerging vast swathes of agricultural land.
With the aid effort fully underway, DEC charities, working closely with national partners to support government-led relief efforts, are prioritising the delivery of clean water, and building toilets and handwashing facilities to tackle the outbreak of cholera. They are also delivering emergency shelter materials and blankets, foods such as pulses and maize flour, and urgent health assistance. Focusing on longer-term food security and rehabilitation of livelihoods is paramount and some members are already providing seeds and tools to communities.
The DEC fundraising appeal raised £43 million in all, a tidy sum indeed!
This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.