HAMNET Report 25th October 2020

Oliver Schlag, DL7TNY, head of Germany’s Ham Emergency Comms network, has announced that the exercise planned to take place in Germany and 5 surrounding countries from 13th to 15th November, has been cancelled, because of the increasing second wave of Covid-19 cases sweeping Europe now. For the same reason, Jan Rozema, PA0NON, in the Netherlands, has announced that their planned nationwide exercise of 31st October has also been called off.

New cases of coronavirus disease are increasing at alarming rates in Europe, but fortunately, the death rate is much less than it was in April and May. This may be because a different age group of people is contracting the virus now, namely the young, and their infection fatality rate is much lower than in the elderly. Time will tell whether this death rate starts escalating later. In the meantime, be aware that the Northern Hemisphere is entering its winter season, during which the epidemic has the potential to get much worse, and that most amateur radio activities there will be cancelled or postponed until their next summer.

However, in America, the Nationwide Red Cross Emergency Communications Fall Drill will be a joint exercise with ARES set for November 14th, an evolution of the highly successful Spring Drill that had hundreds of participants from some 40 states and Puerto Rico.

The Fall Drill will be a Winlink-specific event with the following goals: (1) to pass traditional Red Cross (ARC) forms from as many states and as many radio amateurs as possible to one of six Divisional Clearinghouses; and (2) to bring as many radio operators as possible up to a “basic” level of Winlink proficiency. To prepare, there has been a twelve-week series of Winlink Workshops held each Thursday at 0100Z on Zoom.

Winlink Proficiency Goals have been written, a Winlink Technical Support Team has been formed, and Metrics for Drill Success have been developed. The proficiency goals are established as a training guideline and reference online training resources. Many hams new to Winlink should find these resources helpful.

Over 300 radio amateurs have signed up for the event and more than a hundred were on a Briefing Call on October 5. There will be one other Briefing Call, in early November. This event is open to all radio amateurs. Although the ARES Letter of 21st October doesn’t say as much, I expect that this will be a virtual drill, with social distancing maintained.

In similar vein, Skywarn Recognition Day on 5th December will run from amateur’s homes. Since 1999, the annual SKYWARN™ Recognition Day has celebrated the long relationship between the amateur community and the National Weather Service programme. The purpose of the event is to recognize amateurs for the vital public service they perform during times of severe weather and to strengthen the bond between radio amateurs and their local National Weather Service office. The event is co-sponsored by the ARRL and the National Weather Service.

Normally each year, radio amateurs participate from home stations and from stations at National Weather Service (NWS) forecast offices with the goal of making contact with as many offices as possible. However, this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, participation from NWS forecast offices will be minimal at best. The focus will shift to contacting as many SKYWARN trained spotters as possible during the event.

Thank you to the ARES Letter for these last two reports.

Social media channels like Twitter and Facebook can hammer people with unreliable information in the wake of a disaster, a University of Canterbury (UC) Ph.D. student has found.

Bipulendra Adhikari, who worked as a journalist in Nepal following the deadly 2015 earthquakes there, is now a Ph.D. student in UC’s Department of Media and Communications. His thesis is focused on disaster communications and how social media networks are used as a source of information.

He says the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how people can quickly become swamped by social media posts that are not based on science or facts.

“My research has found that people find it hard to judge trustworthiness of information when they are exposed to a huge amount at once. The World Health Organization has called this ‘infodemic’ a situation where it becomes difficult for people to determine what  a reliable and trustworthy source is, and what is just hearsay or part of conspiracy theories.”

In times of stress people are more vulnerable and less likely to think critically, he says.

“People tend to believe information during the uncertainty of a disaster situation that they wouldn’t under normal circumstances. Their past experiences, existing beliefs and networks of friends both on and off-line also influence their judgements of social media.”

It is very important in these traumatic situations that people are able to get clear, relevant information so they know what they need to do, he says. “Sometimes it can be critical for their personal safety and wellbeing.”

He says having an immediate response from government agencies in a disaster situation is of vital importance. “Rumours, hoaxes and conspiracy theories can fill the void if the government response is delayed.”

Governments also need to revise their strategies to accommodate the growing influence of social media.

“The best way to do this is with a ‘one-window’ approach where detailed information is provided from a single source, such as a regular press briefing where officials provide clear and accurate information that can also be shared on social media.”

However, he found that in Nepal the level of trust in the government dips as time passes after a disaster. “With the passage of time, people become more judgmental even in the government information as they have access to information from alternative sources, mostly through the media.”

Adhikari interviewed some of the millions of residents affected by earthquakes in 2015 while he was working in Kathmandu for Republica, an English-language daily newspaper.

He recently submitted his Ph.D. and hopes to find work in a field where he can help develop policies and plans for managing disasters. “I believe the impact of disaster can be minimized if people have access to effective communication in a timely manner. A good understanding of the social and economic effects of disaster is also helpful when formulating policies.”

Thank you to phys.org for this report.

His work affirms the principle “Information is Power”. If you know correctly what you’re dealing with, you can better mitigate the potential danger.

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

HAMNET Report 18th October 2020

The Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) isn’t only useful to emergency communications operations to help look for missing persons or establish the extent of a disaster.

The ARRL reports on the progress of amateur radio APRS balloons launched by 11 US schools on October 9 with the aim of flying around the world.

Eleven schools across the US launched these helium-filled balloons carrying amateur radio payloads on October 9. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum live-streamed the multiple launches. The balloons are trackable via ham radio on APRS (144.390 MHz FM or 144.340 MHz FM).

The lighter-than-air vehicles were intended to head east around the globe, although there’s no accounting for upper air currents. Altitudes were expected to be in the 6000– 8000 metre range, with the balloons taking a few days to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Some of the balloons are already out over the Atlantic, and one, the KS1LAS-1 balloon, launched from Washington, was reported over the Mediterranean on October 14, moving at a speedy 100km/h at an altitude of some 13000 metres.

I’m sure you will be able to view this frontrunner by logging in to aprs.fi and typing the balloon’s call-sign in to the search window.

In a previous bulletin, I mentioned the two airline pilots who consecutively reported a man flying a jetpack at about 300 metres above ground. Well, it has happened again, again near Los Angeles International airport, when a China Air flight crew spotted a bright object that looked like a man flying a jetpack, this time at 2000 metres above ground. The pilots were unable to confirm with certainty whether it was a jetpack-flyer, and a law-enforcement aircraft, which happened to be in the area, and which was asked to go and search the area, was unable to find the so-called UFO.

The pilots of an Emirates flight, about 13 miles behind the China Air flight, did not spot the object, so whether it was actually a man flying a jetpack, or perhaps some sort of drone that looked like that, has not been established.

The biggest problem will be that such small objects will likely not be visible on aircraft radar, and so could pose a potential collision risk to the airliners. The FBI and the FAA are apparently investigating the matter.

South Africa is hugely and justifiably proud of the fact that the major portion of the Square Kilometre Array of radio astronomy receivers is to be installed with epicentre near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape.

However, the SKA global headquarters is applying its mind to the problem of radio frequency interference (RFI) to its extremely sensitive radio telescope receivers, from satellite mega-constellations. They have done an analysis which quantifies this impact and identifies possible mitigations.

What mega-constellations of satellites, I hear you ask? Well, a certain lateral thinking American businessman with roots in South Africa is busy putting a constellation of 6400 satellites into low earth orbit, which will transmit signals within the frequency range covered by the Band 5b receivers of the SKA-Mid telescope array in South Africa. This band is one of seven planned for the array, and covers 8.3 to 15.4 GHz.

Further key points of the analysis are:

  • Without specific mitigation actions by the constellation operators, there is likely to be an impact on all astronomical observations in Band 5b.
  • This impact includes a loss of sensitivity in the frequency range used by the constellations, leading to astronomical observations in that range taking 70% longer.
  • The science impact is most significant for studies of molecular and atomic spectral lines in that range, including complex organic molecules; Class II methanol masers; and a wide range of extragalactic molecular lines.
  • Viable mitigation techniques identified by SKAO can reduce this impact on SKA-Mid by a factor of 10, if implemented by relevant satellite operators.
  • The SKA Organisation (SKAO) remains committed to minimising the loss of scientific discovery through all available avenues. SKAO will continue to work closely with industry on ways to minimise the damage caused by mega-constellation transmissions, and is looking forward to a positive response on these proposed solutions.

Due to their exquisite sensitivity, the two SKAO telescopes will be built in remote locations far away from artificial radio frequency interference. These locations enjoy legal protections, declared as national Radio Quiet Zones (RQZ), which protect them from ground-generated radio signals, such as mobile phones, broadcasting transmitters or Wi-Fi to name a few examples. However, the RQZ status provides no protection against interference from space-borne transmitters.

Radio transmissions from satellite constellations use a frequency range which has been in use by the satellite industry for many years. It sits within the range of frequency observed by the SKA-Mid band 5b receivers, and is immediately adjacent to an internationally protected radio astronomy band. However, radio astronomy has been able to continue to conduct observations in all these frequency ranges due to the small number of (visible) satellites and their fixed position in the sky, most of them being in geo-stationary orbit. The deployment of thousands of satellites in low earth orbit (LEO) will inevitably change the situation as astronomers now face a much larger number of fast-moving radio sources in the sky. Their orbits will be circular and at about 550 km above earth.

In a recent public statement, the CEO of the company deploying the mega-constellation of satellites said that they won’t be seen by anyone unless looking very carefully, and will have about zero impact on advancements in astronomy.

The SKAO study shows that, for radio telescopes in general and for SKA in particular, this is not the case, and specific mitigation actions will be needed to minimize this impact.

SKAO says that there is a possibility of damage to the front-ends of the Band 5b receivers; that strong interfering signals could saturate receive systems, and drown out all other signals; and that the continuous loss of receive sensitivity could impact all astronomical observations in Band 5b within the frequency range of the satellite’s transmissions, unless mitigating actions are implemented.

It may take SKA 70% longer time to acquire the information being investigated in the presence of the RF interference, says the Science Directorate of the SKAO.

Certainly cause for worry!

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

HAMNET Report 11th October 2020

Greg Mossop, G0DUB, has reported on the IARU Region One virtual meeting held 2 weeks ago. He notes that 17 countries were represented amongst the attendees. Attention was given to possible applications for space at 40 and 60 MHz for emergency communications. Time was spent discussing upcoming events and exercises, especially a German exercise from 13th to 15th November, and which will involve 5 countries.

Data modes are being explored, especially JS8Call, FSQ, ARDOP and GARIM on HF, and New Packet Radio using higher speed data modes if microwave mesh networks are not available. Discussion around software to use to dispatch operators to important sites took place, but no definite favourites were identified.

IARU Region One is very diverse, with large organizations of up to 1700 members in some countries, while others have 10 in their whole country. All areas reported that the number of active operators is far less than the number of registered operators.

Thank you, Greg, for allowing me to present these few notes.

Hamnet in the Western Cape was invited to participate in a City of Cape Town Disaster Simulation Exercise again this year, yet again practising the management of a nuclear power station disaster at Koeberg. This took place on Thursday the 8th, and we had operators stationed at Koeberg power station, as well as at the Disaster Management Centre at Goodwood. Our mobile UHF repeater was installed on a high site in Green point, and was accessible from both operations centres, while the 145.750 repeater on Kanonkop in Tygerberg was also used. Useful experience was gained, and valuable input from our operators provided to the City.

Tropical Cyclone Delta-20 has been threatening the Caribbean islands and the Bay of Mexico since Monday. Maximum windspeeds of up to 174 km/h were forecast, and Mexico, the US, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands were at greatest risk. By Wednesday the forecast was for 231km/h winds and more than a million lives under threat. The hurricane was expected to make landfall sometime on Friday night, our time and the Hurricane Watch Net started its watch operations at 12h00 zulu on Friday. We have watched with baited breath.

Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that Thailand’s communications authority, the NBCT Secretariat, and the Radio Amateur Society of Thailand (RAST), which is under the patronage of His Majesty the King, participated in a ceremony for His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn to present an advanced class amateur radio licence and the call-sign HS10A to His Majesty at Dusit Palace on the 24th of September 2020.

The Society, with the support of G Simon Radio Company Ltd also donated amateur radio equipment, being an Icom IC-7300 HF transceiver and an IC-9700 VHF/UHF transceiver, along with antennas and other equipment, to His Majesty the King. Amateur radio has been lucky enough to have royalty involved in many countries over the last 60 years or so, and the patronage of His Majesty in Thailand bodes well for the principles of, and regulations for, amateur radio there.

Writing in Radioworld, James E. O’Neal notes that, by the end of the 20th century’s second decade, three key elements were in place to fuel radio broadcasting: namely resonant circuitry, a practical means for generating a carrier wave, and methodology for impressing speech and music on that carrier.

These waited only for someone to combine them in an effective way.

A number of individuals — most notably Reginald Fessenden, Lee de Forest and Charles Herrold — had made varying attempts at broadcasting. None took root.

There was little effort to stimulate interest among the public. Early transmissions of speech and music were directed to radio amateurs. There also was little or no notification of how to “listen in.” Nor were there regular operating schedules, nor readily available receivers for the general public. Radio sets were marketed to commercial enterprises, the military and radio amateurs.

The First World War indirectly advanced radio broadcasting. After the war, the government lifted patent restrictions on various communication technologies including the vacuum tube, which allowed multiple companies to manufacture radio gear for the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Also, large numbers of young men received Signal Corps training in radio, providing a talent pool that would help fuel broadcasting’s launch.

Corporate developments in America, involving, amongst others, the giant Westinghouse, which melded in the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), became very complicated, but didn’t deter a young self-taught electronics engineer called Frank Conrad.  He had helped his company develop military radio gear, and he continued to experiment with radio on his own time through his amateur radio station. Conrad joined with many other pre-war “hams” in taking to the airwaves. However, he enjoyed an advantage not available to most of his fellow amateur operators: ready access to Westinghouse vacuum tubes.

This allowed Conrad to cobble up a radiotelephone transmitter based on Raymond Heising’s “constant current” modulation system. Tinkerer that he was, Conrad wished to monitor the performance of his station and appropriated the family phonograph as a source of audio while he stepped away to do listening tests.

Other “hams” heard the music and encouraged Conrad to provide more such “entertainment,” often requesting specific records. He soon tired of responding to individual requests and decided instead to air a “concert” on a regular basis. A local music store even began contributing new records in exchange for on-air “plugs.”

By the autumn of 1919, Conrad’s broadcasts were attracting an estimated audience of some 400 to 500. An area newspaper took interest in the activity, and a Pittsburgh department store began marketing inexpensive receivers to those wishing to enjoy Conrad’s music programs.

Westinghouse’s vice president, Harry P. Davis, took notice of the attention being generated by Conrad’s “wireless musicales,” and encouraged Conrad to continue his experimentation on company time, with the installation of a 100-Watt transmitting station at Westinghouse’s East Pittsburgh plant.

And so it was that the beginning of November 1920 marked the start of regular radio broadcasts from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, 100 years ago next month.

Thank you to Radioworld for excerpts from their article.

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

HAMNET Report 4th October 2020

Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) operators participated in the annual nationwide American Radio Relay League’s Simulated Emergency Test yesterday.

During the exercise, ARES groups established emergency communications to various locations throughout the counties to provide situation reports related to simulated emergencies in their states.

Voice and data communications were used by the ARES members with their portable ham radios and laptops on battery power. The annual Simulated Emergency Test exercise confirms the ability for ham radio operators to provide emergency communications to Emergency Operations Centres, the Emergency Management Agency State Operations Centres and across the counties and states during any disaster. The highly trained ARES groups volunteer their time, skills and equipment to support the citizens of their counties and Directors with the Offices of Homeland Security/Emergency Management during all types of emergencies.

Now GDACS reports that large wildfires continue to burn across California, having killed 26 people, and destroyed more than 7900 buildings. 80000 people have been evacuated to safety as of 29th September, and there were 22 separate active fires in California, covering an area of 931000 hectares. The fire danger forecast remains “extreme” over most of central and south-western USA, including California.

GDACS is also reporting an earthquake of magnitude 6.4 close to the Tonga Islands on 1st October, seriously disturbing 2000 people on the islands. No tsunami warning was issued. And in Bangladesh, heavy rains continue to affect Northern Bangladesh, resulting in overflowing rivers and triggering flooding. 125000 people have been affected, hundreds of buildings damaged, and many roads flooded. Forecasts for further heavy rain and thunderstorms have been issued.

When someone is buried by an avalanche, earthquake or other disaster, a rapid rescue can make the difference between life and death. The Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR has developed a new kind of mobile radar device that can search hectare-sized areas quickly and thoroughly. The new technology combines greater mobility with accurate detection of vital signs.

Some regions of the world record hundreds of earth tremors a day. Most of these are of a minor nature—but occasionally an earthquake of such destructive power strikes that it destroys buildings and triggers tsunamis that lay waste to huge areas. Faced with this kind of disaster, rescue crews often struggle to locate and dig out injured people quickly enough to save them. Although radar devices can provide useful assistance, current systems are limited to stationary operation. Set up in a fixed spot, they can only search up to a distance of twenty to thirty metres, depending on the radar specifications. In disasters involving large-scale destruction, this distance is simply too short.

Based in Wachtberg, Germany, Fraunhofer FHR offers a technology that aims to significantly increase the search radius. “What we’ve developed is a mobile radar system that locates people buried under rubble by detecting their pulse and breathing,” says Reinhold Herschel, a team leader at Fraunhofer FHR. “Our longer-term goal is to mount this radar device on a drone and fly it over the disaster site. This would make searches faster and more effective even in areas extending over hectares.”

In basic terms, the radar device works by emitting waves. Part of each wave is reflected by the debris, but some of the wave passes through the rubble and is reflected by people and anything else buried underneath it. The distance to an object is calculated by measuring how long the signal takes to return to the detector in the radar system. If that object is moving—even if it is just a buried person’s skin rising and falling by a few hundred micrometres with each heartbeat—this changes the phase of the signal. The same applies to the tiny movements caused by their breathing. People typically take a breath no more than 10 to 12 times a minute, while the heart beats an average of 60 times a minute, so it is relatively simple to distinguish between these different signal changes using algorithms. The researchers can also determine exactly where the buried person is located.

This is made possible by a special type of radar known as MIMO, which stands for multiple-input, multiple-output. MIMO radars use multiple transmitters and receivers to set up different “vantage points” which can then be used to identify the exact location where paramedics should dig for survivors.

What is unique about this technology is its combination of mobility and accurate detection of people’s vital signs. The mobility advantage generally refers to examples such as mounting the device on a drone and flying it over the disaster site, but it is also possible to turn this principle on its head. Set up the system in a fixed spot, for example, and it can be used to detect the vital signs of people moving around close to the radar. There are a number of situations where this could be useful, such as providing first aid to large numbers of casualties in a sports hall following an earthquake. In this case, the radar device could be used to record vital signs and assign them to each individual to determine who is in most urgent need of assistance. In this example, the algorithm focuses primarily on detecting changes such as whether someone’s heart is beating irregularly or a patient is breathing very rapidly. The radar system can distinguish the individual signals and display them separately. Accuracy is also high, with the device measuring pulse rates with 99 percent accuracy as compared to readings taken using portable heart rate monitors. More research is still needed on using the radar to find people buried under rubble, but researchers have already made significant progress in detecting vital signs close to the stationary radar system, successfully putting it to the test at distances of up to 15 meters.

Finally, a major roadblock to large scale testing for coronavirus infection in the developing world is a shortage of key chemicals, or reagents, needed for the test, specifically the ones used to extract the virus’s genetic material, or RNA.

A method of testing for the COVID-19 virus that doesn’t make use of these chemicals but still delivers an accurate result has been developed, paving the way for inexpensive, widely available testing in both developing countries and industrialized nations, where reagent supplies may again be in short supply.

The method for the test, published October the 2nd in PLOS Biology, omits the step in the widely used reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test where the scarce reagents are needed.

The accuracy of the new test was evaluated using 215 COVID-19 samples that RT-PCR tests had shown were positive, with a range of viral loads, and 30 that were negative.

It correctly identified 92% of the positive samples and 100% of the negatives. The positive tests not detected had very low levels of virus protein.

Thank you to Medical Xpress for this excerpt from their report.

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