HAMNET Report 24th April 2022

KwaZulu Natal is still counting the cost of damage from the worst storms recorded just on 2 weeks ago. Damage in monetary value will go on rising as the work of repairing infrastructure and trying to rebuild businesses and housing continues, but loss of life remains the most significant tragedy.

Curiously, the death toll after the storms was reduced by about 10 souls this week, as some bodies recovered showed that the persons had succumbed to natural causes, or murder, and not directly smothering. So I believe the death toll is currently in the late 430’s. However, there are still about 250 people unaccounted for, and perhaps they never will be found, as huge amounts of mud and silt, and washed-away earth will surely have committed them to silent and unknown burials. Our condolences and sympathy continues to be extended to all families on their losses.

Easter Weekend came and went, and the Western Cape certainly benefitted from wonderful weather. These were calm, balmy days, with little wind, little cloud, and a sun far enough North in our sky to reduce maximum temperatures to the mid 20’s.

Just as well, because the Cape Peninsula witnessed the two Two Oceans Marathon races on Easter Saturday and Sunday. I told you last week about Saturday’s race, which was uneventful.

Roughly five thousand runners ran the 56km ultra-marathon on Easter Sunday, again in delightful weather, and HAMNET was there to support them again. The race started on Main Road in Newlands, and ran along the shores of False Bay and the Indian Ocean all the way to Fish Hoek, before turning West, and heading through Noordhoek and on to Chapman’s Peak Drive, to follow the Atlantic coastline Northwards through Hout Bay, via Constantia Neck to Rhodes Drive past Kirstenbosch before ending at UCT sports fields.

HAMNET members manned 6 sweep vehicles, there to patrol the route, look for stragglers or runners in difficulty, and offer them a ride, on to the next bus or back to UCT, if they decided to withdraw from the race. We also had a motorbike rover, free to react quickly to any drama or route difficulties, and then there were two of us in the Joint Ops Centre at Tygerberg Hospital’s Provincial Emergency Management Centre (PEMC).

Because the weather was so sublime, runners didn’t have to battle a strong headwind or tailwind, did not freeze to death in driving rain, or become dehydrated in the heat, and so again there were no important injuries or health problems along the route. A lot of runners did decide to withdraw, but weren’t in any major distress, and our stock of blankets in the sweep vehicles were hardly needed, unlike previous years. Furthermore we did not run out of water.

So, partly due to the smaller number of runners, and also to the weather on the day, there were no major calamities during the race. The sweeps managed their work easily, there were more than enough buses to bring runners cut off at 42.2Km by the time limit there, in to the race finish, and our work at the JOC did not run us off our feet.

I’m extremely grateful to the operators who gave up their chocolate-eating duties over the Easter Weekend to assist at both races, and thank their families too for allowing them to help make the races the safe ones they were.

Meanwhile the sun was in explosive mood this week, with a major X-class solar flare on Wednesday morning early, our time, the first of this magnitude during solar cycle 25. The flare was not aimed directly at Earth, but there were apparently some moments of radio blackout in the Australia and Indonesia areas. The coronal mass ejection which always follows the solar flare, arrived some days later, and would have contributed to auroral sightings in both hemispheres at high latitudes, but not really affected communications much.

And with sunspot numbers higher than they’ve been for a long time, the solar flux index also in the mid hundreds, and low planetary K indices, HF bands have been wide open lately. This is good for us, to be able to practice our skills at communicating with strangers, which in emergency communications we will always need to do, when it is necessary to relay messages of importance relating to disaster of one sort or another, rather than chat to our buddy three streets away on VHF.

An answer may be on the horizon now, as to how to predict which moderately ill COVID patients will go on to develop a cytokine storm which overwhelms their immune system, and results in intensive care admission, intubation, ventilation, or death.

Dr Emanuela Sozio and her colleagues at an infectious diseases clinic in Italy did a study of patients with moderate to severe COVID who were admitted to intensive care facilities, compared with those who didn’t need such admission, and have identified a series of cytokines and other biomarkers, that were always present at high levels in the blood in the severest cases.

“It is not always possible to determine which COVID-19 patients have the worst prognosis, especially early on. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the earlier we treat excessive inflammation, the more likely we are to turn it off quickly and definitively and so avoid irreversible organ damage.

“Our work may help select patients with worse prognoses and who need to be admitted to high dependency units, as well as potentially help personalize their treatment,” she said.

This will be wonderful news if the research stands the test of time, because it will be possible to send sick patients home, who are at no great risk, once their biomarker status has been documented. Until now, all moderate to severe patients have been kept in hospital because there has been no way of predicting who will get better and who will get worse.

Thanks to medicalxpress.com for these notes.

Finally the HAMNET Report congratulates Roy Walsh ZS3RW on winning the Hamnet Shield for 2021, for his services as Divisional Director for HAMNET in the Northern Cape, as announced in yesterday’s SARL AGM. His wife Esme ZS3EW is also to be congratulated on walking away with two trophies in the awards ceremony! Be carefully there, Roy, you are about to be overtaken by your very competent wife!

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

HAMNET Report 10th April 2022

The internet is great, but the internet goes down. Disasters, government interference, and simple technical difficulties often fell the most powerful communication tool ever made. One man wants to change that and is building what he calls the “prepper version of the internet.” It’s called the Reticulum Network Stack and it’s designed to exist alongside or on top of the traditional internet.

Reticulum is meant to be a streamlined communications tool that can be quickly deployed in the case of systemic telecom failure, with minimal lift and a heavy focus on encryption and privacy. All of it is built on the back of an entirely new protocol that aims to be more resilient than IP, or Internet Protocol, which is a set of software rules that govern the flow of information on the internet.

“A lot of fragmented solutions and limited tools exist, but in reality, what was really missing was a complete communications stack designed for use by normal people without centralized coordination of any kind,” Reticulum’s designer, who goes by “unsignedmark” explained in the Reddit thread announcing the project. “[It is] a system that would allow anyone easily to build secure and resilient long-range networks with simple, available tools. [These are] systems that would work and allow secure and private comms even when the po-po hits the fan.”

unsignedmark is Mark Qvist, a computer engineer who has spent his life building and managing computer networks. “I ran a small-scale rural ISP at one point, providing high-speed Internet service to one of the many areas that had been completely neglected by larger service providers,” he told the publication Motherboard. “While it was definitely not the most profitable thing in the world, and was pretty hard work, it was also very rewarding and an incredibly fun learning experience.”

Reticulum can run on just about anything, including the teensy Raspberry Pi Zero. According to Qvist, people with minimal telecom and computer knowledge could put together a long-range messaging system for their community in about an hour using Reticulum, communicating over any number of available channels to network peers.

“Want to extend it to the next town over VHF radio?” Qvist asked on Reddit. “If you already have a modem and a radio, that’s 5 minutes to set up. I really tried to make this as flexible as possible while still being very easy to use if you have a bit of computer and radio experience.”

It certainly looks promising, and hopefully will be picked up by, and developed in many countries. Thanks to vice.com for the article, written by Matthew Gault.

Various news reports from the Otago area in New Zealand at the beginning of this week reported on a search for a 49 year old father and his 14 year old son, who had been missing for three days since going into the Rowallan Forest in Fiordland on a hunting trip.

Not being suitably equipped for overnight stays in the bush, and without adequate food and water, the pair was deemed very vulnerable, Ground and air searches with thermal sensing cameras on Sunday afternoon and night were unsuccessful, but luckily the two came walking out of the bush near Lilliburn Valley Road on Monday. Police Search and Rescue personnel, LandSAR, Amateur Radio Emergency Communications (AREC) personnel, and search dogs had been sent to the search area.

Thanks to the Otago Daily Times and Southgate Amateur Radio News for the details.

After the events that took place 10 days ago, when Cape Town HAMNET members spent a couple of days searching for an emergency transmission emanating from a small aircraft in a hangar near Cape Town Airport, some interest has been generated amongst members in formal “foxhunting”, not necessarily to be confused with the radio sporting event the term is usually known for.

Michael ZS1MJT, our Regional Director has quickly made a 3 element tape-measure Yagi on a pvc pipe boom that is resonant on 121.5MHz, for use in finding a beacon or a downed aircraft, as circumstances dictate. Other amateurs are working with Michael to build a Doppler receiver, wideband enough to be used for any kind of pin-point activity where a search for an errant transmission is on the go. The Cape Town Amateur Radio Centre did a project build of something like this about 20 years ago, with a pair of antennas mounted to a boom that could be rotated by hand, and which nulled out the signal if your antenna was tangential to that signal. It appears that the original PIC processor used is virtually unobtainable now, so research is underway to find an alternative.

An inexpensive active antenna system is the preferred option, so that many or all HAMNET members can have at their disposal such a system in case direction finding is necessary at their location.

A WhatsApp Group has been set up for all members interested in helping to find such a transmission in the Western Cape, so that a quick response can be generated and as many bearings of a signal heard can be taken as possible, to narrow a search area down.

Finally, here is a summary of disaster relief efforts ongoing as we speak in Ukraine.

Ukrainian authorities called on the residents of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk regions to evacuate while it is still possible, warning that further enemy bombardments could cut off the evacuation corridors.

Evacuations through several humanitarian corridors were successfully carried out on 5 – 6 April. Among them, over 15,400 people from Kramatorsk, Slovyansk, Lozova and Pokrovsk. Over 5,000 people were evacuated from Mariupol and Berdyansk and over 1,200 people from four cities in the Luhansk Oblast. 11 buses sent to evacuate people from the cities of Melitopol and Tokmak are currently en route to Zaporizhzhia.

On 5 April, a fourth UN inter-agency humanitarian convoy successfully reached some 17,000 people through the delivery of 8 trucks of critical supplies in Sievierodonestsk, Eastern Ukraine, in collaboration with EU humanitarian partners. The convoy brought food rations, flour, plastic sheeting, blankets and four hospital electricity generators.

The European Commission is also coordinating the delivery of assistance via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to Ukraine, from all 27 Member States and two Participating States. Almost 14,000 tonnes of assistance from these countries and items from the rescEU medical stockpile have been delivered to Ukraine, via the UCPM logistic hubs in Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

However, on 6 April, enemy troops blocked the work of a humanitarian centre in occupied Berdiansk, detaining workers and volunteers.

And so the world watches, in trepidation…

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

HAMNET Report 3rd April 2022

Riaan Greeff, ZS4PR, Deputy Regional Director for HAMNET in the Free State, has sent me a very interesting summary of events that have taken place in the Vaal Triangle, supported by 3 HAMNET divisions.

He says that members of the Vaal HAMNET team joined forces with the Gauteng HAMNET teams to assist the ARCC,  in partnership with many other SASAR affiliated entities, including SARZA, K9SAR,  Airwing, HAMNET and many more, in a mock exercise dubbed “Exercise Phoenix” on the 12th of Feb 2022.  This simulated an aeroplane crash scenario.

The following weekend the Vaal team joined with Gauteng to support the communications during the Johannesburg 94.7 Ride for Sight on the 20th of February.

Next it was the Northwest province HAMNET members that joined in the fun with Vaal and Gauteng to be the communications and support for the 27th Sasolburg Marathon on 26 March 2022. 

This allowed HAMNET to shine and be at the forefront of communications support for an event that hosts the main national finals of the 10km races, and is one of the last qualifying marathons in preparation for the Comrades marathon in a few weeks.

The organisers, Sasolburg Athletics Club, having made all the necessary arrangements with the Sasolburg traffic department weeks before the event, realised 10 minutes before the starting gun at 6am, that the traffic department was nowhere to be seen.  Without the arranged lead vehicles, the marathon would be called off, and 2000 registered athletes would not run.

HAMNET Vaal was prepared, and within 5 minutes they had their lead vehicles ready to lead the pack, much to the relief of the organisers!

The experience brought by the Gauteng HAMNET members to Sasolburg, and the quick thinking of the Vaal HAMNET leadership, ensured a smooth start on time, and a safe marathon to be enjoyed by all.

The Sasolburg radio club, ZS4SRK have technical members to be very proud of.  The town is now equipped with a DMR repeater, and this allows voice and GPS and messaging to be implemented around the circuit of the Sasolburg Marathon.

Tests done in terms of signal strength were so successful, that the Vaal HAMNET team decided to use DMR radios only at the marathon.  An internal talk group provided localised communication.

In total 20 DMR radios were activated for the event and these provided clear communications.   HAMNET Vaal does recommend the use of DMR in future events – the technology provides several advantages over the use of the normal VHF repeater in Sasolburg.

Initially the plan for the event called for a UHF repeater to be set up to allow a second channel of communications for the day.  However, a serious technical failure prevented the Vaal leadership from using this repeater and as a result DMR was made more active, and really provided excellent service.

This shows that planning beforehand, and having redundancy in the plan, will pay off in the case of serious deviations from the normal event plan.

Riaan further notes that the ideal tracking device used by radio amateurs should be primarily on ham frequencies.  The Vaal Tracker is this type of device.  To prove the capability, a number of these devices were programmed and set up on 144.800 MHz, to be tracking key vehicles during the marathon.

Sasolburg and the greater South Gauteng topography allow for radio trackers to work well.

At the central communications centre of HAMNET Vaal, both GSM and RF tracker signals were received and then SARtrack software was used to map the movements of the vehicles.

In short, the trackers worked well.  The GSM additions made it possible to follow the non-RF devices as well.

A few LORA tracker devices were also activated.  The main problem with these turned out to be the lack of range these devices have on the UHF band used.  When the devices were either out of range of each other or the communications centre, they could not be heard.  This was a disappointment.

Thank you, Riaan, for your report and these useful comments. Clearly HAMNET is alive and well in the Free State and South Vaal areas. Thanks also for allowing me these excerpts from your report.

Now the sun is waking up and we are experiencing the effects on Earth as disruptive radio blackouts and stunning aurora displays. Tereza Pultarova, writing in space.com this week says that the “magnetically complex” sunspot called 2975 has spurted out about 20 solar flares over the past days including an X-class flare that blasted from the sun at 05h37 UTC on Wednesday March the 30th. X-class flares are the most energetic type of solar flares that eject a large amount of charged particles into the surrounding space. These energized clouds travel very fast and can reach Earth within minutes.

Wednesday’s flare was reported to have caused some disruptions to GPS signals and interference with high frequency radio transmissions, which are used by shortwave broadcasting stations, aviators and radio amateurs.

For Thursday (March 31st), the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasted a 50% risk of minor to moderate radio blackouts. On Friday, April 1, the risk was expected to go down to 35%. Both days had a 10% chance of a strong radio blackout, which could cause wide-spread disruption to high frequency radio communications on the sun-facing side of Earth, with a possible hour-long loss of signal.

A strong radio blackout (called R3 on NOAA’s five-point scale) is a relatively common occurrence that can take place up to 2,500 times over the sun’s 11-year cycle of ebbing and flowing activity, according to NOAA.

The more sluggish outbursts called coronal mass ejections, or CME’s, are expulsions of magnetized plasma from the upper layers of the sun’s atmosphere, the corona. When a CME hits Earth, it may temporarily disrupt the planet’s protective magnetic field. When that happens, the plasma particles penetrate deep into Earth’s atmosphere, where they trigger magnetic storms that produce colourful aurora displays.

Two CMEs the sun blasted out on Monday (March 28th) arrived Wednesday evening (March 30th), delivering aurora viewing opportunities all over Canada, and, in the Southern Hemisphere, skywatchers from New Zealand and Tasmania also reporting seeing the Aurora Australis.

In addition to auroras, a geomagnetic storm could cause minor problems to satellites in orbit and power networks on Earth. Solar Cycle 25 has definitely arrived in full force.

Thank you to Tereza and Space.com for these extracts from her article.

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