HAMNET Report 31st July 2022

There have been two major earthquakes around the Pacific Rim of Fire this week. The first was a magnitude 5.7 in Ecuador, just south of its border with Colombia on Monday the 25th, and at a depth of 10Km. Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute reported eight aftershocks of magnitude 4 or greater.

The US Geological Survey estimates that up to 1000 people experienced very strong shaking, and up to 59000 strong shaking. Injures to 8 people were reported, and 350 houses damaged or destroyed.

The second more severe earthquake struck on the West coast of the Cordillera Region of Luzon in Philippines, with magnitude 7.1 on 27th July, and also at a depth of 10km. A population of 157 thousand people in the area was exposed to shaking of at least magnitude 7, and 15000 people were displaced by the damage which occurred. At least five aftershocks of 4.5 magnitude or greater were reported in the next 24 hours.

In a world of runaway wildfires, as temperatures soar, it’s good to hear that radio amateurs helped prevent one. The ARRL Letter of this week reports that, while participating in the Black Hills Amateur Radio Club’s annual Summits on the Air (SOTA) event in South Dakota on July 16, 2022, two amateur radio operators helped spot a potential forest fire.

Ryan Lindblom, KE0LXT, President of the Black Hills ARC, and Christopher Jaques, KD0RAS, had made their trek to Cicero Peak. Just before heading back down, they noticed what might be smoke or dust to the south near Hot Springs. Lindblom made a contact on their simplex frequency to ask a local amateur radio operator if there had been any reports of Forest Service activity in the area.

An off-duty ranger, who was monitoring a local ham repeater from his home, and who heard the traffic from Cicero Peak, called in the alert. A fire crew and a helicopter were able to contain a small fire 2.5 miles south of Pringle, South Dakota.

Ward Hall, WC0Y, attending the Black Hills SOTA weekend for his second year, reported that a forest ranger on Bear Mountain stepped out of the ranger tower to greet him, but at the time, was busy monitoring firefighting traffic.

“I could hear the radio activity while I was on the ground near the tower,” said Hall. “The ranger later told me that the Forest Service was alerted to a small fire when an off-duty ranger was monitoring a local ham repeater and heard the traffic from Cicero Peak”. Hall said the ranger credited the ham activity for an early alert that allowed them to address the fire while it was small. “He was very appreciative of how the ham activity helped them and asked that I pass it on,” Hall added.

ARRL Dakota Division Director Bill Lippert, AC0W, applauded the work of the amateur radio operators for early reporting of what could have been a major fire, as well as credited the Forest Service for their quick response.

On the redcross.org website, Rick Steeves notes that “Information technology and communication are so important in the wake of a disaster”. As a member of a Red Cross international crisis response team, Steeves and his colleagues are often on the ground within 24 to 48 hours after disaster strikes to set up satellite communications, ensuring responders and those on the ground can get the critical supplies and relief they need.

“Our work lays the foundations for other humanitarian teams focused on food, clean water, shelter and other necessities after a major international event,” Steeves said.

At a recent week-long training, Steeves and 20 of his Red Cross colleagues gathered to share best practices. Rustam Makhmudov, who organized the training for the Red Cross, says that practicing the logistics and troubleshooting the technology before a disaster is critical to the success of any international operation.

“The main goal is for our volunteers — old and new — to walk away with tangible skills to take to the field. We are also building a team spirit and enthusiasm that we bring to the work. The more we do this in training, the better we can help people when disaster strikes,” he said.

Rather than in the mountains of Nepal or the coast of Mozambique, volunteers from around the country and Haiti gathered in Maryland to set up telecommunications gear and troubleshoot equipment. The goal was to simulate field conditions during an international crisis such as a hurricane, typhoon or earthquake. They worked with three satellite terminals to practice support for a basecamp for a hospital or field operations hub.

According to Makhmudov, simulating field experiences with volunteers is a critical component of the training. “Due to COVID, our team hasn’t been able to gather and share best practices for some time. During a crisis response, the situation on the ground is complicated and fast-paced. One of the best ways to learn and prepare is to do hands-on practice with the equipment,” he said.

Makhmudov said it takes time to position the ground terminal at the proper angle. “That’s the trickiest part of working with this equipment because we have to pinpoint exactly where the satellite is to establish a connection,” he said. Once they establish a connection, responders can link to the outside world. “Communication is everything. It helps other responders during the disaster successfully accomplish their mission and help those who need it most,” he said.

A Red Cross volunteer since 2005, Julie Bradley deployed to Myanmar, Nepal and Puerto Rico as an Information Technology Emergency Response Unit responder. She says that she’s shown up at a disaster and been told that medical professionals are waiting for the internet to be restored so that they can perform a life-saving operation.

“This puts the importance of our work in focus. Simply put — people’s lives depend upon us,” she said.  Bradley says that she and her fellow Red Crossers enjoyed the training and are ready to go out into the field. “We do this work because we like to feel valued and appreciated. We like to feel like we are a part of something larger than ourselves. After this training, we are prepared,” she said.

Thank you to the American Red Cross website for excerpts from their article.

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