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Amateur Radio "Saved Lives" in South Asia

NEWINGTON, CT, Dec 29, 2004--As governments and relief organizations attempt to gauge the scale of death and devastation from the December 26 South Asia earthquake and tsunami and to aid the victims, Amateur Radio operators throughout the stricken region are offering their services as emergency communicators. The death toll from the disaster now is being estimated at upward of 60,000. Thousand remain unaccounted for, millions have been left homeless and many are without food or water. Victor Goonetilleke, 4S7VK, president of the Radio Society of Sri Lanka (RSSL), reports that "uncomplicated short wave" radio saved lives.

"Ham radio played an important part and will continue to do so," he said in an e-mail relayed to ARRL. Goonetilleke said that even Sri Lanka's prime minister had no contact with the outside world until Amateur Radio operators stepped in. "Our control center was inside the prime minister's official house in his operational room," he recounted. "[This] will show how they valued our services."

Goonetilleke reports that even satellite phones failed, and only the Amateur Radio HF link remained open. One problem: Batteries were running out, and there are no generators to recharge them.

Charly Harpole, K4VUD/HS0ZCW, now in Bangkok, Thailand, reports he's been helping to handle emergency traffic to India on 20 meters. Harpole's scheduled appearance this week on NBC's Today show apparently was scratched, although he has told ARRL that CNN has contacted him about an interview.

Harpole had been visiting the VU4RBI/VU4NRO DXpedition in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands when the earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck.

The DXpedition's sponsor, the National Institute of Amateur Radio (NIAR) in India, told ARRL that the DXpedition team is continuing its communication efforts at the government's request on behalf of rescue and relief operations in that region. "Ham radio is the main link from the people of Andaman Island to people all over," said S. Suri, VU2MY, the NIAR's chairman and director.

Many radio amateurs on the Indian mainland are said to be pitching in to handle emergency and health-and-welfare traffic. Some communication has been on CW and PSK31 to overcome poor conditions and interference.

Wyn Purwinto, AB2QV, relayed information he received via the Indonesia Amateur Radio Organization (ORARI). He notes that the government of Indonesia's Aceh province has banned Amateur Radio since the rebel uprising in that region, and he's asked the Aceh government to lift the ban so Indonesian amateurs can handle emergency traffic. Aceh was among the most severely affected regions in Indonesia.

Some emergency communication between amateurs in the North Sumatra capital of Medan has been established with the Aceh provincial capital of Banda Aceh on 80 meters and with the east coast city of Lhokseumawe through a linked VHF repeater.

Purwinto says YB6ZZ or YB6ZES are serving as net control stations of a national emergency net using 7.055 and 21.300 MHz as well as several linked VHF repeaters throughout northern Sumatra and along the west coast of Malaysia. He reports Anto, YD6AT, is standing by on 3.815 MHz in Banda Aceh. He reports several cities in coastal areas of Sumatra experienced power, telecommunication and water outages.

The Wireless Institute of Australia has asked its members to monitor HF frequencies and report any requests for assistance.

Echo (AO-51) Satellite Put into Emergency Mode

AMSAT-NA will put its Echo (AO-51) satellite into 9k6 bps store-and-forward mode to assist in emergency communication in the wake of the earthquake-tsunami disaster. The current AO-51 schedule will be on hold for the interim, and a planned mode change to FM repeater mode in high power will not occur. AMSAT News Service says the change will occur December 30 at approximately 0305 UTC, putting AO-51 into store-and-forward PacSat BroadCast Protocol (PBBS) mode. The PBBS downlink will be 435.150 MHz, FM 9600 baud PBBS. The uplink will be 145.860 MHz.

"The PBBS will still be open to general amateur use, but amateur operators should be ready to cease BBS operations at any moment, when we start to receive message traffic," says Mike Kingery, KE4AZN, of the Echo Command Team. "We ask that all unattended PBBS operation stop until further notice." He notes that AO-51 PBBS users may be requested to help download and forward messages.

Boat Watch Net Seeking Missing Vessel Reports and Information

Mike Pilgrim, K5MP, reports that the Boat Watch Net is seeking and coordination reports on vessels that have not been heard from since the earthquake and tsunami. Pilgrim has begun a listing in the "Current Watch Full Text" link of the International Boat Watch Web site. Pilgrim emphasizes that the Boat Watch Net service is strictly limited to mariners in the affected area and is not intended nor prepared to handle general health-and-welfare inquiries.

Third Party Traffic

Although the US does not have third-party traffic agreements with any of the countries affected by the disaster, international emergency and disaster relief communications are permitted unless otherwise provided. The international Radio Regulations as revised at World Radiocommunication Conference 2003 (WRC-03) provide that amateur stations may be used for transmitting international communications on behalf of third parties only in case of emergencies or disaster relief.

While FCC Part 97 has not yet been updated to reflect this change, ARRL understands from FCC staff that if the government agencies responsible for the Amateur Service in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, and other affected countries do not object to their amateur stations receiving messages from our amateur stations on behalf of third parties, the US has no objection to its amateur stations transmitting international communications in support of the disaster.

A government may determine the applicability of this provision to amateur stations under its jurisdiction. This could include either permitting a broader range of international third-party communications, or prohibiting even emergency and disaster relief communications.

Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) National Director Pat McPherson, WW9E, says The Salvation Army is providing food, clothing, shelter and fresh water to victims in Sri Lanka and India.

The Salvation Army also has issued an urgent appeal for funds. Donations earmarked "South Asia Disaster Fund," may be sent to local Salvation Army chapters, made online via The Salvation Army Web site or by calling toll free 800-SAL-ARMY (800-725-2769).


Page last modified: 02:08 PM, 29 Dec 2004 ET
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