==> HAMS IN AUSTRALIA ASSIST WITH MASSIVE BUSHFIRES
In the Australian state of Victoria, Amateur Radio operators have been
activated to provide communications links into towns that have had their
normal communications destroyed by the bushfires that have decimated the
state. Members of the Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network in
Victoria (WICEN (Vic)) <http://www.vic.wicen.org.au/> -- Australia's
version of ARES -- were activated on February 8, with members being
deployed to areas with loss of power and other facilities.
According to the Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA)
<http://www.wia.org.au/> -- that country's IARU Member-Society --
authorities and resources in Victoria have been "stretched to the
limit." WICEN has been on high alert since the fires started on January
28. On February 11, WICEN (Vic) Secretary Mark Dods, VK3XMU, said, "It
now appears that WICEN's role in this emergency is going to be a long
hard marathon over an extended period."
The fires -- some of which are believed to have been deliberately set,
while at least one fire began due to a lightning strike -- have so far
claimed 201 lives, including one firefighter; local police say they do
not expect the death toll to go much higher. Covering more than 1100
square miles, the fires have destroyed more than 1800 homes; officials
estimate at least 7500 people are now homeless due to the fires.
Victoria Premier John Brumby, in speaking about the bushfires, said,
"Out there, it is hell on earth"
On February 12, Dods said that "WICEN was given the task of establishing
a link between Narbethong and the Municipal Emergency Coordination
Centre in Alexandra. Initially, the Narbethong-Alexandra link will be on
HF. The two WICEN operators that were on standby for deployment to
Buxton have been dispatched to Alexandra to join a column that will be
moving down the Maroondah Highway to Narbethong this afternoon. An extra
WICEN operator is being deployed to the Alexandra MECC to assist the
operator already there with expected extra traffic from Narbethong Three
WICEN operators are now working 8 hour shifts at the Alexandra Incident
Command Centre (ICC), operating CFA/DSE radios. We will be providing
operators for this task until further notice."
Dods said hams would make "temporary repairs" to VK3RTN, the 6 meter
repeater on Mt Gordon that suffered damage during the fire, making it
usable until they can get and install a new repeater. The Mt Gordon
repeater is being used as a link between Alexandra and Narbethong. The
WICEN station in Narbethong closed Saturday, February 14. "The Alexandra
WICEN station will continue to operate after the closure of Narbethong,"
Dods said. "Their role includes guiding relief operators into the town,
maintaining an HF link to Melbourne and a listening watch. Operators in
the Alexandra ICC have reported increased radio traffic overnight and
emphasised the need for concise, prompt and accurate handling of the
traffic despite the sometimes tense environment."
Dods recounted that there was what he called a "flurry of activity" on
the evening of February 14: "WICEN received a request from DSE
[Department of Sustainability and Environment] to provide operators at
Woori Yallock ICC. We were asked to cover the night shift last night and
the next four nights. Being a Saturday night, it was difficult to
contact operators with many being not at home, and others having their
mobile phones diverted to voice mail. Two operators agreed to be
deployed at short notice, however. They travelled to Woori Yallock only
to find that there had been an administrative foul-up and that they were
not required. Those operators have returned home with my thanks and
apologies. This false start at Woori Yallock does give us a 'heads up'
that DSE and CFA [Country Fire Authority] resources may be beginning to
stretch thin, and lead to more ICC deployments."
On February 17, Dods said that two WICEN operators will be going to
"McAdam's Hill, east of Lake Mountain, to provide health and welfare
communications for the firefighters at a Base Camp being set up there.
Initially, the primary operating frequency will be 3.6 MHz, so there may
well be a need for stations monitoring that frequency to relay traffic.
Deployment of a portable 2m repeater to support the McAdam's Hill
station is under consideration."
The WICEN HF Net continues to operate on 3.6 MHz at 1000 and 2130 hours
(UTC + 11) daily. "As well as keeping a check on the welfare of
operators in the field, the Net is being used to pass updated activation
information, and also for amateurs in remote areas of the state to check
their communications," Dods said. "It is reassuring to hear stations
from all over the state and interstate on the Net, demonstrating that we
can, if necessary, establish communications independent of hilltop
infrastructure. It has been very handy to have other amateurs monitoring
3.6 MHz when they can to relay when fading occurs. Many thanks to those
operators who have relayed traffic so far."
Dennis Dura, K2DCD, ARRL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager
said: "The work the Australian hams have been doing and the issues WICEN
have been facing are not unlike what ARES personnel encounter here. The
long hours and duration of the disaster response and the dwindling
availability of amateur volunteers take a toll. Yet Amateur Radio still
is able to complete the mission. The flexibility we bring is key to
meeting the emergency communications needs of those the amateur
community serves. Our hearts go out to all those that have lost loved
ones and whose lives have been forever changed by these fires. Our
colleagues in WICEN make the Amateur Radio community proud in the work
they are performing in these very difficult conditions."
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