Emergency/Disaster After Action Report: AREDN – Mossel Bay Mesh Network Service

Emergency/Disaster After Action Report: AREDN – Mossel Bay Mesh Network Service

Western Cape South Africa

After Action Report: AREDN – Mossel Bay Mesh Network Service




Knysna (Include Sedgefield, Karatara and Rheenendal)

Mossel Bay

Start date of Severe Weather and Severe Bush-fire activity/event: 7 June 2017

Description of Activity: Mossel Bay Mesh Network activation for Severe Weather and Bush-fires in the Eden District Municipality of South Africa.

Duration of Amateur Radio Activity: 7 – 11 June 2017

Amateur Radio Operators Participating: ZS2I, ZS1Q, ZS1ZS, ZS1HB, ZS1I and ZR1AOC

Describe served participation (Briefly and not full detail): Activate Amateur Radio JOC to co-ordinate operations. Assist local residents to evacuate. Move from house to house to ensure residents are safe and inquire if they need any assistance. Gather observation reports from AR Operators iro spreading and extent of fires, gather weather and damage reports. Activate AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network when Internet, cellphones, landlines and electricity supply were down (periodically) Updates provided periodically on 145.600 Repeater, WhatsApp, Twitter, Internet Email and Mesh Network when Internet, cellphones, landlines and electricity supply were up and running. HF/UHF was used as backup communications.

Number of Amateur Radio Operators participating: 6 (+2 later stage)

Describe goals of activity, both for served agency and serving group: Local radio amateurs gathered severe weather, bush-fire, damage and weather observation reports and information and submitted them to ZS1I, Amateur Radio JOC Control. ZS1I then relayed reports/observations in a timely manner to the Public, NGO’s, Local Authorities and Fire Services via WhatsApp, Twitter and Email. When commercial communications and power failures occurred the Mossel Bay Mesh Network was used to store and

forward gathered severe weather, bush-fire, damage and weather observation reports until such time as it could be forwarded to the Public, NGO’s, Local Authorities and Fire Services. Requests to gather specific information were sent from the Mossel Bay Amateur Radio JOC to participating radio amateurs in the local area. Many requests were also received from a wide variety of roll players in the Knysna area, to many toe mention here. One example: A request was received from the Knysna Municipality for people to assist fire fighters with cellphone airtime and data. Mossel Bay JOC Control immediately send out a request to three large cell phone companies with the support of the public and VWS Wildfires to donate airtime to firefighters in the Knysna area. CellC donated R40k in airtime while Vodacom supplied thousands of rands of equipment and airtime. (Value amount unknown) These donations enabled fire fighters to communicate countrywide when cellphone services were up. A big thank you to @CellC @Vodacom, Tweeps and many others who responded to the request from Mossel Bay Amateur Radio JOC Control for air-time and data for firefighters. As mentioned Supra there were many requests for assistance to many to mention here as a result of the extend of the disaster.

Did the event fulfill the goals? YES!

What went well? Call up procedures went well. The following platforms worked exceptionally well when active and activated: AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network – all aspects even when all other commercial communications and power failed, Twitter, WhatsApp, Internet Email and Mossel Bay145.600 repeater. One of the big plus points were the fact that written back-up copies with timeline were instantly available from Data and Record Storage Facilities. The support and interlinking of local radio amateurs, public, NGO’s, WCG, Private Sector, Private Volunteer Fire Services and Knysna Municipality were exceptional and need to be commended.

Areas needing improvement: Of the utmost importance is communications amongst and between other amateur radio organizations/clubs/emergency communication networks. It was clear from this event that the one did not know what the other was doing. This was clearly evident in emails received and posts on amateur radio forums. I will not post further particulars here as not to embarrass those involved. It shows that some out of district radio amateurs should be briefed thoroughly before operating or assisting in effected areas. This should be rectified immediately. I recommend that a local contact person be assigned for this purpose in all future emergencies and disasters.

A procedural flow chart need to be draft and added to every radio amateurs GoKit. Procedures, telephone numbers, email addresses and other important information to be included on the flow chart.

Additional Emergency Communications training is needed as well as how to use the Mossel Bay Mesh Network Services in times of emergencies/disaster. More frequent Emergency Communications Training exercises essential. Simplicity need to be looked at. The disparate radio systems in use by all roll players need to be addressed and this is not the first time this issue impaired and interrupted services. This disparity issue prevented effected communications during this event. I would suggest that Eden District Municipality/Disaster Management considers the use of AREDN Mesh Networking as a backup system during emergencies and disasters to not only solve this disparity but also in the event that all commercial communications services fail, which was the case on several occasions during this event. If all else fails AREDN will not!!

Repeater coverage not optimal and the non existence of a repeater in the Knysna area need to be addressed by those responsible for the relevant repeaters asap.

The 145.700 George repeater need again to be linked to the 145.600 Danabay repeater to extend coverage. On the 14 June 2017 at 16h45 a test was conducted using this repeater after yet another cellphone, Internet and landline outage. Thanks to Peter ZS1PHD and Trevor ZS1TR who responded and provided audio and fire reports as well as confirmation that commercial communication services were down once again.

The AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network need to be extended asap towards other parts of the town and district in the event that all communication systems fail in future. Funds are needed to accomplish this and we should look at sponsors, donation, requests and the involvement of local authorities

Lessons Learned: Never ever get involved in outside disasters if your own town/district is threatened by severe weather and bush-fires. Thankfully this was not the case with Mossel Bay and George Radio Amateurs who served their own communities with distinction. Your community needs you locally and they are your first priority. No need for us to all race towards another area or town if your own town is under threat. A few “outside” radio amateurs assisted in the Knysna area and they are thanked for their service in this regard.

Repeaters is only as good as their coverage but should never be the only communications medium available to responders or radio amateurs. HF Radio as always should be used as a last resort. In this event Repeaters and HF communications were really of no use other than a last resort back-up.

The most effective communication means were:

Cellphones, WhatsApp, Twitter, Internet, Email, SMS and Knysna Municipality Cellphone Application when there were no power failures or commercial outages.

AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network using Citadel Email, MsbMesh How to Web Pages, Mumble Voice and Text Communications , SFTP Server info storage and the Mossel Bay Amateur Radio JOC Control/Conference Room as well as the 145.600 Danabay Repeater was used when there were power failures and commercial outages.

Social media played a vital roll in communicating info to the Public, Media, Corporate Business and who ever needed information. In my opinion Social Media saved many lives during this event and has become part and parcel of emergencies/disasters today.

Press Releases: Only 1 (one) – The AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network released only one press release regarding this event. It was forwarded to Southgate Amateur Radio News on the 12 June 2017. Copy attached.

General Comments: We will never know the full extent of the humanitarian aid supplied to and by the people of South Africa. However it is clear that the sociological and psychological effects will be the worse to deal with. Radio Amateurs even those not mentioned here rendered a great service to mankind during this severe weather and bush-fire/disaster event. Heartfelt Condolences goes to all the families who lost loved ones as a result of this event. May all those affected receive consolation and peace during this trying times!

Ideas for the future: An AREDN emergency communication exercise in the Southern Cape will be most useful in the near future to even improve our skills further. A full debriefing at the next Suid Kaap Amateur Radio Club meeting will also contribute immensely and are recommended.

Thanks and Appreciation: Where do one start? There are so many that I would like to thank personally but then I will need to add another 10 pages to this report. Therefor:


This report was compiled by:  J. Terblanche ZS1I, AREDN Amateur Radio JOC Control, Mossel Bay, South Africa.

Date and Time of this report: Tuesday, 20 June 2017, 12:12 SAST



Media Release:


Thank you!

Below is the information you sent to editor@southgatearc.org:

Name: Johan Terblanche

Callsign: ZS1I

Email: sawois05@gmail.com


Story: An intense winter storm and severe drought experienced in the Western Cape resulted in devastating fires ravaging parts of the Southern Cape Area with Knysna being the worst effected. As of the 7 June 2017 till today fires are still burning in this part of the world. The call for assistance for radio amateurs to assist came on the 8 June 2017 when cellphone, Internet and landline telephones went down in many areas. The following radio amateurs responded and reported to the AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network: ZS2I, ZS1Q, ZS1ZS, ZS1HB, ZR1AOC and ZS1I. An AREN and Amateur Radio JOC was established on the mesh network. Messages were relayed on HF, VHF/UHF and the AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network Group. The above radio amateurs worked around the clock to assist their respected local communities. Amateur Disaster Communications links remained active until normal communications were restored. The AREN and JOC was relinquished on the 11 June 2017 but we still remain on high alert. The disaster aftermath continues with 7 deaths, 439 houses destroyed and thousands of displaced survivors. Disaster Relief continue unabated. Amateur Radio once again showed that when all else fails amateur radio will not fail.

J. Terblanche ZS1I
AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network

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