Emergency/Disaster After Action Report: Garden Route Fires (24 October 2018 – 6 November 2018)

Western Cape South Africa

After Action Report: AREDN – Mossel Bay Mesh Network Service

PLEASE NOTE THIS REPORT RELATES TO THE FOLLOWING LOCAL MUNICIPALITIES IN THE GARDEN ROUTE DISTRICT MUNICIPALITY:

Bitou

George

Knysna (Include Sedgefield, Karatara and Rheenendal)

Mossel Bay

Start date of Intense Heat Wave and Gale Force Winds activity/event: 24 October 2018

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

Duration of Amateur Radio Activity: 29 October 2018 – 6 November 2018

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

Describe served participation (Briefly and not full detail): Radio Amateurs were called to task on WhatsApp to make their amateur radio stations available for emergency communications should commercial communications fail due to raging wildfires in the Garden Route Area. An AREDN Amateur Radio Joint Operational Center (JOC) was established at 18h00 on the 29 October 2018 to co-ordinate operations when parts of George experienced Telkom Landline, Cellphone and Internet outages as well as power outages. The AREDN: Amateur Radio JOC was active on the AREDN Mossel Bay Mesh Network, Echolink, AllStar, Twitter and Zello.

The Amateur Radio AREDN JOC received a written request on 30 October 2018 at 09h10 SAST to assist a frantic daughter in search for her parents (Anton and Irana Murry) who recently moved from Gauteng to Karatara. (The village were 8 deaths occurred due to a run away fire.)
All her efforts to contact her parents resulted in cellphone messages indicating that the subscriber was not available. The daughter had no further information to the where abouts of her parents and was worried that something happened to them. I immediately put out a missing persons call for help on Twitter , Facebook and send an email to the Knysna Municipality to check their records whether they might have been evacuated to a shelter in Sedgefield or any other shelter in the area. The Sedgefield Municipality was contacted and given the location of the couples property in the Karatara area. Confirmation was later received (12h45 SAST) that both were found safely in their home in Karatara. Contact over the cellphone could not be established with the couple due to cellphone outages in the area. The Amateur Radio AREDN JOC was relieved that both were safe and that we could assist the daughter in making contact with her parents. We are glad that both were safe, in high spirit and that we could have been of service.

Number of Amateur Radio Operators participating: 4

Describe goals of activity, both for served agency and serving group: Local radio amateurs were on standby in the event that a call for assistance was received from authorities to help and assist with emergency communications. Twitter (Garden Route Disaster and Weather Info Service @gardenroute1) was used to keep the public informed about the fires, which areas were asked to evacuate, latest weather conditions, bush fire damage, fire line images, road closures etc.

Requests for blankets, food, energy drinks, Eyegene, batteries and various other items for the firefighters and those left destitute were retweeted and forwarded to the general public and commerce.

Many requests were also received from the public mainly on road closures. In all the cases we were able to assist the public, firefighters and those left destitute.

A big thank you to the public, businesses and other entities who acted on requests for help.

Did the event fulfill the goals? YES!

What went well? Call up procedures for standby went well. The following platforms worked exceptionally well when activated: AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network – all aspects even when all other commercial communications and power failed, Twitter, WhatsApp and Internet Email 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, Working on Fire, the public, NGO’s, WCG, Private Sector, Private Volunteer Fire Services and Garden Route District- George-, Oudshoorn-, Bitou-, Sedgefield and Knysna Municipality and Disaster Management were exceptional and need to be commended.

Areas needing improvement:

Additional Emergency Communications training is needed as well as how to fully 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 once again prevented effective communications during this event.

During this event current amateur radio repeaters would have been of no use as the fires were burning in mountain and valley areas where there is no repeater coverage. The non existence of a repeater in the Knysna area once again prohibit emergency communications in the Karatara area. If there was a repeater in Knysna a cross band repeater would have solved the communication problems experienced in Karatara with the Disaster Management JOC in George.

As mentioned in my previous report relating to the 2017 Knysna Fire the 145.700 George repeater need again be linked both ways to the 145.600 Danabay repeater to extend coverage. AREDN cannot rely on local repeaters who are still not linked to each other or non operational.

AREDN decided to invest in Cross Band- , Portable Repeaters and APRS Digipeaters. With such repeaters one would be in a position to assist Disaster Management should they experience communication outages or short comings in future disasters.

The AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network need to be extended towards other parts of the town and district in the event that all communication systems fail in future. As we rely on donations funds are needed to accomplish the above we should look at sponsors, donations, requests, means of earning money and the involvement of local authorities.

Without donations we cannot invest in Cross Band-, Portable- or APRS Repeaters/Digipeaters to extend the capabilities of AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network to other areas and towns!!!

Lessons Learned:

In this event Repeaters and HF communications would not have solved the communication problems experience by Disaster Management and other roll players.

The most effective AREDN communication means during this disaster were:

Cellphones, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Internet, Email, AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network , SFTP Server info storage and the Mossel Bay Amateur Radio JOC Control/Conference Room.

Social media once again played a vital roll in communicating info to the Public, Media, Corporate Business and who ever needed information. In my opinion Social Media has become part and parcel of emergencies/disasters today when there is no power or Internet Outages.

Press Releases: Only 2 (two) – The AREDN: Mossel Bay Mesh Network released two press releases regarding this event. It was forwarded to Southgate Amateur Radio News. Copies available on our main website (https://mosselbaymesh.co.za) or on our Blog Posts pages.

General Comments: We will once again 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 were once again ready to render a free 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.

Thanks and Appreciation: Where do one start? There are so many that I would like to thank personally but I might omit someone or organization. Therefor:

A BIG THANK YOU TO ALL INVOLVED. IT WAS A PRIVILEGE AND A HONOR TO SERVE AND WORK WITH OUR LOCAL COMMUNITIES IN TIMES OF NEED.

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

Date and Time of this report: Tuesday, 6 November 2018, 19h12 SAST

END OF REPORT