Australia’s worst natural disaster 173 lives lost and many hundreds injured. More than 2000 homes destroyed Township business centres, community and other facilities lost. Record high temperatures, very low humidity, winds up to 150 km/h, and 12 years of drought.
Weather conditions On Black Saturday temperatures reached 46.4 degrees Celsius in Melbourne, higher in regional areas, low humidity and strong winds. A record heatwave two weeks earlier had three days above 43C which was a weather record.
RECOM Before Black Saturday - in late January fires forced hundreds of people to flee for safety and 30 homes were destroyed in Gippsland, eastern Victoria. The emergency communications arm of the Australian Red Cross, RECOM had units quickly deployed to mainly handle the registrations of displaced persons. A few days after completing their duty in Gippsland, the RECOM operators were then called out for the Black Saturday disaster. More about RECOM later.
WICEN The Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network (WICEN), a traditional amateur radio emergency communications service was deployed for 28 days. It had 52 radio amateurs involved with their role mainly as operators of fire service radio systems. Their duties included being at vital Incident Control Centres (ICC) and a Municipal Emergency Coordination Centre (MECC).
WICEN Since 2003 WICEN operators have been trained to use the fire service’s trunk radio system. These radios are different to conventional transceivers as they require the pressing buttons to get the required station. The failure of telephone services also saw WICEN provide vital link services using amateur radio between centres.
Support communications Another role of amateur radio is to provide third party traffic at times of emergency. WICEN operators joined firefighters at a remote location that had limited fire service radio coverage and no mobile phone service. A communication link over amateur radio was set up for health and welfare reasons between firefighters and their families at home.
RECOM Emergency Recovery is heavily reliant on having good Communications Adequate Communications are often not available during major activations Australian Red Cross is able to function effectively “when all community infrastructure fails”
The role of RECOM Provide the Red Cross with: Transmission of NRIS data on displaced persons Situation reports and digital images First Aid treatment details Staff tracking, logistics, catering and other supply requests General back-up communications for other services if required
RECOM Volunteer prerequisites Unconditional availability 24/7 Professional technical background Not a member of any other “agency” 4WD transport Weekly on-air training to maintain skills Members treat each other as equals
Emergency Operations Centre It never stops. stops. Fully automated Ex-military specification 486 computers Screens turned on – only to do maintenance checks.
RECOM Its membership includes a number of radio amateurs who are scientists, engineers and IT specialists The first emergency response agency to operate using totally digital technology Financed by corporate sponsor donations Began in Victoria (VK3) but has developed to provide Australia-wide coverage
RecomWin File transfer (up to 64K compressed file length) Messaging (similar to email) Position tracking of Remote Stations (GPS) Time synchronisation of all Networked Stations Capable of interfacing with a number of communications platform types Military level security
Security/Reliability All transmitted data is fully error corrected All Messages are saved (archived after activation is completed). All Communications activity is time/date logged Network is time synchronised to within 1/1000 second. Network reliability so far is 100%
RECOM Field stations Fully self-reliant stations in vehicles, with the operator able to operate indoors using a 100m range bluetooth link.
RECOM Field stations Transceivers are Yaesu FT897 or FT817, driving a solid-state 400w linear amplifier. The linear runs at 50% duty cycle with enhanced (water) cooling. A small generator float charges the vehicle’s battery. The PC’s have 486 processors because they run cool, a requirement in the field where the air temperature can be 47 Degrees.
RECOM Field stations Special Communications Systems of Germany HF modems – a world leader RECOM passes useful data on HF even when signals are -24 dB below the noise floor It uses a slightly modified form of Pactor The Australian Communications and Media Authority, permits encryption for emergency communications – needed for privacy reasons
RECOM vehicles are GPS tracked for operator welfare and fully-equipped with online mapping
HF Data (Low band) HF Data (High band) PSTN Data IRIDIUM Data RecomNet Emergency Operations Centre Network Station Field Station Red Cross HQ Melbourne RECOM Data Gateway Citrix RECOM Data Network
It uses a ‘distributed network’ over HF radio With three of the control stations on air communication through one or another is always possible To overcome HF propagation variability, software samples available frequencies to work out the best at any time
RECOM HF Data Network RECOM National Data Gateway Sale Wangaratta Beaconsfield RECOM HF Data Network EOC Ballarat (2) Korumburra McraeDrouin Bairnsdale Lara
Antenna details It takes 2 minutes to put up the antenna. Anchored at the base by 3 tent pegs. A squid pole (telescoped fishing rod) is rotated to wind 10 turns of wire over its entire length. Most stations work this antenna as the vehicle body although sometimes ground radials are deployed.
Recovery continues Communities continue to recover from the Black Saturday bushfire disaster Preparations are underway for the next fire season which starts in 8 weeks time WICEN and RECOM are at the ready
The end – thank you! Jim Linton VK3PC Chairman IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee Program Committee Member GAREC-2009 Honorary Life Member - Wireless Institute of Australia Email: firstname.lastname@example.org PO Box 200, Forest Hill, Vic 3131 Australia
About the author Jim Linton VK3PC Joined the Wireless Institute of Australia as a teenager and shortwave listener. That begun a life-time of volunteering for the WIA including being on of the longest continuous office bearers. His roles have included that of a State President and Public Relations Officer, Federal Councillor, Guest Editor of the WIA journal Amateur Radio magazine, WIA team member at the IARU R3 triennial conferences since Darwin 2000. He is an Honorary Life Member of the WIA. Jim has been President of Amateur Radio Victoria (WIA Victoria) since 1983. By profession he has had a career of 40 years including that of a news journalist writing many of the major stories of the day 1971-94, and then as a public relations practitioner in local government. He first wrote of amateur radio emergency communications in 1974 in relation to the tropical cyclone Tracy that destroyed Darwin, the Ash Wednesday bushfire disaster 1983, other occasions of fires and floods in Australia. Jim was a member of the WICEN representative team that appeared before the Victorian Government Miller Inquiry into the Ash Wednesday disaster. As the IARU R3 Disaster Communications Committee Chairman attending GAREC- 2009, this presentation on bushfire communications also reflects his experience as a local government officer playing a key communications role in response to that disaster.