Super Typhoon hits Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) a fast-moving Category 5 that struck the centrally-located Eastern Visayas of The Philippines on November 8, 2013. It made landfall at Manicani island in Eastern Samar and eventually passing through Coron in Palawan. With 300 kilometres per hour winds, it generated storm surges unseen in recent history.
The map shows the projected and actual paths of Yolanda (Haiyan).
In Tacloban City the storm surged more than 10 kilometres inland. This is was the access road to Tacloban airport.
PARA and its HERO network was ready The Philippines Amateur Radio Association, a member society of the IARU, was ready with its HERO (Ham Emergency Radio Operations) Network. When the typhoon struck, the magnitude of the resulting disaster erased all semblance of preparation. There were widespread reports of homes and buildings, swept away, road blocked with fallen trees, and disrupted power and communications.
Jeric Silva DV1JMS (centre beside man with cap), President of PARA affiliate club ACCESS-5 assisting in the retrieval of casualties. The first message from Nathan Eamiguel DU5AOK of RADNET-5, another PARA affiliate club, “please send body bags.”
The disaster agencies had a meeting on November 5, 2013 with PARA affiliate clubs ACCESS-5 and RADNET-5.
HERO stations are experienced The HERO network of individuals and clubs were the only immediate source of communication in and out of the area. The Philippines is battered by an average of 20 major storms or typhoons each year. Typhoon Bopha had left about 2,000 people dead or missing on Mindanao Island in December 2012. Although HERO had provided disaster communications in earlier earthquakes, mudslides and storms, no-one had faced such a powerful a typhoon, which smashed islands and destroyed the homes of more than four million people.
At the Roxas City Provincial Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Council is Iver Astronomo DV6ILA and Arnel Van Aleligay DV6WAV. They also manage fire, police, local government and disaster agencies as well as HERO traffic.
Responding to the threat and disaster With the threat of a typhoon, HERO reported on the official pre-emptive evacuations along exposed coastal areas as the weather system closed in - potentially saving many lives. Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) made landfall at 4.40am local time on November 8, 2013, in Guian Estern Samar, about 600 kilometres southeast of Manila, and neighbouring provinces were affected. Then it made second landfall over Dulag-Tolosa, Leyte with maximum sustained winds of 235 kilometres per hour near the centre and gusting up to 275 kph. The area of Bohol and Cebu, that had a 7.2 magnitude earthquake a month earlier, was in its path.
Extent of HERO The HERO involvement in providing emergency communications engaged about 100 radio amateurs - including those living in the affected areas. The terrible toll was officially more than 6,200 people dead and 2,000 missing, many in the wake of giant, tsunami-like waves unleashed on coastal communities. The losses included 71,000 hectares of agricultural land with crops of rice and corn.
Extent of HERO HERO had responded to an earthquake at Bohol that killed 222 people a month earlier, where at least 5,000 survivors were living in tents. HERO stations helped track the destructive storm, its fierce wind, rainfall, storm surges, damage, plus outages of communications and other services. The emergency messages kept flowing through HERO Network stations on 7.095 MHz, 144.740 MHz and via social media.
One of the good stories from Yolanda is the recognition that local hams received. Iver DV6ILA was designated as convoy lead by UNOCHA in the distribution of relief goods. The UNOCHA official, Fernando Arroyo is also a ham, callsign EA4BB.
Welfare and searching Non-government agencies and the military began to move in to areas to provide medical assistance, search and rescue, shelter, welfare and food. HERO worked with the authorities providing vital, on-the-spot reports and messages. Among those responding were the European Union, UNICEF, Red Cross, US Navy, and many other non-government domestic and foreign aid and relief organisations.
Tacloban City hit hard Tacloban City in Leyte Province established an emergency link back to the capital city of Manila to carry many essential traffic messages as the rescue and relief effort continued. The Tacloban City HERO station operated out of the City Hall powered by a generator and using a wire antenna. Meanwhile another HERO group, ACCESS-5, set-up its base at the Tacloban Grandstand where members served as operators for the national agencies. Its VHF frequency 144.650 was the only emergency channel used by these agencies.
Bodies littered the streets. Jeric DV5JMS was overwhelmed by the number of casualties.
Played an important role With field liaisons HERO was able to validate and secure requested information on Tacloban residents from relatives. This continued with DX5RAN (RADNET or the District 5 Radio Amateur Network), while many other HERO stations were operating throughout the affected areas and elsewhere. Leyte Island was one of six islands hit, with initial reports of survivors sheltering in damaged homes describing the noise sounding like a jumbo jet. Monitoring HERO traffic back in Manila was the National Telecommunications Commission.
NTC asked for help The National Telecommunications Commission regional office in Tacloban needed hand-held radio contacts – and enlisted HERO in that work. Earthquake-struck Bohol is on the eastern side of Leyte, only had a short break before establishing a HERO command centre at the Governor's Office. From there high ranking government officials were able to use a HERO link manned by Nathan Eamiguel DU5AOK, to communicate with the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Council.
NTC kept informed The National Telecommunications Commission was given briefings, and used the HERO Network for several messages. The NTC had an emergency meeting chaired by its Commissioner, Gamaliel A. Cordoba attended by two PARA representatives. The meeting decided to provide hams with mobile rigs and hand-held portables. The NTC asked that the HERO coverage be expanded to gather information from the farthest town that could be accessed.
HERO spreads its reach There had been no news from the islands as the initial national government focus had been on Tacloban City and its neighbouring municipalities. However DX7CA sent a team east of Cebu Province, to set up HERO stations including in the Cebu Capitol Building. The Governor convened a needs-assessment meeting with local officials, and the HERO network was able to help coordinate the recovery.
Media interest in HERO activity was local, and worldwide with the BBC and a US radio network.
Remote areas begin getting help Rescuers and relief supplies reached remote places for the first time days later, and those involved painted a gloomy picture indeed. All emergency services, supported by the military and at least five major HERO stations were overwhelmed by the disaster, but got on with the job ahead. Despite being of modest means and many finding themselves and their families affected by the Typhoon, they kept HERO stations active helping authorities and residents. Many simply inquired through HERO stations to find the location and welfare of people.
The difficult phase of a long disaster As the need dragged on, HERO found itself at in a difficult phase. Local operators needed a rest - but would not budge from their locations. However these victims and their families had to fend for themselves and eventually, reluctantly gave up that role. Telecoms companies steadily restored cellular mobile services, and there was gradually less of reliance on the HERO network, although coverage remained patchy for some time. HERO activity gained some media exposure for the voluntary emergency communications service it provided to the agencies and community in times of disaster.
Typhoon disaster results A greater awareness and understanding of the importance of Amateur Radio matured during the disaster. Thought has been given to further training and maintaining stations at NTC regional offices. After weeks of deployment, the Philippines Amateur Radio Association stood down its HERO Network on November 27, although a few remained on the disaster clean-up.
Typhoon disaster results What the disaster reinforced was the need for more equipment deployable in the field, power source generators, antenna systems, as well as food or ration packs and HERO operator tents. Alternative energy was needed particular for existing infrastructure of voice repeaters on VHF such as batteries and solar power. PARA is working with the National Telecommunications Commission, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, on the future emergency communications need.
A SUV vehicle lying upside down in downtown Roxas City.
Mustering by ACCESS-5 at the back of the Tacloban Grandstand
The first effort at establishing HF link by RADNET-5 using the truck battery as a power source. It was a 20-watt field station but enough to be heard by PARA operators in Manila. It later relocated to Tacloban City Hall where generators kept it going at 100 watts. Antenna was a homebrew 40 metre wire dipole.
First world disaster comms in action. UNOCHA personnel set-up microwave links at the Roxas City Provincial Capitol Building. Photo courtesy of DV6ILA
After the storm PARA embarked on a funding drive using Facebook, resulting in the following clubs and individuals being given assistance: 29 members of ACCESS-5 78 members of RADNET-5 5 members of the Cebu Amateur Radio League (CARL) Some members of the Chocolate Hills Amateur Radio League and NORAD-7 in Dumaguete Lester Price DV5PO ( the only HF link to Borongan Eastern Samar. His house was almost totalled.) Iver Astronomo DV6ILA Arnel Van Aleligay DV6WAV The common denominator for the recipients – they are HERO operators and victims of Yolanda.
After the storm Equipment has also been donated, with the help of Stanley Jungleib WA6LVC; Alinco SR8 HF transceiver with matching tuner, power supply and antenna. From K - Trask Whitman Amateur Radio Club, 4 pcs Baofeng VHF/UHF handhelds. ARRL found it difficult to send gear but forwarded US$4,000 for equipment. Thanks to Mike Corey KI1U, David Sumner K1ZZ and the ARRL.
After the storm Preparations are being made for the next typhoon season. Net calls are in earnest, recruiting additional net control stations, and many are preparing their stations. There is a new Board of Trustees. The new PARA Chief Operating Officer is Thelma Pascua DU1IVT. Procuring equipment from the ARRL donation will be a priority. PARA HQ will hopefully get new mast and antenna at the Boys Scouts of the Philippines Centre building. The Amateur Radio Consultative Panel will resume its work as soon as NTC issues the new Memorandum Circular designating its members.
Acknowledgements This presentation is the work of the many involved in the Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) disaster. Appreciation is extended to them all in telling this story. Thanks in particular to Ramon Anquilan DU1UGZ, Thelma Pascua DU1IVT, and the Board of PARA. Jim Linton VK3PC Chairman IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee.