WIA Members Assist during Tsunami Disaster
In addition to the voice contacts that were made by WIA members with several hams in the tsunami-affected areas, other WIA members assisted with digital communications.
Tony - VK1VM
Phil (VK6KPS) runs a digital amateur radio station from his home in Perth. His station, in particular, monitors digital traffic from local and foreign radio amateurs on private sailboats that traverse Australian waters or nearby archipelagos to Australia's north. Another role is to monitor traffic originating from land-based travellers in the outback. Others that contribute to this effort are Charles (VK2SYD) operating out of Sydney, John (VK8HF) operating out of Darwin, and Marc (VK2BUA) provides technical advice.
The majority of traffic through his station usually is in the form of email about mundane matter to inform faraway family and friends about itineraries and arrival and departure dates. Other traffic concerns safety-related matters like position reporting, gathering of weather reports or help during medical and other emergencies.
On the morning that the tsunami hit the many popular cruising areas in South and South-East Asia, those at home almost immediately filled the air and the Internet inquiring about the welfare of family and friends on boats in the tsunami-affected areas. The network that Phil interfaces with, Winlink 2000, alerted each of its 40 or so amateur stations around the world to be on alert for emergency communications.
Boats equipped with the same system, shortly after the tsunami hit, started to send out messages reporting on the safety of their boats and crew and other nearby boats. As information started to come in it became apparent that many sailboats and crews had survived reasonably well, that is, at least in respect of those boats that were in transit or anchored out. Boats in marinas, with many owners absent to be home for Christmas, were not so lucky. The surges lifted boats and then dropped them down on pylons or docks and many were destroyed. It appears that multihulls, like catamarans and trimarans, fared worse than monohulls.
While Winlink is primarily concerned with providing the communication network, Phil and other SysOps became heavily involved in coordinating with ham radio and volunteer services on the Internet. As news from vessels came in it was recorded on a spreadsheet that was then posted on the Internet. Its contents cover many variables that could not have been effectively conveyed by voice. The digital report put out by VK6KPS can be accessed at: www.bur.st/~philsuth/tsunami_status.html.
As is often the case following disasters, it provided the impetus to revive proposals for expanding digital amateur radio coverage in Asia and the Pacific. Views on this may be found at www.dares.nl/tsunami_winlink_project.htm and www.aussiewinlink.org/.
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