It occurs to me that I never ended up posting my AAR here. Below is a report I wrote about the Amateur Radio-based activities I was involved in relating to the Nepalese Earthquakes.
Nepalese Disaster Net
April 25 – May 1, 2015
AAR (After Action Report)
By Phil A. McBride, VA3QR
On April 25th, 2015, at 0611z, a 7.8 Magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. I became aware of Amateur Radio-based emergency communications (EMCOMMS) later that day, and joined a net that had been convened on 14.210MHz USB by Amir Bazak, 4X6TT, and Colin Wilson, CT7ACG for the purpose of relaying traffic from Satesh Kharel, 9N1AA, whose equipment was still operational post-disaster. I became a relay station and a backup network controller for CT7ACG, NCS, during the evening/night hours in the Eastern Time zone (-4 UTC DST) over the subsequent X nights. This After Action Report (AAR) is intended to provide details of my experiences as NCS Relay and NCS, and to provide feedback to the group of dedicated Amateur Radio operators who served as volunteers for the network.
Details of Activity
I signed onto the EMCOMM net at approx. 2350z on April 25th, 2015 and checked in with CT7ACG. I was pointing my Cushcraft MA-5B bearing 20d N/NE running 1.2kW PEP, and was able to be heard by NCS, and other various relays across the network. I informed CT7ACG that I was an experienced EMCOMM operator and volunteered to help in any way I could. CT7ACG made me a relay for NCS for north-eastern North America. I passed traffic from North and Central America to NCS, and was able to copy some stations in Western Europe that NCS was unable to hear due to the conditions at the time. I stayed active until approx. 0200z.
The next evening, April 26th, 2015, I signed into the net at approx. 2330z and checked in with CT7ACG. I performed the same duties as I had the previous evening. The network was becoming more elaborate with more stations volunteering to help. The net was expanded to cover two frequencies, and the net frequencies were changed from the original assignment of 14.210MHz to a primary net on 14.205MHz for emergency, priority and tactical traffic, and a secondary net on 14.215MHz for health, welfare, and volunteer assignments, as well as technical discussion. For the most part operators were taking direction from NCS and keeping the frequencies clear. Stations participating in the net were asking stations who were within approx. 5KHz of either net to change frequency to avoid causing interference with operations. To help streamline the net, I wrote a preamble and e-mailed it to CT7ACG, who subsequently distributed it across the network. I stayed active until approx. 0230z.
On April 27th, 2015, I listened for activity at approx. 2340z, and was unable to hear anything meaningful due to atmospheric conditions. I e-mailed CT7ACG and 4X6TT and informed them that I wouldnt sign on unless needed, and that they should e-mail me if that was the case.
On April 28th, 2015, I signed onto the net at approx. 2345z and checked in with CT7ACG, and again became a relay for NCS. On this particular evening, the net on 14.215MHz was closed due to a lack of activity. The network had helped to arrange the sending of equipment to the disaster zone, but only two aircraft were allowed on the tarmac of the airport at any given time, and all planes going into Kathmandu were emptied of their contents and filled with medical supplies. Our goal was to keep the frequency clear should a 9N1 station appeared, and to keep the network established. This was largely accomplished, and I signed off when Colin did at approx. 0245z when N0UN took over as NCS.
On April 29th, 2015, I signed onto the net at approx. 2320z and checked in with CT7ACG, and assumed my responsibilities as NCS Relay. Again, 14.215MHz was closed due to inactivity, but there were at least 15 stations on frequency scattered across the globe acting as relays. We had issued with deliberate interference (D-QRM) caused by what we deduced to be a station operating from the US mid-west; he went quiet soon thereafter once net operators started to look for bearings. There was report of another 4.2 Magnitude earthquake. I worked with CT7ACG and was able to give him remote control of my station so that he could make use of a North American QRO transceiver. CT7ACG and I signed off at approx. 0259z.
On April 30th, 2015, I came into my shack to find that CT7ACG had changed the frequency of my Flex 5000a to 14.300MHz, which is the IARU Emergency Centre Frequency for the 20m band. 4X6TT shared that the issues that had kept the 9N1 stations from using 14.300MHz had been resolved, and that emergency traffic would be moving there, while the secondary net would remain at 14.215MHz, and would only operate from 0800z to 2300z or as circumstances required. I signed onto the net at 1823z as NCS Relay for Peter Voelpel, DJ7WW. At 1920z, Rudi Claes, ON7CL, took over as NCS and DJ7WW signed clear. Before signing on, I made a post on my website, www.va3qr.ca, and provided a live audio link from my station so that everyone could listen to what I was hearing, more for public consumption. The Maritime Mobile Service Net (MMSN) continues to operate, but they are announcing that they are only taking emergency traffic, and position reports and other regular traffic would be taken at 14.347MHz. I signed into service at 2343z, where Bob Cieszenski, ND7J was NCS, and I was one of several relays on frequency. MMSN NCS are moving all of their stations to 14.305MHz when they sign on, and are making announcements on the ½ hour that the net is in stand down. I assumed temporary control at 0014z and gave it back at 0019z. At 0056z, Lan Lamphere, KC7RUN took over an NCS. So far, Lan was the most professional sounding NCS Id heard. He called for relays, took 5 of them, including me, and called for radio silence. KC7RUN stepped out at 0152z and asked me to assume the net in his absence. I received an e-mail at 0159z from Phillip Conza, ZL2TZE, that he was monitoring at home at via his Polish remote station, 3Z9DX, and asked me to ask KC4RUN to monitor the 9N1Emergency Facebook group for his updates. I sent this onto KC4RUN as requested. KC4RUN arrived on frequency at 0201z to assume NCS again. MMSN closed at 0201z. At 0202z, Rick McCallum, KC7MF, informed all on freq. that the Pacific Seafarers Net was being suspended for the evening. Received traffic via Jim Sylvester, KA0HDJ, a MARS station, at 0209z, and condensed into a standard format and forwarded to KC4RUN, CT7ACG and 4X6TT. Over the next hour, I picked up three more relays. We attempted a call at 0300z to 9N1AA, to no avail. At approx. 0320, the band started to change rapidly and I lost propagation into Europe, and was no longer able to hear KC7RUN. At 0337z, I asked KC7RUN via Internet messaging to get a hold of ZL2TZE and ask him to assume operations as traffic in Europe is the priority at this time of the day. At 0344z, Darcy Bens, VE6DDD signed onto the net, strong readable, with path to me and to KC7RUN. KC7RUN signed at 0350z as he had lost all paths. VE6DDD offered to stay around and call for NCS stations for a while. I wrote a note to CT7ACG and 4X6TT and signed at 0356z.
On May 1st, 2015, I was informed by CT7ACG via e-mail that emergency net operations had concluded.
– There were an immense number of stations offering to help at the beginning of the situation, which is why the net was split over two frequencies. This was an excellent idea, which allowed priority traffic on the primary net and other traffic on the secondary net, which helped eliminate bottlenecks. However, until the last day of the net, there was still way too much traffic on the primary frequency. This was primarily due to the lack of EMCOMM experience amongst many of the responding stations. It did not seem to affect operations, but it did give some wrong impressions to some of those monitoring.
– At the very beginning of the net, most exchanges were very drawn out and long, which made it hard to hear traffic. Again, this was chiefly due to a lack of operator experience. As time went on, the exchanges became shorter and more compact, allowing the net to operate more efficiently.
– Deliberate interference was a big problem. I know that a great many people were recording it, and I hope those recordings, along with bearings, are sent to the IARU for triangulation. Offenders should not only lose their license, but their equipment should be forfeit.
– The one thing that struck me during this operation was that there was no official EMCOMM infrastructure in place. There are several EMCOMM groups, and even a few international groups that specialize in these types of events, and I saw no appearance that they were mobilized. I know there were certain individual, regional groups that put forth volunteers, but I would have thought that the larger groups, even if they werent in control of the operation, wouldve put forward volunteers to monitor and relay on the net.
– MARS provided a great deal of help, by activating their Afghani station T6TM and forwarding that traffic through me (I am a CFARS station, part of the allied network), and also by activating their station in Okinawa, Japan.
Summary and Conclusions
I believe this was a successful operation. The operations inside the disaster zone are far from over, but it appears that there are working, active data links going into Kathmandu, which renders our further services moot and redundant. This operation has proven, once again, that Amateur Radio is a vital piece of infrastructure during times of disaster, and that its use must be considered by those officials and agencies who are responsible for such planning at all levels of government. It has also shown the generosity of spirit of the majority of those who identify themselves as hams.
End of Report.