Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Handiham World for 13 January 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

Sadly, the big news today is the earthquake disaster in Haiti. I wanted to get this right up front, as the Salvation Army net is active on 14.265 MHz, which is the regular Handiham 20 meter net frequency. As always, all Handiham activity on the frequency will cease whenever the Salvation Army is running emergency nets. We will soon be choosing a new 20 meter net frequency and time anyway, so that we will not run into any conflicts with the Salvation Army net. More about new net frequency proposals later.

The earthquake disaster in Haiti is unparalleled in our lifetime. We are told from the news reports that nothing of this magnitude has occurred on the island since the 1770s. I will be providing you with some amateur radio links later on in this edition, because amateur radio is often the most reliable form of communication at times when widespread disaster causes communications infrastructure failure. Unfortunately, this earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince, the largest city in Haiti and one with a very high population density. Many of the buildings in Haiti are constructed of concrete that is not reinforced in the way modern building codes would require in first world countries. Haiti, the poorest Third World country in the Western Hemisphere, already suffers from poor utility services and overcrowding. You can imagine the effect of a magnitude 7 earthquake in such a place. Unreinforced concrete buildings came tumbling down, trapping people. Because the earthquake came late in the afternoon on a winter day, there would be little daylight remaining to assess the disaster and begin recovery efforts. Because of this, it is expected that much more information will be available now that the sun has risen on a new day in Port-au-Prince.

It was in the mid-1970s that my friend Don Newcomb, W0DN, and I decided on the spur of the moment to take a short trip to Haiti, a place that I had never been. I was living in the Caribbean at the time, and Don was visiting me. Since I was teaching school and had a break, the short trip to Port-au-Prince would be fun. Also, Don could speak French. That would certainly prove to be valuable in French speaking Haiti. A year later, Don and I would form the antenna company known as Butternut Electronics, but of course that is another story!

Even the plane ride to a Third World country can be memorable. The old airplane that carried us to Port-au-Prince leaked oil from the engines, and I remember watching the streaks of oil trail across the wing that I could see through the window. As is traditional, everyone cheered and clapped when we landed safely. Neither of us brought along any ham radio equipment on the trip, as we didn't want to deal with import or customs problems.

Our short visit was mainly in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area. I do still remember the concrete buildings, most of which do not exceed three or four stories in height. Nonetheless, I am glad that I did not know about the unreinforced construction and the possibility of earthquakes while I was visiting. Had I known, I guess I would have been pretty nervous! In fact, we had a wonderful short visit, typical tourist stuff, and I bought an oil painting showing a Haitian market scene from a street vendor. I still have that painting on my wall today. Of course as a tourist I had to see the presidential palace. This morning, watching the scene of devastation on television, the collapsed presidential palace brought back that same sick feeling that I recall watching the video of the World Trade Center towers falling on 9/11. I had seen both places and was struck by how fragile even seemingly iconic buildings can be, toppled by disasters that we seem unprepared to deal with and that are more or less unpredictable. My heart goes out to the people of Haiti.

That is why as amateur radio operators we should always be ready for an emergency. Monday morning quarterbacking does no good when communications infrastructure fails and we need to make way for emergency communications traffic. The next emergency could come anywhere at any time. Will you be ready?

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,