Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Relying on the military after natural disasters: "A huge mistake" -no

+++++++++ Draft version, to be completed next week ++++++

Dear reader,

as always in the wake of natural disasters there are those who argue back and forth what should change or what has to be upheld. Every time a natural disaster happens there is some degree of chaos, especially in the initial phase that is during the ongoing event in the hours or first couple of days immediately after whole countries or at least regions are devastated.

Some people choose the theoretical approach, while others tend to learn from every single disaster and draw conclusions from what actually happened each time and where things went relatively smoothly while elsewhere chaos ruled much longer than in the initial hours.

Should the US ‘Send In the Marines’ After Hurricanes? [Defense One, Oct 12 2017]

Some argue that laws should be upheld to prevent the military to play a broader role in disaster relief operations while obviously people dying and suffering from a bureaucratic approach to disaster relief.

What is also overlooked that natural disasters can impact either a small area with only a few people affected or such an event can affect many areas, many different states. As stated earlier disasters don't give a rat's ass about human borders, jurisdictions, laws, state organization. Disaster strikes, infrastructure gets destroyed, people die immediately, get hurt immediately or suffer in the aftermath by the lack of food,water,electricity,communication or medical care.

Some people describe the impact of e.g. major hurricanes as a 'war zone' while others even talk of scenario as if a 'atomic bomb' hit an area. The latter comparisons are always misplaced because no natural disaster, except perhaps the impact of a large chunk of debris from space - asteroid or meteor - will cause as much complete destruction. Nevertheless infrastructure is often crippled, many pillars of civilian life knocked down and not only has the military the kind of equipment needed to match that very 'basic' conditions, but they also have the ability to react swiftly by using their assets for initial damage assessment. Sometimes science will give us a pretty good idea what is to be expected from a certain kind of disaster which is forecast to happen. Like those very accurate models for hurricane paths and strength on the one hand and various earlier incidents with similar wind speeds. Sometimes there are no big surprises, but an initial thorough aerial assessment is needed nevertheless to determine what kind of response in needed.

Every disaster of level 0 could be left to pure civilian response, but from level 1 upwards some or a full deployment of military forces is needed. At least when the primary objective is too save as many lives as possible and not cost efficiency, upholding bureaucratic structures, etc. A swift assessment by the military could then activate a response plan , already worked in advance. A plan than has several stages. Stage one should be purely military, since several command structures working simultaneously in one area can only result in chaos. The military assessment team will give an estimate of what assets have to be deployed and what number of troops from what divisions.

The military should have sufficient intelligence of what objects are located where and they will have to make sure that all those vital objects report their operational status to a command center. If local governments are able to do this job it's good, but the info should then be shared with central command.

One of the first objectives should be to secure vital objects like hospitals, gas stations, government buildings, radio & TV stations, civilian communications and to make sure all of those have sufficient power to operate, security at the place to prevent criminals from interfering.

Joint task force(UK/FR/NL) for relief effort re islands hit by Irma/Maria

UK sets up joint Caribbean Coordination Cell with French and Dutch allies [royalnavy.mod.uk]

After initial individual response by their national armed forces, the three countries established a joint task force in order to better coordinate the rescue & relief effort on all islands impacted by those two powerful hurricanes.
Some of the islands affected by those hurricanes are divided by national borders. So some jurisdictions are very close to each other, but so far national governments had to deploy own troops to cope with the aftermath of the disasters. So for the (small) island of St. Maarten/Saint Martin that means that the Dutch Navy, Coast Guard and Air force deployed to the Dutch side of island(Sint Maarten) , and the French took care of their side (Saint Martin). The civilian aid effort by e.g. the EU was also hampered by the different status of Sint Maarten. While Saint Martin remained French overseas territory, Sint Maarten is just member of the NL commonwealth, but independent since a few years. It took the EU some weeks to decide that both parts of the island will be treated equally in regard of financial aid.

The Dutch Navy deployed the biggest vessel - Karel Doorman - initially to Sint Maarten, packed with heavy equipment and tons of relief supplies. Before it sailed to the Caribbean it took some equipment from the UK on board. When it finally arrived in the Caribbean area another hurricane hit the island of Dominica hard and the Netherlands deployed the Karel Doorman to Dominica after delivering aid to Sint Maarten. Two smaller Dutch Navy vessels delivered food and water to Dominica earlier.

Schip Karel Doorman voor hulp naar Dominica [Oct 15 2017]

It's clear that those small island nations aren't capable of coping with the aftermath of hurricanes that make landfall with category 4 or 5 strength. Some meteorologists estimate that the wind impact is quite similar to a tornado category 3-4 on the Fujita scale. The damage inflicted on buildings is quite the same, only the area/number of people affected by it is much larger. A hurricane covers wide areas, affect many people and those small island nations
don't have even enough food/water supplies to meet the demand of a suffering population. Construction materials, spare parts for the electricity supply and telecommunications are often also not found in sufficient amounts on those islands. So it's not only a question of taking care and feeding the people, but also of logistics in general. Often the civilian logistics infrastructure is either heavily damaged or completely destroyed. In the case of Puerto Rico there was even a lack of truck drivers available to resupply super markets or to deliver bottled water. There was no strike, as some rumors initially suggested, but those truck drivers took care of their own destroyed houses, looked after their families and had often big problems to get to their employers because roads have been blocked, destroyed or their cars were damaged, no gasoline available in the place they lived.

More than 132 tons of UK aid has also already arrived in the region and at the peak of relief efforts, there were more than 2,000 UK military personnel working in the Caribbean – “making it the largest deployment of British troops anywhere in the world.”
source: UK Joint Task Force head says territories 'moving back towards normality' after Hurricane Irma devastation [Jamaica Observer, Oct 8 2017] 

The stages of military deployment, mixed NGO & mil deployment and pure civilian responsibility

1. pre-planning phase (predictable disasters only) 
2. damage assessment phase 
3. military deployment, logistic chain setup, search & rescue, rescue & relief 
4. mixed military & civilian (NGO) rescue & relief effort
5. handing over responsibilty to local governments and NGOs

Puerto Rico:NGOs forced to rely on radio amateurs
The last blog entries regarding appropriate response was written in the wake of hurricane Irma and described communication problems and solutions. Since the response to hurricane Maria's impact on the island of Puerto Rico was not the one needed by a sufficiently staffed and led by a central command structure, it was almost inevitable that 'the usual chaos' and the 'random response' will happen. First the American Red Cross made an appeal to the ARRL for 50 radio amateurs who should have some experience in disaster response to be dispatched to the devastated island and later the salvation army also made use of some members of this association of American ham radio operators. Volunteers were found and dispatched, but this process took some days, while many people on the island had no access to running water during tropical heat. Fortunately not that many people suffered life threatening injuries, otherwise those patients with open wounds could have died easily without proper medical treatment. Hurricane damage, as bad as it is, is not similar to the damage caused by earthquakes which usually produces a lot of broken bones, traumas , open wounds and infections. The use of radio amateurs for establishing communications was a 'must' 30-40 years ago, when there was no or not sufficient equipment for satellite based communication, and the point made earlier was that if the police would insist that people walk to the nearest police station in order to report a crime, some 30 years after the invention and the widely use of telephones, it would be considered pretty ineffective. The military including the National Guard has specialized teams with state of the art satellite communication equipment and also the means to deliver those vital comms specialists and their equipment even to the remotest places on earth since their organisation also have airlift capabilities. So instead of a roughly week from first appeals of NGOs to the deployment of amateurs, it could only take a few hours by the 'A-team' to accomplish the same if not more.

American Red Cross Asks ARRL’s Assistance with Puerto Rico Relief Effort [ARRL, Sep 24 2017]
Salvation Army Seeks Amateur Radio Operators for Possible Caribbean Deployment [ARRL, Sep 29 2017]
Amateur Radio Volunteers in Puerto Rico Meet a Variety of Communication Needs [ARRL, Oct 4 2017]

When it takes a week or even longer to deploy basic communication means to a disaster area, the assessment of local need can only start from this point and precious time is wasted. There were also some deaths reported in Puerto Rico which occurred due to the lack of power for life support systems in medical facilities. This could be avoided when real rapid response teams by the military secure those medical facilities first, give them back their communication skills and the electricity they need to power their medical equipment including those machines vital for life support in intensive care units.

Why use soldiers, not NGOs for handing out food and water ? 
A legit question, but we also have to question if it makes sense to use (expensive) airlift capacity for delivering tons of bottled water to remote islands, surrounded by water. The initial response of Navy vessels with their own desalination capability already gave the answer. Navy vessel and especially aircraft carrier do have the equipment needed to pump potable water. Desalination plants and bottling machines can also be flown in and produce urgently needed water locally. 100 tons of such equipment is worth perhaps 100k (or even more) tons of water which doesn't need airlift or delivery by naval vessel.

Judicial obstacles which prevent the use of own military domestically
In the German case their Constitution forbid the use of their military (Bundeswehr) after the second World War. The local German disaster of 1962 where some levies in the Hamburg area were not strong enough to withstand the forces of the storm surge was also already mentioned here on this blog. Interior senator (minister) Helmut Schmidt took over command and fully aware that he was violating the German Constitution he asked not only for assistance by the German Army - the Bundeswehr - but went a step further and called NATO HQ for additional troop deployments my NATO allies (which had many bases at the time in Germany as well).

Military response training not only useful for natural disasters
The history of more recent wars has showed us very clearly that much planning was done for invading other countries and to subdue their military quickly and without taking too many own casualties.
Victory was often swift by very high skilled US and NATO forces, but the real problems in those wars began, when the main fighting activities subsided and the civilian infrastructure was heavily damaged or even completely destroyed.

The planning of 'the day after' was not as thoroughly as the attack and it's fair to say that most of the own casualties resulted not from the initial attack phase, but from the chaos in those occupied countries. Although the perfect logistics was in place for transporting ammo and supplies for the own troops, there were no stockpiles of generators, spare parts, medical equipment for x number of places, towns and cities. The military planned for rapid destruction and not for rapid putting the devastated countries back on their feet by substitution of all equipment and vital infrastructure which was destroyed earlier.

Armed resistance also was formed, because people had no job, the local economy didn't work and people have been angry that nothing or not much worked. From running water , sewage treatment, electricity, communication to security. If a country is left devastated only few people have to wonder that everything goes downhill. So no matter what caused the major disruption of civilian life - a natural or a man made (war) disaster - the result is pretty much the same.

It's said that generals only fight the last wars, and after a few wars with many also own casualties taken in the years after the 'main event' it's 'perhaps' time to rethink the concept of warfare in order to offset the destructive effort with a constructive role.

A routine in evacuations also useful for war zones. 
Where ever a new war breaks out, civilians and also tourists/visitors/foreigners will be affected. World travel has increased significantly and more people are 'abroad' than ever before. Expats have chosen to live abroad, business people working in overseas branches of their company, tourists stay in hotels, are travelling up/down whole continents.

'Well oiled' rescue & relief effort a boost for international relations
There are worries that a 'militarization' of relief efforts could by 'tricky', because the people of foreign nations could see those soldiers as 'invaders'. It might be a good idea to ask Pew research or YouGov to ask those people in the Philippines and Nepal what they really think about the efforts of the US Navy and the Indian Army ! While monitoring those disasters closely no indications could be found that locals who were assisted to overcome the worst effects of those disasters issued any statements of disapproval. Maybe it wasn't reported appropriately by local newspapers, but monitoring social media activity by common citizens during those calamities didn't indicate any criticism as well. On the contrary people appealed in many cases directly to the foreign troops and told was needed and posted their gratitude after the tasks were completed.

related links/tweets

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Batteries vs generators (part 2)

Dear reader,                                                       part 1 (generators)

after we looked at all possible facts regarding generators which rely on the principle of the ICE (internal combustion engine), now we take a closer to batteries for use as backup power system and beyond 'first aid'.

First and foremost it has to be said that batteries, unlike generators can't produce electricity, but they simply store it. Batteries need to be charged first, have a certain capacity of storing a certain amount of electricity, usually by chemical components which react while being charged or discharged. Although not a 'battery' by the conventional definition, it's also possible to store electricity in the form of kinetic energy: use pumps to pump water from one level to a higher level (charge) and to use turbine/generator combinations to let the water flow to the lower level again (discharge). This method is usually forgotten, because it is mostly applied in large scale hydro-electrical projects, which often take years to construct and could cost billions of Dollars. The principle however to use a small local stream for electricity generation can also be used by using a small artificial pond on a hill (higher energy level) and converting it into a easily scalable energy storage system, much cheaper to build and run than relying on chemical batteries, which also take much more logistical effort to put in place for the same amount of stored energy (KW).
In principle even seawater could be used, but that requires components which can't corrode as easily and should only be considered when there's a lack of rain/stream water.

Reminder: always read the safety instructions provided by the manufacturer of your battery/ies thoroughly!

Batteries have the advantage that the can be used to transport electric energy from one place to another where it is urgently needed (the disaster zone). So they could deliver instant electricity without producing any noise or emitting any toxic fumes, but on the other hand they might be much heavier than generators and after their has to be addition equipment at place before the battery is fully discharged. Many chemical batteries don't even 'like' to get fully discharged, since it would have a negative impact on their lifespan and/or their capacity. However there are more modern, but also still more expensive, batteries on the market which can get fully discharged without being damaged.

Fully charged batteries should only be used, when the logistics is able to deliver 'chargers' before the lights go out again. Batteries are ideal for being the center of a reliable, stable and good quality power source. Good quality means that they can deliver in general very stable AC frequencies of 50/60Hz, because they don't have to care about exact RPMs like generators, but on the other hand they need so called inverters to transform their DC current(like 12V,24V,48V) into they widely used AC currents. Just like there are many different types of generators on the market which all produce e.g. 230V AC, but with very different specifications which justify the often big differences in their purchasing price. So the quality of DC to AC inverters also important to know in advance and often the cheapest products on the market aren't sufficient or even dangerous for sensitive kind of power consuming equipment like computers or medical equipment.

The chargers which have to get connected with those batteries at some point should ideally fit the disaster area's prime 'natural energy' source. So it wouldn't make much sense to install solar panels in areas where it's often very cloudy or which are very var North or South of the Equator and it doesn't make sense to install wind generators in areas where there is no wind or just just very sporadic wind. Of course generators can also be connected to larger batteries to recharge them, especially during the initial phase of disaster response when sufficient solar/wind capacity still needs some time to get installed. Even when the primary source of natural power production is fully operational, generators cd remain in place for backup purposes. There are maps available for almost every place on the globe giving often very reliable indications of what amounts of wind/solar energy is locally available. Many people know that solar power is very easily scalable from just one panel of 100+ Watts to whole fields of thousands of those panels (solar plant) with very big (e.g. 500 KW) inverters at their center. Wind energy however is not that easily scalable, although wind generators also start from 100+ Watts (think of small wind generators often used on yachts), but when hundreds of kilowatts or megawatts needed, it makes more sense to order very big (and more efficient) turbines instead of creating an array of smaller ones. In mountainous areas streams and rivers can also be used to install turbine based generators which deliver quick and often very constant power.

Depending on the type of battery used one has to make sure that the target area for their use fits in their operating specified by their manufacturer. Many, if not all, chemical batteries have a temperature range which they can function. And even when operated within those specified limits their capacity can be dependent on the operating environment. Many batteries lose significant portions of their capacity when operated in very cold environments, some can even freeze when it's too cold. On the other hand the can also overheat, especially when charged/discharged with high amounts of amps resulting in extreme cases in fires or explosions. Some batteries can also emit dangerous gas when e.g. charged. That's why older car batteries based on sulfuric acid and lead should be ventilated while being charged, because Hydrogen gas is being emitted during the chemical reaction which comes along with the charging procedure. People have to understand that charging/discharging always invokes a chemical reaction in the battery which transforms the content of the battery from one/several substance(s) into other(s). This often also involves the generation of certain amounts of heat. That's why it's essential not to to short circuit batteries, because the very high flow of electrons invokes a rapid reaction in the battery, which produces gas and/or heat which can result in a fire or even an explosion. Just think about those exploding laptop or smartphone batteries. So it is also wise to store the batteries in places which are
a.) ventilated
b.) not easily combustible
just to make sure that nothing goes terribly wrong once a major mistake happened.

Since all batteries operate on usually quite low DC voltages ranging perhaps from 12V to 24V, it's also a necessity to watch the diameters of the cables used to connect the battery (array) with other equipment. While many people are used to the 'usual' diameters of AC cables, which used voltages many times higher than those DC currents, the cables for equipment to be used with batteries must also be X times thicker (the conductor core, not the insulation!) unless people just want to operator a few LED lights with a few Watts. Rule of thumb: The lower the voltage, the thicker the cable has to be. So it's rather unwise to set up a heavy duty small electrical grid based on 12V technology. When then final AC consumption is 'just' 1000 Watts, some 100 Amps could be flowing from the battery array to the converter (assuming +- 20% loss). So when you use a conventional AC power cable used for 1000W AC (230V!) you can be sure that that thin wire which is designed for 16 Amps will get very hot or even melts and starts a fire ! So when you intend to use kilowatts of AC power, you should think in advance of using equipment which operates on 48V instead of 12V or even higher voltages when more power is needed. There's a reason why 12V is often used in cars while 24V is standard in trucks ! (cable lengths needed and power needs of electrical systems attached to battery)

It was already mentioned that short circuits kill batteries and also often result in fires, so it also makes sense to remind everyone to install circuit breakers (fuses) very near the battery. Just like in cars/trucks there are a number of different fuses installed it should be standard operating procedure to install a fuse box somewhere near the battery (array) in order to prevent mishaps which could also be very expensive even without resulting in a blaze. Batteries aren't cheap and every fuse installed which costs only a few cents could save some big bucks !

Batteries installed along with sufficient solar or wind generation power is very useful 4 enhancing resiliency of vital infrastructure like communication centers or cell towers and also for keeping gas stations operational in the aftermath of a natural disaster. As 'predicted' a loss of communication and refueling infrastructure had a significant impact on the e.g. the island of Puerto Rico. The aid effort couldn't be coordinated without communications (almost the entire island lost cell service & power during/after hurricane Maria hit the island) and since roughly half of the gas stations have been also 'knocked out' and fuel rationing was implemented, the use of fuel based generators also was difficult, if not impossible. The use of batteries is much recommended to make sure that vital infrastructure which relies on electricity keeps on working also during and after disaster strikes. Often the structural integrity of comms infrastructure, gas stations, hospitals and other important cornerstones of modern societies is intact, but the lack of AC power forces those fully intact ,or only slightly damaged structures, to shut down. Batteries can make wind/solar power usable 24/7/365 and should be installed in place at least for backup purposes.
Battery capacity can range from a few Ah (Ampere hours) to many MAh. Very small battery packs are useful 'range extenders' for individuals which use smartphones, tablets, laptops and want to extend their operating hours. Keeping the telephone or tablet 'alive' in the aftermath of a disaster can save lives. When the regular power source (provided by the AC utility company) fails it's essential to conserve as much electricity as possible, so it's a good idea to switch off all gadgets with large displays and a higher consumption in general and to use e.g. smartphones instead. When their internal batteries run out of power it's often possible to recharge them by tapping power from switched off laptops or another good idea is to have a 12V USB charging unit for car use at hand and to use the car battery as a backup power source for vital communication. If the roads are blocked or inundated, bridges destroyed and thus the car rendered useless and especially when the fuel tank is empty, it might be a good idea to disconnect the car battery in order to save power which is otherwise consumed by car electronics.

In order to be able to communicate after the AC power comes down the best idea however is to have one of those external battery packs with built-in solar power at hand. They only cost a few Dollars/Euros and can be used for indefinitely, if exposed long enough to the sun. Small and large scale solar based solutions are a bit trickier however, when used during winter in areas outside the tropics, because daytime hours are limited, weather also often rather overcast, and so the amount of sunshine to recharge the batteries might not be sufficient. In Norther Europe for example the month of December only produces 1/6th - 1/8th of solar power available during July. Near polar regions of our planet the amount of sunshine hours during winter can be just zero, so solar power generation doesn't make any sense.

The 'big ones'
Besides the small ones which are sufficient for the power use of one or several small devices like phones, tablets or laptops, there are the ones now being produced in significant number which can power an entire household. One of the more well known manufacturers is Tesla and their product called 'Powerwall'. There are also other well known manufacturers of inverters or offgrid solutions in general either selling own batteries along with their AC/DC/load&charge control hardware or whose hardware can be combined with other batteries sold separately. As of publication of this blog article the costs of the battery is still the main component of the overall purchasing price of such a unit which is necessary to meet your home's (or office's) power needs. Generating stable, reliable AC power isn't that easy and good quality solutions which are also safe(for users and grid operators/service personnel!) are still costing some money. The Powerwall product has currently some 7 kWh of usable energy which is sufficient, since most of the power generated during the day e.g. by solar panels on the roof will be consumed directly before it gets stored in the battery.
When an apartment block, or an office building needs to be powered by a combination of wind/solar electricity generation and a battery, we are talking about some hundreds of kWh or even Megawatt/hours. Those storage capacities can either be achieved by creating an array of smaller units or by using a big battery system, often also less costly than a myriad of smaller systems. One disadvantage of large systems in the event of a disaster is that they might nor be 'in stock', but most be build first according to customer's specification. They perhaps also need some special logistics, because they're large and heavy and if that would be no problem to get those 'beasts' to their destination during normal circumstances, it might be too difficult once roads are damaged or completely unusable. Many of those might even be too heavy for helicopter lift.
Battery Energy Storage Systems: A Cost/Benefit analysis for a PV power station [NREL,pdf,17 pages]
Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) [ABB,commercial]
Products [Younicos,commercial]
World's 10 Biggest Bulk-Storage Batteries [Forbes,photos]

As indicated earlier, some batteries may live longer than others, while some allow to be fully discharged in use, there are others which just allow to withdraw some 50% of charge. For the non-expert batteries like car (or starter) batteries and others used for backup power look similar, but they differ not only inside, but also those used for backup power or electric vehicle use are often many times as expensive as car/truck batteries. Starter batteries are mainly used for starting the engine of a car or a truck and therefore they are optimized for delivering as much amps as possible for a short time before they are recharged again by the small generator also installed somewhere under the hood. So those batteries never get even near fully discharged, but usually they only use a few Ah before the motor kicks in and they are recharged all the time as long as the motor keeps running. Those car batteries often have a problem of holding on to their stored capacity when not in use for a couple of weeks. They lose stored electrical energy even when no other power consumers are attached to them and that's another disadvantage when thinking of using them for backup power. Of course when people live through the aftermath of a major disaster they are glad to have at least some electricity stored earlier, but using much cheaper car batts for the explicit use at home as a source of backup power isn't a wise choice. According to many 'offgrid freaks' it makes sense however to use refurbished or not too old batteries intended for use in forklift trucks. You have to be familiar with the number of Charge cycles in order to know how long your battery will last. Always compare differences in purchasing costs also with the differences in those charge cycles. Often a battery that seems more expensive at first glance, could in fact be cheaper in the long run. In general if you are familiar with what's 'good' and what's 'bad' for the type of battery you use and treat them accordingly the likelihood that they last longer will increase.

Weight / power ratio
During emergencies the main priority of battery use is for home use backup power or relying on battery aided small grid solutions. So the weight / power ratio isn't that critical as in vehicle use. Size of the electricity storage solution isn't the main priority either, but on the other hand the batteries used should be easy to install, save to operate and should require just a minimum of maintenance. (When roads/ports/airports are inoperable spare parts and support personnel can't get to the battery site easily)

Battery capacity vs solar/wind production capacity
Not easy to determine, since it all depends also on local conditions for both and when the emergency power supply must take over the task of the regular power grid. The battery technology used is also important since some batteries aren't lasting long if they are discharged more than 50%. In your calculations you shouldn't allow to use all of your battery's nominal capacity. Regarding solar power in general the winter months require a solar capacity several times that what is needed during the summer time. If possible it's better to install more production capacity than needed. If the batteries are fully charged the charger units cut off the DC power and they can't get damaged. Some examples for small off-grid systems in some world regions will   be added later. Some wind/solar specifics will also be added later.

transport safety
Since some airlines already experienced problems with even smaller types of Lithium based batteries installed in smartphone and laptops, but also some Boeing 777 had experienced smaller fires ignited by faulty on board Lithium batteries, some restrictions concerning air freight could apply. All acid based batteries, which are not 100% sealed also pose a danger, especially when tilted and the corrosive liquid could flow out and react with other materials (metals) nearby the battery. So they also might be subjected to restrictions imposed by the airlines. Some more research on this subject will done and results will be added later.

Where to store ?
It's recommended to place the batteries in an environment that can't incinerate, which is dry and where nothing can fall onto the batteries and short circuit or damage them. A dry place means also not only dry during the dry season, but also high enough to prevent future inundations. Especially in the tropic regions of the planet not only flooding from heavy rain downpours could result in local flooding, but in regions near ocean coasts there is also the risk of storm surge occurring during heavy storms. Setting up backup power system should also mean to think ahead of possible dangers. If you put your batteries on an elevated position make sure the construction platform is strong enough for the additional total weight of batteries,cables and additional extra equipment needed to keep the system running. In areas with strong storms or tropical cyclones make sure that the building you put your batteries in is sufficiently ventilated, but strong enough to withstand the impact of flying objects/debris picked up by high winds. Even little pieces of flying metal debris could short circuit your battery system and could cause  significant damage/destruction of your battery system.

Fire risk 
Since those batteries have often have very flammable and/or corrosive and/or poisonous substances inside, a physical breach of their container either by impact or fire should always be treated with caution. Make sure to protect yourself from those chemicals or byproducts which can be in the area of the batteries when they are exposed to a fire. Read before accidents happen, what to do in case of a fire and especially what fire extinguishers are appropriate and which ones you should never use, because their chemicals would react with the chemicals inside the battery.

New developments
Energy storage, and especially batteries underwent some significant progress during the last couple of years and research doesn't stop. What also matters for the breakthrough of battery storage is the broader availability of such batteries due to increased production and falling prices are also a result of that development.
The rise of electric vehicles has impacted the market for all other (ie home) storage solutions and continues to do so:
Nissan launches British-made home battery to rival Tesla's Powerwall [Guardian, May 4 2017]

Redox flow batteries
Redox flow batteries are a bit different from 'usual' batteries, because they consist of two storage tanks connected by tubes and pumps. They are highly scalable and the fully charged liquid could also be pumped from e.g. a ship into the storage tank. (see: Vanadium redox battery,below)

The different kinds of chemical batteries explained:
Lead–acid battery [Wikipedia]
VRLA (gel) battery [Wikipedia]
Lithium battery [Wikipedia]
Nickel–metal hydride battery [Wikipedia]
Sodium-ion battery [Wikipedia]
Sodium–sulfur battery [Wikipedia]
Vanadium redox battery [Wikipedia]
Na-ion batteries get closer to replacing Li-ion batteries [Phys.org, Mar 3 2015]

Hydro electric power storage
If power storage is needed and some hills are nearby it might be a good idea to explore the hillside in order to determine if it is suitable for creating a pond large enough to hold sufficient amounts of water for producing the electricity needed when the primary generation source (wind/solar/generator) doesn't produce. A system consisting of two tubes with sufficient diameter for water transport uphill/downhill has to be installed. One tube connected to a pump capable to convert electricity into water pumped onto a higher (energy) level, and the other pipe which leads to a turbine connected to an AC generator. The advantage is that this solution is scalable (the bigger the pond, the larger the amount of energy stored), it's relatively cheap, reliable and easy to maintain. it's not 'rocket science' and can be installed probably without the help of experts from outside. If a disaster area has sufficient amounts of rain water or a stream nearby the water can be used to temporarily store the electrical energy in the form of kinetic energy. On a large scale those kind of storage lakes with power turbine/generator combinations are also being used to stabilize a power grid during times where large amounts of additional power has to be 'pumped' into the electrical grid in order to match demand peaks. Within a few seconds after opening the gates water flows downhill and let the turbine spin. If the storage pond or lake is large enough it can deliver power over hours. In times when there is a surplus of electricity generation (at night or on Sundays) the pumps can used to create additional power demand and to pump the water uphill again until it is needed the next time.
You will find some more info (commercial and in general) about those systems attached.

Water turbine [Wikipedia]
Micro hydro [Wikipedia]
Hydroelectric power on a residential scale [The Greenage]
Microhydro Myths & Misconceptions [Homepower, December 2012]

Inverters (DC>AC)

Please note: AC (100-500V) currents are potentially lethal and you should make sure that all equipment purchased is of good quality. The solutions displayed here as examples are 'state of the art', but of course there are also similar and perhaps much cheaper products on the market, which will also work, but always make sure that those are certified for electrical safety. Since wrong wiring, lack of electric expertise could also result in injuries or even death, only let qualified (&experienced) personnel install that equipment. Read instruction manuals for installation and operation thoroughly before installing those.

Battery Inverters [SMA(GER/UK/USA),commercial] (range:KW-MW)
Inverter/chargers [Victron(NL/UK),commercial] (range:500W-5KW)

Solar/Wind power generators
There will be an additional blog entry about those products later

Battery use during/after disasters
There are some reports regarding the use of battery storage systems already in place when a disaster struck or as response to widespread power outages in the wake of a disaster. Those buildings or parts of a power grid which did have battery backup power installed are often the only places with a reliable source of power and generators even when they are already in place sometimes have problems starting after a long time for several reasons.

During Irma’s Power Outages, Some Houses Kept The Lights On With Solar And Batteries [Fastcompany, Sep 13 2017]
Tesla is sending hundreds of battery packs to Puerto Rico in the wake of major hurricanes [Business Insider, Sep 30 2017]
Tesla to send more battery installers to Puerto Rico to restore power [Reuters, Oct 6 2017]

BACK UP POWER REQUIREMENTS FOR SERVICE STATIONS [cga.ct.gov, re Florida, Louisiana & California]

There are sometimes unfortunately also criminals who don't respect the need for backup power:
Thieves target backup batteries in cell towers in southern Ontario stumping police [CBC, Aug 29 2017]
Saw some credible report regarding US Virgin Islands and stolen generators at cell tower sites in the wake of hurricane Maria, too.

World's first solar-powered gas station comes to Australian Outback [autoblog, Mar 15 2016]

related links:
10 home batteries that rival Tesla’s Powerwall 2 [Business Insider, May 18 2017]
IKEA takes on Tesla by launching its own home battery [Wired, Aug 2 2017]

note: as always it's likely that this blog entry will get some updates during the next couple of days

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hurricanes Irma & Maria live infos

Dear reader,

at the moment the relief efforts for all areas affected by both hurricanes are still ongoing. The devastation by Irma is known while many areas hit by Maria still can't be reached !

As usual EZR offers live (24/7) monitoring of events as Twitter lists:

One for the entire Caribbean region, which is also embedded (via Twitter, but displayed on the website) here on the homepage of EZRdisaster, while two others are available only as Twitter links:

(Irma impact on Florida, but also reports from Texas & Louisiana )

(Irma impact on Sint Maarten/Saint Martin and neighboring islands,ENG,DUT,FRE)

(Maria impact on Puerto Rico, St. Croix (US Virgin islands),
 Dominica & Guadeloupe (includes Sint Maarten list)

Twitter moments which display a 'chain of tweets'

Aid for Dominica,Guadeloupe,St.Croix, Puerto Rico

Relief effort for Sint Maarten/Saint Martin

(Twitter membership for checking lists/moments not required)

Some parts of Puerto Rico can only be reached by amateur shortwave radio, it's possible for those owning appropriate equipment to listen in:

Generators vs batteries (part I)

Part I: The generator
(disclaimer: here are just some useful general tips regarding the use of generators, always make sure to read the manual which comes with your device thoroughly. Only the manufacturer of your device can give exact instructions!)

In previous blog posts the scenarios for a power outage have been described and based on recent deaths which occurred in the aftermath of hurricane Irma in Florida it's perhaps time to look at advantages, disadvantages and also (life threatening) dangers of generator use.

Concerning the danger of carbon monoxide (henceforth called 'CO') poisoning it's perhaps best to warn people about it by using the suicide (or murder if you will) methods used in various Hollywood (and other) movies. A car in the garage, the motor running and a hose from the tale pipe leading into the car, often while the windows are taped to seal the car's interior. That dramatic scenario is perhaps as misleading as those modern age fake explosions used by skilled special effects specialist in order to make those action packed movie scenes even more dramatic. They use gasoline in addition to 'fireworks' in order to produce those great fireballs, when a car explodes or a grenade hits the ground next to a bunch of grunts.

Those cars in the movie scenes don't need 'sealing' since the carbon monoxide produced by every combustion motor (especially running on diesel !) is so poisonous because it attaches to the red blood cells in your blood stream much more easily than the oxygen you breathe. So even if the concentration of CO in the air you breathe is quite low it easily attaches to every blood cell which runs through your lungs and blocks it ! So it's sufficient to breath a low concentration of that gas over a longer period until most of your red blood cells are "blocked" and therefore incapable of transporting that life sustaining Oxygen.
This CO gas is odorless, so can't smell it just as you can't smell Oxygen, so you wouldn't even know about the concentration in the air. At this point we come to the second perhaps misleading 'Hollywood knowledge' concerning exhaust fumes. In the movie or with ancient old combustion engines you have perhaps a highly visible 'smoke' coming out of the exhaust. Modern engines however could be running so efficient, could be constructed in order to fulfill other environmental norms that the 'smoke' is much more or even completely invisible.

So when you have read the introduction you would perhaps understand why on every generator there is a caution sticker indicating that likely chance of suffocating/dying when you use that generator indoors, or even outside but in proximity of windows, doors, ventilation intakes.

So by now it's clear that you should never, ever use a generator inside your home or workplace, but that said the next problem emerges:
How to connect your electrical cables safely to the generator even during wet weather ? Another question has also to be asked then: Is my generator designed to get operated during rain showers at all ? Is it safe electrically as well as it won't corrode (rust) during being exposed to the elements ?
It would be best to have a 'checklist' at hand when going to purchase a new or a used generator and if the packaging of that machine doesn't give answers to ask the salesman or read the operating manual before you buy it.

Even when everything is OK and you have the best generator money can buy there are a few rules to know when intending to use it. Preferably test it once before you have to use your generator when you experience a power failure. By using it prior to a real emergency you will know already what to do and you don't have to do it the first time when it's perhaps completely dark. It's also good to know in principle how a generator works in order to prevent some problems with the el. consumers (like lamps, radios, TVs, home appliances, etc) you intend to use. Did you know for instance that it takes a few moments once you started the motor until the generated electricity has stabilized ? Let the engine run for a few moments until it reaches its nominal RPMs and if your generator has a voltage indicator: until the nominal AC voltage level has been reached.

1st let your generator run until power voltage and frequency have reached  nominal levels (e.g. 110 V , 60Hz(USA) or 230V and 50Hz (Europe)) and then plug in the AC cables !

You also have to think about how long a tank full of gas or diesel would last until the lights go out again. Make sure that you have enough fuel at hand for a refill. Use only canisters which are approved for fuel storage. When refilling think about the operating manual again and what it says about refilling while the engine is still hot. Often manufacturers recommend to let the engine cool down before you start refilling in order to prevent spontaneous combustion outside the engine. If you don't have enough storage capacity at the place where the generator is producing electricity you also have to think about transport to the nearest gas station, canisters and also money for purchasing new fuel. During 'normal times' usually no problem at all, but what happens if there's a wide spread power outage which also affects the gas station in your neighborhood ? 
No gas, because the pumps at the gas station won't work without power !
When you don't have cash in your wallet ? Also bad luck, because the ATM also needs power as well as the card reader at the gas station which could accept your credit card provided there's electricity and a working online connection to your card provider. 

"Right now, we only have diesel for today and tomorrow. We're already working on refueling our tanks so we can extend our power generating capability, which is at 50% right now," Cruz Vivaldi said.
Lack of power and water has severely weakened the ability to treat patients at dozens of hospitals around the island.
       source: Hospitalized children at risk in Puerto Rico due to lack of fuel [CNN, Sep 26 2017]

If your generator isn't brand new, you also have to think about its 'mileage'(cars) or operating hours. The user manual should give you some recommendations about maintenance intervals and oil check/refill.
It's like a car: when you neglect it, it might break down rather sooner than later. (and darkness and a bleak life without electricity is back)
Also think about generator downtime during maintenance, and have it checked before disaster strikes and the generator is needed most. One more thing to think about when purchasing the 'right' generator is the difference between 'consumer models' which might last only for a few hours, but are not intended for 24/7h operation. Industrial quality generators(often running on Diesel) are much more expensive than consumer models with perhaps the same nominal capacity (measured in KW)

Industrial/military quality generators could also offer better 'power quality' which means perfect frequency(50 or 60Hz) stability and the 'shape' of AC power(sinus curve) which might matter with hyper sensitive electrical gear like computers or medical equipment. They also might be the preferred choice whenever you intend to use heavy machinery (power by strong electric motors), because when you start those powerful tools they "pull" a lot more amps from your generator than its nominal capacity.

If your generator has an automatic start feature by pressing a button or turning a key, it has a little starter motor like a car which needs sufficient battery voltage (often 12V or 24V) and capacity (measured in Ah) in order to work. If you have an old, empty battery your generator won't start and you can forget about backup AC power ! So this starter battery is also better checked/maintained in times when you don't have to use your generator. You should have a voltage meter if your generator doesn't have a build-in one. If your starter battery has too low voltage of course you should either have a charger or let it charge at your garage.

The fuel
Most diesel engines are considerably heavier than their gasoline fired counterparts. The combustion process is much more "violent" and requires a sturdier construction of the engine. Diesel engines don't need a sparking plug, since they first compress air and the heat this pressurized air produces is sufficient to ignite the fuel which is injected into combustion chamber. So in general they are more reliable than gasoline engines which often have problems related to their high voltage system used for generating the 'lightning' in the combustion chamber. Often those cables detach themselves somewhere on the way from the high voltage coil to the sparking plug. There can also be multiple issues with moisture which makes the high voltage needed "disappear" to a degree where the sparking plug can't enough voltage to ignite the fuel.

Besides reliability issues, diesel engines in general also consume less fuel for same amount of horsepower (better use:KW). Most diesel engines can in principle burn other fuels like kerosene or certain plant oils like those produced from sun flowers. Caution: can run in principle means, that the construction of the engine would allow it, but often attached devices like fuel injection systems can't handle those plant oils, because they flow less good through tiny valves than regular diesel made from refined crude oil. Such fuels may also produce some side effects like residue after combustion, which influences the operation of the engine. (very often not beneficial). Alternative fuels could require some modifications to the engine which in most cases void the guarantee which came with the purchase! Alternative fuels are just mentioned here since many of the disasters mentioned here are taking place in areas where the diesel supply might get interrupted or where e.g. palm oil is easily available. There are many other sites on the Internet where expertise regarding alternative can be found, so people interested in this subject should do additional research first. The only thing EZR can assure reader is that a Volkswagen Diesel car I once owned did run on almost pure plant oils for about 120.000 kilometers (with some minor modifications/additions)

Diesel has also an advantage concerning a safety margin when handling the fuel. It doesn't ignite as easy as gasoline, thus refilling it is not as dangerous. Almost inert plant oils are even more safe, they ignite only when they get extremely hot (in the combustion chamber).

Diesel engines however are not that easy to start. They require more battery amps to get that starter motor going. They usually run at lower RPMs than their gasoline counterparts, but therefore in general they produce more noise/vibration than the other type of motor. So shielding them might be required, especially when intending to use telephones nearby or near a hospital or nursing home.

Diesel fuel 'stinks', sticks to your fingers ('oily') and should under no circumstance be spilled, since just a few drops could contaminate large amounts of soil and/or (drinking) water. Refueling should be done carefully in order not to affect the environment.

Examples of generator use during disasters
BACK UP POWER REQUIREMENTS FOR SERVICE STATIONS [cga.ct.gov, re Florida, Louisiana & California]
A superstorm Sandy legacy: Gas pumps that work when power is out [CSM, Oct 28 2013]

related articles/tweets

In Carolina, Puerto Rico people are lined up for nearly a mile to buy fuel pic.twitter.com/kRHkfp8WDO

Monday, September 25, 2017

#HurricaneMaria hits Guadeloupe,US Virgin islands, Puerto Rico, Dominica

Dear reader,

just as hurricanes Harvey and Irma left Texas & some parts of the Caribbean in  ruins, another hurricane - Maria - wreaked havoc in some parts of the Caribbean which haven't been punished that much a few days.

Regarding communications and electricity supply at least two islands - St. Croix and Puerto Rico - have been hit by Maria. Although the hurricane went through an eyewall replacement circle just before hitting Puerto Rico with "just" category 4, St. Croix was hit when it still was a category 5 storm. The effects on the islands' infrastructure was quite similar - In Puerto Rico according to initial reports from various sources 100% loss of the power grid & a 95% loss of cell towers for mobile phone voice and data connections.

Ricardo Rossello, and officials still had not had communication with nine of 78 municipalities.
"This is a major disaster," he said. "We've had extensive damage. This is going to take some time."

Besides the loss of electricity the subsidiary of the US National Weather Service lost its radar, which was also blown off its mast. The island which has about 3.5 million inhabitants is plunged almost completely into darkness and the fresh water supply is also affected. Many hospitals have been rendered useless, because of destruction or because vital supplies needed for running a hospital can't get delivered. Officials from Puerto Rico indicated that the electricity situation could last the next 4-6 months.

Roads access to many places has been restored, but gasoline & diesel (¹) is rationed and this affects also the generator operations resulting in frequent loss of local communications which could be restored. From US Virgin Islands reports are being picked up, which seem to suggest that cell towers running on generators are forced off the air because the generators are getting stolen.

People from outside Puerto Rico e.g. from the US mainland are desperately trying to get in touch with their relatives and because the Internet is also heavily affected the usual helpful tools like people finders by e.g. the Red Cross or by Google can't be used.

The most catastrophic scenario regarding communications and electricity has happened including "back to the basics" which is in this case to rely on ham radio operators and their shortwave transceivers. Initial reports however suggest that some operators also have problems with their generators, since gas stations are far away and are only supplying private citizens with a few liters of gasoline or diesel fuel.

Contrary to the earthquake event which occurred in Mexico and which claimed so far 300+ lives, the loss of life - at least as of known today- is fortunately low. Since the measures to restore communication and electricity have been described here just a few days ago (regarding hurricane Irma) this blog post will show some damage inflicted on transmission towers, cell towers, antennas, dishes, electricity poles, sub-station, transformers, etc. There will be also some tweets on the fuel scarcity currently in Puerto Rico, which impacts also the use of generators.

Some photos will be added in the upcoming hours as well as some indications of some backup communications already implemented. (by the military and radio amateurs)

Stay tuned ...

Impact on communication & electricity infrastructure 
(various islands, various sources,tweets currently unsorted)

So it's fair to conclude that all structures carrying cables or antennas have failed on those islands subjected to cat4/5 hurricane winds. Estimates during hurricane Irma's period of being a category 5 storm: approximately as devastating as a F3-F4 tornado ! All masts and poles, not just the (local) wooden ones, have been either totally destroyed (complete structural failure/collapse) or did at least bent enough to allow cables to break. It's also fair to assume that no tests were conducted on all those types of masts and utility poles and the ones used were just "normal" ones which can used in 'dead calm areas'. From own experience with antenna masts and attached UHF/VHF aerials it can be concluded that the torque what impacts the bending moment of the mast is often underestimated. Attached items like antennas or cables and insulators produce additional stress (wind load) to certain points of the structure and forcing the material to either bend or break.

Since antennas for either cell services or TV and radio broadcasts have to be installed on a elevated position those masts have to be considerably stronger than ones currently in use (or destroyed on those affected islands). Wooden structures have been blown to pieces (also roofs and trees) so this material can be deemed not strong enough to withstand 250-300 km/h winds. Masts made of steel or concrete must get reinforced, perhaps by adding additional materials or by simply enhancing the thickness/density of the materials used. The manufacture's guidelines for additional attachments to this structure must also be followed by those telecom firms which use them. If it turns after testing that those structures can't be made strong enough to withstand such winds, at least oblige those firms to have sufficient spare parts in place to restore services withing hours or days, not weeks or months ! 

Electricity cables however are installed above the ground because it's cheaper, not because it's technically impossible to implement other solutions. Serious questions have to be asked why many countries in Europe, which don't even suffer from such kind of destructive winds, are used to lay cables in the ground. It's not only possible for rather low voltage lines which are directly connected to people's homes, but also highest voltage cables for underground or seabed installation are available. Of course it's more work and more expensive to have them installed beneath the earth's surface, but in such hurricane prone areas the damage to public and private property and even the risk of costing lives is too high. Utilities have to be forced to overhaul their entire network within a reasonable time frame, not only including underground cables, but also 'circuit breakers' like large capacity battery systems at least nearby buildings with extreme importance for upholding public safety.
failing power & communication infrastructure during previous tropical cyclones:
Power out in parts of Yolanda-hit Tacloban City [PHL, GMA news, Dec 28 2013]
Leyte and Samar islands still without power days after Yolanda super typhoon [PHL, GMA news, Nov 13 2013]

related reading:
(please note: EZR endorses this message in general, but not necessarily the use of (certain) words) 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Listen to the radio - the emergency broadcasting network

future blog post regarding the significance of getting vital information to people in a vast disaster zone when all other forms of modern electronic communication are down.

As usual with some historic perspective on the one hand and an outlook regarding the use in future mass casualty events.

Radio is simple to use, effective way of getting instructions to those who are otherwise left clueless or, even worse, dependent on the spread of rumors in absence of real, verified and reliable information.

Unfortunately many broadcasting capabilities of stations using airwaves with very long ranges like shortwave have been reduced, because nowadays other broadcasts and Internet based transmissions of sound, video and text are more popular and (admittedly) of better quality. The only problem is what to do if these more modern forms of telecommunication fail ?

source: Youtube, uploaded by RogueStudio TV

A visual severe weather warning makes sense to alert people when they just watch TV and must get the severe weather warning as soon as possible in order to get the maximum time to prepare themselves for the impact of that weather emergency. As described many times: there are dangers like earthquakes which can't be predicted when they happen and if they happen only a few seconds (up to very few minutes far away from the epicenter) forewarning time remains.

When a disaster has impacted the populated area and all those TV/radio transmitters, cell towers, satellite connections and land lines for phone or Internet have been damaged or destroyed the population has suddenly no reliable source of information. The first simple, but sufficient thing to restore is radio ! It doesn't require as much technical stuff as TV and its signal could be picked up over a much wider area than TV. Many people do have TVs, but what if they all don't have AC power ? Many people however do have portable radios which also run on batteries, many mobile phones have built-in FM receivers (many owners might not be aware of this feature) and most cars have a radio which offer at least FM reception, sometimes even AM bands and cars/trucks have fully charged 12/24V batteries which could last for days if just the radio is switched on. (of course the battery also recharges if the motor runs)

To setup a backup FM/AM transmitter doesn't require that much financial and power resources and the advantage in holiday destinations abroad is that there's no worry about all those different TV standards in all those countries. (NTSC,PAL,SECAM,DVB-T,DVB-T2,how many lines, 50 or 60Hz, etc)

FM is FM and AM is AM all over the world, just there might be some countries which have slightly different frequency bands. It's also much simpler to get a 'network' running, since only one powerful transmitter is need in order to reach possibly millions of people (in densely populated areas) instead of numerous cell towers for 3G/4G or WIFI networks. Radio has noticeably the disadvantage of offering no channel from the citizens back to sender, but in time of regional/national/international crisis it's more important to get instructions out for the population.

As currently ongoing 'crisis light' (it could have been much worse, with many more dead and wounded) reminds us that often such simple things like where to pick up food or water at an outlet run by either military or NGO wouldn't be possible without radio instructions or printed fliers. (recently the Dutch Navy hand the latter out at Sint Maarten) Food and water distribution points are important and so are instructions for evacuation, medical tips or tips on hygiene or where wounded can be brought to in order to get proper treatment. It's hard to imagine for millennials, but for more than 50 years the world managed pretty well without Internet, apps, Youtube and all the other nice gadgets. Those gadgets are nice to have, but pretty useless when there's no Internet via 3G,4G,WIFI,Cable or DSL which can be knocked out all at once.
Radio can also be pretty upsetting for those who are used to comment on each and every message they come across. Radio is pretty simple: We (radio operators) talk, you - listen ! In an emergency that all what counts. It's like "Do this - or you might die"

Emergency broadcasts in Sint Maarten/Saint Martin (Hurricane Irma)

Florida (Hurricane Irma)

[Update Sep 26 2017 (Hurricane Maria)]

Puerto Rico has lost almost all (95%) communication infrastructure, and while FEMA is publishing 'rumor control' info on its webpage, it's highly unlikely that people in Puerto Rico are able to read it, since most of them currently don't have Internet access !
Even the local subsidiary of the NWS was hit hard by hurricane Maria and according to latest info available from officials, there's stil no contact with 7 areas of Puerto Rico. No power, transmission systems are down, fuels are rationed. The governor and other officials rely on local AM/FM stations to get their word out to the people. There will some updates here shortly - stay tuned.

Broadcasting equipment
Broadcast 500W and 1KW FM Transmitters [commercial] #

related links:
Emergency Broadcast System (USA) [Wikipedia]
Emergency Alert System (USA) [Wikipedia]
Emergency Alert System (EAS) (USA) [FCC]