Disaster Planning & Rural Communication Challenges: adhoc networks between mobile devices in the absence of Internet and cellular services

Natural disasters, community events, festivals, and gatherings are increasingly driving the need for hyper-local communications.  The growing high standards of expectation that cellular and Internet technologies will persist, even in the face of such unusual circumstances has been difficult to satisfy.  In fact, in many rural areas of the world there is a lack of this communications infrastructure in the first place.  These village-like social environments are the foundations of sustainable communities for without them chaos rules.  As any city or community planner knows, communications are critical in planning for disaster mitigation, well ahead of solutions based on “hardening” infrastructure (build bigger walls, flood gates, stronger buildings, etc.).

Why?  It’s well documented that the potential for a resilient city to rebound when impacted by natural disaster or a for a community in isolation to become more productive they are tied to the need for improved communications.  Further, the movement to make cities more resilient is well underway and solutions such as FireChat are within a group of new generation mobile apps that allows users to communicate with other nearby iOS devices without Internet or mobile phone coverage.

Download it: iOS and Android

Adhoc mesh networking solutions such as this fall within a set of technologies that can be used in a variety of ways.  Again, most aide those who seek to further enable capacity building at a citywide or community scale.  Recently ranked as a top 10 among social networking apps and already in use within 124 countries, this is a niche solution for sustainable cities seeking to support their communities when in most need.

Use case examples:

  • Floods in Kashmir (April 2015) and Chennai (October 2015), a volcanic eruption at Cotopaxi in Ecuador (August 2015), and in Mexico during hurricane Patricia (October 2015).
  • Event use such as during pro-democracy protests in Taiwan (April 2014) and Hong Kong (September 2014) or the anti-corruption movement within Bersih, Malaysia (August 2015), or the Pope’s visit to the Philippines (January 2015).
  • Elections such as the ones in Venezuela (December 2015) and Republic of the Congo (March 2016).
  • Festivals in India, Canada, and throughout the US; think Burning Man.

Stakeholder analysis is simple here for the requirements to use the technology are minimal; users with mobile devices in need fill the whole bucket.  If a city or a community seeks to scale this technology, then local disaster shelters, hospitals, care centers, event and festival information booths, etc. can weigh in to provide their own wireless WiFi networks and in turn grow their reach of how to communicate with those in need.  Deploying this technology is simple: educate, promote, and as needed support.

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3 thoughts on “Disaster Planning & Rural Communication Challenges: adhoc networks between mobile devices in the absence of Internet and cellular services

  1. The technology behind FireChat creates a software-based network, known as a peer-to-peer wireless mesh network, connecting all participating mobile devices using WiFi, Bluetooth, and other wireless technologies. The mesh network allows connected devices to interact with any participant on the network, routing FireChat messages when internet is not available.

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  2. This technology is great. But let’s be honest, how many people in a rural village can afford to buy an IOS phone? In my opinion, the target audience for this technology is an urban middle-income generating dweller.

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    • Rural villages where? Africa? Asia? United States? Middle income where? That too is a highly variable factor. I think with a little bit of research you’ll see there are plenty of “smart phones” in use on a global basis that make this a viable technology outside the “target audience” you’re referring to – middle-income generating dweller.

      This isn’t about rural vs. urban, nor the ability to afford a smart phone, as much as it is about the technology application inside a unique environment and how it can make for a smarter city. Those without cellular or WiFi service connections to the Internet still have needs for community level communications and I suspect this will grow in use.

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