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Wireless and Emergency Communication Tech for Disasters: New Technologies Address Obstacles

The occurrence of a large natural or man-made disaster is often combined with the destruction of the local infrastructures on the ground. For example, the earthquake in Wenchuan in May, 2008 did not only has a huge destructive power, but also made the disaster area into many information isolated islands where the communication with outside was cut off.


During Disaster there is an immediate need for life saving aid; the distribution of food, water, and shelter becomes paramount to relief efforts. In addition to providing life-sustaining resources, aid workers are now being called upon to provide things like Wi-Fi access and cellular support. All these operations require robust communication network that can work without need of telecommunications towers which can be destroyed during such operations.


The statistics show that the 50% death took place within two hours after the disaster. So it is very important to set up a set of reliable emergency communication system rapidly and effectively, which can ensure the communication for the government to make disaster rescue plans and take rescue actions.


Although the short wave or satellite communication system is generally applied to the existing emergent communication system and they both have the advantages of long communication distance and mature techniques, the short wave communication has the problem of channel congestion and the satellite communication has the big problem of long delay. What’s more, special terminal equipments and using skills are needed and the price is high in the two kinds of systems, so that only the government, the army and some other the important departments can afford using them


Although the paralysis of the terrestrial mobile communication system may be caused by the destruction of the fixed BSs or optical cables, most mobile phones of victims of a disaster can be used, and their batteries can be maintained for two to three days. So fully utilization of these resources will play a very important role in disaster rescue.


New technology has enabled sirens to work more effectively by incorporating modern software into new and existing siren infrastructures.  For example, the prominence of social media updates throughout Hurricane Sandy points to the growing reliance on these platforms for real-time emergency updates and news.  Today’s cellular and satellite networks equip sirens to communicate through tones, text-to-voice, pre-recorded audio and more, allowing public administrators to customize communications and effectively reach more people.


Researchers from Nanjing Telecommunication Technology Institute Nanjing, China have proposed aerial wireless emergency communication system which can satisfy a rapid and reliable communication with the outside world in disaster area.


The aerial BSs can move randomly or keep static location, which can help to deploy them flexibly according to the population density and topographic features of the disaster areas, and there can be one or more Ad Hoc networks. If the population in the disaster area is dense, then this area can be compared to the terrestrial cellular system, and air cellular system can be established; if the topography and population is sparse, then one aerial BS can cover an information island, and several aerial BSs form an Ad Hoc network in the air; the aerial BS can even move back and forth in the air which will provide intermittent service and so on.

Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, or ETC.

The leading provider of emergency communications is the United Nation’s Information and Communication Technologies Task Force (ICT). Within 48 hours of a disaster, ICT deploys its Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, or ETC.


The ETC is a series of connected balloons that act as cell phone towers and routers that can be set up to provide wireless Internet and cellular service in disaster zones. These services enable survivors to contact family or other outside assistance, find routes out of the disaster zone, or transfer vital funds. Those providing assistance benefit from these services as well, for they can receive vital information from the survivors themselves on the exact situation on the ground.


Today’s digital world makes it nearly impossible to do any work without staying connected. By repairing or installing communication networks, aid workers help themselves as much as they help survivors. With Wi-Fi and cell service, workers can more effectively communicate and coordinate their efforts, and thus deliver crucial assistance quicker.


Indian researchers develop wireless communication for disaster relief powered by human mobility

Researchers from six Indian institutes, including IIT-Kharagpur and IIM-Calcutta, have developed a low-cost and fast deployable wireless communication infrastructure that is driven by human mobility to aid disaster management services.


They are working together since the last three years to enable the delivery of decentralised mobile communication services under project DiSARM: Post-Disaster Situation Analysis and Resource Management in situations where terrestrial telecommunication networks are damaged or severely impaired.


In these emergency situations, alternative and flexible networking arrangements become critically important to ensure ongoing and effective coordination of emergency response and relief efforts. Our model works on peer-to-peer networking where humans are the data carriers,” IIM-Calcutta professor Somprakash Bandyopadhyay, who is involved in the project, told IANS.


Explaining the mechanism of deploying DiSARM, Bandyopadhyay likened it to a ferryboat system in which from one side of the river the ferryman is connecting the information to the other bank as he rows the boat.


“When you don’t have any internet connectivity if you have a smartphone, you can connect with wifi (through an app) which is there on your phone. So when a volunteer is connecting the data from a victim through the phone, then he is physically moving and relaying that data to others (connected with wifi within that range) who are also moving,” said Bandyopadhyay, a professor in Management Information Systems Group and Research Director of Social Informatics Research Group (SIRG) in IIM-Calcutta.


“They in turn are relaying the data about victims and the situation as they move and connect with wifi with others within their range,” he added.


He said: “This movement pattern helps to communicate. Wifi part of it helps you to make a peer-to-peer network.”


In scenarios where smartphones are not available, special routers placed at vantage locations become the connector of data. “Whoever is going to the routers, gives the data to the device electronically. So it depends on human mobility,” he said. The other aspect of the project is tapping in data from social media to integrate with disaster management.



Communications for underground caves during the Soccer team accident in Thailand

Another tragedy was struck when teenagers, a boys’ soccer team, went missing on June 23 after a soccer game when they visited a sprawling 10-kilometer-long cave system in the northern region of Chiang Rai, and became trapped by a flash flood.


Initial rescue attempts were hampered not only by the rising waters, but by lack of communication between first responders, as existing communication systems couldn’t work in the complexity of the underground caves.


Emergency mobile communications technology developed by Israeli company Maxtech Networks is being used by rescue teams working to save 12 teenagers and their 25-year-old coach who have been trapped for 11 days in a flooded cave in Thailand.


Israel’s Maxtech communications technology

Uzi Hanuni, 51, the CEO of Maxtech, said the company’s agent in Thailand was first approached by Thai naval Special Forces shortly after the boys went missing. Company’s emergency Max-Mesh radio units were one of the first technologies used when the boys were trapped in Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai. “On every rescue mission you need to coordinate the rescue team and to know at all times where they are, and what their status is,” explains Hanuni.


“When first responders arrive in an area after a natural disaster they can’t rely on the infrastructure that is there. They need to be able to start operating immediately, but if they wait to build some kind of infrastructure then they lose vital time. We enable them to start work immediately.”


The Maxtech phones enable users to communicate even in places where there is no communications infrastructure. Because of the distance and depth – MaxTech’s devices communicate wirelessly between one another – one link at a time.  No direct line of sight is necessary, enabling it to be used in complex environments like the underground caves, where no other communication device will work.


“These caves are very long, and you can’t send messengers back and forth through them, but the divers need to be in constant contact with their base so that everyone knows where they are. No other system could work here, except ours. It’s helping to keep the first responders alive.”


Using Maxtech’s handheld devices that function as relays, and cables to connect devices through underwater paths, rescue forces were able to communicate messages over the labyrinthine caves, he said. Extension of the communication line is far from being complete, and the deployment of physical cables is tough due to narrow underwater passageways barely wide enough to allow a person through. The divers, already carrying oxygen tanks, cannot carry the radio cable as well, he said.




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