If a natural disaster hits you, what would you do to keep lines of communication open?

The frequency and intensity of natural disasters is increasing at an alarming rate. Episodes of hurricane Irma barrelling through Florida followed by the imminent hurricane Jose is testimony.

Just days before the American hurricanes, Mexico was hit with a rattling 8.1 magnitude quake, leaving 90 dead and hundreds injured. Quoting Accuweather, “The USA has seen a destructive and costly hurricane season. Both Harvey and Irma combined have triggered a loss of $290 billion. This is the first time in American history that two Category 4 or higher hurricanes have struck the mainland in the same year.”  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, climate change may not be responsible for the recent skyrocketing of natural disasters, but it is very likely that it will impact future catastrophes.

 

Fig 1: 7 out of 10 cities are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters due to climate change.

Maybe September’s National Preparedness Month  by FEMA should be a practise worldwide. Because clearly, the wave of natural calamities is going to get really big really fast.  The inability of our climate systems to predict exact locations worldwide is precisely why we need to be prepared for the rising wave of natural calamities from all angles.

Among the significant blows that natural disasters bring, the most immediate is the sudden demise of communications infrastructure.  The impact is crippling and wide. Total network blackout jolts a digitally-dependent population to a complete communication standstill. It is in times like these that communicating your safety and calling for help are critical. Quality connectivity is an important cog in the wheel that can keep everything else working. With almost everyone dependent on cell phones – from first respondents to local governments and civilians- efforts to execute a disaster recovery plan without access to uninterrupted network signal makes the job complex.

Preparing any network for disaster survival starts at the root of network design. How a network is designed dictates its restoration time.  If networks have towers or fibre optic cables, their revival time multiplies beyond an acceptable measure.

Ad-hoc cellular networks for disaster-hit areas

In the immediate hours followed by a disaster event, respondents and civilians need instant dedicated cellular capacity.  Establishing one or multiple ad-hoc network links that are rapidly deployable and serve as good as fibre-led connectivity work best for a disaster recovery plan. Even in areas where everyday network infrastructure is shattered, setting up a wireless network to get dedicated capacity and coverage in minutes is the hallmark of an emergency-first communications system.

A resilient, emergency-ready cellular network must include the following :

 

  1. Needs almost no technical assistance: Should work as a ‘plug and play’ so it takes only a few minutes to set it up and to get you instant connectivity

  2. Compatible with any backhaul type: Should be able to co-exist with whatsoever is available in terms of backhaul

  3. Portable: Should be compact and mobile so the operator can easily move the set up in case of the next imminent danger

  4. Low-power consumption: Should run on bite-sized and relatively lighter storehouses of power like batteries because electric power grids are usually blipping or are down

  5. Flexible: Allows both aid workers and civilians to communicate locally as well as outside of the mainland

Network blackout is common during and after natural calamities. Omoco has been working to better understand and solve the on-ground, real-world problems of loss of communication in critical circumstances. Our Disaster Response Network Solution is a result of that sentiment.

Omoco’s critical communications solution lets rescue teams set up an instant private mobile network in a matter of minutes. With a single hardware unit packed in a customisable carry-on – backpack, hand-held or trolley – our network-in-a-box has built-in power and is rapidly deployable for ad-hoc voice and data services. It provides an autonomous, standalone as well as distributed network and easily integrates with VoIP through satellites and IP radios. All you have to do is click open the case, mount the antenna on a 3-meter or a 9-meter tripod (supplied along with the kit), switch it on and you are done. All aid workers as well as up to 1000 civilians in the vicinity of the network bubble can easily ride on Omoco’s private network.

 

Fig 2: Disaster Response Network Solution -Hand-carry

Apart from setting up a first response network, you can also use Omoco’s Disaster Response Network Solution to:

 

  1. Gather intelligence on the number of casualties: This helps you with planning the amount of aid and supplies needed from the mainland

  2. Establish a Local Control Centre (LCC): An LCC makes it easy for victims to reach out to a central contact number. This in turn makes response time faster for aid workers and helps them monitor, control and distribute aid wherever needed

  3. Let any 3rd party network to latch on to Omoco’s private network: Anyone falling under the radius of the network bubble can ride on the first respondent network irrespective of their mobile service provider

  4. Establish an IP-based public address system: Relay critical, real-time information across affected areas

We’d rather never see another natural disaster strike anywhere. But for when it does, keeping lines of communication open is our top priority, right next to food, water and shelter.