Urgent Evoke

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Resiliency, HAM Radio and Major Disasters

one of the most important actions that must happen in a major disaster is communication. information must be both delivered to a wide area and be aggregated into meaningful data.

Ushahidi is an innovative and useful system. however, a system is only as resilient as the systems it relies upon. what happens when the phone lines and mobile phone towers are not working (as is the case with many disasters)? perhaps we should be considering lower tech solutions.

so far, HAM radio operators have been the first responders and deliverers of information for all major disasters. a HAM radio operator is an amateur radio operator that uses reserved international bands to communicate with other HAMs. they accept no compensation for any service. they try for voice connections, but sometimes there is only enough signal to send and receive Morse code (which most HAMs learn). there is also a do-it-yourself mentality in HAM radio; many HAMs customize their radio equipment extensively. they can often power it with little more than a small portable generator, and with that send signals around the world.


so why don't we hear about them more often (even though they don't seek fame anyways)? think about this: who are their competitors? some government agencies would rather people see the government as the first responder and helper. news organizations want to be known as the first provider of information. in all cases, it is embarrassing for the massive commercial systems and organizations to be outdone by a group of amateur philanthropists with radio equipment.

let's look at the next case: no power and no infrastructure after a major disaster. i have a few ideas here as well:

Morse Code makeshift lighthouses - people familiar with Morse code can send and read messages quickly. any high tower with excellent visibility can work. people can use a fire, flashlight and anything that lights up. laser pointers work exceptionally well for this; they can be seen for miles and during the day.

Laser Billboard - each town or village has a designated set of walls for laser broadcasts. these can take the form of Morse Code, words or even drawings. this can be done manually with any laser pointer, or even with some type of machine that can assist with writing or drawing messages.

Running Network - literally, a network of the people with the most adaptable and agile methods of transportation; generally on foot, a bicycle or a motorcycle. marathon runners, sprinters, parkour players and others carry messages and deliveries across unsafe and unstable terrain.

sometimes (often?), the answer is LESS technology, not more.

be safe, and seek the TRUTH.

Views: 130

Comment by kiyash on April 15, 2010 at 2:57am
These are great ideas, and a great way to think about resilience. If you want to be truly prepared, you have to keep peeling back reliance on infrastructure from your solutions. Ushahidi as it currently operates is definitely optimized for a certain baseline technology on the ground - cell towers. But I could see HAM, laser-pointer Morse code, and even the Running Corps fitting into a larger support network that would also include Ushahidi/Instedd/first responders etc. Resilience isn't necessarily about swearing off technology, but it is about systems of redundancy. What you've outlined here are some really creative and IMHO easy to implement redundancies. More people should know morse. HAM radios and laser pointers should be standard emergency kit items. Here's another idea - cell phones are two-way radios. Maybe they should have a HAM frequency setting for emergencies. Anyway, awesome food for thought. Thanks! And +1 creativity.
Comment by Mike Matessa on April 15, 2010 at 3:05am
I was checking to see if anyone else was posting about ham radio, and noticed we posted minutes apart. (my post)
Also, great ideas on using lasers and sneakernet.
Comment by Patricio Buenrostro-Gilhuys on April 15, 2010 at 3:25am
"a system is only as resilient as the systems it relies upon" Exactly nomadHAR!!! HAM radio is a very viable alternative. Another option could be to develop resilience for regional Ushahidi headquarters and give resilient tools to members of Ushahidi like handcrancked cellphones and HAM radios.

I like your ideas of morse code and laser billboards but your Running Network is AWESOME!!!
"foot, a bicycle or a motorcycle. marathon runners, sprinters, parkour players and others carry messages and deliveries across unsafe and unstable terrain." it´s not only a resilient idea but it´s also a really cool one!!!
Comment by A.V.Koshy on April 16, 2010 at 1:09pm
in india in the city i come from i think fm radio and cell phones would be the best bet though ushahidi would also help
Comment by Turil Cronburg on April 16, 2010 at 1:42pm
Also, local communication is vastly improved by having regular old bulletin boards all over the community. Offers and requests and meetings and general information can easily be posted by anyone with a piece of paper and a pen, or crayon, or lipstick. :-)
Comment by A.V.Koshy on April 16, 2010 at 1:56pm
bangalore is the it hub so internet could of course easily be leveraged but the common man links up best and fastest through cell phones and fm radio
lol turil yeah thats a good idea
Comment by Patricio Buenrostro-Gilhuys on April 16, 2010 at 7:44pm
I think all the solutions that everyone here has shared are possible. Cool to learn about HAM radio, Open BTS and fm radio in India.

I think Ushahidi and HAM radio and Open BTS and cellphones are viable solutions as long as they have energy: We have to work in 3 solutions at the same time to create redundancy:

1- Expand the use of HAM radio´s and Open BTS and build more resilience around the way we are going to power them. Batteries, hand-cranked, solar, wind, bio fuels, friction . . . everything

2- Build resilience for Ushahidi. We need to build regional Ushahidi centers where again they can get energy from every possible source.

3- Build resilience for cellphone towers, satellites, and again make them dependent on more than 1 single source of power.
Comment by Shakwei Mbindyo on April 16, 2010 at 8:46pm
Moving back to the good old days of smoke signals, drums and the pigeon post :) +1R
Comment by Jeff Archambeault on April 21, 2010 at 2:27am
As an amateur radio operator (KC2SDS) with emergency communications training, I can certainly appreciate this blog entry, nomadHAR. With a really good makeshift antenna, 5 watts (what we'd call QRP) can certainly go a long way. BTW...I don't think most US Hams know or use morse code (CW) - I know I don't, but I did learn it at one time and remember about 20%.

Communicating efficiently, whether via ham radio or "sneaker-net", can be as important as the actual ability to communicate. Ham radio has http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Traffic_System which uses http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiogram_%28message%29 as a format for maximizing message efficiency.

http://www.villagetelco.org/mesh-potato/mesh-potato-faq/ is also a very cool bit of tech that could be deployed fairly inexpensively.
Comment by Diego Bank on April 21, 2010 at 3:25am
This is pretty sweet. Radio communication powered by portable generators. I send most of my relief funds to WorldVision, yet I also had the opportunity to donate to the Chilean Earthquake relief when one of the most popular bands from Chile (Inti Illimani) was on tour in Canada this winter :)

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