Last night while sitting on the couch I got one of my brainwaves; why not try to organise a volunteer effort to set up an outdoor wifi network for Haiti using wifi? Now I have for years been playing with the idea of developing emergency (disaster zone proof) wifi units that without too much work can be used to deploy a mesh-type data & voice network. Why wifi? Well it’s easy to use, cheap, license free and most off all: it works!
As with any disaster zone it’s been flooded by a large amount off relief effort: NGO, foreign government relief efforts etc. The most essential thing to coördinate all these efforts is coördination and coördination cannot take place without communications. I am starting from the assumption that the local comms systems are gone. That leaves system put in place by the US military and also a number of Iiridium (or other) satellite phones. That is still only a fraction off what is needed to accomodate the relief efforts. Now having worked with wifi for more than 10 years I am certain that a few qualified volunteers with a container of the right hardware can get a rudimentary network up & running in a few days. We could start by a few point-to-point links from a locations with backhaul (Port-au-prince?) and build out from there. Repeaters connected to the point-2-point links can distribute the signal locally where it can be used by PDA’s. laptops, iphones, VOIP phones and the like. From there the network can be built out. This type of network has been used before for disaster relief after hurricane Katrina & Charley.
Haiti’s topography seems to be suitable for this as there are quite a few mountain peaks ( sea level up to highest point: Chaine de la Selle 2,680 m) so it would be easy enough to shoot point-2-point links to high point and roll out from there.
I am sure that if I can get together a team of 5-10 engineers with sponsored hardware and transport (and security on the ground) we can make this happen.
However as I am putting this together from scratch I need all the help I can get so I am reaching out to you people reading this from home, office, at home or on the road. Below is a list of what I (so far) think we need. Please let me know if you can help or if you know someone who can. I am counting on you all to help me make this happen!
- 5 -10 volunteers (I am already reaching out to some people I know but if you have the skills and want to help please contact me via the details below).
- Wifi & Networking hardware (as much as I appreciate private contributions I really need a company to step in here and provide the lot. Have a few things in the pipeline but need to get this sorted ASAP) I need outdoor-access-point, repeaters, bridges, antennas, a couple of switches & routers, loads of ethernet cable & connectors etc. Contact me if your company wants to help.
- Transport: While I think that we can work this out with a government agency I am open to any airline offering to fly us out there.
- Expenses: While I am willing to do this on a voluntary basis and expect other volunteers to come forward we need to be fed & watered and have a roof over our head while we’re in Haiti. So I need donations.
Really that’s all I can think off for now. I am sure that more info will be put up here as we go along so keep checking back.
In the meantime those who want to help can contact me by the following means:
Phone: +353 (0)86 8645099
P.S. For those who wonder if I’m crazy to do this; I probably am but I am at a stage in my life were I refuse to sit back and watch people suffer like this. Hopefully you feel the same.
21/01/09 UPDATE: We’re putting together a dedicated website to coordinate this relief effort due the the overwhelming interest. The site will be at www.haiti-connect.org and should be live at the end off the day. You will also be able to donate online via this website.