Providing emergency communications for Haiti.

Posted: January 17, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

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

Twitter: @evertb

Skype: Airappz

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 and should be live at the end off the day. You will also be able to donate online via this website.

  1. David Kirk says:

    No Evert, you are not crazy. I’m with you. I’m connected to the internal Cisco team that is mobilizing to help. I’ll keep you connected.

    • We have developed a wireless mesh networking system, currently based on Linksys/ Cisco
      WRT54GL hardware. We have put considerable effort into developing custom firmware,
      HSMM-MESH(TM). The system is being deployed at this time in Austin, TX. I have
      personally installed the nodes at the City of Austin Office of Emergency Management as
      well as the Red Cross.

      HSMM-MESH is designed for emergency communications with rapid deployment and
      automatic linking.

      If I can be of any help, let me know. The firmware is available for free. I have been
      very active in ecomm for many years. HSMM-MESH would be most useful, and work
      in concert with any other communications systems deployed in Haiti.

      We are currently conducting a table top exercise on how we would deploy
      HSMM-MESH, if we could get into Haiti. It seems like chaos there and the chances
      of getting in are limited.

      Again, if there is anything I can do to help, let me know. We are watching from Austin
      and monitoring the HF ham networks but wish we could get in with our gear.


      Glenn Currie
      (512) 913-9174

  2. evertb says:

    Link to an update on the damage to Haiti’s communications network:

  3. Evert,

    Not crazy. It’s something us ‘Wi-Fi’ people know how to do, and a way to help all those suffering in Haiti right now.

    I’ll spread the word to all my contacts. Hopefully we can help find sponsors and volunteers for the project.

    Thanks for taking the lead on this international effort.


  4. Edward Addy says:

    I stent about 10 years working with emergency radio communications. Throwing up a Wifi net makes sence to me. However, I would make sure that you have users, ie the NPO’s that are already down there. Many of them, like the Red Cross already have high speed internet access via satelite links. I think a big push would be on the communications, like VHF/UHF FM 2 way radio systems, needed to coordinate their relief activities. That and HF radio are my areas of specialty.

  5. AJ says:

    Count me in;

    Familiar with most unix and win systems as well as cisco switching/routing etc. Can provide remote or on site support or just an extra pair of hands. Go figure no use wifi if you don’t have systems guys too.

  6. Susan Kurtas says:

    Check out Telecoms Sans Frontiers, I think they are there now:

  7. […] Providing emergency communications for Haiti. « BLITZKRIEG BOPP […]

  8. paulmwatson says:

    Good idea though maybe hook up with the TSFI guys? And also define some practical use-cases. How does it mesh with their existing comms? Do rescuers carry WiFi enabled devices (laptops yes but mobiles and handsets?) How do you power the access points in areas with no electricity? What about theft and vandalism? Security while deploying the APs?

    Also from what I’ve been reading there is a bottleneck in getting people and supplies into Haiti. Sending more rescue teams, however valuable, without proper off-site co-ordination would seem like only adding to the problem (hence hooking up with TSFI who are already there.)

    And what about the D4H guys? They could make use of WiFi if they, or their system, is being used.

  9. david curran says:

    The Digicel network is still working in Haiti. Haiti is not the sort of place in general and particularly not now that you can land in plant a few flags and then fly out. Getting communications workign there is important but might require more local knowledge than you are allowing for.
    For example where is the hardware going to go? There are no buildings of any size/ Building a proper liong term tower take time, money and expense.

  10. John Kennedy says:

    Good idea, but, I feel, misguided, the scale of the disaster in Haiti has not yet been determined, the urgent need in Haiti at the moment is for water, food, medical supplies,shelter and the need to bury the dead.
    The International Aid and Governmental agencies are mobilising to meet these needs, with regard to telecomms, I am sure Digicell are working to restore their network at the moment, and, given Denis O’Briens previous involvement in Charity, I don’t think he will be found wanting. the last thing the people of Haiti need at the moment is a group of well intentioned amateurs flapping around trying to implement a first world solution in a broken third world environment, and, using valuable resources that could be better deployed elsewhere.
    If people really want to support the people of Haiti at this time, I suggest a donation to the Red Cross or any NGO like Telecoms Sans Frontiers who already have a presence on the ground.

    John K

    • evertb says:

      @jbkenn “well intentioned amateurs flapping around “? how can you make a statement like that without knowing the people who are getting involved?
      You might be “sure” of a lot of things but I (and those helping me) are actually communicating with different organisations to see how we can best apply or offer our skills & assistance.
      As for using “valuable resources that could be better deployed elsewhere” I am actually arranging our own resources so anything we do will be in addition to the ongoing relief effort and we will certainly not detract from it.
      It would be great if someone like you who runs a WISP would actually offer some support.

  11. evertb says:

    @Edward, thanks for your comment and info. I fully agree with you but I am also coming from an angle where we can build an comms network that can be used by local people & businesses in the long term. Are you offering your support?

    @susan I am aware of TSF being there as I tried to volunteer to join them some time ago (however I needed to live near the HQ to do so). However I am coordinating my efforts with aid agencies on the ground and will offer them our assistance.

    @paulmwatson As said above I am trying to coordinate with any & all agencies involved in the aid effort and am getting support from some serious heavyweights. I am also in contact with Digicel, Cisco and similar.

    @david I am fully aware of all this. My efforts extend far beyond what this post describe and there is a lot off communications going on with agencies on the ground. I am certainly not planning to “land in plant a few flags and then fly out”.

  12. Evert,

    I think this is a great idea however I am wondering if it is too late…… ie would the US military not already have set something out and what are the reporters using to get the images out of the country ?

    It’s times like this that I remember why I have my CB radio still wired up in the Garage !

    What is your plans for back haul ? Satellite ?


    • evertb says:

      @Russell They haven’t apparently. There is quite a bit of VHF/UHF & satellite systems being deployed but most of it is for “internal comms” and military use while what I plan to do is an attempt to restore/support civilian communications. See the link in the blogpost to some of the work done in the US after the various hurricanes.

  13. evertb says:

    Just mentioned on the news: “GOAL calls for end to Haiti ‘power vacuum'”:

  14. Chris Byrne says:

    Haiti is an “all hands on deck” response and Evert has expertise in this space so we should look for ways to make it happen. Clearly Denis O’Brien’s firm Digicel is smack in the middle but I would think they would not say no to help. Improving communications in Haiti is going to help in some form possibly more so for the rebuild. There are a number of firms very skilled in disaster type communications like so whatever is needed, evert, make a definite detailed requirements list and people required to make it happen and I will certainly lend a hand.


  15. Tim Behrsin says:

    Please let us know if we can help. We could for example provide a range of iNum numbers that you can assign to people. They’d then be reachable internationally from PSTN (for the cost of a local call) and Internet (for free).

  16. Alex O'Connor says:

    Would it not make more sense to channel support via Télécoms Sans Frontières? They have already deployed on the scene and have proven expertise in this area.

    Since its creation 10 years ago, Télécoms Sans Frontières deployed to over 60 countries to the benefit of millions of affected civilians and over 500 aid agencies.

    At a time when life preserving resources are very scarce you should seriously question what you are bringing to the table.What do you propose to provide is currently not being provided by Télécoms Sans Frontières?

    They are accepting online donations here

    • evertb says:

      Alex, thank you for your reply. However as I have stated several times above I am *already* in communication with TSF and other aid agencies.
      What I have to contribute is manpower, expertise and a self-supported team. At a time like this all help is essential.


  17. WillG says:

    Major telcos have mobile access points, such as sprint. They have a truck that puts up an antenna and poof, instant cell. Verizon has the same type of thing.

    One of the key questions is if any of the CO equipment that connects to underwater is still operational. If not, start working there. Also establishing a temporary microwave station that ties into the Dominican Republic land lines wouldn’t hurt either.

    Your idea is good, but the wi-fi traffic has to be backhauled by something.

    Good luck with your effort!

    • evertb says:

      Yup, would love to get some of those trucks out there. However more realistically we will use telco-grade AP’s in outdoor enclosures and mount these on whatever is most suitable.
      Am aware of the backhaul issue and am in discussions with a number of people about that. It is indeed essential.
      Thanks for your support.

  18. We are deploying HSMM-MESH(TM) as an amateur radio emergency
    Internet like system. It can operate stand alone or is trivial to link to
    the Internet. This system is designed for EXACTLY this sort of situation.

    Contact me if I can help, the firmware is available for free.

    We load our custom firmware into the Linksys WRT54GL and create a mesh
    using OLSR automatic linking. Mesh node automatically link 5 seconds after
    coming into RF range. Plug an Internet link into the WAN port all all other
    nodes in range have Internet access in 5 seconds. We are running a table top
    exercise on what we would do if we could get into Haiti with our gear. We have
    mapped where links need to go. Our firmware is available for free it it would
    be useful. The system works VERY well. Let me know how I can help.

    • I have been following the situation since the earthquake hit. There are a few satellite
      based ISPs up and running in Haiti, if we cold link to them or run HSMM-MESH links
      to the DR. we could make better use of the currently working Internet links in Haiti.

      The HSMM-MESH system could be used now for ecomm and continue to work for months
      as the relief effort continues.

      HSMM-MESH is designed for just this type of disaster and would augment any other
      comm systems being deployed. If I though I could get in, I would have been on my
      way last week. Contact me for a paper describing the HSMM-MESH system.
      Let me know if I can help. The firmware is available for free.

      • evertb says:

        Glenn, can we maybe schedule a call over the next few days?

      • Call any time. I work nights so I am much more useful after 12 noon each day.

        My cell phone is

        (512) 913-9174

        I have a lot of field experience with HSMM-MESH and know how it works. I regularly
        do 10 mile hops across Austin, across the heavily populated U.T. Austin campus that
        has thousands of wireless devices. HSMM-MESH works like a champ and does these
        10 mile hops from good sites with no added amplifier, just good antennas. We do
        have bidirectional amps, but have found few uses for them. With enough field
        experience the trick is to put your signal right were you want it due a deep
        understanding of all of the parts of he system.

        If you choose not to use HSMM-MESH I am still available to help where I can.
        I have years of emergency communications experience. I have worked with
        my fellow HSMM-MESH developers for about 8 years on our system and it is
        designed and tested for situations like those in Haiti.

        You will need a support team here in the states, to help the team in Haiti and / or
        other parts of the team, possibly deployed in the DR.

        The big companies, military etc. will all bring in communications systems.
        HSMM-MESH will work in concert with other systems, so keep at it and see
        what resources become available. The people in Haiti will need help for months.



  19. HSMM-MESH firmware in WRT54GL routers provides a robust wireless network.
    It can work stand alone or connect to the Internet. In stand alone mode, it
    provides the network. Run whatever IP application you like on top of it.

    Put your own servers on line. Todays laptops can make a pretty good portable

    Haiti had limited communications infrastructure before the earthquake. There
    are many that can supply various types of communications. Amateur radio
    operators can use HSMM-MESH for a Wi-Fi type solution as well as HF/VHF/UHF
    communications. This communications can be done without stepping on
    the efforts of any one else. Communications will be needed for months
    and HSMM-MESH could be a help, even if Cisco and others manage to
    get in and set up gear. The cell phone people will be busy, but again,
    the system I am offering would work in concert with any other systems
    deployed. Glenn Currie, KD5MFW (512) 913-9174

  20. Stephen says:

    Evert, you seem to have the right mix of hardware skills above, but I can develop and deliver training aswell as anything from making cables to configuring Linux Firewalls, high availability systems and anything in the datacenter technology space (using opensource software).

    I’d also photoblog the entire venture!

    Awesome idea from a creative mind Evert – nice one!

  21. John Hardy says:

    We can kick in some items as we are a Manufacture. our MESH500 is easy to install and sample can be seen on , I would try and stay away from indoor devices mounted in water proof enclosures, due to over heating issues, we mostly sell only to Telco as our equipment is not cheap and built to Telco specks, I could throw in a Management system software package also for bandwidth management and redirect , this way the system is always open but control is from internet access at the NOC. We also make UPS remote power systems to supply the devices and NOC centers. Could drop in a few engineers for 2-3 weeks if have transport. Let me know

  22. John Hardy says:

    Also it may be advised to deploy 5Ghz so the system will stay and last for their future development . As if not now with in 6 months the 2.4Ghz again will be unstable due to overuse and overlapping channels. As of January 2009 most Laptop manufactures have started shipping 802.11 a,b,g,n wifi internal internet cards. This main swing to 802.11a wifi is due to the over-crowing of 2.4ghz wifi and the failure of WiMax . The New X-Lin 5Ghz Ap and CPE ASU-5G01A has 25 NON overlapping channels and 54 Mbps and 108Mbps delivery , since the channels are non overlapping and wider bandwidth spacing there is no traffic jams from adjacent channels. This can be used for Fixed wireless clients and or WiFi hot spots and MESH deployment . We can still help supply some components and workforce if we can arrange Transportation. I might add that we have done a lot in Nigeria lately and even with security its worker BEWARE !!!. so plan to have your eyes open .

  23. John Hardy says:

    If we are to do this , Lets put in something that will be usuable in the future. 2.4Ghz will again in a short time there start to slow down and be unstable due to overuse of the overlapping channel design, In most areas there is a swing to the new 5Ghz wifi. Just a thought to give themsomething that will help for a long time. As of January 2009 mostl Laptop manufactures have started shipping 802.11 a,b,g,n wifi internal internet cards. This main swing to 802.11a wifi is due to the over-crowing of 2.4ghz wifi and the failure of WiMax . The New X-Lin 5Ghz Ap and CPE ASU-5G01A has 25 NON overlapping channels and 54 Mbps and 108Mbps delivery , since the channels are non overlapping and wider bandwidth spacing there is no traffic jams from adjacent channels. This can be used for Fixed wireless clients and or WiFi hot spots and MESH deployment . and I am game to assist. Havening spent 2 months in Nigeria Delta region you need we aware you can not count on Local Security !! be ALERT

  24. […] has begun plans to provide emergency communications on the island. Details are on his blog. He needs all the help he can muster for that, especially if you’re a business who can […]

  25. Brett Turner says:

    I have been working for Teleco in PAP for 7 years last being there in August. The problem you will have is that there is no power and when we tried to install solar backup power, the equipment would be stolen within 1 week. We would install on 40′ concrete poles. Teleco has some CO with power backup but those sites were just as poorly built. The sub cable to the Bahamas is not working at this time. It terminates downtown in Centreville. This is where the majority of the looting is happening. I know erickson is probably working with teleco to get tandem switches. I am going over with test equipment for the fiber network. in a week or two. Teleco would probly allow us to house some equip in co’s. I have been trying to contact some one there at Teleco but have had no luck. I am just going to show up and help. I will find some one there.Let me know if i can help. 210-863-8780

  26. […] Providing emergency communications for Haiti. BLITZKRIEG BOPP << see if you can support practical disaster aid. __________________ To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or greater. You currently have 0 posts. […]

  27. truthifree says:

    Wi-Fi would be great for people who have access to it but the vast majority of people there are illiterate. A smallish MW transmitter on a boat moored off the coast would provide info on cheap or wind up transistor radio.

    • Brett Turner says:

      The vast majority are very computer literate and almost all have access to phone. 50% of the population is under 25. they have nothing else to do there but go to school. They have educations but no jobs or government.

  28. Brian Greene says:

    best of luck with your efforts,

    just to agree with some comments above.

    “Radio is the most common medium used by Haitians, and broadcasts have resumed in Creole and French to ensure that assistance is brought to the people in need.”

    perhaps the time scale for deploying a mesh is ASAP but it would also serve as a good long term solution to counter paid cellular as the only means of mobile data to class rooms community halls and homes that will need to be rebuilt first. look forward to your site coming online today. so as i said I would be interested to learn more about long term sustainable MESH that this project can offer over an above the emergency deployment.

    as an example have a look at the EOY team deploying marine radio in Haiti 2008. disclaimer EOY are a client of mine, and I link as a point of reference only. Beyond Profit > Haiti case studies > Fishing Village Updated 2008

  29. evertb says:

    UPDATE: we now have a dedicated site for this relief effort:
    The most basic information is up on this site as well as a list of requirements. More dated will be added over the next few days.
    Please support us!


  30. I have been preaching secure and interoperable mobile mesh topologies for ever, especially supporting public safety in disasters. If you need an approved wireless mesh security encryption between DOD and the volunteers let me know.

  31. […] lot has happened since I put up my blogpost on “Blitzkrieg Bopp”. What started as a “sure, let’s see what happens” has within days evolved in a […]

  32. Frank Sjolie says:

    Looking to help with this type of deployment have a great depth of knowledge with DOD rapid deployment comm gear, don’t forget video as well for a multitude of purposes.

  33. I run a Wireless Construction and Intigration company and a VOIP company.

    I am available for support, I have experience in, systems, WiFi, VOIP, construction, IP routing carrier level networking. I also have access to VOIP termination, SIP trunking and IPPBX services I would be willing to provide.

    Ar= …

  34. There are many good offers for help provided here. Whatever specific systems get installed will be a big help to the people of Haiti. I am sure any of the systems mentioned could work well. I helped develop HSMM-MESH(tm) for situations just like the one in Haiti. Other systems have similar capability. If HSMM-MESH(tm) would be of help it is available. But if another system is used, that is fine by me. Just get something working.

    And whatever system gets installed, even if it is not the particular brand that someone offers up, anybody that has networking skills, Wi-Fi experience with any system in the field can offer a lot of good advice learned in the field that will apply to any solution offered.

    The BBC talked to some official and they say it cold take 10 years to rebuild after the damage done by the massive earthquake. So even as the rescue mission shifts to one of relief and rebuilding, the people of Haiti will need help for months and years to come. Please do what can be done to keep this project alive for the foreseeable future because that is how long it will be of tremendous value.

    Don’t stop helping when this story fades from the headlines here soon.
    And share key info about what it takes to make networks viable in such
    situations, as others will come along.


  35. Fr. Geof says:

    We have this project already underway! Come & help us!

  36. NACEC says:

    We are working on UHF 2-way communications support for the coordination of relief activities. We may also be providing several small temporary commercial broadcast stations to help get vital information out to the population that need it. Have heard that about 80% of Haitians listen to the radio each day as the literacy rate is so high. We are on Twitter as NACEC_RADIO.

  37. Aaron says:

    What ever happened to the telecom system that was installed by the Israel Defense forces a couple of days after the earthquake? Apparently it had a cell phone network, Wi-Fi, satellite back-haul, VOIP etc?

  38. […] relief effort. The first thing I did after the idea started formulating in my head was to put up a blogpost. After this blogpost went up it was important to drive traffic to it. Twitter is the best way to do […]

  39. […] The busiest day of the year was January 18th with 461 views. The most popular post that day was Providing emergency communications for Haiti.. […]

  40. […] of the factors that led to my involvement in the disaster response and rebuilding after the Haitian earthquake last year started many years before after the tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean in late 2004. At […]

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