Posts Tagged ‘emergency’

nsl_drones_wifi

In the last week there was a bit of buzz about a project by Yan Wan from the University of Texas who, at the Smart America Expo, showed a WiFi enabled drone that *ding* could provide WiFi with a range of up to 5 miles! This was presented as a great step forward in disaster communications. The various articles made it seem like one of these devices would cover a 5 mile area with WiFi.

See for yourself by the viewing the video here.

Having worked in the fields of wifi and disaster response I decided to have a bit of a closer look. Was this really such a step forward and whatsmore, how was this achieved…

Firstly let’s have a look at the hardware, what components were used to build this. The aerial platform is a DJI F650 platform. It’s a nice of the shelf platform. The payload is a Ubiquiti Nanostation. Then there is some sort of servo which rotates the Nanostation. Wether or not the rotation is automatic and slaved to the location of the station the devices connects to or not isn’t clear.

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The Nanostation is a widely used WiFi AP/CPE operating in the 5GHz band. I’ve used them on different occasions and we recently deployed some when working in the Philippines with Disaster Tech Lab. They’re a functional, cheap and cheerful type of device which theoretically can provide up to 150 Mbps on a point-to-point link of up to 15 km.

So in short this project has taken two of the shelf products and bolted them together.

Now for the technical bit; The Nanostation is designed to be one end of a point-to-point link and as with all point-to-point links range/distance is achieved by narrowing the antenna beam. While an omni-directional antenna will cover a 360 degree radius it’s range is limited. A directional antenna, like the one inside the Nanostation, takes the same transmission power (TX) but squeezes it into a narrow bundle. That way the range is much further but the signal radius is much smaller. Any device outside the range of the bundle will not be able to connect. Compare it to standing in a huge dark room and switching on a lightbulb versus a flashlight and you’ll get the picture. In addition the touted range of 5 miles is really not such a big deal. Most of the off the shelf WiFi point-to-point devices have a much longer range. I can recall building a link over 40 kilometers back in 2004 (I think) using homemade gear.

So going back to the implication of this aerial platform; we have a radio device with a narrow beam mounted onto what by definition is an unstable platform. Just ask anyone who has ever build a point-to-point link using masts with a lot of wind-sway how this can kill your connectivity.

Then there is the issue of backhaul; connecting two WiFi devices is great and all but it means very little without a source of internet backhaul. As this is an airborne device using a cable is a big no-no. So a form of wireless backhaul is called for. 3G/4G/LTE? All possible but it will add to the size and weight of the payload as well as require more battery power. In addition, if 3G/4G/LTE is available would that not negate the need for an airborne wifi device?  So satellite maybe? That would mean an ever bigger payload and battery drain. The last option is to consider using lots of these devices and building a WiFi mesh with one or more fixed end-points with internet connectivity. Now this would theoretically be a possibility but there are several factors to consider. using directional antennas on airborne/unstable platforms might cause dropped links. Then there is ones of the bigger drawbacks inherent to WiFi mesh networks; a drop in throughput with every hop (unless you use dual radio devices but that won’t really work here). Lastly there is the logistics and costs of building, deploying and operating a large number of these type of devices.

So considering all the above I can only conclude that it’s a case of much ado about nothing. It might look cool and get much ooh’s and aah’s from the hackathon crowd but there’s really no benefit in this product at all. The cost of the combined package comes to around $1300 (off-hand) with $1000 of that being the aerial platform. Compare that to about $150 for a length of scaffolding pipe, a roof mount kit and some clamps. The latter would also create a link with much more stability.

Ubiquiti-Nanostation-M5-Instalado1

 

If you are looking at a workable application for aerial platform mounted WiFi then look at a combination of a 3G/4G/LTE backhaul device and a WiFi router with an omni directional antenna. That way you can create small bubbles of WiFi that can be flown into hard to reach areas and which are not dependent on a directional link for connectivity.

Even better rather than a means of connectivity provisioning use aerial platforms as sensor networks able to detect wifi or cellular signals transmitted by client devices (smartphones etc) pinpointing people in need.

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bugoutbag

I’ve committed to give a talk later this year on “The perfect Bugout bag”. It’s topic that I’ve discussed with regularity over the years and one that also caused a lot of controversy and heated debate on the numerous prepper, survivalist and related fora. During my deployments abroad with Disaster Tech Lab I always carry a small bag/pack with my basic essentials. A bag that would enable to me to “survive” for a few days if all my other bags were stolen or lost. So I do have a some practical experience in this area.

Traditionally discussions of what a bugout bag should contain include most, if not all, of the following:

  • Food
  • Water, water bottle & water purification
  • Knife
  • Multitool
  • Basic First Aid kit
  • Map & compass
  • Emergency Shelter
  • Matches, flint & tinder
  • Weapon (handgun or rifle)
  • Flashlight
  • Survival blanket, small sleeping bag
  • Paracord
  • Collapsible stove
  • Clothing
  • Wet-wipes
  • Insect repellent
  • Wind-up radio
  • GPS
  • Fishing kit & snares
  • Cash or gold coins

In my opinion the above list is based on an outdated principle. It assumes that any bugout situation will see one ending up in a remote wilderness situation. This is no longer true and a lot of bugout type scenarios will now take place in an urban environment. With increased instability in certain parts of the world you could find yourself having to bail out of a hotel, taxi, public transport or other urban location and having to depend on whatever is in your bugout bag for the next few days. In such an environment you will not be placing snares or fish for food, you won’t have to build a basha for shelter, or need to carry spare clothes.

You will require a whole lot of different items. Ones that provide you with access to digital communications (phone or internet), digital copies of important documents, a method to power your electronic devices. Even a way to smarten up your appearance quickly.

What you don’t want to carry is a big knife or even machete. Even a stove and cooking equipment is excess weight. Water is also less of an issue.

Basically you will need a Bigout Bag 2.0

I will be working on compiling a summary of my personal recommendations of tried and tested items that I carry in my bugout bag but as I am also very interested in finding out what other people carry. And please note, “bugout bag” is only a generic term. You might call it your grab-bag or your EDC but it basically boils down to the same.

So please, after reading it take the time to leave a comment with your opinion or experience in the area of bugout bags.

Following storm Darwin earlier this year and the widespread disruption caused by storm damage and flooding I carried out an on-line survey on how information on storm and flood-damage was being disseminated to the Irish public. Having worked with Disaster Tech Lab in disaster zones all over the globe for the last 4+ years I’ve learned that the gathering but even more the curation and dissemination of relevant data is crucial during extreme weather events. It serves dual purposes; first it allows for a better tailored response effort but secondly it also increases awareness amongst the general public allowing them to avoid dangerous areas and/or to evacuate if necessary. The survey was basic and had the single purpose to ascertian if people had received information about damage caused by storm Darwin and through what medium they had received this information.

Following is a summary of the results:

  • Respondents were 61.11% male & 38.89% female
  • The majority were in the 35-44 age bracket
  • Most respondents lived in Dublin, Cork & Galway (in that order) with the rest spread over the country.
  • 77.78% had flood damage in their immediate area.
  • 11.11% experienced flood damage in their immediate area.
  • 88.89% travelled inside of Ireland shortly after storm Darwin.
  • 77.78% encountered flood and/or storm damage during their travels
  • But only 55.56 % was aware of this damage
  • The most interesting part was that 83.33% received this information through Social Media while only 5.56% received the information through the local authorities.

darwin info

The Irish local & national authorities are dropping the ball in a major way here and appear to be woefully unprepared. The only publicly available resource is the floodmaps.ie website run by the Office of Public Works. The most recent data there dates to 2011 and was gathered through a retrospective study. There is no obvious way to report damage in real-time.  With the current drive for Open Data and Big Data you would expect that this would be available. There are a number of easily implementable, Open Source platforms to create an online map with a real-time reporting mechanism without having to re-invent the wheel.

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Building such a service would allow people to report any flooding or storm damage that they encounter via a variety of means. Email, sms or via the website itself. You could even build an app. Reports can include a location (automatically mapped), description and images or video. Once curated (again in realtime) this information will than be displayed on an online map. The data can serve dual purposes. It will alert response services to issues which require intervention or remidiaton but it will also inform the general public as to where a rood is flooded, a tree is blocking the road etc. This allows them to plan travel accordingly and avoid problem areas. The end result is more fluent traffic flows and the avoidance of traffic jams at problem spots.

StormLahinchClareJan2014SeanCurtin_large

While members of government discuss the issue of climate change and coastal flooding they fail to implement adequate response mechanisms. Ones which have become standard in countries like the USA which has been dealing with extreme weather events a lot longer. During a FEMA conference in Washington DC last year I commented that Ireland (and Europe) will soon see a drastic increase in extreme weather such as floods and storms. The recent flooding in Ireland and the current unprecedented flooding in the Balkans which has claimed over 40 lives are only the start of this. We need to prepare ourselves and an increased public awareness is the first step. Increased awareness will lead to increased preparedness and resilience. Recent studies in the field of disaster response has shown that the top-down approach taken in the past only solves short term problems and doesn’t improve matters in the long run. A shift from disaster response to disaster preparedness is needed and this can only be achieved by an increased public awareness and involvement. Empowering people by giving them a means to report problems and needs in real time and acting on this information is a first step in this.