Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

Information in a vacuum isn't very helpful, only when it's communicated and integrated with other data points can it be vetted and put into context. In the digital age information that's hours old may have changed, this is especially true in a post disaster environment where the balance between supply and demand is in constant flux. Given an absence of relevant and timely information, people turn to each other, oftentimes what ends up happening is that outdated information or outright lies end up being circulated adding to the confusion of an already complex situation.

In the immediate aftermath of Sandy 4G LTE networks performed well and allowed individuals continued access to data networks so that the flow of communication and information never really stopped. Given that the Mid-Atlantic region is one the largest and most densely populated markets in the country, this coverage is not surprising. However, access to 4G LTE networks is not ubiquitous and as a result, many of the challenges that come with lacking reliable access to communication and information in the aftermath of a disaster persist.

With 4G access on the rise continuity in information flow can be expected, but until that happens leveraging the fact that there are close to 7 billion active cellphones around the world, is the foundation upon which The Serval Project bases its open-source software; a solution to the communication and information blackout that happens at a local level after disasters.

The Serval Project
"Serval is a revolutionary, free, open-source software under development for mobile telephones, letting them communicate even in the absence of phone towers and other supporting infrastructure" ( Co-Founder Paul Gardner Stephen, part of the Australian-based Serval Project, was compelled to put his programming skills to use after seeing how infrastructure and communication failures in the wake of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake hampered relief efforts. The result is a free software called Serval Mesh, which essentially enables phones to talk to each other directly, or via a Mesh Extender (think signal booster), instead of via a phone tower. What this means is that it can work in the middle of nowhere, or during a disaster when the phone network is knocked out and there is no data network available. By utilizing the built in wifi capabilities our smartphones already have, this software enables continued person-to-person communication without provider access. While the ramifications of what this could mean for service providers is not fully understood, in terms of what it could mean to teams involved in Search and Rescue and early coordination of activities is an exciting prospect. 

For more information on the work and its applications please go to: and if you like what you see they are raising money via indidegogo to expand their efforts.

Please note that I'm not endorsing this product...I just think it's cool and wanted to share how innovation is impacting the world of disaster response.

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