The final 802.11n standard: Good for disaster response

The wifi a b d g logoThe final approval of the wireless 802.11n standard revisits the potential to significantly change the use of wireless networking during disasters.  Previous wireless standards always fell significantly behind wired in data throughput to point where most users would recognize the difference and prefer a wired connection.  802.11n’s theoretical maximum throughput is 600 Megabits per second (Mbit/sec) but it is realistic to expect in the mid-100’s.  This places wireless nicely comparable to 100BASE-TX wired Ethernet which runs at 100 Mbit/sec. 

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Techological Challenges on Island Operations

A man stuck on an islandThe recent Tsunami in American Samoa highlights all the problems that may be encountered with island operations.  American Samoa is extremely remote relative to the lower-48 states, and this can lead to all sorts of additional complications.  It makes work on Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands looks simple.  This is just going to be the series of challenges to provide technology to disaster relief operations with island operations and considerations to overcome them.

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Can home computers be protected?

Computer virus, worm and trojanI’ve recently been thinking about the concept that home computers make every end-user an administrator responsible for the building, maintenance, and security of their own system.  It also pits the inexperienced home user against creators of spam, worms, viruses and other mal-ware – who are generally very intelligent and experienced.  Does the average home computer really stand chance?

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Satellite technology as reliable backup?

Satellite in spaceIn reading Andy Opsahi’s article Satellite Technology Provides Disaster Communications When Cell Towers Fail at, I was at first heartened with the statement:

Emergency managers know that having foolproof disaster communications plan is nothing more than fantasy.  That’s because even the most redundant backup strategies can leave responders unable to communicate.

Unfortunately, Andy missed two major drawbacks to satellite communications in the article that appears bias toward the positives of using satellite.  It isn’t surprising as they are frequently overlooked.  A clear view of the sky, and the spot beam capacity.  Although he was dead on when he said it was expensive.

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Recharging with Solar Power

Solar power panels in the sunSolar power has potential but have yet to see it realized. It is really quite a shame even though possibilities are promising. The best place for solar and other alternative sources of energy to shine (no pun intended) is during disaster. I’m thinking about this today because I’ve just finished testing Solio H1000. Here’s the promise of solar power during disaster: storm passed through and power has been cut off. You’ve been using your cell phone to reach your family and friends to let them know you are ok. Of course your cell phone didn’t get fully charged because the storm hit in the middle of the night and knocked the power out before it charged. You reach over to solar powered battery recharger and plug your cell phone in. The phone starts to charge. The solar panels are converting the sunlight to power for your cell phone, and you’re up and running again. Here’s the reality. You’ve kept the solar powered recharger in your closet, so the internal battery is dead when you pull it out. The manual you read shows that it needs couple days for it to get fully charged. Having really no other option, you put it in sunny spot hoping for the best and then start to do other things for the day. Continue reading Recharging with Solar Power

Will text messaging work in disaster?

People texting on cell phonesAfter 2001, many people have been pushing the benefits of text messaging over voice phone call to get message through. Experience shows that text messaging is more reliable to get message through but it is not the perfect alternative means to contact someone that it is implied to be. Nine years ago, relatively few people used their cell phones to send text messages. Times have changed.

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Satellite Evolution Group interview (Nov/Dec 2008)

The following text is from an interview that did with Satellite Evolution.  They are UK-based company in case you are wondering about any of the spelling.  The original text is posted at on their website.

Satellite communications: helping millions

The Red Cross of America is humanitarian association that helps millions of people year recover from disasters across the world.  The use of satellite communications within the humanitarian sector has seen marked rise in recent years.  Helen Jameson spoke to Keith Robertory, Disaster Services Technology Manager for the American Red Cross to find out how the organisation is using satellite based technology and why.

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Is rugged equipment worth the cost?

A lot of vendors assume that if you respond to disasters that you need ruggedized equipment.  They must have a picture in their head of my colleagues heading into disaster zone with satellite phone in-hand, military spec ruggedized laptop under the arm, BGAN in the backpack with an intention of sitting down in the mud and rain to work. Truth of the matter is that the answer is simply “it depends.” And I hear the collective groan from everyone reading this that simply and it depends should never be used together in the same sentence. 

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Why should Keith blog?

Blog“Blogs, tweets, spaces, pages, books, oh my.  There are so many voices that create so much noise, why on Earth do I think anyone would be interested in reading my blog?” I said to myself.  I believe that I’m in fairly niche role, one that has some fundamental differences to similar roles and yet other differences are splitting hairs.  When someone asks me what do, I’ve got it down to single, run-on sentence: I’m responsible for all the technology the American Red Cross deploys to large-scale disasters – between 50 and 70 per year where each lasts from two to four weeks.  My team and are unique convergence of emergency response management, technical mobility, infrastructure stability and the critical interface between people and technology.  Honestly, you probably think that I’m playing buzz word bingo with that statement so let me break it down. Continue reading Why should Keith blog?

Thoughts on Inter- and Intra- Operable Communication

Interoperability is not technical problem, and people need to stop talking about it as if it is. There is enough technology out there that if someone wants to bring to different groups to appear to be together on permanent or ad-hoc basis, they can. Interoperability is political problem. Technology can make the beat cop talk directly to the fire truck, and the NGO feeding station directly to the EMS squad – but do you think their respective chains of command want them to? The Federal Government and many others have spent lot of money and energy on the topic of interoperable communications. When the rubber boots hit the ground, how many organizations are fully capable of communicating within themselves?\\\\nSeriously, can understand the allure of having single radio that can easily dial in any first-responder agency or any support to first-responder organization. There is something to be said for that. Balance it with the fact that the Fire Chief wants to control his/her units, the Police Chief his/her’s and so on. That chief is ultimately responsible for all the people under their command. Continue reading Thoughts on Inter- and Intra- Operable Communication