Fairfax County Roundup

Here are my Fairfax Roundup Speaker Notes from the Fairfax Roundup meeting.  The meeting is a great local event to build the community relationships between faith and community based organizations and the local government entities.  There were five breakout sessions.  My session was about technology in disasters.

For those who attended, additional details on the topics I spoke about can be found in the following blog entries.

PACE: http://keith.robertory.com/?p=664

Social Media: http://keith.robertory.com/?p=802

Public Notifications: http://keith.robertory.com/?p=732

Radio Types and Bands: http://keith.robertory.com/?p=674

Cellular Communications: http://keith.robertory.com/?p=676

Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Thanks!

Cellular communications

Cell phones are practically everywhere in the US.  83% of American Adults own some kind of cell phone (Pew Internet, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Cell-Phones.aspx).  These are useful in emergency situations and 40% of American Adults have used them during an emergency.

Most cell phones are low power at .5 watts with an internal antenna.  However, the features of the frequency and other advances allow a single cell site to have a maximum range of 30 to 35 miles in optimal conditions with low user load.  In urban areas, maximum range doesn’t matter as it is more a factor of cell phone density (how many phones per square mile) and building penetration that influences how many cell sites are needed.

A factoid is that a cell tower is not in the center of one cell, but instead on the edge of three cells.  Cell towers are easily identified by the long narrow vertical antennas mounted to a triangular frame so they point in three distinct directions.

Cell sites can also overlap.  A large area may be served by a macrocell.  A high density area within the macrocell may be served by a microcell.  This could be a major interstate intersection, a shopping mall, or stadium — any place where a large number of cell phone users will gather and use their phones.  Individual buildings can install a femtocell, which is a small cellular base station that connects the cellular devices in a building to the cell network through an antenna on the roof or an internet connection.  This is especially useful where buildings are constructed with energy efficient features that block radio waves, or where important section of the build are underground.  Energy efficiency and heat blocking films applied to windows reduce the radio signal passing through the windows.  It is not uncommon to have a great cellular signal outside a building that drops to barely useable inside a building.

During disasters and other unique events, cellular companies bring in specialized units to restore or augment existing service.  Two common units are COWs (Cell on Wheels) and COLTs (Cell on Light Truck).  Cell service was bolstered on the National Mall during the last Presidential Inauguration.  The service providers new that people would making calls, and taking pictures and videos to upload during the swearing in ceremony.  This could have overloaded the existing cellular infrastructure that is designed around normal Mall traffic.

A subtle, yet important, shift from the cellular providers is the placement of branded Wifi hot spots in urban areas.  These Wifi hot spots available at no charge to their own customers shifts load from the cellular network to the wired broadband networks.  Phones from the major providers come preconfigured to prioritize the movement of data across the providers Wifi networks instead of the cellular network when available.  It is a way to load balance the overall system transparently to the users.

Faux G

Cellular systems can carry data as well as voice.  The International Telecommunication Union, Radiocommunication (ITU-R) is responsible for the cellular standards.  The ITU defines what can be called 4G.  Technically, the standard is the International Mobile Telecommunications-Advanced (IMT-A) standard but it is commonly marketed as 4G or LTE-Advanced.  IMT-A dictates minimum data transfer speeds of 100 Mbit/s while in motion and up to 1 Gbit/s while stationary.

You may have not yet experienced these speeds even if your device is labeled as 4G, yet many systems today tout 4G.  In late 2010, the ITU-R gave in to cellular vendors requests and allowed them to use the 4G name if the current system was substantially better then third generation systems and being built to meet the 4G standard.  Resulting from this change, companies went from 3G to 4G overnight because of shifts in the marketing department despite no major changes in the technology overnight.

It is important to take note of the possibility of 4G.  A T1 circuit is 1½ Mbit/s.  The minimum 4G standard of 100 Mbit/s is 66 times larger.  Take a look at the graphic posted on my blog Explaining Bandwidth at http://keith.robertory.com/?p=560 for a better understanding of this.  A cell phone running true 4G will have more bandwidth then an entire site serviced by a T1.  We are right on the verge of a major cellular service shift.  When setting up a site during a disaster, it is common to use one cellular data card (aka aircard) per computer.  With these faster speeds, we can use one cellular data card to be the head of the site’s network.

My team has already successfully setup a network in a disaster with one 4G aircard providing connectivity for 30 computers.  Granted it was rare that there were users on all 30 computers simultaneously surfing the net and streaming large files.  But, that’s the point during disasters — and really even day to day.  It isn’t about providing maximum bandwidth to each user all the time.  Instead, focus on load balancing to provide enough bandwidth to meet the combined average need ~90% of the time.  It is ok for the system to be a little slower during peak demand times.  Set the user’s expectations correctly, and your team will get through it.

A cellular connection could be used to back up a wireline circuit.  Advanced routers can handle multiple uplink connections with prioritization and failover settings.  This will provide redundancy.  It is better than two wireline circuits backing each other up when the backhoe cuts through the utility lines outside the building.  Redundancy is nice.  Diverse redundancy is better.

Your users in a disaster response will be on the computer only part of the time, with the rest of their time filled with other activities.  If a disaster responder travels to a location and spends the entire time behind a computer, then the question should be asked: could that person just stay in the office or at home to complete the same work?

 

Additional resources

If radio waves were visible light

There is a lot more in common between radios and cell phones then most people expect.  It can be hard to see similarities when the user interfaces are designed so differently.  Fundamentally, they both have a power source that drives the device to generate a signal across an antenna.  In turn, the antenna generates radio waves that run through the atmosphere until they hit another antenna attached to a receiver.

If you could see radio waves, they’d appear as if we had hundreds of lights turned on all around us.  We’d see the waves coming off our cell phones, wifi-enabled devices, blue-tooth devices, wireless phones, cellular-enabled tablets and hot spots.  Also visible is the radio waves from your neighbors’ equipment coming right through your walls as if the walls weren’t even there.  The wireless baby monitor would probably appear just as annoying as the tantruming child.  Larger sources of radio waves would emanate from cell towers.  Way off in the distance, AM and FM towers would glow like a sun.  Even the fast food drive through isn’t immune due to the wireless headsets and speakers.  Look to the sky and you’ll see the satellites sending their signal to the earth.  Right above the equator, the concentration of transmitting satellites would resemble the Milky Way.    Add in all the natural sources and unintended sources from poorly designed electrical systems to really complete the image.  No lie.  Radio waves are everywhere.

In the US, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will set the broad allocation of the spectrum and how it can be used.  They publish the US Frequency Allocations: The Radio Spectrum chart.  It is very finely divided down, yet you’ll still see major sections allocated to broadcasting.  Spectrum is a finite resource.  We cannot create any more and all of it is allocated to something.  That is why spectrum management is so important.  Broadcasting has had to make better and more efficient use of the spectrum to keep it.  Hence the evolution of HD radio; which by the way is hybrid digital not high definition.  It also led to the use of Digital TV to include more information and resolution in the TV station’s broadcast.

At the bottom of this chart is the full spectrum.  Near the left end is the audible wave lengths; the middle contains a very narrow band of the visible spectrum; and the far right is cosmic rays.  The continuous range of frequencies (and then some) is called “DC to daylight”.  DC refers to direct current or 0 Hertz.  Daylight refers to the band of visible light, starting about 405 THz.  Thz is Terahertz or 1012 Hertz.  If you’re used to the metric system, Tera comes after Giga.  Looking for a radio that does “DC to daylight” isn’t a literal radio.  It is referring to a radio that will continuously cover all possible radio bands.  Keep in mind that the more bands (frequency ranges) a radio will cover; the less impressively it can master a single band.  Think of it this way: a Swiss army knife provides a lot of tools which are better than nothing, but far less handy then having the actual tool needed.

 

Additional reading

National Telecommications and Information Administration. (2003). U.S. Frequency Allocation Chart.  Retrieved from http://www.ntia.doc.gov/osmhome/allochrt.html

 

 

The possibility of 4G

It is important to take note of the possibility of 4G.  A T1 circuit is 1½ Mbit/s.  The minimum 4G standard of 100 Mbit/s is 66 times larger.  Take a look at the graphic posted on my blog at http://keith.robertory.com/?p=560 for a better understanding of this.  A cell phone running true 4G will have more bandwidth then an entire site serviced by a T1.  We are right on the verge of a major cellular service shift.  When setting up a site during a disaster, it is common to use one cellular data card (aka aircard) per computer.  With these faster speeds, we can use one cellular data card to be the head of the site’s network.

My team has already successfully setup a network in a disaster with one 4G aircard providing connectivity for 30 computers.  Granted it was rare that there were users on all 30 computers simultaneously surfing the net and streaming large files.  But, that’s the point during disasters — and really even day to day.  It isn’t about providing maximum bandwidth to each user all the time.  Instead, focus on load balancing to provide enough bandwidth to meet the combined average need ~90% of the time.  It is ok for the system to be a little slower during peak demand times.  Set the user’s expectations correctly, and your team will get through it.

A cellular connection could be used to back up a wireline circuit.  Advanced routers can handle multiple uplink connections with prioritization and failover settings.  This will provide redundancy.  It is better than two wireline circuits backing each other up when the backhoe cuts through the utility lines outside the building.  Redundancy is nice.  Diverse redundancy is better.

Your users in a disaster response will be on the computer only part of the time, with the rest of their time filled with other activities.  If a disaster responder travels to a location and spends the entire time behind a computer, then the question should be asked: could that person just stay in the office or at home to complete the same work?

If this interests you, take a look at this post.

Irene takes out cell towers, disrupts communications

An interview I did with ComputerWorld that is posted at http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9219556/Irene_takes_out_cell_towers_disrupts_communications
 and http://www.cio.com/article/688722/Irene_Takes_Out_Cell_Towers_Disrupts_Communications

 

 

Irene takes out cell towers, disrupts communications

Storm affects 1,400 cell sites, FCC reports

By Matt Hamblen
August 29, 2011 12:12 PM ET
Computerworld – Communications
networks took a hit from Hurricane Irene, as 1,400 cell towers and cell sites were damaged or disrupted — mainly in Virginia, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina, the Federal Communications Commission said Monday. Continue reading Irene takes out cell towers, disrupts communications

Fox News Interview, March 18, 2011

I was interviewed by Garrett Tenney of Fox News for a story about cell phone use in disasters.  The story was published on March 18, 2010 at http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/03/18/memorizing-cell-phone-numbers-save-times-crisis/.  It is reprinted here.

Memorizing Cell Phone Numbers Could Save You in Times of Crisis

By Garrett Tenney
Published March 18, 2011 | FoxNews.com

Many Americans feel naked or lost without their cell phones. 

But in times of crisis those very devices — instead of connecting people — can sometimes lead to collapses in communications.

One reason: who memorizes cell phones numbers anymore? 

A week after Japan’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake, there are still more than 10,000 people unaccounted for. 

Philippe Stoll, a spokesman for the International Red Cross, told the BBC earlier this week that people are still alive, but can’t tell anyone because cell phones that were not swept away by flooding waters quickly ran out of power. 

“I don’t know how many of the phone numbers saved on your mobile phone you know by heart,” Stoll said. “How do you reach someone whose number you have in the mobile you lost?”

In tech-savvy Japan, cell phones are widely used by young and old, as opposed to the U.S., where they are predominantly utilized by just the younger generation, said Ken Wisnefski, founder and CEO of Webimax.com. 

“In Japan, even the older generation was reliant on technology, for some time, so the impact of this crisis is more far reaching because a large part of the population relied so heavily on that technology,” said Wisnefski. 

A study released earlier this month by Research and Markets, the world’s largest market research firm, revealed that of Japan’s population of roughly 127 million, 117 million are mobile subscribers and 90 percent of those users have access to a high speed 3G network. 

Communication in and out of Japan has begun to improve, and some wireless carriers, such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Comcast have been offering free calling to Japan from the U.S. 

But, in some of the hardest hit areas, communication with the outside world and emergency responders is still difficult. 

Keith Robertory, manager of disaster services technology with the American Red Cross, said this is a reminder to everyone to be prepared in the event of a disaster. 

He said people can take these few, simple steps to help improve communication and get you on the path of personal recovery:

–Save all your contacts on your home computer, update them every few months, and print a hardcopy of your contacts to keep in your car in case of an emergency. 

–Write down the toll-free numbers for your banks and utility companies. In the event of a disaster, this will allow you to turn off your utilities, reprint credit cards, and temporarily change your address. 

–Designate a friend or family member who lives outside your area to be your family’s emergency contact. In emergency situations, long-distance calls have a better chance of getting through jammed phone lines because they only require one connection to get through, while local calls require two connections. 

–If you are in a disaster area, and aren’t able to get a hold of family or friends on your phone, change your voicemail to say the current time, your location, and that you are safe. This will allow anyone trying to reach you to know you’re alive and where rescuers can find you. 

Robertory said communication in crisis situations is vital for families and communities. Although preparation is a personal decision, families should make plans to handle disasters, he said.

IAEM 2011 Conference Speaker Submittal

IAEM: The Stakes are High conference logoThe International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) conference in November 2011 has put out a call for speakers.  The deadline of February 25 is fast approaching.  I decided to pitch a 1 hour breakout session loosely based on the course I teach at GWU.  Below is what I sent in.  Let me know your thought and make suggestions. Continue reading IAEM 2011 Conference Speaker Submittal

The Galaxy Tab and use in disasters

Samsung Galaxy Tab being heldThe Galaxy Tab has been in my hands for the past few weeks.  It is a tablet that uses the Android O/S and is about half the size of an iPad.  Connectivity for the one I’m using is through a built-in Verizon cellular chip.

My team and I were discussing the Galaxy.  The best summary we could find is that it is a great device if you can find the problem it solves.  My team and I are all equipped with some form of a Blackberry device, Dell laptop and cellular broadband.  So the question is where would this fit in our tool box?

Continue reading The Galaxy Tab and use in disasters

The Future of Amateur Radio

Amateur Radio: When all else fails.The future of amateur radio is going to be good one … so long as diehards don’t pigeon hole amateur radio into particular frequency, mode or way of operating.  As I headed up to Dayon for Hamvention, I wondered just how long amateur radio was going to be around.  I suspected that in ten to twenty years, it will not look much like it does now and could be gone.  Thankfully, there were folks up in Dayton that helped to shift my mindset.  Now I think that amateur communications will still be here and it will not look like it does now.  Looking around Dayton, it is easily taken that amateur radio is technology for white haired men – and it is easily perceived as older white men.  True, there are women, young people, and people of different origins that enjoy it but not to the extent of older white men.  An injection of younger and more diverse people is badly needed.  A failure of recruitment will signal the death of amateur radio.

Continue reading The Future of Amateur Radio

What’s best… AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or Nextel?,

A cell phone pileHere’s another question of “it depends”, but I think the distinction is getting clearer where there will be a clear call in the near future if things don’t change.  AT&T’s network is being hammered by all the smart phones (read iPhones) on their network.  While Sprint has both Sprint and Nextel, they are still two separate networks.  And Verizon keeps consistently chugging forward.  Like any service, the first factor is if there is even cell tower reachable from where you are.

Continue reading What’s best… AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or Nextel?,