Turning hopeless victims into smart mobs

Turning hopeless victims into smart mobs

Summary: Public officials and relief agencies could deploy simple, cheap technologies to tackle the problems caused by diasters like hurricane Katrina.

TOPICS: Networking, Outage

David Stephenson has an interesting series of articles on how public officials and relief agencies could deploy simple, cheap technologies to tackle the problems caused by disasters like hurricane Katrina.  The idea is to turn disaster victims into smart mobs that can be more readily marshaled to deal with disaster recovery.  David's suggestions include:

  • using an ad hoc FRS radio network similar to the DCERN one in DC. FRS radios and back-up batteries, dropped to disaster victims in their homes would allow officials to get on-the-ground observations and give instructions.
  • creating an ad hoc mesh network citywide using software like the FREE CU-Win mesh software.  This would only work for people with power and connectivity, but would provide a means of coordinating volunteer and recovery efforts.
  • using Wiki software like JotSpot or Socialtext to create officiall sanctioned neighborhood-by-neighborhood Wikis.  The Wikis would allow people to enter detailed information and even pictures, coordinate clean-up and recovery, and even host simple applications. 
  • using presence applications to coordinate communications among responders.

These only scratch the surface, as far as I can see. Making this work would require some out-of-the-box thinking on the part of government agencies and NGOs, but it is a fascinating idea.  Allowing disaster victims to become part of the solution would bring many more eyes, ears, and most importantly minds, to bear on the problem and help dispel the feeling of hopelessness that disaster victims feel. 


Topics: Networking, Outage

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  • Why not take it 1 step further

    Why not take the concept 1 step further. If they created a mesh network, why not use PocketPC (or Palm, etc.) devices with WiFi cards and GPS to mark locations that have been searched. As a building is searched, the device could record the number of people still in the building and any bodies found. Standard COTS software could be used as well as needs arise (such as Skype).
  • Network of Mutual Jammers

    You want to create a useful network out of untrained people? Better disable the push-to-talk buttons on all those radios, or otherwise the chaos that results will keep you from being able to get information to the mob. People tend to forget push-to-talk also means release-to-listen! This happens to the Pros on ocaision.
  • FRS, the new "Citizens Band"?

    Equipping a mob of people with FRS radios immediatly makes the person with the radio "The Leader". From what has been seen in New Orleans, "The Leader" would be the first one shot by the mob.

    I can think of a number of items that would have to instilled in the general population, like radio circuit discipline. Many years ago I was involved with an ad hoc search for a missing child in a military housing area. 40 or so people were involved, most equipped with CB's. The resulting chaos of "BREAK BREAK" and "GO BREAK" and three or more stations claiming to be "NET CONTROL" did more to hamper the search than co-ordinate it.

    But it is an idea worth exploring more, maybe handing out FRS radios that have had the transmitters disabled so they act more like the CONAIRAD receivers of the 50's and 60's.
  • Most peolple have cell phones

    {cell phone technology is not my domain so take this with a grain of salt}
    Many people in the disaster area have cell phones including the first responders, but the towers are down. Perhaps tethered balloons with cell phone repeaters could be rapidly deployed to get the network back up. Many phones have text messaging and some are web enabled; so many of your suggestions for software automation could be used. The cell network likely has enough protocols to support basic broadcast and it can detect who is connected.
  • Right Idea, Wrong Impression

    This idea is good for having people report and co-ordinate, but
    it would not have helped very much in New Orleans, Biloxi, etc.

    The problem in the case of Katrina is that relief and emergency
    services have been heavily cut back, as a result of the
    administrations orders. Even if it had been possible to station
    people on every corner (and with 80% of the city under water it
    was not possible) no amount of calling or spotting and reporting
    problems would have helped. The relief forces were simply not

    When city, state, and federal relief agencies were properly
    funded and prepared in the past, ground-based co-ordinators
    were not necessary or critical. The relief people (searchers,
    police, troops, etc.) handled these matters very quickly, because
    they know what must be done.
  • Big Brother?

    With the distrust many have of our government in general and FEMA in particular, I think you would have problems getting people to allow equipment in their house that might do more than just communicate. Cell phones are not helpful in these types of situations not only because of towers being down but the batteries cannot be recharged. Even in lesser hurricanes power can be out for weeks. As much as we all love technology, I think it pays to have low tech plans in place.
  • Turning Hopless Victims into smart mobs

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    Every responder can reach anyone. Leaders can reach everyone.