New technologies developed to help during disasters

November 4, 2012 5:32:32 PM PST
Hurricane Sandy shows us how communication is critical to response and relief efforts. A local university is working on next generation technology to develop ways to keep communication going during any major critical event.

Imagine a social media site not affected by power loss where you could log on and get help from first responders during a disaster, or connect with your neighbors for help or information. That's just one of the issues Carnegie Mellon University is working on at Moffett Field.

Mobile emergency operations centers from Palo Alto and Sunnyvale are taking part in a study to determine how multiple jurisdictions should be able to communicate when they respond to a disaster. Dr. Martin Griss is the director of the Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley campus, "What frequency should you use, how well do they work in a disaster situation? What software tools will allow this vehicle to talk to that vehicle," Griss said.

Dr. Steven Ray, a distinguished fellow at the university, points to the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion in September 2010 as an example of problems that occurred when different first responders got on scene, "All these different fire departments or police come from different cities, but they can't share data. They can share voice sometimes but they can't share maps, videos, photographs, status information, things like that."

That's part of what this workshop is about -- making sure all first responders are on the same page. The work of these professors and students is how best to use low cost, crowd source or open source technologies in a disaster event. They are developing the use of simple, available technology that people can use that would supplement the work of first responders. For example, a Wi-Fi connection would be solar powered and distributed to schools and other neighborhood emergency response centers.

"What we're doing is developing low cost, portable technology that can be used to connect people in a social media, even if the cell towers and internet are down," Griss said.

A disaster Wi-Fi in neighborhoods could help neighbors connect with each other for help or update each other during a crisis.

Those disaster tools are still in development. The workshops are sponsored by agencies from NASA and police and fire agencies to mobile network providers.

The workshop continues on Monday.

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