NSL Blog

Innovating in crisis management with p2p and technology

March 22, 2013


They call it stormy Monday but Tuesday is just as bad

Richard Dent currently at Cambridge University is working on a project called Crowd Aid Exchange. Has kindly written a post for No Straight Lines.

Wireless networking has the potential to help millions of victims of disasters however access to bandwidth and world class technology needs to be improved.

Climate scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have reported that extreme weather will become the new normal. Few countries are prepared for multiple disasters. Does the world need a new humanitarian international project that matches the $150 billion international space station in scope and ambition? A key goal would be to ensure that everyone has access to a mobile phone or data signal during a disaster.

The biggest challenge that faces emergency response teams going into disaster zones is the lack of consistent mobile bandwidth. Even if the physical infrastructure survives, the sudden demand often brings down essential mobile networks. This is a problem that an international project could solve, creating a global emergency bandwidth network. Weatherized mobile network masts and routers with their own power supply could be distributed around the world to ensure access is available.

Since the Haiti earthquake, advances have been made. United Nations Disaster 2.0 paper reports: “On the timeline of the Internet’s evolution, the 2010 Haiti earthquake response will be remembered as the moment when the level of access to mobile and online communication enabled a kind of collective intelligence to emerge”. More worryingly, the report says “the humanitarian system had no formal protocols for communicating with these volunteer and technical communities”.

NGOs are responding. American Red Cross have built a digital response centre with Dell whilst crowd mapping project Ushahidi and Patrick Meier’s research team at the Qatar foundation are making leaps and bounds. Next on the agenda is joining up efforts, avoiding duplication and making sure we start developing the next generation of solutions now. A team has started work at Cambridge University to develop a social networking application that helps people beyond the reach of emergency services.

The reducing cost of mobile smart phones means that we have an incredible opportunity to connect to anyone caught up in a disaster. The sooner the world wakes up to our new planetary weather system, the sooner we can start building this network.



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