Exposing a weak infrastructure, an old one, or both?

In following the devastation to come out of the Katrina catastrophe, it seems appropriate to look at the communication infrastructure that failed so miserably in New Orleans. The complete inability to connect people with real-time events in NO underscores the importance of having a more or less fault-tolerant communication infrastructure in place. The need for a more complete and robust cyberinfrastructure has now come to the forefront whereas before it may have just been viewed as more “Star Wars” technology being promoted by computer scientists and computer geeks. According to John Powell, a senior consulting engineer with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council,

… emerging technologies can lead to better communications in the future, but no technology will help you when the total physical infrastructure is inadequate. This is our first big disaster where urban response teams have had to bring in all their own communications equipment” because there was almost no emergency-communications capability left in the city.

Specifically what Powell was referring to are mesh wireless networks based on the 802.11 wi-fi standard and the need for a better system in place as discussed in this Information Week article. It is somewhat unbelievable to think that no communication contingency was in place for an event that urban planners knew could, and probably would, happen in NO. The threat of such an event occurring and discussions of what to do if all power, and thus communication, was lost in the city have been on the table for years.

One Response to “Exposing a weak infrastructure, an old one, or both?”

  1. /dev/null Says:

    Probably the most practical solution is for cell phones to be have the capability to be switched to peer-to-peer mode automatically when infrastructure goes down. Skip the 2.4ghz techs… too many line-of-site restrictions.

    Instead, a simple peer to peer discovery mode and sms store and forward could push msgs across the network to the gateways that did have connectivity.

    And even without gateway connectivity, p2p cell phones would be fantastic for locating people and doing broadcasts and alers to all nearby phones. Consider a “I’m trapped here” msg, or “is anyone in need of assistance?”.

    With roughly 1/3 of the planet’s population now cell-phone enabled, it is time to *use* the hand-held radios that everyone carries when the core infrastructure goes down.

    If you are not a router, you are part of the problem :-)

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