Emergency Communications SimDay

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Portland’s Multnomah County Emergency Services office, charged with preparing for natural and man-made disasters, is largely unprepared and in violation of federal law, says a report by Emergency Services Consulting, which was commissioned by the county to review their status in coping with emergencies.

According to the Portland Tribune story:

Rob Fussell, chief of staff for county Chairwoman Diane Linn and acting manager of the county Office of Emergency Management that was the subject of the report, said any good look at most government programs would find similar problems. “We wanted a no-holds-barred, take-a-good-look-at yourself report,” he said. “Sometimes it’s painful to look at yourself.”

State Sen. Avel Gordly, D-Portland, who sits on a joint legislative committee studying the issue of emergency preparedness, said that in a city with three earthquake faults running underneath its downtown, the report shows a Hurricane Katrina-style disaster could easily happen here.

“We should be able to rely on our government,” she said. “This (report) is telling us that we can’t. We don’t have the capacity or the competency to respond in the event of a disaster.”

County Commissioners were surprised to learn Friday about the highly critical report of Multnomah County’s disaster plan, reports the Oregonian. County Chairman-elect Ted Wheeler, who campaigned on the issue of emergency preparedness, said Friday that he plans to make the subject a priority and will review the report’s recommendations.

Happily, the county doesn’t have to look far for experience and expertise. HumaniNet’s SimDay (Flickr Slide Show), held on June 15th, is a case in point.

Gregg Swanson, executive director of HumaniNet (right), founded the organization in 2002 after realizing that relief organizations like Northwest Medical Teams needed a “help desk” that could advise them on field communications and other current technology updates.

HumaniNet has assisted over 100 humanitarian and mission organizations and over 250 field teams, including relief teams in the South Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Darfur crisis, and the Kashmir earthquake.

The HumaniNet team believes there is a similar need for improved communications preparedness at the local and national level in the United States.

“I saw an emergency communications center operating with wireless and satellite, off the power grid, in Banda Aceh,” Gregg stated, and there is no reason our team couldn’t do the same thing in any U.S. city, with very minimal funding.”

Don Park (left), president of Portland’s PersonalTelco Project, a community LAN organization, and myself (Sam Churchill), were invited to HumaniNet’s SimDay, a technology demonstration held in a parking lot in Beaverton, Oregon.

The objective was to demonstrate the integration of mobile satellite broadband with WiFi networking and open source software for emergency communications in the field.

The HumaniNet team arrived in the morning, and by mid-afternoon they were ready to go.

The demo included Globalstar satellite phones, the Inmarsat broadband connection, a WiFi relay built by Portland’s Invictus Networks and a network of low power terminals using Inveneo’s low power PCs and running open source software. PocketPCs with integrated GPS for data collection and a variety other technologies were also demonstrated.

Batteries supplied the juice.

The 18 individuals who came together on June 15th had never worked together before, and most of them were meeting for the first time.

Some of the technology demonstrated included:

  • Telenor Satellite Services supplied BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network) terminal that uses Inmarsat-4 (I-4) satellites. A Hughes HNS 9201 provided WLAN connectivity for the demonstation.The laptop-size terminal supplies up to 492kbps (send and receive) making it ideal for either single users using bandwidth-hungry applications (like live video), or for small teams using multiple computers connected by Ethernet or WiFi.

    The F-2 satellite is always low in the horizon on the West Coast (about 2 degrees), so connection was iffy. The new F-3 BGAN satellite, over the Pacific, should fix that.

    Telenor’s sub-laptop sized Wideye SABRE 1 is the most economical BGAN satellite terminal on the market and enables users to conduct simultaneous telephony and IP data communications. Its built-in user interface allows quick set-up and supports multiple data interfaces including Bluetooth, Ethernet, USB and RJ11. Telenor Satellite Services can also route circuit-switched, fixed-to-mobile and mobile-to-fixed voice telephony to the Public Switched Telephone Network.

  • Inveneo is designed to provide computing, Internet Access and VoIP telephony for places with little or no access to electricity or affordable communications. It combines the Wyse S50, one of the smallest, most advanced Linux-based thin client on the market with a VoIP phone hookup and WiFi networking.A solar-powered system can be installed in rural areas with little or no power or communications. It uses open-source, Linux-based instant messaging (GAIM), e-mail (Sylpheed), web browsing (Firefox) and the OpenOffice suite.
  • Sahana is a Free and Open Source Disaster Management system. It is a web based collaboration tool that addresses the common coordination problems during a disaster from finding missing people, managing aid, managing volunteers, tracking camps effectively between Government groups, the civil society (NGOs) and the victims themselves.
  • Global Relief Technologies demonstrated their SMART*kit, a handheld device such as a PDA or Smartphone loaded with GRT’s customized RDMS reporting software, which includes mapping capabilities and if desired a satellite phone for data transmission in remote environments.They are also is teaming with GeoEye, the world’s largest commercial provider of satellite imagery, and Telenor Satellite Services to deliver timely satellite imagery to emergency relief workers in the field. Their OrbView-5 will be launched in early 2007 and will provide map-accurate panchromatic and multispectral (color) imagery with a ground resolution of 0.41-meters — the highest commercial resolution in the world.

    Microsoft bought Vexcel while Google bought SketchUp from @Last Software to provide ground-level perspectives.

The HumaniNet Project Team is a group of experienced and committed volunteers who give of their time, talents, and resources to further the HumaniNet vision. They include:

  • Matt Blair, founder, Elsewise Media. Matt has helped to design and implement the HumaniNet Web Information Service, an online resource that assists humanitarian organizations with technology and communications information. He is now leading efforts to design and deploy our next generation of information and project collaboration services using Plone, an open source content management system.
  • Jeff Allen was in charge of the SimDay setup which worked flawlessly. While training in Guatemala with the Doctors Without Borders, Hurricane Katrina hit. He was sent to Mississippi for two months to set up radio relays and other communications stations.Jeff was the project manager for Radio Response, an organization that created a community wireless network in Hancock County, Mississippi. Radio Response provided the services of a small wireless ISP in a disaster environment and demonstrated that it is possible to create a distribution network, which could distribute either local satellite IP bandwidth, or terrestrial IP bandwidth delivered via wireless backhaul. Network World describes their 45M bit/sec wireless connection bridging some 76 miles to Hammond, Lousiana. See: Jeff Allen’s Katrina Report.
  • Vern Gillespie’s focus is on the enterprise use of mobility devices (Palm OS PDA’s, Pocket PC PDA’s, and Laptop/Tablet PCs) for both wired and wireless networks. His company’s goal is to match a company’s business needs to the right mobile applications and devices to make them more productive. He likes the Nokia 770 Tablet and is particularly interested in applications for it.
  • Keith Lee designed and maintains the Northwest Medical Teams website and the HumaniNet website. He founded OneDog in 1991 and is interested in low cost, online merchant options; and strong strategic partnerships within the business community for additional services.
  • Thamel.com enables foreigners (and anyone) to shop and buy products in their native land. Thamel does an assessment of a countries resources and develops a plan to enable individuals and small businesses to thrive using the internet as a marketing tool.

HumaniNet participates in meetings such as; Information sharing for disaster response: Are we ready for the next tsunami, earthquake or Katrina and Technical Assistance for Community Services. It also does outreach to organizations such as PersonalTelco, the Hoodview Amateur Radio Club (in Gresham), the Oregon Tualatin Valley Amateur Radio Club, Lake Oswego Amateur Radio Emergency Service and others.

Last week the Lake Oswego Fire Department, practiced emergency communications with 15 local hams, reports The Oregonian. The 24-hour exercise was held in conjunction with similar drills across the United States and Canada. By the end of the exercise, operators made 709 contacts with hams in 43 states and seven Canadian provinces.

“People may not think of it much,” said Battalion Chief Larry Goff, the fire department’s emergency manager. “But if something knocks out our telephones and cell phones, we may need to rely on amateur radios. They really helped during Katrina.”

Gregg Swanson, executive director of HumaniNet explained their mission to DailyWireless editor, Sam Churchill.

DW: What’s the vision for HumaniNet?

Gregg Swanson: Our team – which includes volunteers around the world – is good at giving practical answers to practical questions: What ICTs (information and communications technologies) work well in the field? Is it easy to setup and use? What do other users say? We want to extend our reach so that everyone in the humanitarian space knows that a “help desk” service is available – not for future solutions, but what will help them today, this month, this year.

DW: What are the goals of SimDay?

Gregg Swanson: The Portland Sim Day was the first of three – the next is in the San Francisco area in September, then in Washington DC in November. Our primary goal was to prove that a “virtual team” could come together and set up an emergency communications center, and record the lessons learned. And we wanted it to be interesting and fun for the team and the visitors.

DW: What did SimDay accomplish?

Gregg Swanson: We accomplished our primary objectives, and the teamwork was outstanding. The wireless network architecture worked flawlessly, we learned a lot about integrating mobile satellite broadband, and the team and visitors got to experience a field scenario and see how an operational situational awareness application works. It was fascinating, and we had fun.

In a Katrina situation (or an earthquake or tsunami along the Pacific Rim) there is absolutely no doubt that a team like this, with a little planning, could have a comm center running within 24 hours.

As citizens, we shouldn’t wait for the emergency before acting – a little preparedness can save lives and help the relief organizations. That’s the message we will be pitching in the next Sim Days and going forward.

SimDay demonstrated the power of people coming together for a good cause. HumaniNet, as an information service to humanitarian organizations, is also becoming the “launch pad” for a new initiative, called TechReach International (TRI). Dr. Don Bruce (in California) is looking for volunteers.

HumaniNet enables first responders to communicate. Anywhere. They are looking for volunteers.

Related DailyWireless stories include; Katrina Telecommunications Report, Ham Radio, InterOp Takes a Holiday and Oregon’s Statewide Interoperability Plan.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Sunday, July 2nd, 2006 at 8:24 am .

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