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The potential of mesh networks to help people during natural disasters

Juan Ricardo Ñique


December 14th, 2017
The potential of mesh networks to help people during natural disasters

Natural disasters are unfortunately a part of life in many countries. In Peru for example, over the years, it has been hit by floods, earthquakes, rock slides, and torrential rains. During a time of natural disaster, the situation is often compounded by the destruction of telecommunication networks, meaning people cannot contact loved ones, and governmental or aid agencies struggle to know what the situation is like on the ground. A lack of coordination resulting from difficulties to communicate have a real impact, not just on the economic recovery, but on saving people’s lives. Unfortunately in many parts of the world, the mortality rate for natural disasters is higher than it needs to be, and a core reason behind this, is the difficulty in communication.

In an academic paper I published and presented at a Symposium at the University of Guanajuato, Mexico, I examined how mesh networks could help overcome some of these challenges. The idea behind it is actually quite simple – to build a mobile network to help people communicate with each other, but that the network is not based on mobile data (the Internet). The aim was to help improve the communication between local authorities, central government, and people affected by the natural disaster.

What is a wireless mesh network?

A wireless mesh network (WMN) is a hybrid network. As Fabian Garrido and Diana Parra point out in their research paper, a WMN network differs from traditional networks and centralized wireless systems (such as a cellular network or WLAN). Rather a WMN network combines an ad-hoc topology and an infrastructure topology. To put this in everyday language, an ad-hoc topology is one that, as its name suggests, builds itself spontaneously depending on the connections available. Meanwhile in an infrastructure typology, there is a connection between the wired network and all the disparate wireless devices.

This means that if traditional networks and telecommunications systems are unavailable during a natural disaster, a WMN which builds itself on an ad-hoc basis using available connections (such as the bluetooth on your cell-phone), provides a way for individuals and institutions to communicate with each other.

Combining wireless mesh networks with RSS

What we propose in the academic paper is to combine the advantages of a WMN with really simple syndication (RSS). With RSS you can “feed” information to different websites, applications, or services.

Building an app that relies on mesh networks

The solution that we propose is to build an application that relies on a mesh network. Individuals who live in disaster-prone areas, would then pre-install the application. In the event that a disaster hits, they will still be able to communicate with loved ones, and receive vital information from the emergency services.

I’m currently in the process of building the application, and am aiming to have the first version ready for 2018. Below is the first outline of the application:

Rescue Mesh

If you’re interested in finding out more about the topic, we published and presented the idea in an academic paper published and presented in the Symposium in the University of Guanajuato, Mexico. You can read the full article (in Spanish) here.

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