Tech

Technology for disaster preparedness, disaster response and disaster recovery is advancing quickly. New disaster technology is used by disaster victims, first responders, and recovery teams, and we'll discuss and review some of the latest gear here.


 

An Introduction to the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS)

An Introduction to the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS)

For some individuals, volunteers, and family groups wishing to be prepared, the licensed radio services (e.g., Amateur Radio, General Mobile Radio Service, et al.) are not an option.  Unlicensed services (e.g., Citizen Band, Family Radio Service, et al.) may be crowded, lack sufficient range, or be suffering from serious interference.  There is another option though:  Multi-Use Radio Service or MURS. The Multi-Use Radio Service is a private, two-way, unlicensed radio service in the 151—154 MHz VHF spectrum range.  The service has five (5) channels available.*  In some respects, it is similar to Citizen Band and the Family Radio Service (FRS).  The service was originally established by the Federal Communications Commission in the year 2000.  Transmissions may be in the form of voice or data communications.  Unlike amateur radio, business-related radio traffic is allowed on the service.  Unfortunately, “store and forward” type operations are not permitted.  The use of radio repeaters is also not allowed on the service.  The maximum output power is two (2) watts.  As of 2014, Canada is reviewing the possibility of allowing MURS operations in the country. Benefits for Preparation: The Multi-Use Radio service is unlicensed.  Any member of a group or family may use the technology. The output power of 2 watts is four times that of the 0.5 watt limitation on the Family Radio Service. Unlike the Family Radio Service, external antennas are permitted.  MURS antennas can be up to 60 feet above the ground. A transmission range of up to ten (10) miles or more can be achieved with this technology.  Some sources report up to twenty (20) miles under ideal conditions. Unlike Citizen Band,...
An Introduction to the Family Radio Service (FRS) for Preparedness

An Introduction to the Family Radio Service (FRS) for Preparedness

Imagine for a moment your family is caught in the middle of a major disaster.  The phone lines are dead.  The cellular service is jammed.  The power is out and even with a generator there is no connection to the Internet.  Satellite phones are not available for use.  You need a way to communicate with all the members of the family as you coordinate bugging out or working to recover from the disaster.  How do you communicate in the local area with unlicensed family members?  There are a few options, but one available since 1996, is the Family Radio Service (FRS).  The following is an introductory guide to the service brought to you by Disaster.com. The Family Radio Service is a two-way, voice and digital radio service that is designed for families and other groups to communicate over short distances.  No license is needed to operate on this service.  FRS radios have fourteen (14) channels.  The first seven are shared with the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), while the next seven are exclusive to FRS.  GMRS transmissions may not be conducted on channels eight through fourteen.*  Unlike amateur radio, FRS radios may also be used by business entities and related organizations.  It may be used by any person of any age in the United States, except for official representatives of foreign governments.  Very similar services exist in Canada and Mexico. Benefits of Family Radio Service for Disaster Preparation: Transceivers are available nearly everywhere.  The cost of the units are, generally, the lowest of two-way radios. Some units recharge from recharging stations, while others are powered via standard battery sizes.  Many may...
Citizen Band Radio for Emergency Communications

Citizen Band Radio for Emergency Communications

Communicating effectively over a relatively large distance is of paramount importance during an emergency.  Unfortunately, many of the communication technologies we rely upon everyday may be unavailable or unreliable in the wake of a disaster.  Cellular service can be down, Internet access may be intermittent or completely unavailable, and the landlines can be jammed with traffic.  Two-way transceivers, on various frequency plans and radio services, are available to the average citizen for emergency communications.  Some, such as amateur radio, require a test be passed and a license maintained.  Others, like General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), require a license, but no testing is required.  There are some services, such as Citizen Band (CB) and Family Radio Service (FRS), that require no licensing to operate.  This article will focus on the Citizen Band (CB) radio service in the United States.  Many other societies, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, have similar radio services. Citizen Band is a short-distance (expect between 5 and 20 miles for higher power base units – which is still great for “in-town” communication), two-way, voice-only communications service for US citizens.  Unlike amateur radio, business activities may also be conducted on CB frequencies.  Amplitude modulation (AM) and single-sideband modulation (SSB) voice modes are permitted.  The CB service has an authorized 40 channels between 26.965 MHz and 27.405 MHz.  The maximum power output level is 4-watts for AM or 12-watts output  for single-sideband (SSB).  Since 1969, channel 9 (27.065 MHz) is the official channel for emergency and roadside assistance communication.   If you’re interested in buying a CB Radio, please consider using this affiliate link for Amazon.com. A small portion of...
A Free Open Source Tool to Analyze Twitter

A Free Open Source Tool to Analyze Twitter

This article is a bit technical, but the end result will help you to search Twitter, analyze the tweets and then export them into a CSV file for loading into a spreadsheet application - all with a free open source tool. This article is just the beginning. We'll take a look at graphing, wordclouds and sentiment analysis in the next few weeks. All of these things are critical in identifying trends during disaster response and recovery. Twitter is great for emergency management, emergency response, and trend analysis but getting the tweets into a program for manipulation can be expensive or require a significant knowledge of programming. We're going to explore the use of "R" and "RStudio" to perform a Twitter search. While it's not simple, it does allow you to (fairly) easily get data into other programs where things ARE much simpler. "R" is an open source and free "language and environment for statistical computing and graphics". It is part of the "GNU Project", a collection of software including applications, libraries and developer tools. The GNU project has been around since 1984 and the project software is used, in some way, on almost every UNIX machine in existence. In our case, however, we're going to use the Microsoft Windows version of R, and don't be scared off by the description of what the software does. This guide may seem daunting, but it's not too complex. I'll bring you through the process step by step. Installing "R" and "R Studio" We're going to install both R, and R Studio. R is the component that actually executes our work, retrieves the data...
No Network? No Problem. Texting without Cell Service.

No Network? No Problem. Texting without Cell Service.

When there's no cell service available, how do you communicate with family and friends? In the midst of a disaster, how do you get updates? We're used to the "always on" world, but in times of disaster and crisis, your primary source of communication is often not available - texting. Hello GoTenna. GoTenna uses an app on a smartphone coupled with a portable, battery powered short-wave radio transmitter/receiver, to send and receive text messages from other devices up to 50 miles away - without cell service available. Daniela, a startup guru, and Jorge Perdomo, a system architect, filled in the missing link: a device that would allow communication to continue when there’s no cellular or Wi-Fi service available. goTenna devices turns smartphones into standalone bidirectional communicators. Callers link the small dongles to their phones over Bluetooth and launch the goTenna app. Users compose a text message, which then relays through the goTenna. The signal passes over a short-wave radio frequency to the recipient’s device, which in turn displays the message through the app. If the recipient isn’t within range, the system will automatically resend the message until it goes through. Individuals can opt to send messages to one recipient, blast them to an entire group or ping alerts (what the company calls “shouts”) to other goTenna users who are within range. Messages can also include a user’s precise location on a map. Company Website GoTenna Additional Articles Smithsonian cNet The Register...
New Browsers Allow Website Access Over SMS

New Browsers Allow Website Access Over SMS

The world is crumbling around you. Floodwaters rage, houses have been ripped apart and you need to get vital information from the Internet. There’s no 4G, 3G or WiFi available. What do you do? A new open source web browser is being developed that allows you to access Internet sites via text messaging. It’s not fast, it will be expensive if you don’t have unlimited text messaging, and you won’t get any graphics (yet!), but you’ll be able to view websites when no data service is available. Today, it’s Android only and requires a Twillio account plus a back end server, and they still haven’t released the actual code. But – the project looks promising for use in disaster zones and regions without consistent data service (think Africa). How does it work? You start by typing in a website URL in the Cosmos app. A text is sent to a Twillio number. The text is then send using an API to a back end server. The backend then gets the website source, removes unnecessary parts of the source, and also removes CSS, javascript and images.  It’s then compressed, encoded, and sent as a series of text messages back to the original device at the rate of three per second. Once the app receives all of the information, it decompresses it and displays it in a readable text format. For More Information: The Cosmos Browser The Cosmos Back End Software Also see these articles: Smithsonian Magazine Fast Company Co.Labs Silicon Angle...
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