Mesh Networks & Earthquakes

Article Written by Jonny McConnell

I grew up in the Northwest, despite the recent heavy migration to the upper left, I love it and in all my travels still have not found a place I would rather live. But I’ll be the first to admit that after reading Kathryn Schulz’s recent investigative report into the Cascadia subduction zone for the New Yorker, the only thing I wanted to do was go home and curl up in a ball of fear. So I did for a minute. Then I looked out my living room window to what would be a prime view of the tsunami rolling over the peninsula toward Seattle—and I wanted to be a part of the solution.

Were a major natural disaster to happen today, I’m not going to fly toward an oncoming asteroid and try to nuke it out of the way of the planet, I’m no Bruce Willis. But as a designer and a technologist surrounded by a gaggle of even smarter folks here at Thomas Street, we realized that what we can contribute is of the same value to the community. If everything is broken, all I want to know is whether or not my people are safe and where I can find supplies. So to aid in that need, we believe there is a role for a civilian mobile ad hoc network that allows real-time communication during the first 72 hours after a disaster and only relies on a cheap robust device (that we want to make) with support from the smartphone you already have.

A little research into FEMA and it’s clear their role is to keep hospitals running, roads cleared and supplying fresh water, all hugely important things we don’t have much effect on. We want you to help your neighbors, find your family and figure out where people are organizing in your community and open a line of communication to anyone that’s willing and able.

Not that we know all the answers, but to start the conversation is to start the action. Imagine a portable device consisting of a Raspberry Pi, a Ham radio antenna and a kinetically charging battery in a Pelican watertight / shock absorbing case big enough to also to charge a phone. The Raspberry Pi is a computer on a chip that would act as both a sending & receiving mechanism for simple text attached to geolocation coordinates broadcasting over amateur radio frequencies. The more units in play, the further a message can be repeated with each new time two devices come in within range of each other.

We plan on prototyping this earthquake preparedness device along with offering a quick guide to mesh networking and post-quake help. Would you use it? Would you support a kickstarter? Would you build one for your neighborhood?