Improving disaster communication: Researchers work on new approach

Fire department truck in emergency in New York streets.

When disaster strikes, it is important for first responders to have reliable, unhindered access to a controlled network, allowing them to receive and deliver critical information while ensuring effective emergency response.

Unfortunately this is currently not the case. Due to power outages and cell tower damages, the infrastructure for communications is not readily available during the response to an incident or disaster, and furthermore, the cost of this infrastructure is unreasonable, even for large organizations.

In response to this, Radu Stoleru, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University, and his collaborators have proposed a way to enhance the resilience of public safety mission critical systems and services in the face of connectivity challenges.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 produced the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), which was designed to provide emergency responders with the first nationwide, high-speed, broadband network dedicated to public safety. AT&T has just been selected by FirstNet and awarded $6.5 billion to build the wireless network, with construction beginning later this year.

Stoleru’s current project centers on the development of DistressNET-NG, which is a fault-tolerant, energy-efficient and load-balanced solution for mobile broadband communication and mobile edge computing for FirstNet. Edge/fog computing is a method of optimizing cloud computing systems by performing data processing at the edge of the network near the source of the data.

“DistressNet-NG provides a scalable and resilient wireless interconnection fabric for first responder communication equipment,” Stoleru said. “Smartphones carried by first responders are capable of performing analytics using the computing and storage power of nearby devices, eliminating the need for constant high capacity connections to the internet. In order to accelerate this process, several high-performance computing nodes that are built using common-off-the-shelf components can be deployed in the area.”

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