Solar-powered emergency communications system

Published:  02 February, 2012

Engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas (US) are developing an emergency communications network that will maintain operation during natural disasters and provide critical warnings and geographic information to people affected by the disasters.

The researchers are honing and testing the system now and expect to deploy a pilot network at the end of 2012.

The system, which the researchers call an emergency “mesh,” is self-sustainable and solar-powered, which means it would provide continuous, uninterrupted service even when the power grid or wireless communication systems are out of commission. Users would receive critical information on popular devices such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants, tablets and laptops.

“The ultimate goal of this project is to save human lives,” said Nilanjan Banerjee, assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering. “Deployment of this system could warn people to get out of harm’s way and could help emergency services personnel reach victims much faster. This last part is critically important because we know that many deaths occur in the minutes and hours after a disaster strikes.

“It is also important that the system communicates using popular, ubiquitous devices, because during these chaotic and highly stressful moments, people need to rely on something that is user-friendly and already familiar to them.”

The mesh can be thought of as a network of nodes that blanket a geographic area. Similar to servers, each solar-powered node contains data – geographic information – that can be downloaded to a user or communicated node-to-node, if necessary. The latter function is critically important in the event that a node or nodes fail due either to variability inherent in renewable energy or the likelihood of extreme environmental conditions in the aftermath of a natural disaster. If either or both happen, the mesh will automatically redistribute data to maintain service.

The geographic information will include a map, similar to the Google map service, that shows areas heavily affected by a disaster as well as routes around these areas. The system’s online demonstration displays a disaster area in red, while a green line shows an unobstructed or optimal route to an aid station or hospital.

Banerjee said several issues must be resolved before a practical and fully functioning system can be deployed. For sustainable operation on small solar panels, the nodes must operate on extremely low power yet still have enough power to send map-based information to users.

A hardware team led by Pat Parkerson, associate professor of computer science and computer engineering and co-principal investigator on the project, is developing and testing different hardware systems in an effort to strike this balance.

Also, a team led by Jack Cothren, associate professor of geosciences and director of the university’s Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies, is testing sophisticated GIS software that can function well on a device that has low power and limited resources. Another challenge is the geographical placement of nodes to ensure that optimal connectivity can be maintained regardless of topography.

To address all of these obstacles and test a combination of hardware and software, the researchers will deploy a 40-node mesh in downtown Fayetteville toward the end of 2012.

Banerjee said the technology could also apply to non-emergency scenarios, such as hiking in extreme wilderness areas or military operations in deserts or other remote locations.

The researchers received a $485,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop the system.

  • Operation Florian

Sign up: eMagazine & eNewsletter

The latest issues in your inbox.

Company Profiles

HazSim - Bringing situational HazMat training to life

HazSim, LLC provides innovative simulation training to ensure your team works safely and effectively. HazSim Pro simulation equipment is in use by hundreds of fire departments, training schools, industrial fire teams, and private trainers across the US, Canada and further afield as well as the US Army.

Revolutionizing fire fighting foam technology

The one-stop resource for fire fighting foam concentrates and custom-designed foam suppression systems hardware.

Advancing rescue technology

The specialist supplier of quality PPE and Rescue Equipment to Emergency Services.

The ultimate in innovation, quality and service

For 60 years Lehavot has been delivering the world’s most advanced fire detection and suppression automatic systems

Trust the best, let us be your foam solution

AUXQUIMIA is a Spanish company whose main activity is the design, manufacture and commercialization of firefighting foam concentrates.

Williams Fire & Hazard Control offers a full line of specialized fire response equipment for oil and gas platforms

From storage tanks and pipeline emergencies to offshore platforms and vessels at sea, Williams' response personnel and specialized equipment quickly address adverse fire emergencies.

Foam fights fire

Europe’s foremost fire fighting foam manufacturer has been developing and producing foams since the 1920s.

The leader in truck-mounted hydraulic platforms

Our mission is to provide the best and the safest solution to professionals that work at height.

The independent alternative

Dafo Fomtec AB is a privately owned company with head office in Stockholm Sweden and manufacturing in Helsingborg in the south of Sweden.

If you want quality, you want Zico

Since its inception Ziamatic Corp has provided the men and women of the fire service with products designed to make their jobs safer and easier.

Calendar