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News Release

Your wireless router could save lives in an emergency

20 August 2012 Inderscience

An emergency communications system that could automatically piggyback on domestic wireless routers connected in urban locations could help first responders stay in touch even if cell phone towers and networks are down. Details are published in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Mobile Network Design and Innovation.

Kamill Panitzek and colleagues in the Telecooperation Lab, Technische Universitaet Darmstadt, in Germany, explain how first responders need reliable communications links during any kind of crisis, such as an earthquake, tsunami, major fire or terrorist attack. However, the standard mobile phone system can become quickly overwhelmed by people caught up in the emergency or else be disabled by damaged transceiver towers. Modern mobile smart phones are capable of creating a local mesh network by exploiting their inbuilt wireless transceivers, but this has limited range and connectivity to central control is compromised if no one in the mesh has access to the mobile phone network or internet.

The researchers have now developed the concept of an emergency mode for wireless routers of the sort found in many offices and homes. This emergency mode allows first responders and privileged users to connect to the Internet from laptops and other devices without recourse to the mobile phone network.

Immanuel Schweizer and Kamill Panitzek working in Max Mühlhäuser's lab have long-standing experience in emergency networking. Previously, they examined open access wireless networks in different metropolitan areas on different continents. These routers, too, could provide a certain degree of fallback connectivity for first responders. However, their new approach is much more powerful and would even work in medium-sized towns. In order to demonstrate this, the authors collected data using a so-called war-driving app on the Android open platform. Coupled with GPS data, data from this app allowed them to pinpoint wireless routers in urban environments, without breaking any privacy rules. Their analysis of the data in this typical urban location revealed that first responders could hook into the internet within a 30-metre circle from virtually any position in town. Connectivity with their peers as well as back to their colleagues at headquarters and elsewhere could be assured.

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