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News Release

Wireless solution to emergency situations

05 March 2010 Inderscience

Recent emergency situations that have arisen in the UK, including severe flooding, extreme weather, and even terrorist attacks have highlighted repeatedly just how vulnerable some sections of society can be in such circumstances. UK researchers, writing in the International Journal of Emergency Management suggest that wireless technology could hold the key to remedying this problem.

Researcher Pat Langdon and Technologist Ian Hosking of the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, England, have focused on the limitations of current practice in the light of two significant events of recent years, the Carlisle storms and flooding of January 2005, and the terrorist bombings of London's public transport system on 7th July 2005.

"The public, including elderly and vulnerable people, were at risk as a result of two types of communications difficulties during these events and, apart from general broadcast media, many only received communications from rescuers on the ground," the team explains.

They have now surveyed the currently available technologies for emergency communication in the UK and assessed it with respect to three aspects of its use: whether and to what degree the technology is suitable for broadcast or point-to-point communications, whether the technology is based on wireless or fixed wired networks, and the timeline requirement of the emergency, from initial alert, through emergency response communication requirements, to information and communication provision for those immediately involved and finally to the general public.

The researchers explain that there is in place high resilience, mobile communication networks and devices that use satellite and secure radio networks, which can be used during major emergencies. These systems improve civilian access to mobile technology during emergencies, which they explain is critical for allowing people to contact and help family and friends.

In addition, the Mobile Telecommunication Privileged Access Scheme allows the emergency services to use mobile phones without their connectivity affecting or being interfered with by emergency calls from the public or simply the huge volumes of public calls that are made during such periods. They also point out that "emergency aware" communications technology is coming online that can avoid overload and allow emergency management and advice to the public.

The team points out that the effectiveness of any communication technology for informing and alerting the public during emergencies is dependent to some extent on the system's ability to resist disruption due to loss of power, extreme weather and other catastrophic events. Also, it must also incorporate inexpensive and widely available devices that can be used by vulnerable and aging individuals regardless of perceptual, cognitive or physical impairments.

At one time, traditional broadcast networks - radio and TV - were adequate for alert services and information dissemination, but they obviously do not allow communication between individuals. Modern mobile devices provide both a challenge and an opportunity, the team says, Programmable mobile technologies might prove increasingly resilient in emergencies and could be the most accessible platform for the majority of people, including those in vulnerable groups.

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