Disaster Preparation.. a blogger field day?

A blogging-during-a-disaster field day: A day (or weekend) to practice communicating when a disaster has just struck, and conditions are bad. What would a blogger field day look like? This post is a hodge-podge of thoughts.

Background: At the Community Assistance session at BlogHer [I liveblogged it, as did Christine and Britt Bravo], a brilliant person sitting near the center aisle on the left side (from audience perspective) of the room mentined that ham radio operators hold an annual field day, where they drag all their equipment and generators and antennas out into “the field” and essentially test things in case of an emergency.

The suggestion was made, Why not do a blogger field day? And then I thought (and then said), well, why not see if there’s a way to get bloggers working together with ham radio operators, since, well, if this were a real emergency, we’d end up working the same problems anyhow.

The ham radio field day is actually a weekend, the 4th weekend in June. So next year’s field day is June 23-24, 2007.

So during yesterday’s RoadCamp (yeesh! 720 miles in one day!), Doc M and I talked about what a field camp would look like where bloggers and ham radio operators work together. Well, no, not what it’d look like. How can we approach and define a field day? What preliminary things would we need to do in order to make it happen?

Doc M (my significant other) has been a ham radio operator. So I asked him the best way to get in with the ham folks. Happily, he knows current ham operators at JPL. He calls them co-workers. From his own section, even. (after all, Doc M is a radar engineer. Even if his ham license is expired, the dude do know a thing or two about signal processing. Stands to reason that colleagues in the same area would also be hams.)

First thing: Info swap Find out what already happens for ham field day.
Get a sense of the existing infrastructure, and what they do. I guess that’d also include an introduction to the ways in which bloggers have helped to communicate during an emergency.
Is there a way to work together?

What’s the purpose of a field day? Create an ad-hoc communication network that routes around and into and from a “hit” area (the center of the disaster) and gets information from the area and establishes two-way communication into and out of that area.

What kind of info would you want to get out? Practical status messages: Details, etc. outages and damage details for given areas. Messages that people’d like to get out “I’d like to let my sister know I’m okay”

Outages, outages, outages.
What kind of outages would we have, and how can we get around them? If a disaster were to happen in your area, what systems would go offline (electricity), and what workarounds would you like to test?

  • Powering your computer from your car battery.
  • Using alternative means to communicate to your blog.
  • Send email to blog from cel phone/sms.
  • Contact w/ someone in outlying area (by pay phone? by ham? by…?) and then let the non-local person update the world.

There’d prolly be two kinds of field day activities to practice:

  1. “I’m hit!” one (disaster is where I am)
  2. “I’ll assist” one where I come to the aid of someone in another location.

What about server locations and disaster locations?
The New-Orleans-based Intercosmos/directNIC stayed up the whole time through and after Katrina. But during a power outage in LA, the data center where this (and other of my) blogs are located went down. I’ll just assume that a server should be in a different place from a disaster.

(I set up a “just in case” blog for my city, and it’s hosted —happily dormant— on the servers at wordpress.com. And, come to think of it, at BlogHer I met the person who’s CEO of the hosting company where those servers are)

Here’s a thought: I wonder if there’s an undue physical concentration of servers for free/hosted weblog services?

  • blogspot.com is run by Google. servers in Bay area?
  • typepad by sixapart. Bay area?
  • wordpress.com is hosted in the bay area?

So what happens if there’s a big, bad-ass quake that hits the Bay Area in NoCalif?

Getting the equipment to talk to one another better.

During the Community Assistance session at BlogHer, Dave Winer said Geeks like to solve problems, so give geeks technical problems to solve. (it was in the context of SMS messages going into a feed, or out of a feed, of which a bit more, later)

Imagining a blogger field day (and certainly holding one) will raise problems that Geeks Who Like To Solve Problems will want to solve.

Things to find out:

  • How can ham radio and the web talk to one another?
  • Do they talk to one another already? If so, how?
  • What other communication infrastructures does ham radio connect to?
  • Do ham radio operators have a wish list of issues that web and feed geeks could solve?

More assorted musings:

Morse Code: At lowest end, at the most basic-basic, a ham radio operator can get message out by morse code. I asked Doc M if there are computer apps that can translate ascii to Morse. Yes. What about apps to “listen” to Morse and translate to ascii/text? He said that’s more difficult, but other protocols exist. Like, well, SMS. I’m sure there are others.

Packet Radio: Doc M wondered if there was a way to make “packet radio” where people, using radios, could set up an internet node from HAM.. kind of low-end, modem-like speeds. [update: why, here’s Wikipedia on packet radio]

SMS to Internet Field Day
So what would that look like? Test messages posted to blogs using SMS/Blackberry/email message to blog.
Test SMS messages sent to some central server?

It was mentioned earlier sms/web. During the BlogHer session, Christine Herron at Christine.net mentioned 411sync. From their FAQ: “411Sync allows you to get information on your cell phone by SMS, WAP, toolbar or email. Other programmers register their searches with us and then we let you use it. We give you the power of the internet to your cell phone.”

Reinventing the wheel
Doc M did wonder what other emergency operations and communications are already in place. Are we reinventing the wheel here for stuff that might already exist?

What other points of failure?
Failure in infrastructure. Things that can break in an emergency.
Failure in knowledge. Things we don’t know but oughtta know.

Please chime in
This is just some initial thought… please comment if you have something to add, but I think that a wiki would be perfect for this on an ongoing basis. yes, there’s the Recovery 2.0 wiki, which was last updated (homepage) on October 31, 2005.

As for me, I guess my next step is the infoswap that I intend to do with ham colleagues of Doc M’s.

And ham bloggers, too.
An initial cursory search for ham radio on technorati has netted a coupla blogs (which have led to other blogs):
Hamblog (a group blog?)
KK0HF which has a field day wrap up
k0nr blog, with a list of ham podcasts
Long Delayed Echoes with field day posts and a field day podcast!
A detailed report of field day.

Other Recovery 2.0 context: Jeff Jarvis’ call to convene and his Report of get-together. September & October, 2005.
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6 responses to “Disaster Preparation.. a blogger field day?”

  1. Vicki A Davis

    When a tornado ravaged my tiny hometown of Camilla, GA in 2000, my husband and I were responsible for the “Volunteer Command Center” and the hub of our communications system was our town websites. The tiny site went to 50,000 hits per day overnight. Our community received many awards for our disaster response as did my husband and I. Our community recovery time was cut in half from normal recoveries.

    Although it was very difficult for all of us, we were thankful that we had the website. It was a centralized place and it was the ONE place that we instructed everyone to go for information.

    From my experience, I think the importance in effective disaster recovery lies in clear delineation of what each tool will be used for. Communication lines go down and many people end up back on 56K modems if that. You need one central hub and then a place for people to find love ones, volunteers who want to help, etc.

    Just some thoughts. This is an important topic, and you’ve created a very comprehensive post! Excellent job!

  2. Doc M

    Just a couple of other thoughts about this.

    One is that during an emergency, everyone tries to do the same thing, so the infrastructure overloads (highways out of New Orleans, phone and cell networks into/out of almost any disaster area), including your websites, if you don’t build in sufficient capacity or are not able to add bandwidth/copmpute capacity as the load increases. Your previous comment is a good example.

    The second thing is about blogs/ham radio interface. Ham radio is a pretty low bandwidth/high noise channel, so simple text messages are what’s going to get through for the most part, and the ham radio frequencies are, I think, separate from the emergency services frequencies, so there won’t be any impact on the “professional disaster services”. It would be just another channel to get info in and out of the area – all the traffic is on the websites located away from the impacted area.

    We just need to set all this up ahead of time, build in margins, and test it out BEFORE the disaster hits. Seems like an enchanced Field Day would be just the ticket.

  3. Mary Lu Wehmeier


    What do you want to know about Field Day? I have a ton of them around here. 😉 Dr Doug is a HAM and has been doing Field Day’s even
    before he got his license. I’ve been participating for years as well. This is something I know
    we could help “translate” what goes on…

    Another thing is HAM’s actually participate in various groups in Emergency Comm Groups for things
    like when Katrina hit, and events like the Rose Parade and The Baker to Vegas Relay Race basically to keep up their
    disaster skills and help out. (The Baker Race is “fun.”)

    Call, email send me a jug of good iced tea (I’m on meds now that make wine on the no no list at the moment.) and I can give
    you a rundown on your questions.

    Mary Lu

  4. Susan A. Kitchens

    Mary Lu, this calls for lunch!! Or afternoon iced tea; I’ll make you a big ol’ jug of iced tea and we can talk it all out. Wanna check out your USB mic, too.

  5. 2020 Hindsight » In case of emergency, whip out cel phone. Post to blog.

    […] I wrote a while back about a blogger field day that may be the same day (or not) as a Ham Radio operator field day. But one thing that’d be good is to test out alternative means of posting to blogs. Like exactly what Robert did. So, uh, I think I’d better do the same thing. (except that I’m posting this from a library, and they’ve just flicked the lights on n off just before it closes) […]

  6. Wes Hartman

    Maybe a good idea would be to look at the folks that sponsor Field Day, American Radio Relay
    League, and ask them for some assistance with logistics. They might be able to offer some insight
    and provide some basic ideas for you to ponder.

    -Wes, KC5FGK