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When the Internet Dies, Meet the Meshnet That Survives

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New Yorkers survey the destruction at South Street Seaport after Hurricane Sandy, which left large parts of the city without power.

As part of a recent disaster preparedness drill, a group of New Yorkers set up a local network based on battery power and mobile devices.

Credit: Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images

The art and technology nonprofit center Eyebeam recently staged a small-scale scenario that mimicked the outage that affected New York after Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012. As part of the drill in Manhattan, a group of New Yorkers scrambled to set up a local network and get vital information as the situation unfolded. The goal was to test whether communications networks built mostly on battery power and mobile devices can be created rapidly when disaster strikes.

The Wi-Fi routers used and the ChatSecure software that bound them into a mesh were part of a networking toolkit called Commotion, developed by the Open Technology Institute (OTI), which established an experimental meshnet in Red Hook when Sandy hit the Brooklyn neighborhood. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency plugged its high-bandwidth satellite uplink into the Red Hook meshnet and instantly provided connectivity to the community and the Red Cross relief organization.

"Immediately after the storm, people came to the Red Hook initiative because they knew it was a place where they could get online and reach out to their families," notes OTI's Georgia Bullen.

The Red Hook meshnet was stronger than the version being tested in Manhattan, where tall buildings interfere with Wi-Fi signals, making connectivity problematic.

From New Scientist
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