Yet again, New Zealand has been hit by an earthquake, shaking our communities to their core. Whilst communities rallied around each other, the threat of a tsunami meant many people fled their homes to seek safe shelter, splitting people apart. The quakes also took out power, telephone, and mobile networks, leaving people without communication capabilities, not knowing what has happened to their friends, families, and neighbours. How can technology help, when it’s just become a dumb phone?

firechat2We’ve seen the growth of neighbourly, the Fairfax owned hyper-local connected social network, where you can know what’s happening in your community. For me, I know that my parents use it daily to keep connected in their rural community. But what happens when the network goes down, and a disaster happens? What’s their Continuity Plan?

As an ex-police officer, I’ve experienced my fair share of crises, and the thing that is key is communication & collaboration. This is where an application called FireChat comes in.

In technical terms, it’s a peer to peer mesh networking application. In non-technical terms, it’s a messaging app that works by connecting over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

So even if your power, telephone and mobile network goes down, FireChat is still able to keep on working. It won’t work over long distances, relying on other phones (or tablets) around you that have the application installed to build the network.

Although it has a device to device distance of about 100m, the strength of FireChat is that the more users have it, the stronger and wider the range of the network. If you connect to 1 device, you have a 200m range, if that device connects to 2 devices that are 100m in different directions, then you have a 400m range. Etc etc.

You can quickly see how in a town or community, installing FireChat on everyone’s phones and tablets can ensure that the entire area is blanketed by the mesh network in the event of an incident. And this is without any mobile coverage being required. So even if the power goes out, you can pick up your tablet and phone and still talk to your friends and neighbours. Extremely useful for checking on those the elderly or infirm, and allows an easy check on their welfare.Community

Because it uses the whole network, it doesn’t matter if someone is at the opposite edge of the network, your message to them will still get through.

FireChat has successfully been used in natural disaster areas affected by Hurricanes, floods and volcanos across the globe, it’s supported democracy protests across the Asia Pacific regions. FireChat has the capability to create group rooms, ideal in a natural disaster, where communities can provide their own support and manage different areas of responsibility and need.

The best thing, it’s free.

The makers of FireChat also created FireChat alerts, ideal for NGOs and Government to send alerts and messages to areas without cellphone coverage. Something that we need to consider in light of the way Kaikoura was cut off.

Do you think you have a need for a Community Continuity Plan?

If you’re cut off from the outside world, with Firechat you can still communicate and collaborate with your friends and neighbours and stay strong as a community.

Firechat is available on Apple and Android Devices, do you and your community a favour, and install it, help install it for someone else. Do your bit.


Kia Kaha Aotearoa


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