When NGOs and other aid groups respond to natural disasters and other humanitarian crises, they often face daunting communications challenges.
In urban areas, traditional communications networks like LTE and 5G can become crowded and unreliable or, in situations like this year’s earthquake in Syria and Turkey, knocked out altogether.
In remote areas like those ravaged by increasingly powerful seasonal wildfires, there may be no preexisting communications technology infrastructure at all.
The AWS Disaster Preparedness and Response (DPR) team and Doodle Labs, a Los Angeles-based manufacturer of wireless networking solutions, have partnered to develop new mobile solutions and build ‘bubbles of connectivity’ to solve these unique challenges, arm NGOs with tools to maintain connectivity, reliably share data and ultimately help to save more lives during disaster response scenarios.
AWS DPR is a team of engineers, product managers and program managers within AWS that focus on supporting disaster response efforts through the development of technology solutions. Their mission is utilize the power of cloud technology to better enable responders to save lives, alleviate suffering and protect property by providing them with the tools they need to respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters and other emergencies.
The team is constantly experimenting in the field to build, test and refine new cloud-powered tools to help in disasters. At the center of this experimentation is Common Operating Picture—a program to leverage a variety of data inputs like aircraft, ship and amateur radio data, plus technology like LoRaWAN, to collect positional location information, aggregate it using AWS Greengrass or the AWS Cloud and route it to situational awareness software like TAK.
Situational Awareness applications are a key tool in the fight to stay connected in disaster response scenarios, allowing team commanders to keep track of where people and assets are and how best to understand and manage a specific situation.
“Situational awareness allows incident commanders to make good decisions based off of good data…” said Mike Haggerty, Sr. Technical Program Manager with AWS DPR, but deploying a team leveraging situational awareness applications requires a reliable connection and the ability to transmit high-bandwidth data. To achieve this, AWS DPR has teamed up with Doodle Labs to develop a robust and rapidly deployable mesh networking solution and what Haggerty calls “bubbles of connectivity.” The model calls for a roving vehicle equipped with satellite equipment to connect to various mesh radios deployed out in the field carried by team members, other ground vehicles, robots and/or drones via MANET (mobile ad-hoc network). This creates a dynamic network within the “bubble” on which situational awareness apps can run, data can be shared and response teams can more effectively coordinate.
In areas impeded by obstacles like buildings, trees or hills, Haggerty said, traditional networking solutions aren’t powerful or reliable enough to achieve this. “If you’re trying to do all this at fixed-point antennas without any sort of mesh, you need so many connection points to make it actually work, it boggles the mind.”, Haggerty said.
For Field Test Exercises, AWS DPR utilizes a Disaster Response vehicle that serves as a rolling lab, featuring purpose-built comms equipment and roof-mounted antenna arrays. The group has field-tested Doodle Labs equipment to push the limits on connectivity, reach and throughput in harsh environments. Doodle Labs radios were showcased at re:Invent 2022 in Las Vegas, NV.
“At Doodle Labs, we are committed to developing innovative networking solutions that can be used in critical communications, especially in disaster response scenarios. We understand the importance of reliable and efficient communication in such situations, and we strive to provide the best tools possible to support the efforts of first responders and NGO teams on the ground….Partnering with the AWS Disaster Preparedness and Response team is exciting for us because it allows us to enhance our networking solutions and bring them to those who need them most. We believe that combining our expertise in networking technology with AWS’s experience in disaster response will lead to a powerful and effective solution that can make a real difference in people’s lives. Together, we can provide critical communications solutions that will help first responders and NGO teams stay connected, coordinate their efforts, and ultimately save lives.” said Amol Parikh, Doodle Labs VP of Marketing.
“Partnering with the AWS Disaster Preparedness and Response team is exciting for us because it allows us to enhance our networking solutions and bring them to those who need them most. We believe that combining our expertise in networking technology with AWS’s experience in disaster response will lead to a powerful and effective solution that can make a real difference in people’s lives. Together, we can provide critical communications solutions that will help first responders and NGO teams stay connected, coordinate their efforts, and ultimately save lives.”