Author: Yogi Schulz

During the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed the devastation that Hurricane Katrina inflicted on the Gulf Coast and its inhabitants. Here’s a summary of the technologies the various government and private relief agencies are using to help them in reducing the misery of the people in the afflicted area.

WiMax Networks

WiMax is an emerging wireless computer network technology that can be quickly set up in a disaster zone to improve communications. For example, earlier this summer, a WiMax network was installed in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the devastated region at the center of the December 2004 tsunami. Wireless networks can carry both data traffic such as e-mail and voice traffic using Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP).

WiMax greatly expands the range of a transmitter/receiver from the current 30 meters to about 6 kilometers. The 30 meter version is what many of us have installed in our homes and small businesses.

WiMax can contribute to quicker damage assessment and improved distribution of supplies to where they are needed the most.

Satellite Images

Satellite images can provide valuable information to rescue and relief teams by pointing out which roads and airstrips have suffered how much damage. Without this information, time-consuming scouting trips must first be driven or flown to determine how to deploy trucks containing relief supplies. For example, satellite images make it easy to determine which bridges and docks have been destroyed and which may be usable.

The availability of satellite images typically accelerates the delivery of relief supplies.

Global Positioning System

Global Positioning System (GPS) has become indispensable to relief organizations. Efforts to distribute food, water and clothing inevitably involve the need for different groups to meet at some pre-determined spot. Without GPS, these teams can fail to meet due to misunderstanding or poor timing. Prior to GPS, ships and armies that failed to meet have altered the course of history.

With GPS, needed supplies arrive earlier and in a more coordinated fashion.

World Wide Web

The Red Cross has established a family news network web site that separated members of families can use to register their own location in hopes of being re-united with other members of their family. Various blog sites and Craigslist have also started missing person bulletin boards. Individuals have started these missing person communication services out of a personal desire to help those in need.

Beyond missing persons, the Web enables donors to easily make donations to the charity of their choice to help victims. The Web has become an incredible resource to find skills, equipment and people to mobilize these for disaster relief.

These capabilities of the Web reduce anxiety, re-unite families and help to identify resources that can be used to reduce suffering and injury.

Satellite Telephone Networks

Disaster relief agencies often use satellite telephones because these networks operate well beyond the reach of natural disasters. Their only down-side is cost. The minutes cost dollars each instead of pennies.

The guaranteed availability of satellite telephones makes them an effective management tool for relief agencies to accelerate their work.

Cellular Telephone Networks

Cellular telephone networks can be repaired after a disaster much more quickly than their cousins, the land-line telephone networks. Often a temporary cellular ground station can be installed in a day while damage to a permanent station may require weeks for repair.

The restoration of communication enables a more comprehensive damage assessment and improves the ability to dispatch emergency response teams. Because cellular telephones are now owned by most people, they can provide hope to those who may be stranded.

Hand Crank and Solar-powered Radios

Reliable electrical power is usually one of the first victims of a natural disaster because the above-ground wiring is easily susceptible to damage. Hand crank and solar-powered radios can provide one-way communication indefinitely in these circumstances. They don’t even rely on batteries. Some models include a light.

Hand crank radios typically provide information and therefore hope to isolated victims who have no way of knowing what the outside world may be doing to help.

Solar-powered Water Purification

Clean drinking water quickly disappears in most disasters because well pumps and city water systems depend on electricity. Small and light portable solar-powered water purification systems typically produce about 500 liters per day on solar-charged batteries. This volume can keep small relief teams or a family going indefinitely provided the sun is shining.


Bicycles may not measure up to our idea of a high-tech tool for disaster relief. However, bicycles can negotiate narrow trails when roads and bridges have been washed away. Bicycles can be loaded down with up to a hundred kilograms of supplies and can be pushed a long way by a single relief worker. During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese demonstrated the value of bicycles as an effective re-supply tool on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Bicycles can bring relief supplies when helicopters are too expensive or not workable.


While some may question the pace of relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina, these technologies are improving the effectiveness of relief efforts and reducing the misery that the hurricane inflicted.


WiMax Networks

Banda Aceh Pre-WiMax Wireless Internet Ready to Go 
Tuesday, 07-June-2005
Banda Aceh, Serambi Indonesia – Air Putih Foundation has completed the installation two BTS (base transmitter station) in Banda Aceh, as part of its effort to create new high speed Pre-WIMAX internet wireless connection. The 5,8 GHZ wireless equipment has been provided by Intel Corp.

Satellite Images

Katrina: Latest NOAA Public Advisory

Hurricane Damage in Mobile, Alabama

World Wide Web

Family News Network of the International Committee of the Red Cross – Hurricane Katrina

Blog Herald – Hurricane Katrina missing persons appeal

Yahoo – Hurricane Katrina Missing Person and Survivor Lists

Hand Crank and Solar-powered Radios

Hand Crank and Solar-powered Radios

HUMMER Self-Powered Radio

Solar-powered Water Purification

Aqua Sun International
Aqua Sun International manufactures innovative self contained, portable, water purification systems.

Solar Powered Water Purification
Jamais Cascio

The Harvester Water Purification System
– is designed to purify water from wells, ponds, streams or rainwater


Ho Chi Minh
He married nationalism to communism and perfected the deadly art of guerrilla warfare