Survivable Social Network: How do we communicate during a disaster?
During the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, both internet and phone services were disrupted in parts of the impacted area. People were disconnected and unable to answer important questions: Is my family okay? Is there going to be school tomorrow? Is the water safe to drink? Where can we get essential supplies? What hospitals are open? The Survivable Social Network (SSN) project aims to help answer those question by providing a network of small nodes, each installed and maintained by regular citizens in their neighborhoods. These networked nodes then automatically connect together and form a small social network the people in the community can use through their mobile devices. SSN will allow users to find the status of their friends and family, report damage and incidents to the city, receive and provide help to neighbors, and get updates from the city, schools, and other organizations.
This project is a collaboration between the City of Palo Alto's Office of Emergency Services and Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley under the guidance of Prof. Bob Iannucci and Prof. Ed Katz. Building on a proof-of-concept that had been completed in the Fall of 2012, the student team of Brian Bailey, Jason Leng, Victor Marmol, and James Ricks spent 12 weeks implementing a robust version of SSN to run on a single node (a computer run by a neighborhood member). The team worked closely with the City of Palo Alto and members of the community to quickly design, prototype, and iterate on functionality that would be useful for users and for the city during a potential disaster. "It was great to work so closely with the City of Palo Alto as it gave us very real feedback on whether what we were doing would be useful to people during a disaster. We then combine this with our software engineering processes from Carnegie Mellon University to prioritize and implement the features that would provide the most utility in the shortest amount of time" said Victor Marmol, one of the team members.
The team finished the project with a demonstration of the single node system from signup to typical uses by future users. The system allows users to create a new account and associate it with their Facebook account so that all of their friends and organizations they are interested in are known. Once users have an account they can quickly give an update of their status (e.g.: "I am okay", or "I need immediate help"), find other users and their status, post information, and subscribe to and receive updates from other users, organizations, or the city.
Going forward, the collaboration intends to start integrating multiple nodes to allow a mesh of these to function in a neighborhood. Implementing a Voice over IP (VoIP) server into each of the SSN nodes is also a priority. This will enable users to call each other during a disaster using only their mobile phones and the SSN network. This future work will lead to real-life field trials in which SSN will be using during disaster simulations.