Carnegie Mellon University
November 05, 2012

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley Researchers Work To Develop New Tools For Improving Communication During Natural Disasters

Hurricane Sandy Victims Could Benefit from Silicon Valley Disaster Management Tools

Contact: Chriss Swaney / 412-268-5776 /

PITTSBURGH-As flood waters recede and Sandy's death toll rises, the depth of the challenges facing telecom providers remains daunting as old-fashioned coin slot phones attract hurricane survivors.

"As voice and data networks have become more complex, they have also become more vulnerable in the face of natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes," said Bob Iannucci, director of the CyLab Mobility Research Center and a distinguished service professor at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley. "And while police, fire and other emergency responders have their dedicated communication tools, impacted community members may find themselves without the ability to access Internet services, social networks and other popular means of communication."

So as East Coast hurricane survivors battle coin-eating retro telephone devices, Iannucci leads a team of West Coast researchers dedicated to helping community members help themselves to stay in touch  via a new project called the Survivable Social Network (SSN). The SSN is one of several ongoing research projects in the CMU Disaster Management Initiative (DMI) at the Silicon Valley campus.

In partnership with the city of Palo Alto, Iannucci and his team are developing a system that can be deployed in and by a neighborhood to provide resilient social networking tools accessible via smart phones without dependence on public telecommunications infrastructures.

"SSN offers the promise of a familiar-feeling, easily-used, training- less system for the sharing of vital information in the midst of a disaster," said Iannucci, who demonstrated the SSN system Nov. 4-5 at the Third Annual DMI Workshop - "Making Smart Communities Resilient" at CMU Silicon Valley.

Following 9/11, communication technologies for police, fire and other agencies were enhanced. With SSN, CMU researchers are focusing instead on the communication issues facing individuals and local communities in disaster situations. "When fully developed, tools like SSN could help provide essential communication capabilities for impacted communities as an important part of an overall recovery effort," Iannucci said.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reported that the number of cellphone tower outages dropped the second day after Sandy slammed the East Coast, with just a fifth of the sites offline by Wednesday.

"While there is no substitute for full restoration of services, we feel that SSN's ability to let neighbors connect to neighbors and to locate authorities during recovery will be beneficial. SSN does this by taking advantage of the considerable capabilities of widely-used, low-cost, off-the-shelf smartphone and computer technology," Iannucci said.