Communication is critical during any emergency, but whenever a natural disaster strikes, it's often unreliable. Congested cell phone networks and damaged infrastructure can make it difficult for rescue workers to disseminate information, and for loved ones to get in touch with one another. A new app aims to change that.
The makers of FireChat, a smartphone app for offline messaging, have today announced a new app that allows rescue agencies to send alerts even when cellular networks and internet connections are unavailable. Called FireChat Alerts, the app uses peer-to-peer networking technology, known as mesh networking, to push alerts to smartphone users within a given time frame and geographic area. Those within affected areas will receive the alerts through the FireChat app, which will then automatically store and forward them to other FireChat users who are within range (typically about 200 feet in urban areas). Christophe Daligault, chief marketing officer at Open Garden, says the app was designed as a simple way for organizations to provide information "to the people who need it most."
"What's interesting about this approach is that it doesn't require any new hardware or even any difficult configuration," Daligault said in a phone interview this week. "It's just software, which means that it can be easily deployed and can scale infinitely. There's no need for hardware because the hardware's already there."
FireChat first gained popularity at festivals like Burning Man, though it has also seen spikes in activity during protests, elections, and natural disasters, when cellular networks may be blocked, congested, or damaged. The app creates mesh networks by linking phones via Bluetooth and peer-to-peer Wi-Fi, with each device functioning as a node in the network. The mesh network strengthens as the number of users increases, making it ideal for densely populated cities like Manila. Since launching in 2014, FireChat has been downloaded more than 7 million times.