Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Eastern United States taking down power lines, sending sea water gushing into substations, and knocking out connections to power plants. Millions of people lost power from both the grid and their secondary and tertiary backup systems. Cell phone service similarly suffered.
However, technology already exists which can enable us to better prepare for the next disaster. We've corralled the following collection of communications, sensors, robotics, and transport technologies which can help ensure our city infrastructures are properly prepared and recovery operations run smoothly and efficiently -- iff we adopt and deploy them.
1) First Responder Network Authority:
Click on image to enlarge.
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was authorized in 2012 to create the first nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network for first responders including police, firefighters, emergency medical service professionals and other public safety personnel. Today emergency personnel routinely use different frequencies to communicate, but FirstNet will use a distributed core network to integrate a diverse set of redundant channels to insure emergency communications work in a pinch.
Hmmm. None of these 10 ideas does anything to make people less vulnerable to these hurricanes, however. They're mostly for "after the fact." And the buoy gives advanced warning.
Where to build, how to build, would be more what I'm interested in. How do you make utilities more survivable, for example? For starters, a program to gradually bury the power distribution networks to older neighborhoods, where these are all still above ground? Redundant feeds to each distribution transformer, with one of those automatic bus ties? Keeping a buffer of sand dunes between the ocean and homes? This sort of thing.
The best way to avoid massive Hurricanes is to stop burning the fossil fuels that modify the atmosphere so that it traps the IR light that warms the oceans that powers the massive Hurricanes.
However, I suspect that most Americans would much rather put up with massive Hurricanes than get out of their cars and walk to the shops.
Since the human contribution to the annual production of CO2 is tiny (~3.1 percent), and since CO2 is not even the most potent greenhouse gas (water vapor is), it is totally unclear to me that draconian measures to eliminate or sequester human-generated CO2 would make a lick of difference.
But what might instead actually help things more would be massive global reforestation.
One wonders why all the press hype goes toward measures that seem bound to fail myserably. Planting trees seems oh so much more credible and doable.
Fault-tolerance should also be more of a consideration in direct consumer devices and applications too. The First Responder Network looks to be a good example. It can use fixed cell towers, satellites or mobile cells.
Anything in the home that is a potential disaster aid should, at minimum, be able to operate both from stationary power and from long-duration mobile power. For example, phones should have an ultra low-power mode that shuts everything off but the bare minimum for communications, allowing a longer emergency battery life.
Commerce is generally not life-critical, but it is livelihood critical. Web sites should be able to continue to do business even during a disaster. That means distributed hosting or detachable front ends.
The National Science Foundation funded a scientist to design a computer-based disaster mitigation system via an ultra-fast high bandwidth system. The goal is to train emergency workers in advance of an event, and deliver real-time information to workers and the public while the event actually is underway. We will see. Here's more on it: http://www.utc.edu/Research/SimCenter/