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Ask Slashdot: Ad-Hoc Wireless Mesh Network For Emergency Vehicles? 200

Posted by timothy
from the why-not-use-smoke-signals? dept.
First time accepted submitter Texaskilt writes "I am looking to put together a mobile mesh network for my volunteer fire department and would like some recommendations from the Slashdot crowd. Ideally, the network would consist of cheap wireless routers (Linksys WRT-type) mounted on each vehicle. From there, tablets or other wireless devices could connect to the router. When the vehicles are in the station, the routers would auto-connect to the WiFi network to receive calls for service and other updates. When out on a call, the router would form an ad-hoc network with other vehicles on the scene. If a vehicle came into range of an Internet 'hotspot,' it would notify other vehicles and become a gateway for the rest of the 'ad-hoc' networked vehicles. I've looked at Freifunk for this, but would like some other options. Recommendations please?"
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Ask Slashdot: Ad-Hoc Wireless Mesh Network For Emergency Vehicles?

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  • Get ready for it! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Saturday September 01, 2012 @05:22PM (#41201691)

    Of course at least 1/3 of the posts will try to knock you down with the blather "if you have to ask, you're not the right person for the job".

    • by fm6 (162816) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @05:45PM (#41201825) Homepage Journal

      In this case, that seems a valid criticism. Messing around with technology you don't understand is a harmless, and even educational, pastime for the hobbyist/hacker. But when lives are on the line, a more conservative approach is called for.

      • Re:Get ready for it! (Score:5, Informative)

        by HangingChad (677530) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @06:41PM (#41202169) Homepage

        But when lives are on the line, a more conservative approach is called for.

        You know nothing about being a first responder, especially out in rural areas where radio coverage may be spotty to non-existent.

        Lives are on the line whether you have working comm or not. There were times I would have settled for two tin cans and a string if I could call for mutual aid on it. During emergencies ad-hoc networks could be a lifesaver.

        There is a big need for self-discovering networking between emergency response vehicles. You won't find any commercial solutions in the budget of most departments.

        Maybe drag your fat butt out and pull some volunteer shifts before you start telling people in the field what they need.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by fm6 (162816)

          You're right, I don't know much about being a first responder. I'm in no position to argue with your advocacy of self-discovering networks.

          But that's not what I'm arguing with. The issue here is reliability. A technical geek whose kludging together unfamiliar technology might be able to promise useful new features, but definitely can't promise that the damned thing will work.

          To hackers, making technology do new and interesting stuff is an end in itself. But most people don't care about features if they can'

          • Re:Get ready for it! (Score:4, Interesting)

            by mdfst13 (664665) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @07:37PM (#41202453)

            I think that you are framing the question incorrectly. The question is not if it would be better to use a more robust networking method. The question is if this would be better than no network at all. Is a network that only works 50% of the time better than a network that works 0% of the time? The original poster doesn't share the purpose of this network, but for many applications, sometimes working is better than never working.

            Another issue here is that if they can build an ad hoc network that sometimes saves lives, it will be easier to then get funding for a more robust networking option that can consistently help them save lives.

            It's also true that there are some applications where intermittent connectivity is worse than no connectivity. It's possible that this is one of those situations. You're right to call out that possibility. However, shouldn't we at least consider the possibility that the poster has thought that through and really would be better off with intermittent connectivity?

            • by fm6 (162816)

              Well, this conversation has convinced me that I don't know much about how first responders might use an ad-hoc network. They say they need it, and the rest of us can only nod and agree, though more specifics would be very helpful. But from what little I've learned so far, it doesn't sound as if a solution that breaks down unexpectedly is an acceptable one.

              I'd also suggest that this problem needs to be attacked on a higher level. I know that there's been a big effort to create standards for emergency radio n

            • by ceoyoyo (59147)

              I think the real question is, is a fancy ad hoc wifi network that will eat up a lot of time to set up and maintain, and a fair amount of money to equip, worthwhile, or would it be better to just put a cell with a data plan and tethering or a mobile hotspot in each truck?

              Really, how likely is it that you're going to have a bunch of firetrucks out where there's no cell service but strung out in such a way that one of them manages to slurp someone's unsecured wifi and the others can't see it, but they're all c

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          First step in creating the add-hoc network is to think like a business administrator rather than a network administrator. First question is how can I achieve funding and assistance for this project. Would the Federal government have avenues open for providing financial support. Would the military be interested in providing technical support as they are also interested in providing ad hoc networks in the field to share information and emergency vehicles in the field would provide a valuable test bed for the

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          If you have working radio, what good would a WiFi connection be? What is added to the response if you have everything working, WiFi, radios, and mobile phones?

          I still don't get what a WiFi connection would do to help. None of the fire trucks here have computer on them, other than what's running the radio and the engine. Most of what a pump operator does could be replaced by a computer and do a much more efficient job (juggling water flows and pressures), but would never be used because of reliability and
  • Project Byzantium? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @05:26PM (#41201703)

    http://project-byzantium.org/ [project-byzantium.org]

    I have to wonder though, what's wrong with good old fashioned radios.

    • by fm6 (162816)

      If by "old fashioned radios" you mean the kind that just have a voice channel, then consider situations where being able to share things like maps or long lists quickly could be a literal lifesaver.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        The maps used in most such emergencies are hand-drawn on site and need no distribution because anyone who needs them must walk past them to get to anywhere they would be of use. Seeing the map while still arriving would have no effect.

        The processes have to change, and one IT guy won't do that, unless he's also called "chief".
        • by bhcompy (1877290)
          Interestingly enough, there are plenty of IT guys that are also called Chief, though, usually, it's because the department can't afford their own dedicated IT and don't want to deal with worthless consultants.
        • by fm6 (162816)

          Well then, I guess the computers so many first responders have in their vehicles are just for show.

          • by gbjbaanb (229885)

            that's because maps are used to get to the event and inform them of what the caller thinks the emergency is. Once there, normal "old tech" methods are used, mainly because you don't need to be distracted by flashy handhelds when there's an emergency on.

            Same with the police - they do not want a fancy handheld computer to access data, not when they can press a button and talk into a radio whilst keeping an eye on anyone they're dealing with.

            • by AK Marc (707885)
              You don't need a general purpose computer to get to the event. A GPS (non-networked, assuming it has updated maps) is sufficient for that purpose, and if you want something for one and only one purpose. a PC will make it harder, in almost all circumstances (longer boot, less reliable, more confusing).

              The description was more of something to use after arrival, which there is no process that would be enhanced by computers.

              In typical slashdot fashion, he's looking for a technical answer to a question he do
          • by AK Marc (707885)
            I am a volunteer firefighter as well. We have one computer in the station for 30 users. There are no computers in the trucks, unless you count the radio and ECU.
            • by fm6 (162816)

              OK, I'm backing away from the "what's it for" aspect of this discussion. I'm forced to admit that I don't know jack about that.

              So far I've heard from first responders like you who are making do with simple radios, and from first responders like this guy [slashdot.org] who desperately want ad-hoc data networks.Neither side has really explained why they want what they want.

              So, please argue with each other, while the rest of us shut up and listen. Please. I for one am sincerely interested.

              • by AK Marc (707885)
                I've not had anyone with the ad hoc network say what they'd do with it, other than the medics sending back medical info before arriving at the ER, but knowing doctors and that they generally re-verify everything, I'm not sure how much that would actually help. So if you hear of any actual applications, I'd love to hear them. I've not heard a single thing that benefits the first responders, or those at the scene they are responding to to help.
                • by fm6 (162816)

                  You should make your response to the post I linked. It was written by one of your colleagues. He's the one who thinks that ad hoc networks are important.

                • In the event of a tornado taking out a town, first responders will come in from the margins, from various directions. With cell towers out of operation and cables broken, Internet access can be problematic. An adhoc mesh would be a good way for the various first responders to develop the initial maps of the disaster, identifying where equipment is needed for rescue operations, etc. And ideally link back to the Internet.

                  Hurricanes: same thing on a larger scale. When Houston next gets hit by a big one, adhoc

                  • by Firethorn (177587)

                    good way for the various first responders to develop the initial maps of the disaster, identifying where equipment is needed for rescue operations, etc. And ideally link back to the Internet.

                    Good way to put it. The way I'm picturing it now: Police car #4 happens to be within cell tower range; data connection established. It then meshes with car #3, Engine #2(Engine #1 is also there, but not in the optimal path), which reaches Ambulances #1-4, providing them with a (probably slow) internet connection. In addition, it'd probably be good if all of the above could utilize some sort of group chat - the radio might be busier talking back to home station, plus with some sort of 'virtual whiteboard

                  • by AK Marc (707885)
                    They don't want or need communications in the event of a hurricaine. I know a number of communications experts that were turned away from Katrina area. I had an ex-military friend who was a communications expert in the military who was contacted to help, but ended up getting turned away.

                    The problem isn't the lack of communication. They prefer not having communication. They don't want the world to know what is going on. They'd rather no communications than too much. They have millions of dollars of com
        • No, parent post is dead wrong.

          When a series of lightning strikes begins a complex forest fire, many of the first responders are separated from the guys who might be starting to do the hand drawn maps by miles of flames and roadless terrain. The responders are coming in from all directions; there is no central point that they are going to funnel through. In the Bilger Creek Complex of fires in 1987, a number of the first responders were woodsmen with bulldozers and chainsaws in the middle of it all, who had

          • by AK Marc (707885)

            Internet connectivity would be useful to such a mesh, but even if that is broken, the ability to send low quality photos, penciled diagrams, rough maps, and plain text lists between the first responders and the first coordinators would be damn useful.

            The fire trucks here have no computers. What are you going to do with your sketches? Scan them with the non-existent scanner and send them with the non-existent computer via email to the non-existent account assigned to the other truck?

            In the Bilger Creek Complex of fires in 1987, a number of the first responders were woodsmen with bulldozers and chainsaws in the middle of it all, who had to guess where to set up fire lanes since although they were all in radio contact with each other, at that time there was no way to communicate where the fires were or where they were heading.

            So non-firemen were first responders? Then they wouldn't have had this in their bulldozers anyway, so it would have not been useful, even if it did exist then. The OIC is the one responsible. There's a reason things *should* funnel through one location. If you break pro

            • Last point first: If those who are maintaining the protocols are so fucking stupid that they cannot adapt them to improved technology, then people are going to die. Fortunately, the persons who are responsible for developing first responder protocols are a lot smarter than some of the persons who pretend to represent them on Slashdot.

              First point: the issue under discussion is whether fire trucks and other first response vehicles would benefit from having computers (with ad hoc networking capabilities). Tha

              • by AK Marc (707885)

                Last point first: If those who are maintaining the protocols are so fucking stupid that they cannot adapt them to improved technology, then people are going to die. Fortunately, the persons who are responsible for developing first responder protocols are a lot smarter than some of the persons who pretend to represent them on Slashdot.

                Are you talking about yourself again?

                Technology should solve problems, not create problems, then solve them.

                But that is not what an ad hoc network or mesh network is about. This comes into play when there are no functioning cell towers or Internet access in the area of the disaster. The Android would instead communicate with a laptop with wifi router capabilities that would seek out similar units and establish an independent mesh such that sketches and photos, etc, could be shared among the first responders.

                First responders do not have the capability to share sketches, photos, etc. today with working communications. So you think that if you throw together some piece of shit ad hoc wireless running over consumer grade hardware running unsupported OS in an unsupported configuration, then the wireless network will read the minds of the responders and send the photos? When you "fix" requires billions of d

              • I can't imagine your range in a forest would be much good though, a few score meters at best. Satphones or something would be needed there.

                • Good point... my home router probably would not be much use. But forest service vehicles and logging crummies all come equiped with fairly powerful 12 volt generators, so I think it would only be a matter of finding an industrial grade router that can punch a signal through a few miles of wilderness. Maybe put a honking long whip antena on the rig...

    • I have to wonder though, what's wrong with good old fashioned radios.

      They're fine for dispatching and communicating status amongst units. And that's all most emergency vehicles do. I can't see much use in setting up "ad hoc" networks to give emergency responders internet access; I can however see any number of uses for being able to gain control over the RF environment of a small geographical area... Anyone who has studied military tactics knows that gaining control over the environment is a major force multiplier.

      I could see something more being needed for military / SWAT

      • "But you're right; For most emergency responders, internet access isn't needed or warranted."

        If you think so, you've never been an emergency responder. The potential usefulness of network access is enormous: access to medical history databases, realtime conferencing with doctors or planners, etc.

        "Should that ever change, you want a network under your administrative control; not relying on routers that may or may not be present in theatre."

        Most civilian responders don't have to worry much about network availability "in theater". Although there are times it can be a problem; a relative of mine was EMT and Paramedic (both) in a remote area with little access other than radio.

        • by slimjim8094 (941042) <slashdot3@justconnected . n et> on Saturday September 01, 2012 @08:15PM (#41202655)

          I am an emergency responder, and frankly I can't come up with much I'd use internet for. Medical history databases? Like what? Even at the hospital they need it sent from other hospitals if they don't already have it , there's no world-wide database of medical history, and even if there was can you imagine the nightmare of hooking every EMS agency up to it? And the security involved in handling patient data on such a scale? No thanks. In any case, it doesn't do me much good. Either the patient can tell me their medical history, or we've got much bigger problems. If they're unconscious, their history is secondary to keeping them alive, and you've got plenty to do on that front.

          As for conferencing with doctors - that's crazy. We already have medical directors (physicians) we can call on the phone or over the radio, and it works fine when we need it. Plus, it won't give them any more information than what you can tell them over the phone anyway. I don't much want to fidget with Skype and a webcam when we're supposed to be deciding on a course of action. They can't interact with the patient anyway, and crappy wireless webcam video wouldn't be sufficient to notice something subtle that we missed.

          The paramedics that I work with have CAD for tracking status, location, nature, etc - but they don't use it past dispatch. They can also send telemetry (specifically EKGs) from their monitors via their cellphones to the receiving hospital, so a heart attack can be diagnosed from the trace before we get there. That's pretty cool, but it's about the limit of what we've ever felt like we needed.

          • FOUL! When someone says something about a thing outside their field, it's the god-given right of everyone else to point out that since they're not actually an expert, they must be wrong. Having an actual expert come in and 1UP the poster is poor form. As an expert, you're supposed to keep quiet and let others figure out that the poster's vision of EMTs fiddling with web cams and wifi settings while their patient bleeds out is preferable to people using older, but more reliable, technology. Newer = better. D

            • "As an expert, you're supposed to keep quiet and let others figure out that the poster's vision of EMTs fiddling with web cams and wifi settings ..."

              Thanks for the sarcastic "defense", but that isn't even remotely the kind of thing I was talking about anyway. I might not have made it clear, but I was referring to developing technology, not what they have in their trucks today.

              If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said "faster horses". -- Henry Ford

          • "Medical history databases? Like what?"

            I know few places have such things now, but it's happening, gradually. Try to be forward-looking.

            "Either the patient can tell me their medical history, or we've got much bigger problems."

            BS. If you could have at your fingertips their recent medical history, current medications, etc. on the way to the site, you would be much better prepared even if they aren't responsive. Are they taking codeine? Adderall? Nitroglycerine? Do they have known drug allergies? Known recent drug addictions? Some of the things it could tell you might be life-saving information.

            "As for conferencing with doctors - that's crazy. We already have medical directors (physicians) we can call on the phone or over the radio, and it works fine when we need it."

            Sure... but why use two systems when one c

            • by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @09:37PM (#41203069)

              I know few places have such things now, but it's happening, gradually. Try to be forward-looking.

              Yes. Poster would like you to experiment with configuring a wifi mesh instead of saving his life. He'll understand because he wants people who care for him medically to be "forward-looking", not "prudent."

              BS. If you could have at your fingertips their recent medical history, current medications, etc. on the way to the site, you would be much better prepared even if they aren't responsive.

              An EMTs job is to stabilize your vitals, not to diagnose and treat your condition. They don't need to be prepared for anything except keeping you breathing, your heart beating, and, since you're unconscious in the above scenario, not much else.

              But if you COULD have a doctor there, without messing with Skype or a webcam, would you think that's a bad idea?

              The doctor is at the hospital, treating the other patients who may have life-threatening injuries. You're suggesting the doctor step away from those duties to help the EMTs perform... basic triage?

              Don't take this the wrong way, but I think you're being shortsighted. You are fixated on what the current systems do for you, but you don't seem to be very receptive to what improvements in the technology COULD do for you.

              He's fixated on the only thing that matters: Keeping the patient alive. Who the fuck cares what systems he uses? Unless they contribute to Job #1, they're worthless. I don't want someone googling "bleeding to death" or trying to skype or webcam to someone else to tell them what to do when I'm taking the ride, I want them trained in keeping my ass alive until someone with the right qualifications to fix whatever put me in that ambulance can see me.

              You're coming at this from the perspective of someone who's spent too many years in technical support -- treat the EMT like he's some kind of moron or puppet, to be directed about by the guy on the other end of the line. Medicine isn't like that. They work as an integrated team, and they depend on their training and experience, not their google-fu, to do the job.

              • "Yes. Poster would like you to experiment with configuring a wifi mesh instead of saving his life. He'll understand because he wants people who care for him medically to be "forward-looking", not "prudent.""

                Knock it off. My comment was about internet access, not even anything remotely like fiddling with or "configuring" a mesh network. Please READ the comments you are replying to.

                "An EMTs job is to stabilize your vitals, not to diagnose and treat your condition."

                No shit, Sherlock.

                "They don't need to be prepared for anything except keeping you breathing, your heart beating, and, since you're unconscious in the above scenario, not much else."

                Depending on the circumstances, it can be QUITE A BIT "else". As mentioned before, a close relative of mine was an EMT+Paramedic in a remote location. For over 20 years. I might not have been one myself but I am VERY familiar with what it entails, thank you very much. And sometimes it does involve a lot more than jus

                • Knock it off. My comment was about internet access, not even anything remotely like fiddling with or "configuring" a mesh network. Please READ the comments you are replying to.

                  My low opinion of your comments is not a reflection on my reading ability; It's a reflection of your diminished critical thinking skills. You're fixated on internet access, but there's nothing on the internet that can't be accessed just as readily as a radio, or simply kept in the vehicle. Tablets can contain hundreds of gigabytes of data -- more than sufficient to handle a database and application to assist with triage in a standalone capacity. There is simply isn't a compelling argument for internet acces

                  • "My low opinion of your comments is not a reflection on my reading ability; It's a reflection of your diminished critical thinking skills. You're fixated on internet access ...

                    It most certainly *IS* provably tied to your reading ability, or lack thereof, because I have at least twice now explained to you that I was referring to upcoming technologies, like the ability to access a medical history database. But that is just one of example. I also stated explicitly that I was not referring to things like Google. However, you keep writing here as though you insist that I am talking about doing Web searches or some damned thing.

                    "... but there's nothing on the internet that can't be accessed just as readily as a radio, or simply kept in the vehicle."

                    Haha. That's funny. Once again: there may be little on the

                  • "You know a guy. So what? I know someone who was a police officer for 15 years. That does not make me qualified to offer advice on police procedure or the law."

                    Also, just as an aside... if you really want to have a rational argument, you should not attempt to distort what other people say.

                    I did not say "I know a guy". I didn't even say it was a guy, for that matter. I wrote that I have a close relative -- very close, in fact -- who was in the business for over 20 years. And during some of that time I actually lived in the same place (to anticipate a smartass remark, no it was not my mother), and that place was where the ambulance was actually parked and dispatc

                • I might not have been one myself but I am VERY familiar with what it entails, thank you very much. And sometimes it does involve a lot more than just what you have listed here.

                  You're playing the "I'm in control because I have secret inside information you could never possibly know" card.

                  Post the specifics of what you're talking about or shut the hell up and quit arguing with incomplete information with a lack of direction. There is no point other than fueling an argument with your current motions.

                  • "You're playing the "I'm in control because I have secret inside information you could never possibly know" card."

                    Bullshit. I stated that I have a close relative who was in the business for 20 years, I have been around it much of that time, and I am very familiar with what the job entails. I have seen it in action, more than just once or twice.

                    It was other people who accused me of not knowing what I'm talking about. Let them present their evidence, and then maybe I will present some of my own. It is whoever makes the accusation that bears the burden of presenting evidence of it. They haven't done so. Therefore, ther

                    • Then why are you bothering posting on here at all?

                    • "Then why are you bothering posting on here at all?"

                      Because she was being rude and insulting, with no real knowledge or justification to back it up. So I took pleasure in proving that she did not know what she was talking about.

                      Care to try me out yourself?

              • by Red Storm (4772)

                >> But if you COULD have a doctor there, without messing with Skype or a webcam, would you think that's a bad idea?

                > The doctor is at the hospital, treating the other patients who may have life-threatening injuries. You're suggesting the doctor step away from those duties to help the EMTs perform... basic triage?

                As a former EMT I would also point out there is a reason a doctor is in a hospital, not an ambulance. Doctors are very well trained at what they do, and they are used to having many tools

            • "Medical history databases? Like what?"

              I know few places have such things now, but it's happening, gradually. Try to be forward-looking.

              Sure, but that's going to be 20-30 years. Not what the original question was. And in any case, it'll all fall down if the key isn't known (name, SSN, national ID number, etc), like if they don't have their wallet and were found unconscious - which might be infrequent enough that it's a net positive, except that EMTs are already practiced in figuring out history from clues at the scene, and that's something that doesn't develop without practice. Plus, give an EMT a tool that tells them 80% of what they need

          • I have a decade of experience as an ICU RN, so I have some idea of what EMTs do. In general, they do a fantastic job, and are very good at using some pretty sophisticated expertise to stabilize victims. As a group, you deserve the honors that you are accorded.

            However EMTs are not the only first responders. For that matter, they are rarely the first ones at the scene; they usually do not arrive until someone else has called them, and it is usually someone else who shows them where the victims are. That they

    • by RockDoctor (15477)
      Amongst other things, some radio systems have unhealthy habits such as producing sparks from the batteries when dropped onto the floor.

      Emergency services are very picky about the equipment that they use, and with good reason.

    • I have to wonder though, what's wrong with good old fashioned radios.

      If you're stuck under some rubbles somewhere, or if the cell towers are non-operational and you can't be notified of an extreme emergency coming your way, the chances that you'll have a cell phone on you instead of a two-radio radio may be higher.

      That's why having some fire departments maintain their own licensed ad-hoc portable gsm emergency networks [tropo.com] may not be such a bad idea. The truck ladders could be used to place antennas on high, or even have antennas affixed to them. Not to mention, such portable mo

  • easiest solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by starblazer (49187) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @05:29PM (#41201729) Homepage

    While ambitious, this is the wrong path to go down. Great for hobbyists, but is NOT what emergency services needs. Emergency services needs reliability. If your department can't afford a few mobile broadband units, you should seriously look into throwing a couple more raffles or asking for more money from the city/county/township/state.

    • This post makes a very good point. What is going to happen to you, personally, when a call is lost for some reason, a person dies, and a lawsuit follows?
      • This post makes a very good point. What is going to happen to you, personally, when a call is lost for some reason, a person dies, and a lawsuit follows?

        why don't we all give up now and not do anything at all just in case we could be sued afterwards for having done something... it's a wonder anybody volunteers for anything these days with the sheer number of lawyers out there hungry for any work...

        • > why don't we all give up now and not do anything at all just in case we could be sued afterwards for having done something..

          It's one thing to "not do anything" as you exaggerate.

          It's completely different to "not do stupidly dangerous things." Implementing public safety dispatch out of unreliable equipment would be a stupidly dangerous thing to do, not just some random "anything." Dispatching the fire department is deadly serious business, not something to goof around and hack on.
    • It might be a good "additional resource" for the mobile command and control vehicles...

    • by Bob9113 (14996)

      Emergency services needs reliability.

      Emergency services needs to encourage hackers like this guy to explore many connectivity alternatives. A mobile broadband unit would be less reliable than a swarm of smaller agents in some contexts. Having both options is better than having only one. Having a swarm and a broadband unit working together would solve still more cases. Emergency services is an excellent place to be advancing the state of disaster-tolerant communication networks -- both from the top down and

    • Emergency services needs reliability. If your department can't afford a few mobile broadband units, you should seriously look into throwing a couple more raffles or asking for more money from the city/county/township/state.

      The guy is a volunteer firefighter. His fire department is most likely all volunteers, with probably little -- to no budget.

      Having reliable tools and services for emergencies is great, but government-based emergency services can be notoriously slow at adapting to changing circumstances and at adopting/trying out new technologies.

      This is why you need to the people on the front-lines to do their own experimenting. If soldiers in Iraq for instance, had really waited for the next round of funding to get the bod

  • Having Emergency vehicles depend on an ad-hoc network seems risky at best and a potential disaster at worst. Might be best to just stick to the telephone (or whatever you currently use) and leave the flaky network to the non-life-critical tasks.
  • What is it for ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SomethingOrOther (521702) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @05:41PM (#41201793) Homepage
    What is it for?

    No really......
    You have told us how you *think* you want to communicate, but not what information you are communicating.

    The first step of any IT problem is to adapt your ideas to fit users needs........... not adapt users needs to fit your ideas.
    • by fm6 (162816)

      Actually, that's the second step. The first step is to find out what users need. This step is often skipped, alas.

  • by Jimbookis (517778) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @05:53PM (#41201893)
    http://www.mikrotik.com/ [mikrotik.com] devices might have what you want. They are inexpensive, very flexible and have interesting mesh modes I have yet to try out and will run directly off your fire engines battery system with some power filtering and clamping. Whatever you do in general you should have a play, write a clear specification with all sorts of test cases and run a small trial for a while. Make the devices/solution meet your requirements, not the other way around or you will be sorry.
  • Good ol' HAM radio? (Score:5, Informative)

    by guruevi (827432) <<evi> <at> <smokingcube.be>> on Saturday September 01, 2012 @05:56PM (#41201931) Homepage

    It works well, it won't give you much throughput but if all you need is some text and voice-based systems this should be plenty (it's about 300-9600 baud for IP so a slow serial link).

    The issue I see with your approach is that when the vehicles are within range of each other they will also be within range of the same hotspot. So mesh is simply overkill. Mesh is intended for lots and lots of nodes in dense areas to connect to each other to a single (large?) uplink for either anonymizing or places where you cannot place (either due to economic or ecologic reasons) multiple antenna's. This works well for the GSM range because they are intended to cover literally miles (2W) at a frequency that is licensed to cooperate with each other and able to penetrate a lot of structures so two cell phones can technically talk to each other and extend the range of the original tower another mile or so (given the battery usage to do so is acceptable).

    The 100 mW you get out of a WiFi router close to the hydrogen resonance frequency is simply not enough to cover a mile of random area which may have other compatible and incompatible broadband sources (microwaves, garage door openers, bluetooth ...) that could overpower the signal.

    You're better off using the professional systems for this. WiMax base stations can be had for $1500 and a receiver is ~$200 and it will cover about 50km. Otherwise get a free cell phone plan for your volunteer fire department (I mean, some local corporate overlord MUST be benevolent enough) or set up your own transmitter (HAM or otherwise).

    • by drwho (4190)

      This is not appropriate for ham radio. Ham is supposed to be for amateurs and emergency comms only. Emergency comms as used by an auxiliary force. It is not to be used for commercial purposes, military purposes (even though tthe military acna overrid this and do whatever they want, it would be frowned upon), and not for police/fire/rescue. Seriously, the emergency services have enough equipment and bandwidth of their own, they shouldn't be trying to compete with all the signals on 2.4 ghz and the ham freque

  • by sbrown7792 (2027476) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @05:56PM (#41201933)
    Here's the article [slashdot.org] from less than 2 weeks ago about the same thing. They had a few interesting ideas.
  • by toygeek (473120) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @06:03PM (#41201949) Homepage Journal

    While I applaud your willingness to use technology where you see a need for it, the consumer grade routers just aren't up to the task. I've seen routers die simply being moved from one side of the desk to the other. All it takes is a cold solder or a flaky chip and *poof* that router is history. You'll be troubleshooting weird problems constantly and will be replacing routers just as often. If your solution depends solely on these routers, then I think its not much of a solution at all.

  • What about using some level of 3G wireless access that can be low bandwidth attached to other hardware?
  • by abarrow (117740) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @06:23PM (#41202061) Homepage

    Yeah, this definitely feels like a case of "When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail".

    WiFi meshes like crap. Your first responders will spend valuable time just trying to get their devices to work. While your volunteer situation is well understood, and your budget is probably pretty low, don't ask people to depend on consumer stuff for this sort of thing. A trunk radio system (and one that is not too highly loaded) or something similar is highly recommended.

  • VANET (Score:5, Informative)

    by ArhcAngel (247594) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @06:32PM (#41202121)
    So you want to set up a VANET [wikipedia.org] (Vehicular Ad-Hoc Network)...a subset of the MANET [wikipedia.org] (mobile ad-hoc network). There's even a proposal [wseas.us] for a secure fire truck communication protocol via VANET. Perhaps you can find more information by reaching out to some of the agencies working on this protocol.
  • by bdwoolman (561635) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @06:34PM (#41202137) Homepage

    Keven Whipp of the Montgomery [County Maryland] Amateur Radio Club gave a presentation last April on a very similar topic to the Columbia Area Linux User's Group (CALUG). The radio club has been working with Montgomery County to test various setups of MESH networks on Linksys WRT54GL routers running custom firmware to be used in emergency situations. They have been testing distances and reliability using different frequencies using high gain antennas (which require a license). As I recall the deployments they tested faced a lot of technical and regulatory obstacles. And they were looking at simple static deployments, not mobile. If, say the infrastructure went down after a flood, their objective was to provide basic internet services to Emergency Response Teams working in the area.

    Anyway, here is a link to a PDF summary of the presentation. [calug.org] My take away was that even after pretty extensive testing the system was not ready for prime time, but was very promising. To be useful in the situations to which they aspired the Mesh had to be reliable and robust. It was not. I am sure they would be happy to share their experience with you. And I bet they made progress over the summer.

  • by NimbleSquirrel (587564) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @06:48PM (#41202213)

    What exactly do you need this system for? Seriously, if you are needing internet access to save people, there is something wrong. Sure, there may be a situation where an Incident Commander may need to look up something like an MSDS on a hazardous material, but in that situation a tablet with 3G access is all you need.

    If you're wanting this for comms, then you really need to think again. For Emergency Services, any comms system need to be robust (ie. not built on cheap consumer grade hardware), reliable (ie. able to work when parts of the system fail, and it must be easy to fix or replace) but most importantly it need to be able to work with the systems of other Emergency Services. If you go ahead and do your own thing, it could potentially cripple your response capability. If your Fire Department was first to attend a Mass Casualy Incident, would you be absolutely sure that your system, built on 'cheap wireless routers', would be 100% effective? Would you be prepared to stake your life, the lives of other firefighters, and the lives of multiple casualties on this system working? If the answer is not an absolute yes, then walk away now.

    Don't get me wrong, it is a cool idea, but it is not something that you or your Volunteer Fire Department should be looking into as a deployed solution. You cannot go from "hey, this sounds cool" to putting it into operational situations without doing some serious research and development as well as thorough testing. This may seem over the top, but this is for an Emergency Service: people's lives will depend on this.

  • Not appropriate (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drwho (4190) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @07:05PM (#41202279) Homepage Journal

    I've been doing wifi mesh networks for over ten years. As much as people try, these just aren't reliable or secure enough to be used for such things as military and emergency services networks. Emergency services have more radio spectrum than they know what to do with, and access to lots of other resources. Use technology which is appropriate to these advantages, taking into account the demand for very high reliability.

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @07:07PM (#41202295) Homepage

    It's not standardized across the US, but many states have standards for emergency radios. [fcc.gov] Find out what's standard and go with it.

    One of the more useful projects of Homeland Security is to get all the agencies that have first responders connected in emergencies. It's hard, because each agency has their own system and they don't interoperate. Here's the Texas plan. [region49.org] And the Florida plan. [myflorida.com]

    Most of the hard problems have to do with too many people on the air in urban areas. If you're a volunteer department, you're probably not in an urban area and don't have that problem. If you want something that will Just Work, get high-powered 700MHz public safety band capable VHF FM handhelds and vehicle radios for your own people and get them fitted into your state plan. A few Iridium satellite radios for command personnel and those who really need to talk to the outside world during an incident are helpful. Here's one suitable for fire truck installation [infosat.com]. Iridium airtime costs are high, about $1.29 per minute, but in an emergency that's the least of your problems.)

  • The Serval Project (Score:5, Informative)

    by complete loony (663508) <Jeremy.LakemanNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday September 01, 2012 @07:42PM (#41202489)

    The Serval Project [servalproject.org] on the Android Market [google.com].

    Our focus is on providing useful services without any reliance on fixed infrastructure. Phone calls and text messaging via adhoc mesh, and even file distribution in the field.

    Though you might find our next release more suitable than the version on the market. It's still in heavy development, but would also allow phone calls to be relayed to the PSTN via an asterisk PBX. We'd be happy to provide an alpha version and help you to get the most use out of it.

    We're also working on a separate application that uses open street map data for situational awareness and collaborative mapping.

  • I can see several applications that would make this type of network incredibly useful. Having the ability to distribute situational awareness video in real time would be awesome. This could be useful independently from internet connectivity and a tablet with a decent amount of storage could keep the video for later review. If it were within the budget, wouldn't a head's up display in the firefighters helmet of something built into the brim of a law enforcement officer's hat be pretty slick? The ability to
  • Our local club is playing with HSMM-MESH to supplement our existing ham radio set-ups (two repeaters and an "assigned" ARES/RACES-type simplex frequency (in the last regional drill, hams in the next county were demanding that we get off "their" frequency, which is why "assigned" is in quotes)). Some times it would be helpful in an emergency situation to be able to transfer files or stream video and Wifi speeds are better than TNC speeds.

    A bunch of us have purchased a bunch of WRT54Gs and reprogrammed th

  • by slimjim8094 (941042) <slashdot3@justconnected . n et> on Saturday September 01, 2012 @08:01PM (#41202585)

    First of all, let's imagine the technical stuff isn't an issue. Imagine all the trucks have cellular modems and can just communicate over the Internet as usual. What are they using it for? I do volunteer EMS (not fire, admittedly, though I work with fire agencies a fair bit) but I can't figure out what it'd be used for, aside from CAD (computer-aided dispatch) which is outside the scope of our volunteer agency, and likely outside the scope of yours. Large-scale incidents (MCIs) do require a lot of information sharing that might be well-served by a data network of some sort, but interop is already a huge problem just with bog-standard FM radios. What sorts of computer data are they going to share without the internet? Keep in mind, this has to be data that's either already available digitally (in which case, why the network?) or created on-scene and then digitized. I can't think of any, honestly, except for perhaps pictures? And they're not really necessary.

    So assuming there's a use for wireless data sharing, what justifies not dropping a few hundred a month (which is nothing for even a volunteer FD) on cellular broadband? It's a mature technology, reliability is high, and it doesn't require any customization - just logging into a VPN or something, if even.

    Finally, your solution can't be finicky or unreliable at all. If it doesn't work once, it'll become a liability and nobody will rely on it. People don't screw around with stuff like this, since it can literally get people killed. Public safety has been doing fine on voice radios for a long time, and even if it could be done better, there's no hesitation about giving up your enhancements permanently the first time there's a problem with it.

    I'm an amateur radio operator. I get the attraction to playing with this kind of stuff. But I'd never use it in my EMS agency, since "playing" isn't acceptable. That's why we buy $1k-a-pop Motorola radios that do less than my $100 Chinese HT - because there's no fidgeting, and no question about whether it's going to work when you need it. Even if you've dropped it in a puddle, or it's gotten dropped from 6 feet onto pavement, or used it to clobber a drug addict away from you (yes, it happens).

  • by kenh (9056)

    If you have a need for internet access, get a MiFi/wireless hotspot. If you only want internet access if one of the houses/businesses has a free/unsecured hot spot you can "jump on to" what is the point? Either you need it or you don't.

    Do you rummage through people's medicine cabinets for bandaids/medicine or do you bring them with you? Do you look for garden hose when you respond to a fire or do you have a tanker with a pump and hoses you bring with you?

    If there is an open, unsecured, wifi hotspot the mesh

  • by ff1324 (783953) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @09:31PM (#41203039)

    Disclaimer: I work for a paid fire department but started as a volunteer. I understand the financial challenges for both m

    Our metropolitan area uses InMotion OMG1000 or OMG1050 mobile routers. The cost just over $2000 each, but they create a man network for emergency equipment, have up to four different WAN connections, are remotely configurable and upgradable, and provide GPS services. They're almost bulletproof.

    Wiring up WRT54Gs isn't the answer. You'll spend more time than your time is worth creating a solution than finding funding to implement one. Apply for a FIRE grant or cooperate with multiple agencies to access a larger program. Check with your county or state.

    Realisitcally, an air card is all you need otherwise. If enough agencies want in on the project, see if the wireless provider will put you on your own APN.

    Good luck.

  • Home networking equipment will probably not be suitable for installation on any emergency response vehicle due to local codes, standards and rules. Start with cabling, then check EMC, EMR, shock, vibration, temperature, etc.

    Mobile broadband will realistically be used for sharing IP surveillance streams with a Operations and Control Centre.

    Kit suppliers include Fortress Technologies, Firetide, Aruba / Alcatel Lucent, Moxa, and start at low thousand $.

  • I had a consulting friend ask me the same question about ten years ago. Of course the fire department in question realised they didn't really need it and moved on as a business case couldn't be made.

    The dormant project has come to the top of my list ... building a fancy battery-powered 3G router is simple :o) Configuring it to do mesh networking isn't a priority right now, media serving is though :D

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