Solar-Powered Wi-Fi in Case of Emergency

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In 1994, the Northridge earthquake hit Los Angeles at an intensity of 6.7. It caused 72 deaths and $25 billion in property damage. This was before Internet and cell phone use were widespread. We saw the damage Hurricane Sandy caused the northeast a few years ago, and since then many people are working on ways to keep communications up and running in times of disaster. A report issued by the office of Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti advocates for building a solar-powered citywide Wi-Fi that would work if cell sites lost power during emergencies. The report identifies the problem as, “A large earthquake will physically damage the electrical transmission system and cause many cell sites to lose power (Jones et al., 2008). The duration of the power outage may exceed the backup power at cell sites, further exacerbating communication problems.” This is not wrong. Running out of backup power has been a problem during many natural disaster and inclement weather. The city has proposed to develop the Los Angeles Community Broadband Network (LACBN) to ensure all residents and business have access to the Internet. The report explains, “Wi-Fi transmitters use much less power than a cell phone transmitter, especially because the latter requires air conditioning at the ground facility; If the City Wi-Fi system is designed with solar-powered transmitters, Internet connections and backup power, these Wi-Fi connections would provide an alternative communication option for the City’s residents; A resilient network would provide free temporary Wi-Fi access immediately following a disaster in public locations such as schools, parks and recreation centers; and Citywide Wi-Fi reduces dependency on the electric grid for the City of Los Angeles.” The report also mentions the problems with tower infrastructure, and that if a collapse were to occur then it would take a lot of time to clear the debris, downed bridges, or other complications. The recommendation is to build stronger cell towers. “The city should amend its building code to require new freestanding cellular communication towers to be built with an Importance Factor of 1.5. Existing towers would not be affected.”

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