Getting emergency alerts to small and isolated communities

Organisation: Flinders University

Partners: Othernet Inc.

Location: Adelaide, Australia. Field Testing in Vanuatu.

Type of grant: Core – invention

Status: Ongoing

  • MeshExtender being installed on a roof.

  • Testing putting MeshExtender on a roof.

  • Installed MeshExtender.

  • We have already begun work testing the small satellite receivers that we will use, here connected to a laptop to test signal strength at our base in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

  • People own mobile phones and tablets even in remote rural communities in Vanuatu, where the is no mobile phone service. Our project will make these devices able to provide these communities with information and early warning of approaching disasters.

  • The University's old ground station (dish), before being put back into service

  • There were some repairs to be done, so the dish had to be pointed up, so that the engineer could get into it to fix it.

  • Spot the difference: The dish is now pointed at the correct satellite, and back in service after almost 25 years

The Serval Project at Flinders University is integrating a low-cost satellite broadcast system into the Serval Mesh, that will allow emergency alerts and information to be quickly and affordably distributed in areas lacking cellular coverage.

What is the humanitarian need?

Early warning systems for tsunami, cyclone and other hazards typically require cellular or internet services. This means that many smaller and more isolated communities are unable to receive such alerts or other useful information, contributing to their vulnerability in the face of natural hazards. A related problem is the provision of information into difficult and evolving situations, such as refugee camps, where conventional connectivity may be absent or overwhelmed.

What is the innovative solution?

We are solving the problem of getting emergency and other information to communities living beyond the edge of a reliable cellular service by combing the Serval Mesh off-grid mobile communications system with Outernet’s innovative satellite broadcast service and <$100 and <1KG satellite receiver, to create the world’s first system that will allow affordable and scalable emergency alert and information dissemination, that can potentially service every small or isolated community with this need.

Importantly, the operating cost is proportional to the number of alerts/information dispatches per year, not the number of serviced communities. It is this, combined with the low-cost (estimated US$1K per system), small size (<20KG and 0.1 cubic metres) and potential for local assembly of the hardware that help to makes this solution uniquely scalable and sustainable.

What are the expected outcomes?

We expect to create a functioning proof-of-concept system that can receive emergency alerts and related information via the Outernet satellite broadcast service, and distribute that information among a remote community via the Serval Mesh off-grid mobile communications system.

Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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