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Resilience Technology Part II: Simple measures to thwart possible collapse
David Brin   Oct 17, 2017   Contrary Brin  

Soon I will post about the passing of my colleague, science fiction author and unique American Jerry Pournelle. And of course much of what I post about today will be altered after we see what is wrought by Hurricanes Irma, José and Katia.  But this series conclusion is already prepared.

And it is about preparedness.

== What holds us back ==
 
There have been nasty pundits contrasting Houston’s recent experience with that of New Orleans during Katrina, snidely implying that some difference in civic character was responsible -- with possible racist implications. These nasty ingrates, of course, are ignoring the fact that a goodly part of the Cajun Navy – heroically swooping in to rescue Houstonians -- came from NOLA and surroundings, in all races and colors. 
 
Was the difference one of better preparation? For all their mighty virtues, Texans blatantly do not elect politicians who believe in foresight, preparation, planning, or even sapience. Houston's famous hatred of zoning and building codes blatantly contributed to tens of billions in damage that we'll all be paying for.

But in fact, we now know what may have made the biggest difference between Katrina and Harvey.
 
It seems that breakdown of the cell phone system was a chief factor that exacerbated every problem during the Katrina Crisis, crippling citizens of New Orleans from organizing themselves or collaborating with first responders. In contrast, partly due to post Katrina efforts by Verizon, AT&T and the others, cell systems in Houston proved more robust, serving people in many districts when they needed it most. And yes, this was also a matter of pure luck. 
 
Which brings up a pet peeve. For this entire century (so far) – and then some – I’ve said we could double North America’s resilience with one, simple reform…  demanding that phone-makers and cell providers give every unit the capability to pass along text messages peer-to-peer.
 
One anecdote from the Fukushima Disaster tells of a woman who was trapped and later found dead of dehydration in a basement. On her phone were dozens of outgoing texts. People had been walking and driving by for days, but the cell towers were down. If their phones all had a backup peer-to-peer texting capability, those messages would packet-hop until they reached a cell tower; then they go out to the world.
 
== Peer-to-peer text-passing. Small step; huge implications ==
 
The capability is inherent to “packet switching,” the underlying tech of the Internet, and hence we have known how to do this for 50 years. In fact, those clever tech innovators at Qualcomm have already incorporated this basic capability into their chips!  Qualcomm’s Matt Grob told me that P2P modes:
 
1.) Are now standardized (published in the 3gpp cellular standards.)
 
2.) They have done extensive tests/trials with partners – “it works great!”
 
3.) P2P capability has been developed to commercial trial grade.
 
Matt avows that much further work would be needed for AT&T phones to share texts with Verizon phones. But even if you were limited to one company, this could be a life-saver. Suppose you were a Verizon subscriber in an afflicted area, your send help texts could hop from one Verizon phone to the next until someone reached a working cell tower, at which point all the texts stored on her phone would leap forth across the planet.
 
Two important considerations:
 
FIRST - If we were to do this, we would gain unbelievable robustness. Take an extreme case: a hypothetical disaster that took down nearly all cell towers across the continent. Set up a few repeaters across the Great Plains and the Rockies, and Peer-to-Peer text passing (P2PTP) could give us a crude telegraphy system – just via texts hopping from phone to phone all the way from Atlantic to Pacific, uniting the country during any level of emergency. P2P telegrams. The Greatest Generation did pretty well with less.
 
== Well then, why the heck not? ==
 
It sounds blatantly simple even obvious. And yet, all calls for implementation of this emergency utility have been met with skepticism or opposition from the likes of AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, and even some device makers. All know what Qualcomm’s chips are capable of. And not one of them will turn the service on – not for the profit-potential or for the common good.
 
This article talks about their myopic obstinacy… and hopes that Hurricane Harvey might budge such unimaginative and unpatriotic fools. Though in fact, the report is about a much more timid thing that response agencies have asked for -- simple enhancement of the one-way alert system. We shouldn’t be satisfied with such measly steps; that is nowhere near enough.
 
In truth, there is no good reason for cell-co executives to fight against backup P2P texting! They could program their phones no to do this, if they detect a cell tower! Moreover, each AT&T and Verizon phone could be programmed to report such text-passings and bill the sender a small surcharge! (Giving small rewards to those who pass messages along.) The only net effect would be to gain a small revenue stream from dark zones that their current towers do not reach!
 
And yes, before many of you chime in, there are attempts to set up grid or mesh networks using Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth or other ways to get around the problem.  Here’s a walkie talkie app.  
 
Then there’s the Serval Network…. 
 
… and Fire Chat. 
 
Jott’s AirChat feature allows users to send data and texts without a connection to the Internet, using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios within 100-feet of each other. 
 
More recent: with the arrival of Hurricane Harvey, a free app called Zello WalkieTalkie that lets your phone communicate as a two-way radio so long as you have a network or Wi-Fi connection, has shot to the top of Apple’s App Store, making it the go-to service for rescue workers in the Houston area, seeing as many as 7,000 new registrations per minute.

And people have written in to me with many others. (Feel free to offer more, below. under comments.) So sure, the super-skilled and savvy can already go P2P… and that barely begins to enhance our overall robustness. Not when they are limited to one user in ten thousand, and to places with easy-access WiFi.
 
No, Hurricane Harvey has made it clear. We need to start putting the screws on your favorite people, the cell phone providers. They could turn on this capability tomorrow! (Well, in maybe 6 months.) And they would gain business, not lose it!  That is, if they have technical brains higher than a cryptobiotic tardigrade.
 
And if the next disaster brings major losses of life and property -- losses that might have been avoided with a simple, robust comm system? Then it is time to bring out the lawyers. I mean it. Some law firm should start preparing this case, in advance, that a life-saving backup service was available the whole time, and that refusal to turn it on was tantamount to negligent manslaughter. They can pounce and then get 40% of billions.

== Coda ==
 
It looked like sci fi when a Hollywood film portrayed three hurricanes at a time in the Caribbean area.  Now see a picture of reality

All across Red America, folks tune into the Weather Channel. They make plans based on advanced satellites and storm models, peering days ahead with breathtaking accuracy.  The meteorologists who do this - having transformed the old, pathetic 4-hour "weather report" of my youth into forecasts that are now useful up to TEN days...  these geniuses are very well paid by a wide variety of eager customers from governments to insurance companies to shippers, agriculture, industry... and they have no need for piddling "climate grants."
 
And yet, lo and behold, all of them - every last one of them - will tell you human generated climate change is real and a danger to your children. The same gas-dynamics modeling equations that they use to track hurricane paths also feed into longer term models that fit global warming exactly. The same equations. They understand and use them. Fox News screeching shills do not. So, where do you get your science?
 
Dear Texans and Floridians, you have our prayers and comradeship. The nation stands with you.  You show fantastic resilience and courage. But you elect the worst politicians on the planet. Lying, thieving scoundrels who have betrayed you and our country, and your children in every conceivable way. As the media that you watch and listen to has betrayed you, by urging you to hate every fact-using profession. Their incantations are lies and the shiny "squirrel!" distractions they wave in front of you are beneath contempt.
 
The Republican party has sabotaged and slashed many of the satellites and instruments we need, in order to understand these things. They forbid state officials from looking at changes or preparing for them. They forbid NASA and other experts from even looking downward at the Earth! They scream slogans to over-rule evidence. They lie : "There's been no warming!" and lie and lie and outright pants-on-fire lie to you... and then they get YOU to repeat such outright, insane, dumbass lies.
 
Please, when the mud is cleared away and the tax dollars that we send to you are spent and when you get some breathing room, consider taking a community college class in some of this stuff? An online course? (See "Hurricanes: a Science Primer.") Visit the nearest university and wander the halls asking people who actually know something about what's actually going on? Ask your smartass niece or nephew. You'll find that fact-people aren't demons or commies! 

 And if you refuse to do any of these things, can we ask at least that you stop pretending you know stuff, just because Hannity croons it at you? American conservatism use to have intellects like Goldwater and Buckley and 40% of U.S. scientists.  (It's now 3% and plummeting.) 
 
American conservatism does NOT have to be lobotomized and self-destructively stupid. Your movement has been hijacked by monsters - you've been talked into electing them in great, howling packs. 
 
We're not asking you to become lefty flakes! Or even moderate liberals. We're asking you to take your movement back from lying shills and then bring a rational, science-friendly American conservatism to the bargaining table. 
 
We'll negotiate, I promise.
David Brin Ph.D. is a scientist and best-selling author whose future-oriented novels include Earth, The Postman, and Hugo Award winners Startide Rising and The Uplift War. David's newest novel - Existence - is now available, published by Tor Books."



COMMENTS

“Dear Texans and Floridians, you have our prayers and comradeship. The nation stands with you. You show fantastic resilience and courage. But you elect the worst politicians on the planet. Lying, thieving scoundrels who have betrayed you and our country, and your children in every conceivable way.”

Let’s go off on a brief tangent here: our Chief Executive is from NY—he is a product of the eastern seaboard and its power-mad politicians.

“American conservatism does NOT have to be lobotomized and self-destructively stupid”

Perhaps it does, to make way for a new generation of WFBs and Goldwaters. Unless such is no longer possible—if what we optimistically call progress means conservatism has been eroded beyond recognition.
That is, perhaps the younger set can no longer produce high-quality conservatives?

“Visit the nearest university and wander the halls asking people who actually know something about what’s actually going on?”

They do know something about what is going on now; and possibilities for the future. To produce Buckleys and Goldwaters from their ranks, though, youth would need to be far more familiar with the past.

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