3 emergency communication solutions to implement now

Learn more about three alternative ways to route around a failed internet connection or failure of cloud software.

Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

When your organization’s standard internet connection fails, communication is usually continued thanks to smartphones, mobile apps and mobile networks. In cases where communication is crucial, care providers – such as the police, fire brigade, government and medical teams – use specific systems that make local communication possible.

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Cautious planners in every organization prepare for circumstances where standard services and networks do not work. The following options allow you to communicate with people within a few hundred feet, within a few miles, or almost anywhere in the world, and these are all solutions to implement before an emergency occurs. You cannot download apps if you do not have access to an app store and you may not be able to order or ship devices during an emergency. Discuss, implement and test your emergency communication system with your team before you need it.

SEE: Network administrators: a guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Use nearby messages with an app

To communicate with people nearby, install and configure a chat app that uses Bluetooth – no internet connection – to transfer messages. Unlike standard messaging apps that rely on an internet connection to send content, these messaging apps connect to nearby devices and work well when the people you need to communicate with are in a concentrated area, such as nearby offices on a small campus.

For iOS and iPadOS devices, Berkanan allows you to send both public and private encrypted messages to other devices via a Bluetooth connection within a range of up to 200 meters. The app can also forward messages. For example, Person A wants to send a message to Person C, but the devices are outside the Bluetooth range. If person B is within the range of both A and C, a message can be safely transferred from A to C via B. The more people installed with the app, the greater the chance that a message will be transferred. The app is free, with an optional subscription upgrade ($ 6.99 per year) to remove ads and adjust your profile.

For Android, Briar can send encrypted messages via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or the Internet. When synchronizing messages with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, other devices must be within range – usually 30 to 70 feet. Briar synchronizes via the Tor network via the internet. The app is free, open source and available for download, both from Google Play and via F-Droid (Figure A).

Figure A

On Android, Briar supports (links) messages via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and the Internet. On iOS, Berkanan makes (legal) messages via Bluetooth possible.

How to communicate with point-to-point devices

To communicate over a larger area, explore devices such as goTenna Mesh that allow you to send both public and private encrypted messages to individuals or groups (Figure B). You must purchase at least two of the goTenna Mesh devices ($ 179 for two, $ 329 for four or $ 579 for eight), install a goTenna app (available for Android and iOS) and pair the goTenna Mesh device with your smartphone via Bluetooth. The range of the goTenna Mesh signal between devices varies with the environment, but can usually reach about 1.5 km in a city or up to 4 km in an unobstructed area.

goTenna Mesh also works with relays and mesh messages. You can configure a goTenna Mesh device to serve as a powered stationary relay node in a central location, and messages can “jump” between up to six devices or relay nodes. A network of goTenna Mesh devices can enable communication within a relatively large local area. A goTenna Plus subscription ($ 9.99 per year) includes offline topographic maps, location sharing and support for SMS network relays.

Figure B

goTenna Mesh devices – linked to smartphones – can enable communication over several kilometers.

How to send signals to satellites

With a satellite communication device – and a data plan – you can communicate almost anywhere in the world. Iridium and Garmin offer some of the most widely accepted solutions for satellite communication. Iridium GO! offers a small, durable device that connects to satellite systems via Wi-Fi, links to a smartphone (Android or iOS) and works with supported Iridium GO! apps. Garmin inReach devices connect similarly to satellite systems and offer messages, maps and more, on the device or with specific supported apps.

In both cases, you must purchase devices and a type of data plan. The Iridium GO! hardware (Figure C) each starts around $ 699, with unlimited data plans available for around $ 135 a month. Garmin satellite communicators each start around $ 275, with annual subscriptions offering unlimited messaging from around $ 50 a month. In both cases, plans with lower data or message limits are available for less money.

These devices require a clear connection to the satellites; if you work underground or in an office building, you probably have to move to another location to find a solid signal.

Figure C

Satellite communication systems, such as Iridium GO! (left) and Garmin inReach (right), require both a device and a data plan, but let your team communicate almost anywhere.

Your plan or experience?

What do you intend to communicate with your team if conventional connections are not available? Do you already have an option for messages in the neighborhood, locally or globally and do you have related equipment, such as solar panels to charge? Are other well-supported solutions available? Let me know which systems and tools you use, either in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber).

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