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Ham Radio as Resilient Technology after Natural Disasters

Just the day after the colloquium and I heard this story on NPR:
Ham Radio Volunteers Worry About Spectrum Plan. Of course it immediately made my think of Professor Duque's and Sonya's work on earthquakes.

[Again, I'll start with my notes on the presentation. My thoughts and comments, and less-than sure summaries are in square brackets.]

Multi-institutional Collaboration to understand the impacts of earthquakes on universities. Why study natural disasters from a place like Vienna, which is not prone to Earthquakes? Because with climate change, places that have been immune from natural disasters may need this kind of research in the coming decades.

Second Video presentation by "Don't call me an Earthquake"
[Due to technological difficulties, we watched this amazing video without sound. But I believe the full version will eventually be available online, and I really hope you'll check it out.]

Question and Answer

Professor Duque explains that their research involves understanding how Universities respond to crises. Generally speaking universities are fairly well-resourced, but in times of natural and social disasters, they can be disconnected from their communities. So part of the goal of his work is to create a knowledge base to help cushion against future shocks.

Q: What are your early results?
Sonja: In many cases, the University provides the only source of Internet connections for the immediate weeks after the disaster. Cell phones might not work, other Internet connections might not work. Also the universities have helped set up websites to help communication during the crisis.
Prof. Duque: In other cases, the University has acted as a clearinghouse for information.

Q: Do you find that different disasters require different kinds of resilience strategies?
Prof. Duque: That's exactly what we're trying to do. For example, during Hurricane Katrina, people used a kind of google map to identify where they were. Also, during a social crisis in Kenya people sought refuge at the University. Likewise in Concepción, the university structure and infrastructure proved very resilient. The University also didn't suffer from any vandalism, in contrast to the rest of the community.

Q: What kinds of stories have you heard from scientists about how they have adapted during disasters?
Prof. Duque: Again, in Concepción, although much of the infrastructure was untouched, they did lose power, which set back research, since 20 years worth of samples were lost when laps did not have refrigeration. Contrast this with UC Berkley, which would perhaps be able to back up the energy and survive the loss of power more readily.
Sonya: Other small University towns depend on having the students come back. After a disaster, if the students don't come back, some of these communities will really struggle.

Q: So much of the resources on campus are looking inwards in case of disaster, how can we build redundancies, etc. Are you finding cases where efforts are being made to look outwards at the community?
Prof. Duque: They are starting to see this, but it's a lot like putting the oxygen mask on yourself in an airplane before you help your neighbor. [I missed the last section of this...]

Q: What about the economics behind this? How do we have redundancies but still have efficient economics? Do you have resistance to what you do?
Prof: Duque: We do run into resistance, but we also see that not having redundancies can be much more expensive.

Q: What about the government response? Do they see this "Maybe we should sit back and let them solve their own problems?"
Sonja: It Italy, yes. They feel that the government has left them alone and to their own devices.
Prof Duque: Yes, especially in places like Concepción, which is already isolated and seen as a draw on resources. In some cases, the government was questioned in terms of whether they government was giving good advice.
Sonya: The brings up the question of crowdsourcing and social media. We see the use of social media is growing, but it's shaky as to what can be done with that.
Q: Especially if cell phone networks go down. Do people go back to old technologies to communicate?
Sonya: It goes both ways. Ancient methods of communication seem to go right along with modern technologies. In Chile they went back to transistor radios to communicate when needed.
Prof. Duque: This is a question of redundancy, but in some cases you have to leave an old technology behind in order to adapt a new one. It brings up questions about what kinds of technologies are appropriate in general, and then what is appropriate in terms of providing redundancies.

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