Update on Wireless Katrina aid — cash, VOLUNTEERS needed

Update: If you're an individual with experience setting up ad-hoc wireless nets, mesh networks, low-power FM stations, VoIP systems, etc., and you are available to volunteer your time and/or equipment resources in efforts to restore communications in Katrina-hit areas, keep your eye on cuwireless.net for updates later today.

I just spoke with cuwireless organizer Sascha Meinrath, and he says his community group is organizing teams of volunteers in coordination with other FCC (the FCC is also organizing efforts to put *corporate* resources to use).

So again — if you're a solo geek with the ability to get yourself to the area and donate your skillz — or if you can do so back home, remotely — this is the place where the organizing info will be posted. Donations from *companies* (WISPS and the like) are being organized through part-15.org. Here is the FCC web page devoted to Katrina communications recovery efforts.

Update 2: Ramesh Rao of CalIT2 says the institute is urgently seeking "five beds in Baton Rouge for our engineers who are trying to get there to set up mobile wireless systems", to provide mobile phone connectivity for first responders. If you're a Boing Boing reader in Baton Rouge with some crash space to share, please contact Mr. Rao at rrao at soe.ucsd.edu.. Rao tells Boing Boing the institute is coordinating its efforts with Qualcomm and satellite backhaul provider Viasat, and are waiting for access permission from FEMA. "We have equipment of our own that we're waiting to send to the affected area," says Rao, "We also have a unit that does telemedicine, ready to help people who need medical attention in rural areas… we're ready to go." They found beds in Baton Rouge, thanks BB readers!

Update 3: HOWTO tips on setting up wireless infrastructures in infrastructure-less places at the bottom of this post.


On Friday, the FCC held a conference call with wireless internet service providers and representatives of tech companies including Intel, Cisco, and Vonage — the goal was to urgently coordinate private and public sector resources to get communication systems up again in areas devastated by Katrina.

Here's one of the outcomes of that FCC conference call. In a post to a private mailing list for community wireless organizers, Sascha Meinrath from the CU Wireless Network says,

O.K. As of a few minutes ago I got the go-ahead for deploying Community Wireless folks within the New Orleans area.

We've secured a base of operations and are working with Part-15 to get FEMA approval to operate in the emergency area. We've got people heading down starting tomorrow, so if you are interested in being part of this team, drop me an e-mail [sascha at ucimc.org].

Prometheus radio has received dispensation to set up an emergency LPFM station in New Orleans, so we're interested in anyone who would like to help with that.

Finally, in addition to people and equipment, we're also going to need donations to help support the on-the-ground Community Wireless team — here's donation info if you'd like to help spread the word:

Here's HTML Code:

<form action="https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr" method="post" >

<input type="hidden" name="cmd" value="_xclick">

<input type="hidden" name="business" value="imc-paypal@ucimc.org">

<input type="hidden" name="item_name" value="Wireless Katrina Response Team Donation">

<input type="hidden" name="no_note" value="1">

<input type="hidden" name="currency_code" value="USD">

<input type="hidden" name="tax" value="0">

<input type="hidden" name="bn" value="PP-DonationsBF">

<input type="image" src="https://www.paypal.com/en_US/i/btn/x-click-but21.gif"

border="0" name="submit" alt="Make payments with PayPal – it's fast, free and secure!">


E-mail Link.

"CUWiN, one of the partners in this rapid response initiative, is a project of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and all donations are tax deductible as allowed by law."

(Thanks, Roger Weeks)


Reader comment: Thomas Shaddack says,

While I am located across the Atlantic and can't therefore be of much assistance in person, I can at least offer some tech tips with setting up stuff in infrastructure-less places.

The small switches, routers, and wireless accesspoints are typically powered from low voltage, external power supplies of the wall-wart kind.
The power consumption ranges usually between one and two amps, the voltage is usually 5V, 12V, or more rarely 6 or 9V.

To operate such stuff without the mains, you need a suitable battery; I usually use 12V DC from a car, more rarely 24V DC from a truck, or 12V DC from a sealed lead cell battery cannibalized from a dead UPS.

To power any given piece of equipment of the above, a grab bag of things is needed.

* Power connectors. Depends on the boxes you want to keep in operation.
They are fairly standardized. In case of lacking them, you can solder
wires directly on the boards, but it voids warranty and is ugly. Also
clamps for connecting to the car battery terminals.

* Integrated stabilizers. Get some 78S05 (2-amp) or 78T05 (3-amp) and some
78S12, which will make 5 or 12V from the battery. (12V battery has about
14V typically, and a car generator gives a little over that, so even
the drop on the 7812 won't matter much). Some 78S09 just for case won't
hurt. Some diodes, as with two diodes on the middle pin of the 7805 chip
you can shift the voltage up to about 6.4V if needed. Fairly every
electronics hacker should know how to connect these.

* Capacitors for the stabilizers. 100 nF and 100 uF in pairs will do for
vast majority of cases. You can't go wrong with these.

* HEATSINKS! The stabilizers will make a lot of heat when under higher
load. Use bigger heatsinks, at least of the size cannibalized from dead
PC power supplies. The ones from old Celeron CPUs are even better, but
you have to drill a hole in them so you can mount the TO220 cases on it.
Do not forget these! You will need them. A bit of thermal grease can be
a big improvement here.

* Gas-powered soldering iron, flux and tin, for putting it all together

* Voltmeters, one for each installation, to keep them attached to the
batteries used. The cheapest $5-7 a piece will do, the purpose is to
have the power supply unit checkable by a single glance without having
to debug around. Important for high-stress situations.

* Some transils. In case of using generator power, transils for protecting
the sensitive equipment from voltage spikes from the generator coils
can save you money. Good to use by default when you don't trust the
power supply. Use the unidirectional ones that behave as diodes in the
other direction (similar to Zener diodes as a whole), in combination
with the Polyswitch fuses below they will also protect you from the
operator error, eg. connecting a battery with a wrong polarity.

* Polyswitch reversible fuses. Get some for 0.5, 1, 1.5, and 2.5 amp. Put
them before the stabilizers, as close as reasonable to the battery. In
the field conditions where ad-hoc installations are prone to shorts,
they will save you many smoky sparkly surprises. In addition, they
become conductive again when the power is interrupted, so you can't run
out of fuses even when you get tired and less than attentive.

* Laptop, for configuring the boxes. Get a wifi card for it, and install
Kismet or Netstumbler or other wifi analyzer software, for quickly
seeing of what goes from the equipment into the air and what channels
are available to claim. Also software like tcpdump or Ethereal, for
network analysis.

* Cables. Lots of spare cables. Power, Ethernet patch cables, bare CAT5
and connectors, for quick deployment of ad-hoc LANs as needed. It's way
too easy to forget about cables. Don't forget a crossover cable, for
direct connection of the laptop with the accesspoint/router.

* Glue sticks for hot glue gun. The hot glue, melted with eg. a propane
torch, is good for insulation of naked wires and solder joints and their

* MANUALS for the boxes you are going to install. They contain the
default passwords.

* Some means for the team to communicate. Depends on what the crew likes,
may be handheld transceivers or a whistle for Morse code or binoculars
for communication via ASL over direct visibility.

* Some LEDs with suitable resistors, as power indicators. If they won't
help, they won't hurt.

* Power invertor 12V to 110V. Will allow running fairly any mains-powered
equipment from a car battery.

* Perhaps some UPS units. When running on a generator, the power is not
exactly stable. Line-conditioning UPS units will improve state.

That's about all. A Fry's store should have it all. Maybe even Radio

When connecting cables, tie them both into a knot and then solder together
the wires. The mechanical load on the joint will then be absorbed by the
knot instead of the individual wires, greatly enhancing reliability. Same
can apply to connecting things via connectors – depends on if you prefer
pulling at the cables or disconnecting the connection when somebody
stumbles over the cable.

Engineer defensively, and have a lot of luck there.