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Wireless in a disaster

One of my customers is a catastrophe adjuster. Last year, during Hurricane Katrina, she had difficulty distributing funds to her clients because she had limited wireless access. I want to do everything possible to help her be prepared in the future. She uses two laptops and a Palm Smartphone with Bluetooth. She has cell phone service but needs a backup plan in areas where cell towers have been damaged. What do you suggest?

One of my customers is a catastrophe adjuster. Last year, during Hurricane Katrina, she had difficulty distributing funds to her clients because she had limited wireless access. I want to do everything possible to help her be prepared in the future. She uses two laptops and a Palm Smartphone with Bluetooth. She has cell phone service but needs a backup plan in areas where cell towers have been damaged. What do you suggest?

The problem with any form of wide-area wireless communications, whether based on cellular technologies, WiMAX, or public-access Wi-Fi, is that some infrastructure is required. Disaster recovery is a major challenge, and emergency response agencies often have the ability to get some form of wireless on the air quickly. Similarly, cellular operators have trailers called "cows" (cellular on wheels) to get at least part of their network back up quickly. But since there's no guarantee that any particular network will be up at any particular time following a disaster, the best strategy is to have mobile devices and accounts on multiple services. That's what I do -- I carry two cellular and one Wi-Fi device at all times. You can equip notebooks with cellular-based connectivity in many cases as well. Good luck!

This was last published in January 2007

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