Integrating Heterogeneous Wide-Area Networks and Advanced Data Science to Bridge the Digital Divide in Rural Emergency Preparedness and Response.

Large-scale emergencies, both man-made and natural, are increasingly incurring devastating losses in terms of human lives as well as financial resources. U.S. losses from weather-related disasters alone exceeded $1 trillion during the three decades between 1980 and 2011, and such events are on the rise due to climate change. Rural communities, with their social and economic composition, are uniquely vulnerable to emergencies both small and large-scale. While the United States critically relies on its rural population for food, water and energy, the available resources and thus effectiveness of emergency preparedness and response (EPR) in rural areas still lag behind their urban counterparts. EPR services increasingly rely on mobile broadband connectivity for timely information collection, integration and dissemination among stakeholders, including responder agencies, local governments and residents. While such technologies are abundant and reliable in the urban context, they are often scarce to non-existent in rural areas. The lack of connectivity coupled with remoteness, rugged terrain, and sparse and predominantly aging population amplify the effect of emergencies in rural areas and collectively constitute the rural EPR digital divide.

While technologically-disadvantaged, rural communities have been shown to have a tradition of collective action, taking charge of their own technological progress. The goal of this project is to analyze the feasibility of EPR information dissemination in disconnected rural areas using TV white space community networks, human and first responder mobility. The project designs a smartphone application (EApp) that leverages a combination of cellular networks, TV white spaces, responder-to-resident and resident-to-resident interactions to maximize the reach of EPR information in rural areas. It also designs technology that allows first responders to be connected as they travel through areas without commercial broadband. In parallel with the technological innovations, the team will work closely with community members and first responders to understand the applicability and usefulness of the approach.


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group This project is supported through a NSF Smart and Connected Communities Award CMMI-1831547.