Posted by Deliverator on October 28th, 2006
Spent the day at Don Armeni Park at Alki Beach as part of Seattle Wireless Field Day 06.
SWN Field Day is an emergency preparedness exercise (and all around good time) conceived of by Casey Halverson. Field Day evolved from the observation that quite often natural disasters cause severe, long term interruptions/disruptions in city scale infrastructure, particularly communications infrastructure. This was very evident in the case of Hurricane Katrina. The basic idea of field day is to get a bunch of people and their gear together and establish wireless network (and internet) connectivity spanning physically disparate areas of the city. The idea of leveraging wireless technologies for disaster relief isn’t exactly new. Amateur radio operators have a decades old annual preparedness event of the same name. What is new is the ability to leverage commodity hardware, open source software to provide high speed data connectivity. Volunteers from several community wireless groups descended on Louisiana after Katrina and quickly established a routed, wireless network, providing Internet connectivity to many schools, public buildings and shelters. You can see some pictures of Katrina related wireless efforts here. Even second hand, it was amazing to see valuable services like VOIP and user created “family member location” databases emerge; not out of governmental forethought or rapid (ha) mobilization, but from intelligent people in need using the tools available to them.
I arrived a little after noon to Alki and found Ken, Erik, Galan and Casey already set up with a tent, laptops, antennas, cabling, batteries, inverters and other assorted equipment. Erik used my car-puter’s EDGE internet connectivity to download some important bits, including the OLSR mesh routing protocol onto his laptop. Soon after, we returned to the tent and Ken and Erik were able to establish wireless links across Elliot Bay to downtown Seattle and Magnolia. The Gasworks site was a bit of a bust due to late arrivals from several key people, as well as a lack of adequate power provisioning. Most of the people at Gasworks moved over to a marina on Elliot Bay where connectivity to Alki was eventually established. Coordination of activities occured using FRS/GRMS radios and proved adequate (and only just adequate) to the task. Once all the sites were up an running, people chatted on IRC, spoke using various standalone and software based VOIP phones, streamed radio and watched the latest silly videos on YouTube. Aside from random hardware related hijinx, I would say that establishing and connecting the sites proved easier than in past years, in no small part due to OLSR handling many of the routing details. Ken took a number of screenshots of network maps during the day and they were quite impressive to behold.
The only low points for me were:
-It was a beautiful day, but too damn cold (I am still cold after several hours bundled up in my bedroom with the space heater turned on high)
-Not enough chairs
-No on site food
All three of these complaints could be solved if only I had:
-Dressed in more layers, worn a hat and gloves
-brought my own damn chair
-brought a thermos and some snacks.
In short, the only negative aspects of field day for me were my own fault. Field Day is most certainly a participation oriented event and I will just have to be more “prepared” for it next year. I do hope we are able to get better organized ahead of time and hold it when the weather is both warm and clear. August would be nice, because as you know, disasters only happen in August in Seattle :)
I am uploading pictures of today’s events now and they will be available at my SWN Field Day 06 Gallery shortly.