Filipino engineers develop radio technologies for uninterrupted mobile communication for responders and personnel during emergency situations in disaster prone areas in the Philippines.
In its wake, it left the affected areas with no basic infrastructure, power, and communication channels.
The disruption of vital communications infrastructure in the affected areas hampered the delivery of aid and relief. Assembly of command headquarters and support teams was difficult because of the chaos and the absence of operational communications infrastructure. Delayed assistance to the survivors resulted in hunger, health complications, and epidemics that led to more loss of lives.
In response to such communication challenges, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) introduced the Robust and Rapidly Deployable GSM Based Stations and Backhaul for Emergency Response (ROGER). It is an intervention that addresses the need for an alternative communication channel for emergency responders and personnel when conventional communications infrastructure fails during calamities. ROGER is intended to be robust and can be readily deployed in times of emergencies and disasters.
The heart of the ROGER system is a software-defined radio (SDR) that runs of open source software and an IP-based network. It mimics the functionality of a traditional cellular/GSM base station. With the ROGER network, authorized users can use their regular mobile phones to place calls to one another or to an emergency hotline. If interconnection to the commercial phone and cellular networks is in place, users may call other persons who are outside the ROGER network.
Typically, emergency communications equipment needs to be transported from Metro Manila, which contributes to the delay of network restoration. ROGER is intended to be store in “standby mode” in vulnerable areas in the Philippines, packaged in such a way that it will endure most disasters.
In the event of a disaster, ROGER can be “unpacked” on site to quickly restore basic communication services. The desired end-result of the project is to set up a communication facility to address the needs of the affected local communities in the shortest possible time.
In addition, the project looks at the effectiveness of utilizing the TV White Space (TVWS) as a resource to provide a dedicated channel for communication. TVWS are bands of unused/underutilized spectrum and thus can be used as communication channels for sudden events such as emergencies during disasters. Radios, amplifiers, and antennas are successfully designed locally to operate in such frequencies. Testing of the functionality of the prototypes is still an undergoing work and study.
Overall, the project aims to develop and test a robust rapidly deployable and low-cost emergency communications infrastructure. It focuses on the development of long-range point-to-point wireless backhaul link using TVWS frequencies for GSM base stations. The base station uses Wi-Fi over TVWS for backhaul connecting the command center and the affected areas. The entire system is designed to be solar-powered. Also, it has a generator set as backup power source just in case there is not enough solar energy for approximately three consecutive days.
The research and project team – in tandem with DOST regional offices and local government units (LGUs) – have conducted initial surveys and assessment on the vulnerability of disaster-prone areas mostly located on the eastern seaboard of the Philippines. These include the provinces of Sorsorgon, Camarines Norte, and Aurora. The site survey primarily involved spectrum analysis to check for available GSM channels and to survey presence of existing transmitters in the area.
The selection criteria for evaluating potential deployment sites are: (1) disaster vulnerability; (2) existing disaster risk reduction and management system; (3) accessibility; and (4) community interest and participation. The team, with the LGUs, is currently doing drills and exercise for deployment of the system.
The experience gained will be used as basis in creating a manual for local emergency responders. In 2015, the fabricated hardware modules were tested in order to perform the integration of the overall system. In mid-2015, ROGER was ready for testing and deployment in a real-world environment.
The project contributes to the generation of new knowledge from academic research on TVWS field as an emerging technology, producing new designs for bi-directional amplifiers, radios, and antennas. It also helps advance the local electronics manufacturing and other affiliated industries by developing new products for the wireless market.
ROGER is expected to provide standby capacity and reliable infrastructure for communications during emergencies and disasters in vulnerable areas in the Philippines. LGUs and emergency responders will then have uninterrupted communication services that facilitate response and relief operations during disasters.
Written by: Doreena Karmina A. Pulutan University of the Philippines Diliman Published by: Department of Science and Technology-Science and Technology Information Institute (DOST-STII