Tag Archives: Washington Post

Zello: A PTT (push to talk) app surges in popularity with Hurricane Irma

(Source: The Washington Post via David Korchin)

As Hurricane Harvey dropped anchor over Southeast Texas last week, Zello became the go-to app for rescuers working to save thousands of people trapped by floodwaters.

Within days of Harvey’s arrival, the app saw a 20-fold increase in usage in Houston, according to Bill Moore, the Austin based startup’s the chief executive.

As Hurricane Irma hurtles across the Caribbean toward the coast of Florida, Zello continues to boom in popularity. The free Internet “walkie-talkie” app — which relies on cellphone data plans or WiFi and is designed to operate in places where signals are weak — became the top app on iTunes and Google Play Wednesday.

The latest influx began Tuesday and, at one point, Moore said, 120 people were registering for the app every second. In recent days, the app has also trended on Facebook and Twitter, offering another example of the pivotal role social media is playing in natural disasters.

“The heat map of where the registrations are occurring looks like the hurricane’s forecast path,” he added. “It’s very dense at the tip among the Caribbean islands and then fans out across Florida.”[…]

Continue reading at The Washington Post online.

I find Zello quite interesting. If you think about it, this app mimics the concept of traditional PTT/two-way radio which certainly has traffic management advantages during times of emergencies. Of course, Zello has many features traditional two-way radio does not (voice history, the ability to leave messages, native GPS and mapping functionality, etc.).

Zello does rely on some sort of Internet connectivity via 4G, 3G, WiFi, GPRS and/or EDGE. During disasters, these services may not always be accessible. Of course, amateur radio, CB and other traditional radio services do not require Internet connectivity.

Zello requires no license, no radio, nor any other accessories–just a smart phone–and is free. That’s a powerful combination and, as The Washington Post reports, Zello is obviously helping with Irma relief efforts. Thanks for the tip, David!

EclipseMob’s August 21 experiment

(Image: EclipseMob)

(Source: The Washington Post)

On Aug. 21, as the moon passes in front of the sun and casts a shadow across the United States, millions are expected to gaze at the totality. Meanwhile, a smaller crowd will be glued to 150 custom-made radio receivers set up across the country.

The project, called EclipseMob, is the largest experiment of its kind in history. By recording changes in the radio signal, these citizen scientists will collect data on the ionosphere — the region of the atmosphere where, miles above Earth’s surface, cosmic and solar radiation bumps electrons free from atoms and molecules. It plays a crucial role in some forms of long-distance communication: Like rocks skipped across a pond, radio waves can bounce along the top of the ionosphere to travel farther around the globe. But signals passing through the ionosphere sometimes behave in unpredictable ways, and scientists still have a lot of questions about its properties and behavior.

“Any solar eclipse is a good opportunity to study the ionosphere,” said Jill K. Nelson, an expert in signal processing at George Mason University in Virginia. The level of ions in the ionosphere fluctuates from day to night, decreasing in the absence of sunlight. But this change happens gradually during normal sunrises and sunsets. The sudden light-to-dark switch as it occurs during the eclipse, then, is an opportune moment to observe this layer of the atmosphere.

Continue reading at The Washington Post…

Many thanks for the tip, Ed!

Editorial doesn’t mention RFE and VOA audio broadcasts

RFE and VOA audio services are broadcast over the air and are streamed online.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ed, who writes:

The Washington Post’s Editorial Board put out this opinion piece this weekend entitled, “Russian propaganda has flooded U.S. airwaves. How about some reciprocity?”

I wrote to them at <corrections@washpost.com> and asked why they didn’t mention the U.S. Government’s considerable state media broadcast resources in their article.

Apparently they never heard of international broadcasting.

Maybe you could link to this article in the SWLing Post and encourage readers to write to the Washington Post’s Editorial Board to enlighten them.

It amazes me that people who work at high levels in a major U.S.-based news media outlet seem so ignorant about international broadcasting.

Thanks, Ed. It is interesting that while the article notes RFE and VOA’s TV program, Current Time (which is only available online), they fail to mention the substantial resources backing RFE/Radio Liberty and VOA’s on-air audio broadcasts that are also available to stream online.

Washington Post: “A big change to U.S. broadcasting is coming”

View of the Capitol Building from the roof of the Voice of America on 330 Independence Ave., S.W.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley, who shares this editorial from the The Washington Post:”

“FOR YEARS, members of Congress have fumed about what they regard as ineffective U.S. public diplomacy, including the failure of broadcasting operations such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to match the reach and apparent influence of networks such as Russia’s RT and Qatar’s al Jazeera. A frequent and arguably fair focus of criticism has been the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the body created to supervise government-funded media outlets while serving as a firewall between them and the political administration of the day.

A radical change to that system is now coming — and it looks like one that Vladi­mir Putin and Qatar’s emir might well admire. An amendment quietly inserted into the annual National Defense Authorization Act by Republican House leaders would abolish the broadcasting board and place VOA, RFE/RL and other international news and information operations under the direct control of a chief executive appointed by the president. The new executive would hire and fire senior media personnel and manage their budgets.

[…]The point of board governance was to prevent direct political interference in programming by the White House, State Department or other agencies. It was a guarantee that for decades has helped to attract journalistic talent to the broadcasting organizations, as well as listeners seeking reliable information. The board of governors had serious problems: Its members served part time, and not all took their duties seriously. But the system’s biggest flaw was remedied three years ago with the creation of a chief executive position.

The new reform, driven by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), enhances that executive’s power and makes him answerable to the White House rather than the bipartisan board. A new advisory panel will be created, but it will be toothless: Its members will also be nominated by the president from a pool provided by Congress.[…]”

Click here to read the full editorial at The Washington Post online.

Also, Richard points out this article in BBG Watch which highlights comments from Dan Robinson.

Planning for a Carrington Event super solar storm

Electricity-Pylon-Tower

My buddy, Bill Forstchen, is author of NY Times best seller, One Second After (and many other books). One day, we met for lunch and I admitted to him that I’m less worried about an EMP attack (the catalyst for writing his novel) than I am a powerful solar storm, like the Carrington Event. Bill, you see, is a huge advocate for having our power grid and emergency services prepared/”hardened” for either of these two events.

Last week, I was impressed to see that the White House released a multi-agency plan and strategy to prepare for a severe space weather event.

WashingtonPostLogoThe Washington Post published a summary:

At some point in our lifetimes, the sun could unleash a dangerous surge of magnetically-charged plasma that could severely damage or destroy critically important electric power systems, satellites, spacecraft and telecommunications.

The White House, realizing that an extreme solar storm could jeopardize the nation’s vitality and security, released a strategy and multi-agency plan on Thursday to prepare for and coordinate responses to the space weather threat.

[…]In 2012, NASA said the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with Earth. “If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,” physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado told NASA two years after it happened.

[…]The most severe documented solar storm to impact Earth, known as the Carrington Event, occurred in September 1859, well before today’s power grid and network of satellites existed.

During the Carrington event, the northern lights were seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii, according to historical accounts. The solar eruption “caused global telegraph lines to spark, setting fire to some telegraph offices,” NASA noted.

A National Academy of Sciences study in 2008 said a similar event happening today could produce a devastating economic impact exceeding $2 trillion, 20 times the cost of Hurricane Katrina.

A key component of the White House plan is to establish benchmarks for space weather events.  “They provide a point of reference from which to improve the understanding of space weather effects, develop more effective mitigation procedures, enhance response and recovery planning and understand risk,” the plan says.

Some recent studies have shown that there is historical evidence of the sun producing “superflares,” or flares 1,000 times larger than what has been observed in modern times.

[…]The 2008 National Academy of Sciences report said power outages after an extreme solar storm could last months or longer, since transformers take a long time to replace. A report from North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) from 2012, on behalf of the industry, was not as dire, noting that geomagnetic storms are more likely to cause blackouts and short-term power loss rather than such sustained damage.

This is just an excerpt–I encourage you to read the full article on the Washington Post website.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) also published the following fact sheet, outlining a space weather action plan:

FACT SHEET: New Actions to Enhance National Space-Weather Preparedness

Space-weather events are naturally occurring phenomena in the space environment that have the potential to disrupt technologies and systems in space and on Earth. These phenomena can affect satellite and airline operations, communications networks, navigation systems, the electric power grid, and other technologies and infrastructures critical to the daily functioning, economic vitality, and security of our Nation. That’s why today, the Administration is releasing a National Space Weather Strategy and National Space Weather Action Plan and announcing new commitments from the Federal and non-Federal sectors to enhance national preparedness for space-weather events.

National Space Weather Strategy and National Space Weather Action Plan

Over the last several years, both industry and the Federal government have played an active role in maintaining and advancing the Nation’s ability to forecast and mitigate the various impacts of space weather. These actions include taking steps to replace aging satellite assets essential to monitoring and forecasting space weather, proposing space-weather standards for both the national and international air space, developing regulations to ensure the continued operation of the electric grid during an extreme space weather event, proposing a new option for replacing crucial Extra High Voltage (EHV) transformers damaged by space weather, and developing domestic production sources for EHV transformers.

Yet gaps remain in our capacity to understand, model, predict, respond to, and recover from space-weather events. The newly released National Space Weather Strategy (Strategy) and Space Weather Action Plan (Action Plan) were developed by an interagency group of experts, with input from stakeholders outside of the Federal government, to clearly articulate how the Federal government will work to fill these gaps by coordinating, integrating, and expanding existing policy efforts; engaging a broad range of sectors; and collaborating with international counterparts. The Strategy identifies goals and establishes the guiding principles that will guide these efforts in both the near and long term, while the Action Plan identifies specific activities, outcomes, and timelines that the Federal government will pursue accordingly. The Action Plan broadly aligns with investments proposed in the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2016 and will be reevaluated and updated within 3 years of the date of publication or as needed.

Taken together, the Strategy and Action Plan will facilitate the integration of spaceweather considerations into Federal planning and decision making to achieve preparedness levels consistent with national policies, and enhance the resilience of critical technologies infrastructures to the potentially debilitating effects of space weather on the people, economy, and security of the United States.

Supporting Commitments to Enhance Space-Weather Preparedness

Today, Federal agencies and non-Federal entities are announcing new actions to support the Strategy and Action Plan and further enhance national space-weather preparedness.

Releasing New Space Environment Data. The U.S. Air Force (USAF), in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will provide Space Environment Data from the current GPS constellation and other U.S. Government satellites. This data could be used to validate space-weather forecast models, potentially enhancing space-weather prediction capabilities. As a first step, USAF and NOAA will make data from January 2014 – a month characterized by a high level of solar activity – freely available on data.gov, providing an opportunity for users to explore the scientific value of the data. Within three months of this release, the Office of Science and Technology Policy will chair an interagency group to evaluate the utility of the released data and to determine if the open data archive should be expanded to include additional historical and near real-time data.

Launching a Space Weather Data Initiative. In accordance with President Obama’s Executive Order on making open and machine-readable the new default for government information, as well as on demonstrated successes of unleashing innovation and technology for disaster response and recovery, the Administration will launch a Space Weather Data Initiative. The goals of this Initiative are to (1) make easily accessible and freely available on data.gov an unprecedented amount of space weatherrelated data; (2) engage with the private sector and the open-data community to leverage the open data and promote the development of data-driven tools, applications, and technology to enhance space-weather preparedness; and (3) expand U.S. Government capacity for using open data, innovation, and technology to support effective and efficient response to and recovery from space-weather events.

Increasing International Collaboration. To strengthen international coordination and cooperation on space-weather preparedness, the Department of State will organize workshops and meetings in Washington, DC with embassy staff from a multitude of nations. These workshops and meetings will provide an opportunity for other countries to learn more about the purpose and goals of the National Space Weather Strategy and accompanying Action Plan; ensure that policymakers in and leaders of partner nations recognize space weather as a global challenge; and facilitate the sustained, coordinated participation of partner nations in relevant international space-weather initiatives.

Including Space Weather in Transportation “Fundamentals” Reports. Space weather can affect communication and navigation systems that are critical for safe and efficient transportation systems. By incorporating space-weather considerations into two reports that provide comprehensive and up-to-date guidance on the major elements of a state’s all-hazards transportation security and emergency management program – Security 101: A Physical Security Primer for Transportation, and A Guide to Emergency Response Planning at State Transportation Agencies –officials will have the information they need to incorporate space-weather considerations into transportation-security guidelines and emergency-response plans. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) – a nonprofit association representing highway and transportation departments in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico – will ensure that space weather is included in the next edition of these two AASHTO Special Committee on Transportation Security and Emergency Management “fundamentals” reports.

Incorporating Space Weather into Emergency-Management Training and Activities. Space-weather events can, directly or indirectly, cause or exacerbate major disasters or emergencies, and can interfere with or impair disaster response, relief, and recovery efforts. The National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) – a professional association of and for emergency management directors, dedicated to enhancing public safety by improving the nation’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from all emergencies and disasters – will increase training and education related to space weather. Specifically, NEMA will:

  • Partner with the International Association of Emergency Managers to host a
    space-weather focused webinar for members of both groups, reaching up to 1200
    state and local emergency managers, and others working in the emergencymanagement
    field;
  • Incorporate space weather into training and education opportunities for newly
    appointed state emergency management directors; and
  • Incorporate space weather into the NEMA Homeland Security Committee’s
    policy focus on infrastructure resilience.

Raising Awareness of Space Weather in the Aviation Sector. As part of their commitment to promote safety, security and a healthy U.S. airline industry, Airlines for America – America’s largest airline trade association – will work with member carriers and their affiliates to educate the community on space weather and its effects on aviation, which include degradation or loss of satellite navigation signals and radio transmissions for communication.