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Emergency communication networks, crisis management and container security | Research blog

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ari Young is a Graduate Research Assistant at GRI and is currently earning his master’s degree in Security and Resilience Studies at Northeastern University.

Northeastern University student research assistants form an important part of the Global Resilience Institute (GRI) team, including graduate, undergraduate and doctoral students. In this blog, Graduate Research Assistant Ari Young details some of his current assignments and projects underway at GRI.

This week in my co-op at GRI, I have been focused on preparing for a trip I’m making to Washington, D.C. for two different events. The first event, which will be held Wednesday, is a luncheon hosted by an organization called News Deeply at the UN Foundation in Washington. I am joining GRI Chief Technology Officer Dr. Mark Patterson, who will be sitting on a panel at the event to talk about ad-hoc emergency communications networks, a topic I have been helping to research. I began studying emergency communications in the wake of climate disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey and Maria last year, which caused significant and unforeseen disruptions to cellular infrastructure on the ground.

Dr. Patterson is working towards leveraging built-in technology in most smartphones to create a local mesh network that can facilitate emergency communication in the event cellular connectivity and internet access is disrupted by a disaster. A local mesh network would allow people to communicate with neighbors and people within range of the phones peer-to-peer routing technology even without internet access. As the mesh network grows and becomes increasingly robust, users can connect with people further away and may even be able to access a functioning, internet-connected node.

The following day, I will be attending a second conference, with GRI Founding Director Dr. Stephen Flynn. Dr. Flynn will be giving a keynote address at Governing’s Summit on Crisis Management. The summit’s other keynote speaker is FEMA Deputy Administrator for Protection and National Preparedness Dan Kaniewski. In addition to these two keynotes, the summit will feature a slew of emergency management and resilience professionals from both the public and private sectors. The purpose of the summit is to bring together leading policymakers, experts, and industry stakeholders who support resilience and crisis management in order to provide decision-making tools that community leaders can employ before and during a disaster.

Aside from preparing for my trip to Washington, I spent much of my week working on a white paper with my colleague, GRI Graduate Research Assistant Yitzhak Henry. Yitzhak and I are researching freight container security, specifically the costs and benefits associated with ports scanning all inbound freight containers to test for radiological materials. The purpose for our research is the lingering threat of a radiological dispersion device – otherwise known as a “dirty bomb” – being detonated at a port, which could cause severe long-term impacts to the global shipping supply chain. Though the imperative for ports to scan all inbound containers has been increasingly articulated by lawmakers and practitioners, there is yet to be a compelling business case that incentivizes private port operators to increase their scanning capacity. A recent blog post by Yitzhak explores how a single shipping container could cripple the world’s economy.

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