Staying Connected in Chaos: How Mesh Networks Can Safeguard Communication During Catastrophes © by John T. Draper

Introduction to Preparedness

John Draper

In today’s interconnected world, the robustness of our communication systems is not just a luxury but a fundamental necessity. We rely on these systems for personal connections, business operations, and managing essential services. But what happens when these lifelines are cut off by catastrophic events? This article delves into the crucial role of preparedness and the importance of alternative communication technologies when traditional infrastructure fails.

Historical Context

The Carrington Event of 1859, a significant geomagnetic storm caused by a solar flare, disrupted the nascent telegraph system, setting fires and rendering telegraphs useless. This historical incident highlights our vulnerability to solar phenomena. Similar events today could lead to more severe consequences, given our dependence on sophisticated digital technology.

Current Technologies for Communication

In response to such potential threats, resilient technologies like LiliGo devices, equipped with MeshTastic software, have been developed. These devices operate on low power and use long-range, text-based communication protocols, functioning independently of conventional networks. Designed to create mesh networks, these devices connect users across distances, typically covering a small city. Unlike traditional communication lines, mesh networks do not rely on centralized infrastructure. Each node in the network acts as a relay, enhancing the robustness and reach of communication.

Protecting Electronics from EMPs

Electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) pose a significant threat to electronic devices, but various protective measures can mitigate this. One practical solution is using Faraday bags, which shield electronic equipment from EMP damage. For those seeking to deepen their understanding of EMP protection and explore more detailed strategies, consider watching a video on protecting electronics from EMPs.

Practical Applications of Mesh Networks

When disasters disrupt conventional communication infrastructures—be it severe storms or significant solar events—the value of resilient technologies becomes clear. Mesh networks, especially those enabled by MeshTastic and LiliGo devices, offer a robust alternative. These devices allow the creation of decentralized networks that operate independently of traditional communication systems, proving crucial in emergencies.

Imagine a scenario where a severe storm has knocked out cellphone towers and internet services. LiliGo devices could quickly establish a communication network, enabling:

  • Emergency Coordination: Residents can receive updates on storm tracks, evacuation plans, and relief operations.
  • Family Communication: Individuals can stay in contact with family members in different parts of the affected area.
  • First Responder Connectivity: Enables first responders to coordinate more effectively across a wider area without relying on damaged communication infrastructure.

For a practical demonstration of these technologies, consider watching a video on using MeshTastic in disaster scenarios. This visual guide shows the potential and practical application of mesh networks in ensuring community resilience during emergencies.

Brief History of MeshTastic

MeshTastic is a software platform that transforms compatible devices into long-range, low-power communication nodes using LoRa (Long Range) technology. Initially aimed at providing communication solutions in remote areas, MeshTastic has evolved into a tool used by outdoor enthusiasts, for disaster recovery, and by communities worldwide. Its development is community-driven, focusing on adaptability and ease of use.

These devices are available for purchase on platforms like Amazon, typically priced from $30 to $50. They operate on the ISM (Industrial, Scientific, and Medical) band, which does not require licensing for use. In the USA, these devices use the 915 MHz band, while in the EU and other regions, they operate at 868 MHz, making them accessible without complex licensing or regulatory compliance.

For more detailed insights into how mesh networks operate, including diagrams and further technical information, visit the Wikipedia article on mesh networking.

Practical Applications

In scenarios where severe storms or solar events disrupt conventional communication infrastructures, LiliGo devices can be quickly deployed to re-establish contact within a community. Parents can stay in touch with their children at school, coordinate with neighbors for resources, or communicate with local emergency services. In remote areas where traditional two-way radio signals cannot reach, these devices are invaluable for first responders conducting search and rescue operations.

In more severe disasters, such as a meteor impact or wartime conditions targeting communication infrastructure, these devices become critical. They provide a means to maintain communication when all other systems fail. This technology could support military units in coordinating maneuvers in compromised environments or assist civilians in receiving updates about safety measures and evacuation plans.

Extending Communication Ranges

To maximize the effectiveness of mesh networks in large areas or challenging terrains, innovative solutions such as the use of drones have been introduced. Drones can carry communication units to strategic high points, such as tall buildings in urban settings or mountaintops in rural areas. This method significantly extends the range of mesh networks, ensuring comprehensive coverage even in areas typically beyond the reach of traditional communications. The communication units, small and lightweight, are powered by compact solar panels and 18650 lithium cells, making them sustainable and easy to deploy in various environments.

Incorporating Law Enforcement

Law enforcement agencies must integrate these technologies into their communication strategies. By establishing MeshTastic nodes at every police station, emergency services can maintain operational communication lines during crises, even when conventional systems fail. This proactive approach enhances public safety and ensures that law enforcement can coordinate more effectively during emergencies.

Community Action and Education

Building a resilient communication network is not just a technological challenge but also a community effort. To foster widespread adoption and proficiency in using LiliGo devices and MeshTastic software, local user groups, hacker spaces, and educational institutions such as high schools can play a crucial role. Organizing workshops where community members, including local law enforcement personnel, can learn to set up and operate these devices demystifies the technology and empowers individuals. These workshops can guide participants through assembling their units, programming them to join mesh networks, and deploying them effectively. They also provide a platform for community members and emergency responders to discuss and plan for disaster preparedness, ensuring a robust communication network to support essential services and maintain contact among residents.

Challenges in Public Adoption

Despite the clear benefits, adopting alternative communication technologies like LiliGo and MeshTastic faces several hurdles. Public awareness is notably low, and the technical nature of these devices can be intimidating for non-technical individuals. Furthermore, there is often a general reluctance to invest in disaster preparedness technologies until after a disaster, which can severely limit the effectiveness of these tools in crisis situations.

Strategies to Overcome Adoption Barriers

To increase the adoption rate of these technologies, it is crucial to raise public awareness through targeted information campaigns, showcasing their benefits in real-world scenarios. Educational initiatives that demystify the technology and demonstrate its practical applications can also help. Partnerships with local governments, community organizations, and emergency services to conduct workshops and live demonstrations can significantly familiarize the public with these technologies.

For instance, in the United Kingdom, MeshTastic has been widely adopted, with hundreds of nodes spread across the country, demonstrating a robust commitment to communication resilience. In contrast, in Las Vegas, where I reside, there are currently no adopters of this promising technology, a situation that underscores the need for increased local advocacy and education.


As our dependency on conventional communication infrastructures continues to grow, so does our vulnerability to their disruption by catastrophic events. Technologies like LiliGo and MeshTastic offer viable solutions for maintaining communication during such crises, but their effectiveness hinges on widespread adoption and preparedness. Communities must embrace these technologies, not just in response to emergencies but as a proactive measure to safeguard against them. Let us not wait for a disaster to reveal our vulnerabilities but instead take steps now to ensure that when the worst happens, we are ready to stay connected and resilient.

About the Author

John Draper, a USAF Disabled Vet who served from 1964 to 1968, is known for developing EasyWriter, the first word processor for the IBM personal computer. As “The CrunchMan,” he co-authored “Beyond the Little Blue Box” with Craig Wilson. Draper is dedicated to enhancing communication technology, especially in emergency preparedness, striving to empower communities with resilient, innovative solutions.

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