John Draper

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

Introduction to Preparedness

In our modern, interconnected world, the robustness of our communication systems is not just a convenience but a necessity. Daily, we depend on these systems for maintaining personal connections, operating businesses, and managing essential services. However, what happens when these critical lifelines are severed by catastrophic events? This article explores the vital role of preparedness, particularly the importance of alternative communication technologies in the face of disasters that could disable traditional infrastructure.

Historical Context

The Carrington Event of 1859, a powerful geomagnetic storm caused by a solar flare, disrupted the then-nascent telegraph system, setting fires to telegraph stations and rendering the primary communication technology of the time ineffective. This historical example serves as a stark reminder of our vulnerability to solar phenomena. Such events underscore the potential for similar occurrences today, which could result in far more devastating consequences given our reliance on more sophisticated, yet fragile, digital technology.

Current Technologies for Communication

In response to these potential threats, resilient technologies such as LiliGo devices, equipped with MeshTastic software, have been developed. These devices operate on low power and utilize long-range, text-based communication protocols, functioning independently of conventional networks. Designed to create mesh networks, these devices can connect users across distances typically covering a small city. Mesh networks, unlike traditional communication lines, do not rely on centralized infrastructure. Instead, 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, which can be mitigated through various protective measures. One practical solution is the use of Faraday bags, which shield electronic equipment from EMP damage. For those looking to deepen their understanding of EMP protection and explore more detailed protective strategies, this video offers essential insights: Protecting Electronics from EMPs.

Practical Applications of Mesh Networks

In the face of disasters that disrupt conventional communication infrastructures—be it severe storms or significant solar events—the value of resilient technologies becomes undeniable. Mesh networks, particularly those enabled by MeshTastic and LiliGo devices, offer a robust alternative. These devices allow for the creation of decentralized networks that can operate independently of traditional communication systems, proving crucial in emergency situations.

Imagine a scenario where a severe storm has knocked out cellphone towers and internet services in your area. Here, 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 who might be caught in different parts of the affected area.
  • First Responder Connectivity: Enables first responders to coordinate more effectively across a wider area without relying on possibly damaged fixed communication infrastructure.

For a practical demonstration of how these technologies are implemented, consider this video which vividly illustrates their deployment and use in real-world scenarios: Using MeshTastic in Disaster Scenarios. This visual guide complements our discussion, showing not just the potential but the 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, with prices typically ranging 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 utilize the 915 MHz band, while in the EU and other regions, they operate at 868 MHz, making them accessible and usable without the need for complex licensing or regulatory compliance.

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

Practical Applications

Imagine a scenario where a severe storm or solar event has disrupted conventional communication infrastructures. LiliGo devices could be deployed quickly to re-establish contact within a community. Parents could stay in touch with their children at school, coordinate with neighbors for resources, or communicate with local emergency services. Additionally, in remote areas where traditional 2-way radio signals cannot reach, these devices can be invaluable for first responders conducting search and rescue operations.

Furthermore, in the event of more severe disasters such as a meteor impact or during wartime conditions where communication infrastructure is targeted, 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 environments where traditional communication is compromised 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 mountain tops 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

It is also essential for law enforcement agencies to 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 not only enhances public safety but also 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 not only demystifies the technology but also empowers individuals. These workshops can guide participants through the process of 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 that a robust communication network is in place to support essential services and maintain contact among residents.

Challenges in Public Adoption

Despite the clear benefits, the adoption of 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 has occurred, 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 play a significant role in familiarizing 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. It is imperative for communities to embrace these technologies, not just as a 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.

A little about me: I’m John Draper, a USAF Disabled Vet who served from 1964 to 1968. My career as a programmer led me to develop EasyWriter, the first word processor for the IBM personal computer. Known as “The CrunchMan,” I co-authored the book “Beyond the Little Blue Box” with Craig Wilson. Dedicated to enhancing communication technology, especially in emergency preparedness, I strive to empower communities with resilient, innovative solutions.

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