FireChat, a private chatting app that can work without a data connection or cellular network, is set to launch it’s new “FireChat Alerts” which will send alerts in the event of natural disasters to help spread vital information even when telecommunication and internet systems are down. They will unveil the technology at the UN World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next week.
How Does FireChat Work?
It uses peer-to-peer mesh networking technology with Bluetooth that transmits messages through smartphones instead of networks. As long as devices are located within 200 feet of each other, FireChat can transmit messages through those smartphones or tablets. So of course the more devices that have the app installed, the farther the network can reach. This is pretty powerful especially in the event networks are down and you’ve lost all communication. FireChat allows you to maintain communication especially at crucial times during a disaster.
You are able to send both public messages, which can be broadcasted to everyone, and also private messages which will use the same network of smartphones but will only reach the recipient. Don’t worry, messages are encrypted so they will only be readable by the recipient.
Also one cool thing is that FireChat uses the internet and telecommunications lines if they are available. So in the event that a disaster strikes, everything is down in your area and you are trying to send a message back home to a family member who lives overseas to tell them you’re alright but since they’re so far away, the offline FireChat network alone won’t be able to carry the message to the recipient.
In this case it will travel through the offline network of phones and when it detects that one of them has an online connection it will immediately send the message that way so it reaches the recipient. FireChat has an algorithm to send out messages using the best possible way whether it be with an online or offline connection. You can watch the YouTube video above to get a better understanding of how it works. I find it pretty cool.
Where Does It Get Used?
You can use FireChat for everyday chatting, sharing links, images, and videos like any other chat app like WhatsApp but like I mentioned before, it’s very useful during disasters and other events where telecom and internet systems are down. Remember the big Hong Kong protest (nicknamed the “Umbrella Revolution” against the government in 2014? There were rumors that the Hong Kong government would shut down cellphone networks in the district where the protest was taking place so the protesters turned to FireChat. There was an incredible 100,000 installs within 24 hours!
Before that, it was popular in Iraq in 2014 when the government restricted internet access. There were 40,000 downloads in a week. Other examples of use are during the Nepal earthquake, last year’s Chennai Floods, and the more recent Ecuador earthquakes.
How Will FireChat Alerts Be Used?
This is designed for governments, non-government organizations, and media groups to broadcast vital disaster alerts so it’s not like normal people like you and I can broadcast alerts to everyone’s phones. It’s designed to deliver text and images to send early warning, emergency, and health advisories as well as weather and traffic information.
Open Garden, the company behind FireChat, is licensing their technology to governments and non-government organizations so they can include it in their apps. This means that they don’t have to rely on people downloading FireChat itself because it would already be integrated with their own apps.
More than 200 million people globally are affected by natural disasters every year according to the UN. With global warming and climate change, that number is likely to grow larger. FireChat has huge potential in that it doesn’t need a telecom or internet network in order to transfer information and I see more and more people especially in disaster areas using FireChat. Technology is amazing and I’m glad it’s being used to help people.
It’s free to download. Try it out below.