FireChat Alerts for Natural Disasters

FireChat Alerts

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?

Hong Kong Protest - Umbrella Revolution

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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  1. Evie

    That is a cool app and a great idea. I can imagine that it would be very useful in time of disasters though I wonder if it then overloads any networks that are available?

    1. Andy (Post author)

      Yeah it is a very cool app. It uses Bluetooth so it won’t overload any networks. The cool thing about it is it will use the most optimized way to send the messages. So if it detects that you are connected to a cellular network and that is faster, it will use that instead.

  2. Chris

    This is an amazing app, I can see this doing some amazing things for people.

    1. Andy (Post author)

      Yeah it’s pretty amazing. The user base seems to grow significantly every time there’s a disaster or threat that the networks will be shutdown.

  3. Von

    This is one good app my friend. I can see this being one of the most downloaded app soon if you spread the word. Best part of it, it is free to download and use. Just one question, bluetooth should be on right?

    1. Andy (Post author)

      Yup. This is definitely very useful for cases where there is no internet or network availability. Yup, bluetooth needs to be on for this to work.

    2. Carl

      It will be an epic fail. It is receiving overblown exposure.

      Relying on devices that will quickly drain them especially since there will be no power is absurd.

      I doubt the sharks on the shark tank will invest in this junk.

  4. Matt's Mom

    Great app! I can see other uses for it besides natural disasters. Sometimes we travel to places where this no Internet or cell signal. So we would be able to send messages to each other even without a cell signal right? I like that because then my son could go off and do his thing, yet I could still have communication. Great app! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Andy (Post author)

      It really is a great app and you don’t need a cell signal but keep in mind that the range for each phone is 200 feet. This works best in the case where there are a lot of people using it in the same area. That way it will guarantee that the message will travel because there are so many paths it can go. But I guess if it’s for camping or something where you’re not going to be that far from each other then it would work. Or if each of your family members have the app then you are pretty much building your own network.

  5. Christophe Daligault

    Thank you Andy for this post.
    This is explains very well the potential of this new technology.

    Anyone working on building resilient communications for their community, please contact us at: contact at opengarden dot com. We’re here to help.

    The FireChat team

    PS: It’s best to keep both Bluetooth and WiFi on (even if you don’t have Internet access) because the app also uses peer-to-peer WiFi to create the mesh network. It makes the network stronger.

    1. Andy (Post author)

      Thanks Christophe! I really admire the work you guys are doing. Great job on helping people stay safe. Look forward to see what other innovative things you come up with next!

    2. JackieC

      That’s ridiculous to keep wifif and BT on. That will cause a huge surge in battery drain. Loss of power means the devices will be able to charge.

      1. Monti

        Yes, that’s cause we’re developing a mesh network App with 4,5G protocol. Faster, longer, and low battery consume.

  6. Hmm

    Great concept, however it is flawed and work should the devices be offline or if there is a break in the “chain”: Relying on other cellular devices in the event of a disaster is tricky at best, at worst it will be failure. Instead, they should be focussing on satellite technology as transmitting the information,

  7. panda

    amazing idea & creation.
    i feel the best, elegant, & innovative designs are those that can self-serve & organically allow upwards growth (enabling users to explore & steer), as opposed to the more prevalent sideways or stunting growth (imposing predetermined metrics & usage to users).

    are there any sort of security issues to be aware of, handsets/hardware, data, or otherwise?

  8. Monti

    But only with Wifi & Bluetooth is a poor solution. We’re doing in @Alertry App with 4,5G protocol.


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