IEEE Partners With Red Cross to Help During Natural Disasters

The MOVE Community Outreach project is customizing a vehicle to provide Internet access and portable phone chargers

9 February 2016

Often when a natural disaster strikes, many people are left without power. And besides having no lights or heat, they may also be left without Internet access or working cellphones. Survivors can lose touch with the outside world and be unsure when it’s safe to leave their homes. They feel isolated.

That’s what IEEE Senior Member Mary Ellen Randall observed after several hurricanes hit the United States in the past few years. As 2014–2015 director of IEEE Region 3 (the southeastern United States), she asked IEEE members to come up with solutions. They developed the IEEE MOVE Community Outreach Project, a mobile vehicle for charging cellphones and providing access to the Internet as well as information about local services offering help to get people back on their feet.

The project—MOVE stands for MObile Vehicle—is sponsored by IEEE-USA with funding from the IEEE Foundation. Its first disaster relief vehicle is expected to be ready to hit the road by April. The truck is being equipped with portable phone chargers, a battery recharging station, and access to the Internet via satellite.

IEEE signed an agreement in December with the American Red Cross for the relief organization to provide guidance on where the vehicle will be most effective—whether to park it near a storm shelter, say, or drive it around hard-hit neighborhoods. When the vehicle is not in use, IEEE volunteers can take it to schools and science fairs to educate students about ways technology can help people during disasters.

ON THE GO

Several MOVE volunteers worked for more than two years to design the program and the equipment. Matthews Specialty Vehicles, in Greensboro, N.C., is building the vehicle, which is about the size of a school bus and has a solar-paneled roof to supply electricity to the equipment inside.

The truck will have a satellite system for Internet access, the charging stations, cellphone power banks, and other communications equipment. Moreover, it will be equipped with a 10-kilowatt onboard generator and rechargeable batteries for energy storage. IEEE volunteers will be trained to use the equipment as well as to drive the vehicle and interact with the people who’ll be needing such services.

If the first vehicle proves useful, more will be built and deployed, Randall says. IEEE is providing funds for the initial vehicle, but the goal is to solicit enough money from grants for the program to be able to build more vehicles and become self-sustaining.

“Supporting the communication and information needs of a community after a natural disaster is vital to providing relief,” says Barry Porter, regional chief executive office of the Red Cross, in Raleigh, N.C. “We applaud IEEE’s support and look forward to working together.”

BRINGING IT TO STUDENTS

When not in use, MOVE project volunteers can take the vehicle to schools and other venues to explain its use to students. At grade schools, Randall explains, volunteers will educate students about the basics of the technology. They might discuss what causes the lights to go out during a hurricane, for example, and how electricity gets to homes. For high school students, Randall says, the volunteers will cover how the vehicle’s systems are designed and built, and how they work.

“There is no lack of interest from schools,” she says. “Teachers love having something that sparks students’ interests. We want to show students that the technologies we all take for granted every day can change the world, and hopefully get them excited about engineering and technology.

“IEEE is a vast organization and, when we leverage all our parts, we can do really great things.”

To volunteer, donate, or learn more, visit the project’s Web page.

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