2 weeks
Nov, 2013
Microsoft asked us to design a system targeted towards helping affected people within the first 24 hours after the disaster strikes in an effort to make them feel connected.
In the light of recent disasters around the world, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is looking into new ways technology can better facilitate effective communication during National Emergencies. The Agency is particularly focused on disasters that arrive with limited warning giving little time for anyone to prepare. As a result, a request for proposal has been put forth to technology leaders to build a National Emergency Communication System that ought to be integrated into all technology devices that ship post 2014. The primary goal of the system is to help people affected by the disaster, giving them the necessary information and tools they need to stay safe, alive and connected for the first 24 to 48 hours following the disaster.
For our solution, we decided to focus on those people who are in close vicinity to the affected person. We wanted to give people the means to start helping without waiting for disaster relief organizations or the government to mobilize. We wanted to use the cell phone to create hope by making it easier to locate people in a close proximity. Our Close Proximity Communication System(CPCS) works by leveraging the technology that is already present inside phones : the radio chip. We proposed a solution where technology manufactures would allow the radio chips inside cell phones to communicate with each other, thus allowing the formation of close proximity peer to peer networks between people. With this technology and our application, people will be able to communicate with people in their close vicinity so that they can help each other overcome the effects of the disaster within the first 24 hours after the disaster has struck.
Team members : Stephen Miller & Deepak Bhagchandani

We initially set out the first week for research, brainstorming, and concept generation. We did a lot of secondary research in the form of reading interviews of people who had been stuck by disasters as well as those who helped those who were stuck in disasters. We also researched about the different technologies that we could avail of to help create the system that we had intended to create later on. We also read other information about the psychology that people have when they are struck with an emergency as well as their behavioral patterns. We initially created a system with a radar, which essentially lets you see the people seeking help in close proximity to you on a radar. However, after we finish mocking up our screens and conducted a usability test, we found out that there was a major flaw in our system. The flaw was that we assumed that only those people who were severely affected will seek help using our system. However, tapping into our research, we realized that in a panic scenario people tend to over exaggerate their misfortunes. Therefore, almost everyone would try to use our system to seek help and this would ultimately jam the system, and the user's screen would be inundated with red flags of people seeking help. To overcome this problem, we decided to simply use a limited list view of people in close proximity with a status message like broadcast. This is done to limit the bandwidth of the system as well as not use too much battery power in the network of phones.