Emergency ’shoelacing’ for fractured phone systems

When a major disaster–man-made or natural–takes down the phone system, who ya gonna call? No one, ’cause the phone’s dead, right? Not if you’re using a novel emergency communications system under development by the Maryland start-up TeleContinuity Inc. With initial support from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Advanced Technology Program (ATP), TeleContinuity is creating a “survivable” emergency telephone system back-up network that keeps individuals, companies and government agencies in touch during disasters by seamlessly merging conventional phone lines and the Internet.

Telecontinuity’s system represents a shift from traditional disaster recovery and business continuity solutions that historically have focused on location-based backup facilities and centralized telecom infrastructures.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, severely disrupted phone service at the attack sites, particularly in New York, where the collapse of the World Trade Center damaged a major local phone central office. Days and even weeks later, many companies and individuals were still without phone service. During this time, however, Internet links, utilizing different lines and network architectures, operated continuously. TeleContinuity’s founders realized that short-term, emergency phone service could be activated quickly, on any scale, by cross-linking surviving phone system links and Internet links as necessary, a technique they called “shoelacing.”

The company says its initial version of the software for such an emergency system is designed to reroute a user’s phone service within minutes of a major telephone outage by delivering the call to a remote phone, cellphone or even a computer or PDA. By the end of the ATP project in the Spring of 2005, the company plans to develop an enhanced version of the software that allows administrators and users to monitor and control networks in an emergency with advanced Web-based controls. Ultimately, commercialization of the technology will require a network of hundreds of nodes that can quickly lace together phone and data network lines regardless of where in the system an outage occurs.

Researchers from the University of Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh assisted in developing the system.

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Michael Baum EurekAlert!

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