It has now been almost five months since hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Jose and numerous mudslides hit Puerto Rico and the Caribbean leaving a path of absolute destruction. Over 93% of cellular communications; over 90% of power and home/business wifi were taken out. Basically, large portions of the Caribbean were taken back to the stone age. At the same time the hurricanes started hitting, Gotenna released the very first (and still only) consumer-ready off the shelf long range mesh communication device that works in an adhoc manner without requiring infrastructure (no home wifi, no satphone, no cell towers needed) it just works. Gotenna is entirely self-sufficient and offers a 3-4 mile range (under ideal circumstances up to 57 mile range). They are reasonably priced at only about $50 a piece.
So, the idea was to pepper the island with a backbone of these gotenna devices to assist in disaster relief, command, and coordination. I acquired about 30 and hopped on a plane to join Javier J. Malave Bonet in San Juan to help him and while he established a network in San Juan, I went out west to Aguadilla and established a network connecting first responders including DHS (Dept. Homeland Security) DMAT and US Army MASH units at Buen Samaritano hospital to US Coast Guard helo lifeflights, Customs and Border Patrol, and US Airforce med evac and logistics at the Rafael Hernandez airport along with several groups of volunteers and municipality-leaders. Javier had access to 41 units. We quickly realized that many, many more would be needed.
Javier Malave and Gotenna partnered to create an indiegogo-type public fundraiser to raise about $20,000 in order to buy 300 more Gotenna mesh units to distribute them to create a backbone across the island to enable crucial communications for first responders aiding in the relief effort. The units were to be delivered in installments. The money was raised fairly quickly however, after the first shipment of 80 arrived, Javier, GoTenna, and PR Reconnects went dark – no updates, no publication of node deployments, unresponsive to private messages.
Separately, in parallel, DHS and DOD spent about $800,000 in taxpayer funds on Gotenna units. However, to this day, 5 months later, only 6 (and only in San Juan) of the nodes are published on imeshyou.com (or anywhere) to allow communities, NGOs, and first responders to leverage this infrastructure. STILL ONLY 6 of the 300 units donated to Javier and PR Reconnects – ONLY 6 have been deployed and their locations published on the map and NONE of the DHS or DOD units seem to have been deployed. Map below actually shows devices installed BEFORE the fundraiser (and in several cases nodes established by other, 3rd parties).
For months on their forum at imeshyou.com, by email, phone, by twitter at catsignal.us, on facebook at circleofcompassion.us, and instagram at instagram.com/jollymonsails , I’ve tried to elicit a status update in bona fide good faith- earnestly hoping to encourage Gotenna to publish the locations of the public relays but with no luck. Instead, PR Reconnects, Javier, Gotenna, and their partners have deleted my posts, suspended my account for 999 years (until 3017), deleted my account at Gotenna-controlled imeshyou.com and blocked my access on every social media platform available. EVEN offered to pay me a thousand dollars! Rather than merely providing an update.
My concern is that Hurricane Season 2018 is rapidly approaching (3 months out) and we still don’t have ANY idea where the 300 publicly donated gotenna units are or if DHS / FEMA / DOD have deployed even 1 to Puerto Rico or USVI. To exacerbate issues, Gotenna decided to save a few pennies and omit the Skytraq Venus GPS chip that was advertised and discussed such as on the Ask an Engineer program with Lady Ada of AdaFruit featuring Daniela Perdomo and members of the Gotenna team.
As a result there’s no GPS functionality at all. This means that the Gotenna unit cannot act as a headless SOS device by itself – but instead force survivors to have a working phone with a pre-installed Gotenna application. AND there’s no beacon or advertise function of the permanently installed relays – and no restoration after power outage. So, if PR Reconnects or Gotenna continue to delay and ultimately decide not to make this information available to the public, there is literally NO way for first responders, NGOS, or communities to leverage the taxpayer or the publicly donated infrastructure. Moreover, since no one knows where they are and there’s no way to determine whether they are operating nominally – or not, there’s no way that anyone can maintain, upgrade firmware, recharge batteries, swap out defective units, batteries, or solar panels.
And to put a cherry on top of this shit-sundae, GoTenna has now pivoted their attention to a new GoTenna Pro model which operates on WHOLLY dissimilar frequencies and are completely incompatible with this critical communications backbone that we built. What this means is that, for example: a grandmother or a church in the mountains of Utuado, Lares, or Morovis (the first places to lose service and the last to have it restored) who sends out an emergency broadcast via the Gotenna network cannot be sure that the message will get out due to the lack of transparency and accountability of the donated build-out or the taxpayer buildout. Even *IF* this crucial backbone does work in relaying the message, the military and government first responders will be wholly deaf to her pleas (as they can’t even listen to the 902-927MHz frequency range of the Gotenna Mesh devices) as they are stuck in the 100 and 400MHz range.
Ironically, this then leaves ONLY the volunteer first responders, the same people that selflessly run in when things go wrong to receive requests for help and respond. However, with Gotenna, PR-Reconnects, and Javier Malave’s lack of transparency and obfuscation, these are the VERY people who have *NO IDEA* where these heavily-proximity based devices are -or if they are even able to receive relayed messages.
The Fema-based CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) program promotes interoperability of communications devices, accountability: knowing where and updating the locations of emergency resources such as the gotenna devices; AND “prior to an incident” practicing to ensure the interoperability, to make sure they work as intended to integrate these volunteers and NGOs into the disaster recovery picture… however, NONE of these critical ICS/NIMS guidelines are being followed.
I am very concerned that if Gotenna and PR Reconnects don’t adopt a sense of urgency, and start following accountability and transparency best-practices, many people, many Americans will die. Things aren’t better in Puerto Rico, USVI, or the Caribbean. *TEMPORARY* solutions have been hastily thrown together. The power and communication lines were strung together in expedited manner; families are living in tents; blue tarps cover roofs, or mere ropes tie down tin roofs.
The first thing that needs to happen is that GoTenna, PR Reconnects, and Javier J. Malave Bonet should simply publish approximate locations of these 341 deployed emergency relays. Secondly, Gotenna should act with all due haste to issue an updated firmware that provides power-restoration after outage, beacon and advertise functions so that this network can be tested, supplemented, and troubleshot BEFORE the next disaster. Thirdly, if possible, the software defined radio (SDR) in the Gotenna-Pro should be updated to allow for even minimal operation (such as reception alone) in the 900MHz consumer ISM frequency band to at least receive calls for help from nearby civilians and responders.