March 1, 2006 12:16 PM PST

Burning Man vets bring Wi-Fi to Katrina region

As veterans of Burning Man, the annual art festival held in a remote Nevada desert, Tom Price and a group of about 20 others who have been volunteering with post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction in Mississippi are used to persevering in forbidding environments.

But when members of the group wanted to stay in touch with friends and family, and needed to keep up with the contract jobs that allow them to spend weeks and months on the Gulf Coast, the nearly complete lack of Internet access posed a problem.

Burners Without Borders

Now the group, known as Burners Without Borders, is using new Kyocera mobile hot-spot technology to create a wide-area-network in an area with little, if any, Internet access. Their shoestring network, based on $250 routers and $150 wireless cards, could prove to be a model for other volunteer groups in disaster areas.

"People are trying to work virtually, so they can stay down here," said Price, a journalist and former Washington lobbyist who has been in Mississippi on and off for months since Katrina hit. "We have Web designers and database managers and writers attempting to be in two places at once. Before we got wired up, that meant driving (20 minutes) into town and parking outside a Best Western that had Wi-Fi and trying to jam out a few e-mail messages."

Since Katrina pulverized the Gulf Coast last year, there have been several efforts to use technology to help residents get their lives back in order, or at least to help aid workers in their efforts.

Among them are Intel initiatives to donate more than 2,300 laptop computers for use in American Red Cross shelters and to deploy wireless broadband technology like WiMax for use by first-responders. Also, an international effort by bloggers raised $1.35 million in relief aid for hurricane victims.

"It's difficult to exaggerate the level of destruction here...none of the timelines for providing any services have ever been met."
--Tom Price, Burners Without Borders

Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, just as last year's Burning Man was starting. As soon as the festival ended, a handful of volunteers drove the heavy equipment they use to build the infrastructure for the event--which 36,000 people attended last year--and headed south, hoping they could help.

The problem for the volunteers was pretty basic: In order to keep volunteering, they needed access to the Internet so they could do their day jobs. After hearing about Kyocera's new KR1 mobile router, which enables anyone with cell phone coverage and a PC Air card to create a WAN that can serve up to 10 people simultaneously, Price contacted the company and begged for help.

Kyocera responded quickly, he said, donating one of its new routers and a new PC Air card even before the router had hit the market publicly.

The router takes PC Air cards--which allow a single user to get broadband access anywhere there's cell phone coverage--and broadcasts a high-speed signal that many people can use.

And that's true even in an area like Pearlington, Miss., where Burners Without Borders is helping tear down destroyed houses and supporting residents of a town where there is still almost no functional government or operational communications infrastructure, with the notable exception of cell phones.

See more CNET content tagged:
Burning Man, Gulf Coast, Borders Books & Music, Mississippi, Kyocera Wireless Corp.


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Sad to see, that the authorities, at state and federal level, hiding in ivory towers, blaming all but themselves, over their inherent inability to grapple all aspects of the katrina disaster, whilst starving the locals of much needed relief funds, and simultaneously leaving the lions share of the work to the remaining locals and volunteers!

What, a true waste of taxpayer funds to continue to employ these seat polishers!

But then again, the only time we ever get to see these incompetents, is election time when they emerge to make fictitious promises, then proceed to disappear after the vote has counted and resume business as usual!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
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Very Cool!
Leave it to the Burners to take the values of self reliance, technology and gifting and form them into something that stretches technology and humanity.

Kudos to Kyocera for grasping a great marketing idea and running with it.
Posted by (2 comments )
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St. Bernard Parish, LA needs WI-FI too
I just returned from visiting friends in St. Bernard Parish, LA. The parish was completely wiped out by Katrina and there has been precious little done by the various federal agencies to restore the area in the past 6 months. I brought my laptop along so my girlfriend could sign up for assistance from her former employer. We had to drive to Metarie, 42 miles from her home, to get Internet access. I know the folks in the parish would really appreciate it if someone brought WI-FI there too. Thanks for all your good work. It seems as if most of the progress made in the Gulf is accomplished by individual efforts like yours.
Posted by cardinalbird2 (13 comments )
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internet access in st bernard
have you received any response to your email, i chair a charitable
foundation that is researching the best way to help out in area
communities. post the storm in many communities we could
accesss the internet via the library. i have considered proposing
this idea by joining with other organizations to fund a site for
residents. if you don't mind let me know if you receive any
Posted by Susan Bopp (1 comment )
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