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When Hurricane Katrina hit the coast of Louisiana, network traffic doubled for calls coming in and out of New Orleans as family members wanted to check in with loved ones while others called for emergency help.

But what happens when a disaster wipes out all wireless and wireline communication infrastructure? AT&T Labs researchers have developed a solution that could help first-responders and rescue workers locate people who need help and deploy resources without the need for fixed infrastructure like towers, routers, or access points.

AT&T's location-based Mobile-to-Mobile (M2M) casting protocol can map and link smart devices within a specific geographic area, such as a city block or a park. It can track certain people within that area, such as firemen, or be used to search a damaged building for survivors after an earthquake hits.

The protocol creates "ad-hoc" connections with mobile devices into a mesh network where devices are each connected to multiple other devices — without having to rely on the mobile network. The use of GPS helps to locate individual devices within a given area.

The system is designed to handle heavy network conditions, such as a crowd at a college football game or an urban downtown disaster site. Potential services, such as "GeoQuerying", allow responders to locate devices and their users — helpful in search and rescue operations. "GeoAlarming" enables responders to remotely cause devices to emit a loud noise, allowing them to track by sound.

With solutions like a geo-targeting protocol and others similar to it, first responders would not only have faster access to critical information, but also expanded video and data capabilities.

For more information on AT&T's location-based M2M casting protocol visit: research.att.com