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Open (Safely) Your Wi-Fi Network During a Disaster

Its a logical step to provide unrestricted internet access during an emergency or disaster. It has become a daily necessity as well as a vital communication tool during disaster response even if you are coordinating a rescue mission or just trying to reach your loved ones. However opening up a Wi-Fi could be mess – so it’s important to open it up correctly.

During last week, Red Cross promoted a similar initiative in Italy which got a bit of media coverage and positive public response, but such an action was unprecedented from an orgazinzation like Red Cross.

How to Give Away Your Wi-Fi Safely

But is it possible to open you Wi-Fi network without causing any risk? YES, You can. All you have to do is set up a guest access point on your wireless network, so people can get on the Internet but not your network shares, web traffic, or connected devices.

Now, sure, in an emergency, the last thing you want to think about is reconfiguring your network, but if your router supports multiple networks (fair warning, it may not), It’s essentially a matter of going into your router’s wireless network settings. Worst case, when you create the secondary or ‘guest’ network (called an SSID), you’ll have to give it a broadcast name, decide if you want it to be visible, assign whatever form of security you want to give it, and set up either some form of either DHCP provisioning or subnetting. But with most home routers that aren’t running open firmware, you probably have a straight up ‘guest network’ option, in which case, you only need to define a name for the SSID. And if you’re doing this for disaster relief purposes, you don’t even have to bother setting up a password.

Should This Be Your Problem?

The big advantage of opening up your Wi-Fi networks in disaster situations is that it’s fast, and free, for everyone. But the question remains whether that should really be your job—especially when you may have been traumatized by whatever emergency has just jolted your community.

It wouldn’t be that big of a deal for a major company, and it’s safer for everyone. As the world becomes increasingly Internet-dependent, this discussion is not going to go away. With proper precautions in place, the Italian Red Cross’s initiative is admirable and even sensible, but in an emergency, depending on neighbors for vital communications isn’t a sustainable strategy.