PORTSMOUTH, R.I. (WPRI — A Newport teenager is helping change the way the Portsmouth EMA could respond to a natural disaster or cyber attack, by using a communication system whose technical roots go back to military experiments in the 1970’s.
The project was started by Mac Cullen, a 16-year-old junior at Bishop Hendricken, who was looking to become an Eagle Scout.
Cullen developed a way to communicate with the city of Providence by using antennas if Aquidneck Island were to lose power for a substantial amount of time
A portable antenna is set up outside Portsmouth Town Hall is talking to a stationary antenna behind the Portsmouth Fire Department that is pointed directly at another antenna placed on top of a building on Atwells Ave. in Providence.
This is essentially a backup communication system designed to come into play should a natural disaster or cyber attack knock Aquidneck Island off the grid.
Like what happened when Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico in 2017 causing the worst electrical blackout in U.S. history.
Six months later, thousands of homes and businesses were still without power.
“This is not going through the internet, this is going through the antennas we installed and this is the mesh network,” Cullen said. “
Portsmouth EMA Director Ray Perry calls it a game changer.
“My job as the EMA Director is to put a system in place with no technology because I’m planning for a worst case scenario and this is a perfect thing for that,” Perry said. “We’re gonna be on line quicker and the quicker we’re online the quicker we can start getting the resources in to helping the people and property and so on and so forth”
“It really gives me confidence and hope that people like me can organize and help transform communities and help them become better places,” added Cullen.
The next phase of the project will be to include verbal communication ability between Aquidneck Island and the mainland, and also to connect Portsmouth and Providence to the state EMA headquarters in Cranston. That should take place in the next couple of months.