Russia Blocks Zello

By Nancy on April 13, 2017

This evening, Russia blocked Zello. This action follows a notice we received last week from the Russian regulator Roskomnadzor that Zello is not in compliance with a law that governs information distribution brokers (Article 10.1 of the Federal Law of 27.07.2006 number 149-FZ).

“Information distribution broker” is how the Russian law describes Internet communications services and includes messenger apps, email providers, and social networks. The law requires that all such services store all application messages and user data in Russia. We would be required to provide this data to law enforcement upon their request. We would also provide law enforcement with the means of surveillance on Zello conversations globally and would have to share all Zello encryption keys with FSB, the Russian state security organization.

These are requirements that we are not able to meet or willing to comply with, even if we could.

Zello is popular in Russia, with more than 400,000 active users there. Like Zello users everywhere, Russians use the app to connect with family members and friends and to participate in social, political, and humanitarian conversations and events. But it is also used by search and rescue personnel, taxi services, law enforcement, and drivers needing assistance.

No other global service would be willing to meet this Roskomnadzor law. We cannot speculate why the Russian government is blocking their citizens’ communication through Zello.

Besides Zello, the only other major service known to be blocked is LinkedIn, which also refused to comply with the Roskomnadzor and has been blocked in Russia since November 2016.

Zello Channels are a powerful feature of the app which makes it easy to create groups for public or private conversations. Large numbers of Zello users in Ukraine, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Turkey, and Egypt have relied on Zello to organize democratic political movements in their countries.

Russians who rely on Zello should use VPN solutions to continue using Zello. Zello is working on deploying technology to circumvent the block.

Bill Moore
CEO Zello

Related press coverage from the Roskomnadzor warning last week:
https://globalvoices.org/2017/04/10/russia-blocks-walkie-talkie-app-zello-as-truckers-strike/
https://en.crimerussia.com/gromkie-dela/roskomnadzor-blocked-zello-app-used-by-striking-truckers/

Story about trucker strike with Zello mention
https://therussianreader.com/tag/zello-walkie-talkie-app/

News from Venezuelan block of Zello
News from Ukraine use of Zello

The Cajun Navy: How Tech and Boaters Joined Forces to Save Lives

By Nancy on October 10, 2016

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You might not have heard, but last August 2016, the biggest flood to hit Louisiana in 500 years happened. More than 30,000 people were evacuated and over 146,000 homes damaged. Unlike well-known Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it didn’t have a name, and the rescue and recovery efforts were better orchestrated. So it just wasn’t deemed as newsworthy.

Consequently, little was publicized about the rescue efforts of a small ragtag band of boaters known as the “Cajun Navy.” But their story deserves to be told. It’s a story about regular folks doing extraordinary things, using a little tech and a lot of determination.

The original Cajun Navy was born out of necessity during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Plagued by government red tape and delayed rescue efforts during Katrina, a small group of locals with boats got together and pitched in to do whatever they could. They became local heroes known as The Cajun Navy, as they picked up residents trapped by flood waters, put them on their boats, and transported them to safety.

The namesake group was called into action again this past August 12th, when flooding began in Livingston Parish – the hardest hit area. The amount of water rose so quickly, that it caught many residents off guard. Unable to prepare and evacuate in time, many found themselves stranded in their homes or on their rooftops.

Initial frantic calls for help came across on Facebook posts. AT&T cell towers were knocked out, making phone calls impossible. Many people in neighboring unaffected parishes saw these pleas and wanted to do something to help. They didn’t want to sit idle or wait for the government to come and rescue these people. It was at this point that a new, stronger, and more organized Cajun Navy really sprang into action.

Realizing there needed to be a central point of command to coordinate rescue efforts, stay-at-home mom and local Good Samaritan, Alaina Hebert, took it upon herself to head rescue efforts. A brand-new Facebook group for rescue efforts was created, asking for volunteers to join, especially those with boats and other equipment. The group eventually grew to over 23,000 members from all parts of the U.S. With a huge base of volunteers ready and able to help out, the Cajun Navy was now ready to take on the daunting task of coordinating water rescues.

As the flooding progressed, Parish Sheriff offices quickly became inundated with calls for help. With a backlog of over over 150 unanswered calls, Parish officials welcomed the offer of help from the Cajun Navy to handle some of the overflow. Cajun Navy volunteers immediately stepped in to help, going where needed with Sheriff Deputies onboard using their flotilla of fishing boats, canoes, and kayaks.

In the end, the Cajun Navy, with their band of 100-200 amateur and professional boaters, managed to save thousands of stranded residents and pets. The entire rescue effort was coordinated using two free apps: Zello as a live walkie-talkie dispatch and Glympse as a GPS locator. It was the first time apps had been used in this way – the technology did not exist during Hurricane Katrina.

Shawn Boudreaux, VP of the Cajun Navy and self-described “closet nerd” introduced the technology to the group. An avid player of Ingress (a location-based mobile app game), he used Zello to communicate with fellow team members during Ingress events. Shawn knew Zello could be a great tool for dispatchers to coordinate the hundreds of boats scattered throughout flooded areas. With the support of now Cajun Navy President, Alaina Hebert, he put the apps in motion by asking for volunteers on Facebook to come and install Zello and Glympse on their devices before going out on water rescues.

Shawn created a private Zello channel called “CajunNavy” for the volunteer dispatchers and boaters to communicate with each other. At the peak of the crisis, the channel had over 800 members or subscribers. All 800 could be online and active at the same time (the limit is 2000). As calls for help came in, they were transmitted live on the channel. By using Glympse and Google Maps for GPS coordinates, the closest boats could then be dispatched to help. The process resulted in more efficient and timely rescues.

A sister group named the “Cajun Army” also used Zello to coordinate post-flood efforts, providing food and shelter and dispatching volunteers to help clean-up damaged homes.

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Though flood waters have since receded, the Cajun Navy and Cajun Army continues to help their neighbors rebuild their homes and lives. This is all done without monetary donations or government aid. If you would like to help out or just thank them, please join their Facebook groups and Zello channel by using the links below.

Cajun Navy Facebook Page
Cajun Army Facebook Page
Cajun Navy Zello Channel

If you have a similar story of how you used Zello to help your community, please contact us at info@zello.com. We’d love to hear about it!

Zello Works Where Traditional Radios Fail

By Nancy on April 22, 2016

Last week, we got a very nice note from a member of the San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Cave and Technical Rescue Team (caverescue.net, sbsar.org). He explained how Zello was used in a recent search and rescue (SAR) mission. They were looking for possible human remains located in a mine shaft about 400 feet deep. When they lowered a person with a VHF radio down the shaft to investigate, the team on top realized they could not communicate with the person down in the shaft. The opening was too small relative to the wavelength of the radios, and their VHF radios were useless in that environment.

Since the team knew Zello worked with WiFi, and they had already established a WiFi hotspot on top, the team decided to try a little experiment. They decided to try Zello instead. They were surprised to find that it worked flawlessly! By lowering the person with a smartphone and Zello installed, he was able to maintain communication with the entire team.

“Amazingly we were able to maintain contact to about the 350 foot level. I was astonished! This is not an RF-friendly environment.”

We love hearing stories like this from our users. If you’ve had a similar experience where Zello saved the day when radios failed, drop us a line! Here are a couple pictures of that SAR mission:

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Team at top of mine shaft

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Going down with Zello onboard