When there’s a major disaster, like an earthquake or hurricane, it almost always disrupts phone and Internet services, making it tough for first-responders like FEMA and the Red Cross to coordinate emergency efforts. And satellite phones – which keep working during disasters – are too expensive for most organizations. They cost about $600 a pop, plus 50-cents per text message.

But there’s a cheap-and-easy option coming out: Researchers from the Georgia Tech College of Computing have developed new software called LifeNet. Once you load it onto your laptop or cell phone, you become a link in a network and can communicate with any other LifeNet-enabled device via text message. And if even one person on the network has access to the Internet or a satellite phone, everyone else can access it too.

What’s the catch? Users have to be within one kilometer of each other. But if you have a line where each person is one kilometer away from the next, you can have a network that stretches as far as you need.

The software will be free – and anybody can download it and become part of the network. LifeNet is coming on the market soon – and we’ll keep you posted on their progress.