OTI seeks partners for resilience project in New York City



When Superstorm Sandy hit Brooklyn, a community wireless mesh network in Red Hook helped residents tell people where help was needed and where it was available; distribute food, blankets, and supplies, including among elderly residents of public housing; stay in touch with friends and families; and tell the world stories about what was happening. Even when power and cell networks went out across most of the neighborhood, Red Hook WiFi kept people connected.  

The Open Technology Institute (OTI) is exploring an opportunity to create resilient local mesh networks like Red Hook WiFi with communities across New York City that are vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding. We have advanced to Stage 2 of the New York Economic Development Corporation’s “Resilient Innovation for a Strong Economy” (RISE:NYC) competition, and are seeking community-based organizations and small businesses as potential partners.

The proposed networks will provide Wi-Fi Internet access, offer training opportunities for local residents, and make your community more resilient to natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy.

The role of the community-based organizations will be to:

  1. Conduct outreach to New York City small businesses impacted by Superstorm Sandy to join in a proposal due in early July. Please ask them to complete this survey for small business partners.

  2. Host a wireless network and resilience training program, if the proposal is selected for funding by EDC. Interested partners should complete this survey for community organization partners.

The role of the small businesses will be to:

  1. Host a small wireless router on or in their building and keep it plugged into an electrical outlet.

The role of OTI will be to:

  1. Develop the wireless technology and training materials as free resources for anyone to use.

  2. Conduct the wireless network and resilience training program in collaboration with the community partners.

  3. Oversee the installation of the network at the small businesses and other key sites.

  4. Provide technical support for the ongoing maintenance of the network for the duration of the two-year program.

If our proposal is approved, the funding will cover the cost of hardware, the training program and installations, and approximately two years of maintenance and technical support. Community partners will be compensated for hosting training programs, and small businesses will be compensated for electricity and will own the hardware installed at their premises.

If you are interested in hosting a wireless network and resilience training program in your community, please complete this survey.

Please also help by reaching out to all of the small businesses you know that were damaged by Sandy and asking them to complete a separate survey for small business participants in the project.

Note that you can help with outreach to small businesses without having to commit to hosting the training program, but our technology works best when the whole community is involved.

More information about this project:

The proposed mesh networks will provide Wi-Fi Internet access, offer training opportunities for local residents, and make your community more resilient to natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy.

We have already helped to build a wireless network like this in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In partnership with Red Hook Initiative, we trained a team of young people as “Digital Stewards” to build and maintain the network, which now includes more than 15 hotspots in the neighborhood. The young people learned new skills in the process and many earned jobs or apprenticeships in the tech industry as a result of the program. The training program may look different in your community: it could last 3 or 6 months, or potentially longer, and it could be for any group of committed residents. We will work with you to find the right solution for your community.

The networks are made up of customized Wi-Fi routers hosted on or in buildings throughout the neighborhood. Because of the restrictions in this funding program, this project will only be able to cover installations at small businesses that were directly or indirectly impacted by Superstorm Sandy. However, once you know how to build these networks, you will be able to expand them anywhere you think needs Wi-Fi.

Small businesses that want to participate in the project must complete a short survey before Friday, June 27, to be eligible to receive a customized Wi-Fi router at no cost. Only small businesses impacted by Sandy are eligible to receive the free router; other businesses, organizations and individuals may be able to participate at their own expense. We may not be able to include every interested business or organization in our proposal.

This is a project of the Open Technology Institute. The potential funding will come from the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s RISE:NYC competition using federal aid for Sandy relief. For more information, please contact us at nyc@opentechinstitute.org or consult these resources:

Authors:

Joshua Breitbart, a former senior advisor for New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, coordinated a team of researchers, organizers, graphic designers and technologists to learn how people adopt new technologies and participate in discussions of telecommunications policy.

Georgia Bullen is the technology projects director with New America's Open Technology Institute. Bullen provides data visualization, human-centered design, planning and geospatial analytical support to the OTI team and its community partnerships.

Ryan Gerety

Greta Byrum is the director of the Resilient Communities program at New America. She reimagines the way we design, build, and manage communications systems to support local residents as leaders, organizers, and preparedness experts.

Andy Gunn was a program fellow with the Resilient Communities Project and Open Technology Institute at New America, where he partnered with communities to build and govern their own digital communications using the principles of Community Technology.