Connecting Communities for Regional Resilience

A Case Study of the Silicon Valley Region

From 9/11 to Sandy, almost every major emergency in the last 20 years has led to some level of telecommunications failure. These experiences have spotlighted flaws and inherent weaknesses in our communications infrastructure—from aging wires to underground flood-vulnerable switching stations to cellular towers lacking power backups. In each case, the failure of brittle, overloaded telecommunications systems has threatened or undermined relief and recovery efforts.

To counter these obstacles, this paper calls for a multi-layered approach to community-led communications readiness and resilience incorporating a diversity of media and platforms. With a view to the complexity of physical and social communications systems, we propose a set of technical recommendations for regional resilience that leverage and combine multiple communication technologies and modes.

Our approach to resilient communications planning applies both a social and a technical lens to how information is shared and managed in an emergency or disaster situation. Rather than providing recommendations for building one unified infrastructure system for improved communications resilience in the Silicon Valley region, we will thus provide a roadmap for planning across multiple infrastructures. While this paper does not explicitly provide a roadmap for social planning, we emphasize that building social infrastructure and relationships alongside the process of technical planning as a means of creating long-term resiliency, not simply emergency preparedness.

Behind our approach to communications lies a specific definition of resiliency: not just the ability of a community to return to a previous condition, but rather a process of building collectively towards shared goals by deepening relationships and developing collaborative solutions.

ATTACHMENT:

Connecting Communities

Authors:

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.

Houman Saberi is a program manager in the Resilient Communities program for RISE:NYC. In this role, he is helping to build resilient community wireless networks in Sandy-affected areas of the city in partnership with local businesses, civic organizations, and residents. 

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.