How a Solar Powered Wi-fi Network Could Prepare New Yorkers for the Next Superstorm Sandy

How a Solar Powered Wi-fi Network Could Prepare New Yorkers for the Next Superstorm Sandy


[Upbeat music playing] DABRIAH: I’ve actually been here all my life, like I grew up here. I grew up in the Red Hook
Houses. And it wasn’t always as popular
an area as it is now. DABRIAH: My parents are
still here. A lot of my friends are
still here. It’s home. [Sirens sound] DABRIAH: So much water just going down the street
and it’s to the point where it picks up cars and starts
to carry the cars. And it was just the
scariest thing. TEVINA: We were the
buildings that were without electricity,
water, heat, everything for about 29
days, straight. And it was horrendous.
JILL: The majority of residents in public
housing did not have internet access in their
home. DABRIAH: We felt like we
were cut off. ROBERT: Like I couldn’t
make a call, I couldn’t text.
None of that stuff. DABRIAH: We had all of
these people flooding into the community including
FEMA. How do we communicate?
TEVINA: Whoever was able-bodied,
we were the ones that went up and down bringing up
supplies. We would give a list to
the doctor of residents who we knew were either
homebound or had medical issues.
We just did whatever came to mind.
DABRIAH: We had to figure out how to come together
and be okay after that. JILL: The Red Hook
Initiative is a community center.
We’ve been in the neighborhood for 15 years.
The morning after the storm, many of our staff came to
just check on the building and walked in to find it
was as if nothing had happened here.
There was electricity, the phones were working.
So it really transformed overnight to responding to
the the emergency needs in the neighborhood. DABRIAH: So I always say
this is a case of something being built
before we knew it needed to be built.
JILL: We realized that there was an opportunity
here to train young people.
They could be the ones building and maintain that
network. ROBERT: I knew nothing
about networking, computer networking,
or wireless networking. And I ended up really
liking it a lot. ROBERT: So this device is
speaking to a device that’s on the building
right over there. And that device is getting
an internet connection over there.
So instead of us having to run a cable,
a physical cable, from this site to that
site, we’re doing it all
wirelessly through the air.
JILL: So when the storm hit and communication was
completely down in the neighborhood,
FEMA had done some online research and said we
believe there’s a group in the neighborhood that has
the backbone for a mesh network.
And so they were able to bring some equipment and
really activate a network that had been just built.
During those few weeks after the storm,
there were about 1000 people per day that were
accessing internet through this free wireless
network. DABRIAH: So to build
something and not even know that it would end up
being such an important tool in recovery and
resilience. That was the saving grace,
you know, Wi-Fi, of all things was the
saving grace. ROBERT:I think the flow of
information is extremely important.
Knowing where like, water level is
at a time during disaster, or knowing where to get
food and stuff after a disaster,
being able to communicate to your loved ones that
they know that you’re fine.
Like I feel like that’s super important. JILL: When we think back
on Hurricane Sandy and everything that happened,
there are also some good things that came out of
that that have really helped to build both the
social and physical infrastructure in the
neighborhood, I think it was really recognizing the power of
people, of local people. And so we also developed
the Local Leaders program with the goal of training
Red Hook residents in emergency management. TEVINA: It just made us
aware that things are happening in our
environment and we should pay attention to it. JILL: There have been 200
graduates of the program. Compared to sea walls or
massive infrastructure projects,
this is something that’s not very expensive to run.
It’s really creating empowering people and I
think it is replicable in other communities on the
waterfront. DABRIAH: Bigger storms are
coming. And remember the
importance of banding together with you know the
residents of your community,
with your family. The people that are on the
ground with you. Those are the people you
work with, those are the people you
build with.

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