Rising to the Challenge: Red Hook Initiative
When a neighborhood goes dark, keeping communities connected is key.
Like many other neighborhoods, the low-lying community of Red Hook was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. While internet and communication systems were down throughout much of the city, Red Hook remained connected through its community designed, community built wireless mesh network.
Red Hook WIFI, a product of the Red Hook Initiative (RHI), began as a small pilot project in early 2012 to provide a resilient platform to access essential services and improve quality of life for residents and businesses in a neighborhood where broadband adoption rates are lower than the city average.
Later that year, Superstorm Sandy put the resiliency merits of the new network to the test. In the period immediately following Sandy, the mesh network became the primary communication platform for public housing residents, with up to 300 people using the network per day to communicate with loved ones and seek recovery assistance.
Encouraged by the pilot’s success, the Red Hook WIFI program has expanded to include 15 hotspots throughout the neighborhood, serving hundreds of Red Hook residents, businesses, and visitors.
As one of 11 winning teams in NYCEDC’s RISE : NYC competition, RHI will share up to $30 million with the other winners to further expand WIFI coverage for Sandy-impacted small businesses in the neighborhood.
We spoke to Tony Schloss, RHI's Director of Community Initiatives, about its plans for the Red Hook WIFI program.
Company Name: Red Hook Initiative, Red Hook, Brooklyn
Name of Winning RISE : NYC Technology: Red Hook WIFI
Technology Category: Telecom, helping small businesses stay connected and operating, even when traditional communication networks are down.
About: Red Hook WIFI is a wireless mesh network built for the Red Hook community by the residents of Red Hook. The project will expand WIFI coverage to small businesses that were impacted by Hurricane Sandy in the neighborhood. Its goal is to increase network resiliency and develop a cost-effective model that can be replicated in other NYC communities.
Other Benefits: Unlike most neighborhood or citywide free WIFI programs, Red Hook WIFI has been designed, installed, maintained, and promoted by young adults who are residents of public housing in Red Hook. It currently employs over 90 Red Hook residents, helping keep the majority of financial resources and job training opportunities within the neighborhood.
An Interview with Red Hook Initiative
When and how did you get the idea for Red Hook WIFI?
Initial experiments in a local wireless network began in 2012 as a way to extend the reach of the Red Hook Initiative programs and services into the neighborhood, create a platform for local communication, and address the lack of broadband access for low income residents in Red Hook.
After Hurricane Sandy flooded the neighborhood, the network proved to be a resiliency and recovery tool. Red Hook WIFI was one of the few communication tools available for residents in the first weeks after the event.
What impact does this have on NYC?
Social change to overcome systemic inequities begins with empowered youth.
Many New Yorkers, especially people of color and NYCHA residents, lack access to the skills and knowledge needed to connect them to the growing tech sector. Red Hook WIFI offers a unique opportunity to blend essential job training and paid employment for young adults from Red Hook while bringing critical services for the local business community.
Our Digital Stewards program trains young adult residents to install, maintain and promote the network over a yearlong technology training fellowship. Since its inception in 2013, the Digital Stewards program has increased the number of access points and users of the network, offered IT support for local organizations, and created content for area businesses.
RISE : NYC will increase our exposure and enable us to help more New Yorkers benefit from the growing tech sector. We are excited to be a leader in that movement.
What type of small businesses/buildings will benefit most from your technology?
We believe that the network will be a benefit for all Red Hook businesses, independent of their partnership in the network.
Our goal is to directly partner with and support over 50 businesses by providing broadband access to their business and customers creating opportunities to market their goods and services, create a virtual merchants association or business improvement district, and have the ability to use the network in emergencies to support their business.
“A Red Hook WIFI network is a great step in the right direction, and a great way to fuel growth in the neighborhood"
-St. John Frizell, owner of Fort Defiance, restaurant based in Red Hook.
The Red Hook WIFI homepage, which users visit upon accessing the network, also features local news, job opportunities, events, and marketing support for Red Hook.
How has RISE : NYC supported your technology’s path to innovate?
It is important that the City of New York create systems of resiliency for the business community and residents of the five boroughs. The RISE program is one very clear step towards accomplishing this goal.
The three telecommunications projects chosen to receive RISE funding, all work to create social networks within communities threatened by climate change. As we saw in Red Hook and elsewhere, these social networks are of primary importance in helping communities succeed in reacting and recovering to emergencies.
Want to learn more about Red Hook WIFI? Watch their informative video below.
About the Rising to the Challenge series: Eleven innovative resiliency technologies are helping to build a stronger, more resilient New York. What are they and who are the companies behind them?
This blog series shares the stories of each of the winning RISE : NYC technologies and the impact they will have on businesses and communities in New York City.