In 2012, RHI and its technology director, Tony Schloss, partnered with the Open Technology Institute, an arm of think tank New America, to set up a kind of homemade local WiFi network. It would host audio stories created by youth in RHI?s radio program. They had been uploading the stories online, but Schloss thought putting them on a community network might bolster their reach in the neighborhood. The setup was modeled after a program OTI was working on at the same time in Detroit. So, when Sandy hit, Red Hook already had a tiny but self-sustaining WiFi network using a ?mesh? design. Though power was out in the neighborhood, including in hundreds of NYCHA units, the renovated factory housing RHI luckily maintained electricity. RHI and some public housing residents maintained an internet link thanks to that mesh network. When FEMA came by several days later, officials were pleasantly surprised to find a developing neighborhood network ? and helped to augment it with more bandwidth and a satellite link.
The Red Hook story has served as a case study for how to help communities help themselves in a disaster. The waterfront hamlet became a base of operations for recovery operations. Portable toilets, charging stations, Twitter updates: Red Hook had them all before other hard-hit neighborhoods. ?People were able to put in that they needed something: food, or someone was stuck, or they needed a pump,? says Ortiz. ?There was a number and form online. You could text that number or go on that form. You could send a text and someone was monitoring the board. We had a ton of youth volunteering at the time and could get people supplies if they couldn?t make it to RHI.?