by GRETA BYRUM & ANDYGUNN
Community-built infrastructure for communications should be designed to fit a need, for example connecting those who are disconnected. Many communities working towards this goal are also concerned about keeping communication flowing in the event of disaster, when normal channels such as mobile phone networks and the Internet may be disrupted or overloaded. These community-led resilience efforts have a number of common features and approaches that other organizations and projects can use.
Disasters and emergencies amplify everyday conditions: who is connected or disconnected; who is well-resourced or under-resourced. However, communities with strong social connections, regardless of how rich or poor those communities are, always do better in such situations. We work to help build resilience from the ground up starting from long-standing organizing networks and existing social connections. Since official preparedness planning usually leaves out the critical first response that happens in local communities, this neighborhood level response should be “designed into” community technology projects.
TIPS FOR ORGANIZING
Build healthy local relationships.
FIRST AND FOREMOST , CONNECT WITH EXISTING COMMUNITY HUBS, BOTH ONLINE AND OFFLINE Locally governed networks or infrastructure likely already include existing anchor organizations where people typically go for information or help – for example: libraries, community centers, cafes, etc. Think ahead: where are the hubs in your neighborhood? These existing hubs of person-to-person connections benefit from communications technology that are more robust, or utilize back-up systems to keep information flowing. This can allow organizers to tap into the global community that wants to help and provide assistance.
PLANNING FOR RESILIENCE SHOULD BE A PART OF ADDRESSING LARGER INEQUALITY ISSUES Some people are more vulnerable in disasters than others – those who are isolated by language, poverty, physical access, and other issues. Build or facilitate relationships among organizations that work on these critical issues, local leadership (whether community or elected), and your community technology work. This can help address existing issues while building digital literacy and access to technology and communications. It is also an opportunity to create outreach and preparedness materials in multiple languages, and in print, web, audio, or video. Resilience measures could look like computer labs in existing community hubs that have information in many languages, trainings in SMS or Internet use for elders, putting together SMS or phone trees, or designing in multiple sources of bandwidth for a community network.
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS BEFORE DISASTER STRIKES. Many areas already have state and county emergency preparedness organizations such as Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs), Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), or amateur radio clubs. Building a relationship between community-based resilience work and these other efforts can help you assist more vulnerable people and areas in the event of a major disaster. Have conversations with neighbors about what to do to support each other locally. Collect and print phone numbers and emergency shelter information (and maps), in case all communications system are down.