Nonprofit organizations are used to helping communities in need. It is what they do best. In times of disaster, however, that need evolves and expands, as was the case in Florida when Hurricane Irma blew across the entire state leaving more than 1.9 million customers without power. For many, that also meant losing internet access.
Sweetwater Organic Community Farm works to make fresh, organic produce accessible to everyone, so a large part of its work focuses on food accessibility and education. Farm staff typically uses mobile internet in educational workshops and for its future farmers program, as well as to enable research for students in the field. However, when disaster struck as it did last month, having mobile internet took on an entirely different purpose. Yes, it allowed the Farm to get ‘back to business’ as quickly as possible, but it also helped employees, most of whom were in a mandatory evacuation zone and were forced to scatter to shelters and nearby family or friends, to stay updated and connected in the meantime.
For Hope Children’s Home, which houses and educates abandoned, abused, neglected or orphaned children, it wasn’t just the access to the internet that proved to be useful during the storm, it was the mobility. The majority of the home’s children and staff evacuated so they were able to maintain an internet connection even while displaced. This was very important for coordinating both during the evacuation planning and through implementation and recovery; it kept everyone calm and in contact throughout. Additionally, Hope Children’s Home staff could access important cloud-based sites that housed contact information for the children’s families and concerned loved ones.
The Florida Institute for Community Studies (FICS) partners with communities to help them achieve their goals through research, education training, services and the arts. Following Irma, FICS also served as a hub for cell phone charging, air conditioning, ice and water after the storm. Additionally, FICS had internet access, enabling staff and constituents to communicate with loved ones even when so many of its neighbors were without power, cable and internet. FICS was able to promote this valuable service because it had access to social media and could post information about the support services it was offering for FICS constituents without power.
Florida Autism Center for Education (FACE) offers successful educational programs for children and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The school is located within a large building in a wooded area, so staff were no stranger to loss of internet service. In fact, that is why FACE got started with Mobile Citizen, because the mobile internet hotspots were able to bridge the gaps in existing coverage and provide access to the network for teachers accessing email, curriculum and data. During the storm, employees with hotspots and no service at home could stay in contact with the school, as well as stay updated on important announcements regarding school closings and openings. After the storm passed, the school continued to experience connection issues with its primary provider, so the hotspots helped staff keep things running smoothly. “These hotspots can truly be a lifesaver,” said FACE assistant Andrea Lee. “You don’t realize how much you need one until you have one.”
The projects mentioned in this blog are run through our Independent Spectrum program. Both Independent Spectrum and Mobile Citizen are initiatives of Voqal.
About 1.9 million utility customers still were without power in the state on Friday morning, officials said. http://www.floridadisaster.org/info/outage_reports/latest.pdf