Tropical Storm Harvey, also known as ‘Hurricane Harvey,” has caused widespread devastation as it made landfall in Texas this past week, bringing nearly 50 inches of rain and winds of up to 130 miles per hour, costing at least 31 lives, and displacing more than 30,000 people. On Monday, Comcast announced that it had opened 53,000 Xfinity WiFi hotspots “around the Houston area to help residents and emergency workers during relief efforts.”
Being able to contact and be contacted by other people is always important, but especially so during an emergency situation such as Hurricane Harvey. Separated family members and other loved ones depend on that capability to check in on and locate one another, and it’s critical for emergency personnel to be able to reach and coordinate evacuees. Unfortunately, as Ars Technica reports, the storm “has disrupted at least 17 emergency call centers and 320 cellular sites, and…has caused outages for more than 148,000 Internet, TV, and phone customers.”
It’s times like these where Wi-Fi access is truly a life-saver. Thanks to providers like Comcast and to the unlicensed spectrum that makes Wi-Fi work, thousands of Houston area residents can breathe a little easier in this immensely difficult time, using Wi-Fi to connect with loved ones and emergency staff as needed.
Wi-Fi also helps keep displaced residents’ spirits up as they wait out the storm. The Princeton, New Jersey Public Library (PPL) saw this during Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012–4,500 people came to the library during Hurricane Irene and even more came during Hurricane Sandy. “Adults and kids flooded into PPL with their laptops,” School Library Journal reported, “preparing to hunker down, play games, read books, and watch family movies.”
As we advocate for Wi-Fi and unlicensed spectrum, we must remember how much this resource matters; not just in our daily lives but also and especially in times of need. A Wi-Fi connection has the power to make a natural disaster feel less disastrous, to guide people to safety and security, and to keep families together even when all else has been swept away. That’s critical — and it’s critical that we ensure Wi-Fi and unlicensed spectrum continues to be there for the next storm and beyond.
Visit wififorward.org for more on Wi-Fi and unlicensed spectrum advocacy, and consider donating to the Harvey relief fund established by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner at The Greater Houston Community Foundation.