Libraries Whitespace Project Wins IMLS Leadership Grant

SAN FRANCISCO — The Gigabit Libraries Network (GLN) announced the receipt of a National Leadership Grant of nearly $250,000 awarded to Califa from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and subawarded to GLN to expand the Libraries WhiteSpace Project for disaster response and increased community resilience.

2017 was the most costly U.S. disaster year on record. Climate change predicts extreme weather related disaster events will only increase both in severity and frequency. Library facilities have shown to be effective resources during disaster, and almost uniquely in providing access to information and communications technologies (ICT’s) as so-called “second responders.”

Robust Disaster Backup for Anchor Institutions
“It is only natural that libraries and other anchor institutions seek to provide robust backup communication networks, we’re calling “SecondNets,” says project director, Don Means. “Equipping these second responders with inexpensive and reliable wide-area wireless communication systems will strengthen community resilience in disaster response and further reinforce the library’s emerging role as community tech and innovation hub.”

Direct Wireless Connections via TVWS Systems
A distributed development group, anchored by four public libraries located in Millinocket, Maine; Milledgeville, Georgia; State College, Pennsylvania; & Beatrice, Nebraska, is being supported by the grant to upgrade their existing TV Whitespace (TVWS)/Wi-Fi systems with backup power and portable hotspot units for rapid redeployment. They will also develop partnerships among their area schools, clinics, colleges and other second responders, in disaster planning and for potential direct wireless connections via TVWS systems.

The grant enables the library group to be supported by a new TVWS test labs and maker spaces at higher ed institutions to be named later. The grant further funds San Jose State University to create a new self- paced online course free to anyone seeking to employ TVWS systems in disaster response.

SecondNets Advisory Consortium
A national SecondNets Advisory Consortium, including Califa, Merit Networks of Michigan, the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), The Quilt (national association of research and education networks) and the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC), will join to to create and refine specifications for the wireless networks as all-inclusive kits. The kit development effort is also supported by leading global manufacturers of TV Whitespace equipment: Adaptrum, Carlson Wireless and 6Harmonics.

“Libraries and all other anchors are at the heart of strong communities, and equipping these institutions with TV Whitespace capabilities will further strengthen their ability to connect patrons and bolster com- munication infrastructure during times of crisis,” says John Windhausen, SH&LB executive director.

Like Wi-Fi, TVWS units use open public spectrum, requiring no third party carriers, ongoing fees, licenses or other permissions for use in wide area, intra-facility digital communication. But unlike Wi-Fi, TVWS has long range and penetrative capabilities that can support broadband connections over miles and through obstructions like trees and buildings.

2ndNet Kits
These “2ndNet Kits” are planned to incorporate back-up power and portability and designed for simpler installation. The SecondNet project will explore direct links between libraries and other second responders and develop an off-the-grid capability to run public-accessible autonomous communications net- works even without the internet and create a national standard of requirements that optimize disaster response capability.
“Connectivity and accessibility are central services in all libraries,” said Robin Dale, deputy director of the IMLS Office of Library Services.

TV Whitespace to Provide Emergency Backup Connectivity
“TV Whitespace shows great promise to provide not only baseline connectivity for geographic areas lacking broadband access, but equally important, to provide crucial backup connectivity during emergencies. SecondNets aim to create robust backup communication networks of libraries and other community anchor institutions to be available in times of crisis. The development of SecondNets further enables libraries to serve their communities at their time of need."

The SecondNets project is intended as a complement to the new national wireless FirstNet initiative for first responders. Where libraries and other anchor institutions, as second responders, have existing roles in disaster response, yet they are subject to the same outages and overloads of the general networks.

“The reality is that after a catastrophic event, the public communications infrastructure WILL be down for 2 – 10 days on average, and the community will need temporary connectivity until the public utilities are restored,” Joe Hillis, executive director of ITDRC, states. “TVWS is well suited for Disaster Relief and Community Recovery since it can be rapidly re-deployed to shelters, ad-hoc recovery centers, and other community facilities. This is a wonderful use of this available spectrum!”

The project builds on the 3-year old Libraries Whitespace Project advocating that libraries explore using TVWS/Wi-Fi equipment to support remote fixed / portable library hotspots at new fixed locations and/or temporary events in their communities to expand daily access and inclusion through strategic technology integration.

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