g i r f t y

CalREN Facilitates Communications During Napa Fires via Local Libraries

K-12, Libraries
REGIONS: California

A public library that is equipped with robust broadband can play a critical role in the community in an emergency. During the recent devastating fires in Northern California, the Napa County Library was called upon to play this role.

“During the fire emergency in Napa County in October 2017, the Napa County Library became a center for public access for many in our community who lost power, phone, and Internet access,” said Edward Bell, library computer systems technician at the Napa County Library. “We served as an information resource as well as communication hub for our constituency, and our network never faltered. At the height of the emergency, on Tuesday, October 10, over 2,000 people visited our main library and 491 people accessed our network — four times more than usual — with no latency or service outages. We are very grateful for the dependability built into CENIC’s CalREN network.”

Library Director Danis Kreimeier noted that, “Internet connectivity in our communities was severely compromised during the fires. Because much of the Internet service in Napa County is delivered via landlines or microwave connections, many public institutions, including Napa Valley College, lost their connection and all public schools were closed for two weeks. AT&T, a major provider in the region, lost over 80 towers. Although our Calistoga Branch Library was evacuated, our main library and our other two branches remained open. Because our connection to CalREN is delivered via fiber underground, it was not impacted.”

Librarians worked with the many visitors to the Napa County libraries to assist them in signing up for the emergency alert system and for the “Safe and Well” Red Cross check-in system. Reporters filed stories from the library and workers came in to log on to their company websites to see if they needed to go to work. The town of Yountville lost all Internet access and town officials used the library to post updates.

Serving as an information hub, libraries continuously streamed news and, before opening each day, streamed press conferences for staff so they could better respond to questions from the public. In fact, during emergency briefings, officials advised the public to go to the library for Internet access. The library's Facebook page was an important information resource as it amplified messages from Napa County and CAL FIRE. One post alone received over 88,000 views.

Assistant Library Director Anthony Halstead commented on the difference high-speed broadband makes during a public emergency. “During our last public emergency, the earthquake that occurred in 2015, we were not yet connected to CalREN and had only 100 Mbps of connectivity. Many municipal buildings in our county were damaged, and government offices were relocated to our main library. Our Internet connectivity was not adequate to meet the needs of these workers and our patrons. We had to put tight restrictions on the number of users and the lengths of their sessions. Now our main library and three branches are all connected to CalREN at 1 Gbps, or 10 times faster than our previous service. In addition to dramatically improved speed, our reliability has improved. In the more than two years since connecting to CalREN, we have had fewer than 20 minutes of service outage, and these outages were in our carrier circuit and equipment, not the CalREN backbone.”

In 2013, responding to a proposal from CENIC and the California State Library, the California State Legislature and Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. tasked the California State Library and CENIC with assessing the high-speed broadband needs of California’s public libraries. Although broadband is essential for libraries to fulfill their missions, the needs assessment found that approximately 52% of California’s public libraries had slower broadband connections than many Californians have in their homes.

In response to this assessment, Governor Brown and the legislature, along with support from the California Teleconnect Fund (administered by the California Public Utilities Commission), provided funds to support libraries as Charter Associate members of CENIC and for their CalREN backbone use, which was the beginning of an historic initiative to help all of California’s public libraries receive high-speed broadband service via CENIC. Through the efforts of CENIC and Califa — contracted by the California State Library to serve as a point of coordination between CENIC and the public libraries — over 80% of eligible public library jurisdictions in California are now either connected or in the process of connecting to CalREN.