FCC Report Details 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season
Monday, August 27, 2018 | Comments

A new FCC report said the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was the most expensive hurricane season in U.S. history, almost doubling the cost of the 2005 hurricane season that included Katrina. According to initial estimates, the combined storms caused more than $200 billion in damages in the United States and its territories.

The report found that the adverse effect of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season on communications increased in magnitude as the season went on. While the damage caused by the August 2017 landing of Hurricane Harvey in the Gulf Coast region, especially Houston, was quickly remedied — within a week, 98 percent of cell towers were back to operational — recovery times for communications became more challenging as the intensity of destruction increased.

The early September 2017 arrival of Hurricane Irma, first in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico, and then in parts of Florida, followed in short order by Hurricane Maria, again in Puerto Rico and the USVI just two weeks after Irma, largely destroyed the communications infrastructures of both territories. Finally, the October 2017 arrival of Hurricane Nate caused damage primarily through flooding in the north Gulf Coast region — Mississippi to Florida.

Emergency call centers on the American mainland seem to have survived each storm relatively well; the FCC did not receive reports of widespread 9-1-1 call center outages in those areas affected by the storms. In contrast, the 911 call centers serving Puerto Rico and the USVI were impacted, and were either completely out of service for a period of time or could not receive the types of information expected. Between them, Puerto Rico and the USVI have four 9-1-1 call centers — two each — to serve 3.4 million people; for some time, none of those call centers were fully functional.

The report said the FCC responded to these hurricanes, sending personnel with the appropriate expertise to assist in response and recovery. For each storm, the commission stood up an internal incident management team with representatives from all corners of the agency, participated in the overall federal government response through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and activated the Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) in affected counties.

The FCC also stood up a Hurricane Recovery Task Force, charged with coordinating a comprehensive approach to support the rebuilding of communications infrastructure and restoration of communications services, particularly for Puerto Rico and the USVI.

The report includes actions the commission took; lessons learned and observations to assist the commission, service providers, local and regional emergency response authorities, and other stakeholders when confronting hurricanes; and next steps that the FCC will take to improve its disaster response and recovery efforts.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel criticized the report as too little, too late.

“But let’s not kid ourselves — releasing this report 85 days into the current hurricane season and as an historic storm gets closer to Hawaii’s shores, is simply too little, too late,” Rosenworcel said. “After Hurricane Katrina, this agency established an independent panel that brought to bear a broad background of public-safety and industry experiences, including first-hand knowledge of the devastation wrought. We didn’t do that here.”

She said the agency lumped together four of the most destructive storms in recent history into one 38-page report. “Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate all have had their names retired because of their high damage and loss of life,” Rosenworcel said. “In short, this slim and long-overdue review fails to capture the gravity of these storms.”

The full report is here.

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