FCC Offers Lessons Learned from 2017 Hurricane Season
Friday, September 28, 2018 | Comments

An FCC official offered several lessons learned during the 2017 hurricane season for local agencies during a webinar.

The webinar was hosted by the commission’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs and Public Safety and Homeland Security bureaus and focused on how state and local governments and communications providers can prepare for and recover from natural disasters.

Chris Anderson, chief of the FCC’s Operations and Emergency Management division, said that local governments can make the preparation and recovery easier by developing strong relationships with communications carriers in the area.

In recovering or getting through disasters, carriers generally need four things from local agencies to speed communications recovery in the area, Anderson.

First, liquid fuel for generators is critical in situations where disasters in the area knock out power. Lending fuel to carriers that may be running low and helping them get it to sites can help get communications operational again more quickly, Anderson said.

Similarly, access to disaster areas for repair crews from communications carriers is critical. Access for repair crews to disaster areas has gotten better over the years, but it’s important to limit access to dangerous areas during and after disasters. However, it’s critical to allow communications carriers in so that they can get communications back up and running, he said.

Third, security of sites during and after disasters is important. The time right after disasters is a prime opportunity for bad actors to loot communications sites for valuable equipment, and local public-safety agencies can help communications providers by keeping an eye sites as their duties permit, Anderson said.

Finally, careful debris removal is important. “It seems like such a basic thing, but time and time again, we’ve seen times where communications are good, but then they go in to take care of debris, go too deep, cut some fiber and knock communications out,” Anderson said.

Anderson also highlighted the Wireless Resiliency Framework, an agreement under which carriers can voluntarily provide support to local governments during disasters.

Under the framework, carriers can help in disaster preparedness and recovery in several ways, including:
• Providing roaming during disasters so that people can communicate even if their communications provider’s network is down
• Providing mutual aid during and after disasters. For example, if a provider’s crews are climbing a tower to repair a component on their network, they could also repair a public-safety component on that same tower, Anderson said.
• Working with local public safety officials to develop best practices and establish a provider/public-safety answering point (PSAP) database.

Anderson said the FCC is looking at several initiatives to help in future disaster preparation and recovery. These projects include:
• Improving the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) by collecting and sharing more granular and actionable information on how a particular disaster is impacting communications in the area;
• Improving and adding to the carrier cooperation framework;
• Communicating with non-English speaking communities better during disasters; and
• Increasing engagement with emergency management partners to ensure everything runs more smoothly during disasters

The FCC is also looking at how it can improve and strengthen its two alerting systems — the emergency alert system (EAS) and wireless emergency alerts (WEA), Anderson said.

Specifically, the FCC is working on several improvements to WEA alerts, which go out over mobile phones. For one, the commission wants the system to have the ability to transmit alerts in different languages, which would help the FCC more effectively reach those non-English speaking communities. The FCC is also looking at expanding the allowed message size for WEA and allowing the inclusion of hyperlinks in messages to better communicate with those in the path of disasters, Anderson said.

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