Network Resiliency for Disasters Takes Center Stage at House Hearing
Friday, February 28, 2020 | Comments

The House communications and technology subcommittee held a hearing on numerous public-safety-related bills Feb. 27, but the bulk of the testimony and questions revolved around network resiliency and the importance of wireless carriers working more closely with utilities and public safety. Two lawmakers mentioned the pending T-band auction and legislation.

At the request of the FCC, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and CTIA are establishing a Cross-Sector Resiliency Forum for electric company and wireless disaster response and restoration. During the next several months, representatives from EEI and CTIA’s member companies expect to communicate about improving information sharing and preparedness and discussing joint exercises to prepare for disasters.

The utility industry and wireless industry have different views on resiliency so they need to communicate and work together, said Allen Bell, distribution support manager for Georgia Power, during questions following his testimony at the hearing.

Matthew Gerst, CTIA vice president, regulatory affairs, resisted mandating backup capabilities at all cell sites, saying backup power at a tower is a good tool, but carriers have hundreds of thousands of tower sites and more coming with 5G. Carriers have to address tower space, noise, local regulations, type of fuel, among other considerations. He said collaboration with utilities is the best approach.

“A reasonable, flexible approach would be helpful here,” he said.

Anthony Gossner, fire chief for the city of Santa Rosa, California, said based on his experience following the 2017 Northern California wildfires, mandating requirements is important. Those requirements should include installation of more fail-safe battery backups at cell towers; increasing the number of sites with backup generators and sufficient fuel to operate for a minimum of 72 hours; requirements for reciprocity between cell providers so that, in the event of cell sites going offline during a disaster, sharing cellular networks could possibly maintain at least a minimal level of emergency messaging support; retrofitting existing cell tower sites; and enhanced vegetation management and defensible space standards near cell towers.

Gossner outlined the problems his agency faced in alerting people to the quickly spreading 2017 fires because cell sites were down and notification systems weren’t working properly. In addition, if cell sites are down, citizens in distress can’t get through to 9-1-1 dispatchers.

“It’s important to develop a system that is resilient enough that we can communicate with the public about the pending dangers and notify folks that there is impending dangers,” said Gossner. “We can’t build a system that stays up 100% all the time but we need to build some resiliency and capacity long enough to tell folks to get out of the way and so we can do those notifications.”

The numerous communications problems following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico were highlighted by Joseph Torres, senior director of strategy and engagement, Free Press and Free Press Action. He said Congress should make the current voluntary wireless resiliency framework among carriers mandatary and adopt reporting to track progress. He said the FCC’s response to the Puerto Rican communications crisis was “lackluster.”

“There needs to be oversight … so first responders are able to respond to disasters,” Torres said in response to questions from lawmakers. “We need reporting to ensure the money is being spent and industry is doing what they say they will.”

Daniel Henry, regulatory counsel and director of government affairs for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), discussed the importance of funding for next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) and for states to not divert 9-1-1 fees for other purposes.

Both Reps. Greg Walden and Eliot Engel noted the importance of preserving the UHF T-band spectrum for public safety.

The hearing covered the following draft legislation:

• Don't Break Up the T-Band Act of 2019 (H.R. 451)

• Preserving Home and Office Numbers in Emergencies Act of 2019 (H.R. 1289)

• Wireless Infrastructure Resiliency during Emergencies and Disasters Act (WIRED Act) (H.R. 3836)

• National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2019 (H.R. 4194)

• Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement Act of 2019 (READI Act) (H.R. 4856)

• A bill to direct the FCC to issue reports after activation of the Disaster Information Reporting System and to make improvement to network outage reporting (H.R. 5918)

Reinforcing and Evaluating Service Integrity, Local Infrastructure, and Emergency Notification for Today's Networks Act (RESILIENT Networks Act) (H.R. 5926)

• Fee Integrity and Responsibilities and To Regain Essential Spectrum for Public-safety Operators Needed to Deploy Equipment Reliably Act of 2020 (FIRST RESPONDER Act of 2020) (H.R. 5928)

“The FIRST RESPONDER Act would repeal the T-Band auction mandate, and includes strong provisions to address the shameful acts by some states of diverting 9-1-1 fees intended for the maintenance and upgrade to NG 9-1-1,” said Rep. Walden. “While some states may not have clear understanding on what is a 9-1-1 expenditure, other state politicians have made a more conscious decision to divert 9-1-1 fees to spend the money on pet projects unrelated to public safety. The FIRST RESPONDER Act addresses both concerns. It gives well-intentioned states clarity on how to prevent 9-1-1 fee diversion in the future, but also takes steps to investigate whether criminal penalties or other tools could end this shameful practice by the worst offenders.”

The full hearing and witness testimony is here.

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Comments
On 3/4/20, Leon van der Linde said:
I wonder how did the MCPTT hold up during the tornados in Tennessee? Did they survive and were mobile sites needed? If mobile sites were needed, how long did it take to deploy them? This could be a good time to know how good the communications will be during a disaster and if FirstNet's MCPTT is going to make the grade.


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