GAO: FCC Needs a More Clarified Role in Disaster Response
Tuesday, June 01, 2021 | Comments

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that while the FCC took actions to support telecommunications restoration following Hurricane Maria, future disaster recovery efforts could be improved by identifying a clearer role for the agency in disaster response.

During Hurricane Maria, the FCC collected network outage information, provided staff assistance to Puerto Rico, created the Hurricane Recovery Task Force to support communications restoration in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), and made funds for network restoration available.

“However, GAO found that FCC's disaster response role was unclear in guidance published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), even though the guidance states that all levels of government should understand their respective roles,” GAO’s report said. “In particular, DHS did not define specific actions for FCC in the emergency support function guidance related to restoring communications infrastructure; this lack of clarity could have contributed to confusion and delays in the hurricane's aftermath.”

GAO said that by updating its emergency support guidance with a more clearly defined role for the FCC, it could help reduce confusion and better leverage the FCC’s knowledge of new or evolving technologies that could lead to quicker network restoration after a disaster.

Additionally, in regards to the FCC’s Hurricane Recovery Task Force, specifically related to Hurricane Maria, the GAO found that the FCC obtained limited public input and that the task force’s efforts lacked transparency because FCC had not publicly communicated its actions or findings.

“Lacking transparent communications on the task force's actions and findings, the public does not have a complete and accurate account of FCC's response efforts for Hurricane Maria; such an account could aid future disaster preparation,” the report said. “By publicly reporting the task force's efforts, FCC could help ensure territorial government officials and others understand what FCC has accomplished and what additional actions are needed to build telecommunications networks that are more resilient.”

GAO made two recommendations: that DHS should update its emergency support function guidance to clearly define FCC’s disaster response role and that the FCC should provide greater transparency around its Hurricane Recovery Task Force. Both the FCC and DHS concurred with those recommendations.

Find the full report here.

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