Released December 7, 2017
PUBLIC SAFETY AND HOMELAND SECURITY BUREAU SEEKS COMMENT ON RESPONSE EFFORTS UNDERTAKEN DURING 2017 HURRICANE SEASON
PS Docket No. 17-344
Comments Due: January 22, 2018
Reply Comments Due: February 21, 2018
The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB or Bureau) of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) seeks comment on the resiliency of the communications infrastructure, the effectiveness of emergency communications, and government and industry responses to the 2017 hurricane season. Of particular note, the 2017 season included four hurricanes which made landfall in the United States and its territories. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate led to Presidential emergency or major disaster declarations for seven states and two territories. These storms devastated communities and the communications networks that service them. As emphasized by Chairman Pai, “Access to reliable communications services during times of emergency is critical to enabling Americans in danger to request help and our heroic first responders to do their jobs.” The purpose of this Public Notice is to seek information to better understand how well such access was provided during these hurricanes in order to assess what lessons may be learned for the future.
The FCC was created to, inter alia, ensure the availability of a “Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities . . . for the purpose of the national defense. . [and] for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property.” The FCC must also, “for the purpose of obtaining maximum effectiveness from the use of radio and wire communications in connection with safety of life and property,” study the “best methods of obtaining the cooperation and coordination of these [radio and wire] systems.” Under the Homeland Security Act, the FCC shares responsibilities with other federal and state authorities for the “coordination of effective multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency emergency communications networks for use during natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other manmade disasters.” In response to emergencies, disasters and other significant events, the FCC engages in a wide range of efforts under its various sources of authority to address the communications needs in the affected areas, such as coordinating on frequency assignment and allocation with federal partners, participating in whole-of-government response coordination efforts, and issuing public notices, orders, and waivers. The Commission also provides situational awareness of the communications infrastructure through radiofrequency monitoring and analysis and reporting from the data filed voluntarily by communications service providers in the Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS).
During the 2017 hurricane season, the FCC provided a variety of public safety functions. The FCC’s 24/7 Operations Center served as an answering point for receiving requests for assistance and information (RFAs and RFIs) from various stakeholders, including but not limited to, consumers, industry, and federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government (SLTT) entities. During the 2017 hurricane season, the FCC responded to RFIs and RFAs on issues, such as the need for access to fuel, generators, and power from the electrical grid. The FCC activated DIRS for reporting communications status and outages. Using DIRS information, the FCC issued over 85 communications status reports detailing impacts to the communications infrastructure. These reports were provided to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government agencies to aid recovery efforts. The Commission also released public versions of these reports. The FCC granted over 200 requests for special temporary authority (STAs) and issued over 30 public notices and orders, which permitted the flexible use of spectrum or other non-standard actions to support incident response. The FCC also provided access to Universal Service Fund support to service providers responsible for rebuilding the communications infrastructure. The Commission issued waivers and orders of rules related to the Lifeline, E-rate, Rural Health Care Programs and the contributions related to the USF programs. The FCC also allowed for the flexible use of numbering resources. The FCC conducted numerous radiofrequency scans to verify the status of AM, FM, and TV broadcasters to provide emergency alerting and other important information to the public. Finally, the Commission deployed personnel to the affected regions to support the FEMA and other federal and SLTT responders. The FCC continues to work actively with government and industry partners on the response efforts underway. Through the FCC’s Hurricane Recovery Task Force, the Commission will continue to work on the recovery efforts that will be ongoing for months to come.
Request for Comment
PSHSB seeks comment on the questions below. The Bureau will identify, from the comments received, areas for further exploration in workshop(s) to be held in the coming months on improving future response efforts. While this Public Notice is primarily focused on the effectiveness of preparation and response activities for the 2017 hurricane season, PSHSB will coordinate with the Hurricane Recovery Task Force on issues or opportunities which should be addressed in long-term Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, including potential recoveryfocused workshop(s). The areas below focus on impacts to the communications infrastructure; FCC response efforts; and experiences of communications service users as well as communications services providers. In addition to providing comment on the specific questions below, commenters are encouraged to provide any additional information relevant to the 2017 hurricane season’s impact on communications, generally, or specific to any hurricane event. Commenters are also encouraged to include examples of effective and/or ineffective practices/methods.