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Our Sleeves Are Rolled Up: We Are Ready to Do Whatever It Takes

by: Jamie Barnett

May 28, 2010

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The 2010 Hurricane Season forecasts predict as many as 15 named Atlantic storms, several of which could reach hurricane-level strength in the Southeast and Gulf Coast.

In my job with the Federal Communications Commission, I am constantly impressed with the leadership, dedication and true heroism of America’s first responders, all of whom make daily sacrifices to serve their communities.  Nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina I still remember hearing the stories following that devastating disaster about how first responders and hospital personnel were stranded in New Orleans without communications and had only limited essential resources with which to survive. Like many others in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, some local public safety officials and first responders were stranded on rooftops, but were still making efforts to assist those in need, to do what they could to help others survive until rescue teams could get to them.  Their efforts were amazing and showed that they were willing to do whatever it took to get the job done—even in the most challenging and trying circumstances.

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Building and maintaining partnerships with federal, state, tribal and local officials, first responders and the communications industry, through a variety of means, is instrumental to ensuring that the Nation has a coordinated and seamless disaster response at all levels of our society.  At the FCC, we routinely foster these partnerships through meetings, speaking engagements, workshops, forums, outreach tours and more traditional means of communications via telephone and email.  This way, when we meet with public safety officials on the ground as part of a comprehensive federal emergency response effort, we have well-established relationships in-play and are greeted by familiar faces who are managing the disaster.  These efforts are in line with our primary mission, which is to ensure the continuous operation and reconstitution of critical communication systems and services.

Based on early forecasts for the 2010 Hurricane Season, with predictions for as many as 15 named Atlantic storms, several of which could reach hurricane-level strength in the Southeast and Gulf Coast regions of the U.S., it will be critical to our collective efforts to prepare communities in the projected impact zones and assist them in responding to any landfalls.  Of course, we hope that no hurricane hits U.S. soil, but we must stand ready to respond and react if, and when, that should occur.

We at the FCC, have rolled up our sleeves and are ready to do whatever it takes to respond to hurricanes and other disasters.  We learned several lessons from Hurricane Ike, when we had staffers working around-the-clock.  Building on those efforts, we are working closely with our federal partners at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), specifically the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Communications System (NCS), as we assist them with communications response and recovery efforts. 
To that end, we have a number of initiatives that will help improve our situational awareness regarding communications in disaster-impacted areas and enable us to work with our federal, state and local partners.  First, there is the Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), a voluntary, web-based system that wireless, wireline, broadcast, and cable providers can use to report communications infrastructure status and situational awareness information to the FCC during times of crisis. 

We have enjoyed excellent participation in the past with DIRS, which has proven extremely helpful to us and our federal partners in coordinating response efforts in restoring essential communications services impacted by the disaster.  We urge all communications providers that have previously registered in DIRS to ensure that their contact information is current and accurate.  We also encourage all communications providers that have not yet submitted their emergency contact information to register in DIRS.  The information provided will be secured by the FCC and protected from public disclosure.

Second, there is a fairly new initiative known as Roll Call.  This program is comprised of receivers and spectrum monitoring equipment, computers and FCC licensing databases that are used to scan primarily for public safety and broadcaster communications.  The results show which radio-based communications systems are operational within a 30-mile radius.  Roll Call thus enables FEMA to quickly assess the situation and work with state and local officials to strategically place back-up communications in a particular area.  In addition, the information is used by the FEMA and the NCS in coordination with the FCC to assist communications service providers in their efforts to quickly restore the communications services that are out.

The FCC also approves Special Temporary Authorizations (STAs) for communications service providers seeking to provide communications to first responders and emergency managers outside of their FCC license as they work to restore their traditional lines of communications.  Communications service providers needing emergency STAs or seeking consultation with FCC Bureaus and Offices about their communications recovery efforts outside of normal FCC business hours (M-F 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. EDT/EST) may contact the FCC’s 24/7 Operations Center at 202-418-1122 or fccopcenter@fcc.gov.  You can find FCC Contact information during regular business hours and more comprehensive details about the process for receiving STAs here.

The FCC is committed to working with all of our government, industry, nongovernmental, and community partners during disaster response efforts; we are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.  We know that the American public is counting on the success of our partnership and will accept nothing less than our collective best.

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