FCC CHAIRMAN JULIUS GENACHOWSKI
PREPARED REMARKS AT
EARTHQUAKE COMMUNICATIONS PREPAREDNESS FORUM
MAY 3, 2011Good morning. It's a pleasure to be with you all.
The recent devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan are reminders of how heavily we depend
on reliable and resilient communications networks, especially during major emergencies.
The catastrophic Haitian earthquake in January 2010 was a similar reminder of the need for
redundant and reliable communications networks.
And although not an earthquake, the recent disastrous tornadoes in Alabama and elsewhere in the
South underscore the importance of reliable communications networks and the value of early
Since last week, the FCC has been actively monitoring the situation in the South, including
staying in touch with service providers to maintain situational awareness and offer assistance
Thus far, carriers and broadcasters have been handling the damage to the communications
infrastructure admirably, and we have not received express requests for assistance or special
temporary authority. For example, most outages to cellular networks have been isolated and have
not resulted in more widespread outages.
It is an unfortunate irony that disasters like earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes often provide
the best opportunity to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of communications
The Commission organized this forum in large measure so that we could learn from the
experiences with earthquakes in Japan and Haiti.
The Japanese used broadband to mitigate the impact of the earthquake and tsunami, and their
efforts offer examples for us.
For example, the Japan Meteorological Agency's earthquake early warning system relied on
broadband to automatically issue alerts via cell phones and TV after the first, less harmful
earthquake shock wave, providing a short window for people to prepare for the more powerful
shock wave that followed.
The broadband-based warning system also caused many energy plants, industrial facilities, and
transportation services to shut down automatically, averting problems at these locations.
High-speed trains automatically came to safe stops in response to earthquake alerts transmitted
along the rail system.
The United States doesn't currently have a comparable earthquake warning system. It is
something we should consider, especially for our regions that are most prone to earthquakes.
The events in Japan also demonstrate the importance of reliable and resilient Internet-based
communications, especially mobile services.
Residents of Japan with mobile phones, for example, were able to rely on their battery-powered
devices to access web-based disaster message boards, Twitter, and social networking sites to
report on their status and check for updates regarding family and friends.
The continued ability to use wireless devices to access the Internet was in large part due to the
redundancy of Japan's wireless mesh network, which can automatically reroute signals over
alternate paths if one route is destroyed. The reliability of mesh networking is another lesson we
can draw from Japan.
Likewise, in Haiti, communications after the earthquake depended on surviving cellular
networks, most of which had backup power.
The Haitian experience, like the Katrina experience in the United States, underscored the close
relationship between the power and communications industries and the need for alternative
backup power to support communications facilities.
The Japanese tragedy showed the role that broadcasting plays in emergencies. Radio in particular
played a significant role in Japan, as residents who lost power could turn on the radio in their
cars and receive essential information.
The Japanese tragedy also showed the importance of having redundant transmission facilities.
Three of seven trans-Pacific undersea cables had sections of their systems badly damaged in the
earthquake. These undersea cable systems are expected to be restored soon, but because of both
the redundancy and the resiliency of the undersea cable networks, international communications
to Japan continued even in the days immediately following the earthquake.
Such redundancy is generally in place for undersea cable systems that serve the United States.
The Commission keeps a close eye on the resiliency of these important communications
networks, and Japan shows us why it is important that we be vigilant.
The FCC in recent years has made important strides in strengthening the reliability and resiliency
of our communications systems -- in large measure because of the experiences of major disasters
such as the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the massive destruction and loss of life caused by
Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.
Just last month we launched a Notice of Inquiry on the Reliability and Continuity of
Communications Networks to examine the most effective ways to ensure that our critical
communications infrastructure is prepared when disaster strikes.
The rapid migration of our Nation's communications infrastructure from older legacy
technologies to newer Internet Protocol-based broadband technologies requires us to further
ensure that these modern networks can respond to major outages caused by natural disasters.
We need a better understanding of how to minimize outages across all communications platforms
and how we can strengthen the reliability of emergency communications, while balancing the
limited resources of communications carries.
Today's forum addresses some of these key issues.
We have a very strong slate of participants in this forum, and I want to take this opportunity to
thank all of our speakers and panelists for taking time out of their busy schedules to be here
In particular, I would like to recognize Administrator Craig Fugate from FEMA for his strong
leadership of the nation's emergency response agency and for his willingness to contribute to this
I would also like to recognize the President's Special Assistant for Homeland Security, Richard
Reed. We very much appreciate his participation, particularly in light of his key role in advising
the President following major disasters such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan and the recent
devastating tornadoes in Alabama and other parts of the South.
And I would like to recognize Counselor Fujino from the Embassy of Japan and extend our
sincere concern and sympathy to the Japanese people during this difficult time.
As with Hurricane Katrina in the United States, the Great East Japan Earthquake offers the
opportunity to enhance our understanding of disasters and the crucial role served by emergency
communications to improve disaster preparedness and readiness.
And so I challenge each of you to use this forum this morning to help us determine how we can
best prepare our country.