June 7, 2013 - 9:54 am
By David Turetsky | Chief, Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau

Hurricane season officially began on June 1 and will last through November 30. While recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy are still underway, and we grapple with devastating tornadoes too, we must also prepare for the possibility of more hurricanes. And unfortunately, NOAA is forecasting an “active or extremely active” season this year.

A principal focus of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, which also draws on expertise from across the FCC, is to promote the reliability and resiliency of the nation’s communications infrastructure in times of disaster.

Communications services are vital to keeping us safe, informed and connected to our loved ones.   Broadcasters play a critical role in providing vital and timely information, and commercial phone service and broadband enable us to connect with 911 and our families. Our Nation’s First Responders rely on their own communications infrastructure to keep communities safe, but sometimes use the commercial infrastructure too.

That’s why I want to discuss preparation, by communications service providers and by the public.

We are working closely with all communications sectors to prepare for this hurricane season.  That includes, among other things, meeting to learn about their preparations and discuss ways we can help.  The FCC assists in a variety of ways during emergencies, for example, issuing emergency licenses or waivers, and interceding if carriers need help to get their most serious needs addressed so that they can maintain service or restore communications faster.  We also encourage participation in our voluntary Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), which enables communications providers in areas affected by disasters to report on their operational status, which the FCC uses to provide our governmental partners greater situational awareness of service outages and other conditions, to permit those on the ground to better prioritize and assist with rescue and recovery efforts. 

Last hurricane season, we also expanded our outreach efforts to help make sure that broadcasting outages during emergencies don’t deprive non-English speaking populations of critical sources of public safety information.  For example, when Hurricane Isaac struck, we worked closely with the only remaining Spanish-language station group that remained on the air, and with our colleagues from FEMA, to get the fuel needed for the group’s generators so that there would be no interruption in the availability of emergency information to the Spanish speaking community.

Consumers need to prepare for communications outages as well. In addition to brushing up on how to communicate during an emergency, now is a good time to ensure that you have necessary communications-related supplies at home. For example, because broadcast news reports are important, you might consider getting a battery- or hand-crank-operated radio so that you can continue monitoring the news if the power goes out. So that you can reach 911 or family members if necessary, you may want to have an extra battery and car charger for your mobile phone. If you rely at home on newer forms of landline telephone service that require electric power to operate, you may want to check that you have an operational back-up battery or ask your communications provider how you can possibly get one. And even if you have “traditional” phone service, which may continue to operate when the electric power is out, make sure that you have a corded phone available, not just a cordless phone that may depend on the availability of electric power.

As the saying goes, let’s hope for the best but prepare for the worst. I hope that this hurricane season is uneventful, but let’s try to be ready for whatever occurs.