While many Americans are still recovering from the devastating series of hurricanes in recent years, it is once again time to prepare for Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30.  I’m going to focus specifically on communications preparedness, but I hope you will also review the more extensive disaster planning information on Ready.gov

How You Can Prepare

If you live in an area at risk for hurricanes, there are actions you can take now to help maintain communications if disaster strikes. For example, now is the time to assess whether you need an extra battery or car charger for your wireless phone.  Or now may be the time to dig out your portable radio or television from storage and make sure you have fresh batteries for it. 

If you have landline telephone service, now is the time to consider what equipment you may need during an electric power outage. Telephone service offered over broadband connections, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), will not operate during a power outage without a battery or other backup power source.  If you don’t have backup power equipment, ask your service provider where you can purchase it.  Traditional telephone service, on the other hand, is typically powered over copper telephone lines and may work during electric power outages—but you’ll likely need a “corded” phone to use it.  (Remember, cordless phones rely on electricity.)  If you’re not sure what type of telephone service you have at home, ask your provider.  Don’t wait until a storm is fast approaching!

FCC Actions and Preparations by Communications Providers

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau works to promote reliable communications networks and prompt service restoration after disasters.  We also work year-round to improve 911 access and emergency alerting for the public.  In advance of hurricane season, we are meeting with communications providers from all sectors to learn about their preparations and how we may be of assistance, as well as conducting exercises with our government partners.

We also continue to examine the impact of past storms on communications networks, including communications providers’ preparation for and response to those storms, in order to identify improvements to be made.  Most notably, we are conducting a comprehensive re-examination of the Wireless Resiliency Cooperative Framework, a voluntary industry commitment to promote resilient wireless communications and situational awareness during disasters, to make sure that wireless providers are doing all they can to meet their communities’ needs.

We also continue to encourage industry participation in our voluntary Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), which enables communications providers to report on their operational status and request assistance during disasters.  We analyze and compile outage data into daily reports for our government partners, which helps them better prioritize and assist restoration and recovery efforts. We also publish reports online after disasters to inform the public about the recovery of communications services. 

There are additional ways the FCC assists during disasters—for example, by issuing emergency licenses and waivers to help communications providers maintain and restore service. We work closely with FEMA, deploying personnel to fulfill their mission assignments. And as always, our Operations Center is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year for emergency requests. 

State and Local Emergency Managers

Last, as state and local emergency managers know, the Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts are vital tools when disasters strike.  As hurricane season approaches, we recommend you review emergency alerting best practices and your own alerting plans, as well as familiarize yourself with current alerting capabilities, in order to make the most effective use of these tools when minutes count.  We also encourage the use of multilingual alerting to reach non-English-speaking communities—in fact, we’ll be hosting a workshop on June 28 to help inform alert originators how to do this.

We can’t control what storms will come this hurricane season, but we can all do our best to prepare.