FCC seeks ways to secure communications in storms

November 21, 2012 - 11:33 AM

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday announced a series of hearings nationwide to try to find ways to avoid widespread loss of communications among first-responders, emergency managers and the general public in disasters like Superstorm Sandy.

"This unprecedented storm has revealed new challenges that will require a national dialogue around ideas and actions to ensure the resilience of communications networks," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

"As our thoughts and sympathies remain with those who have suffered loss and damage as a result of Superstorm Sandy, I urge all stakeholders to engage constructively in the period ahead," the chairman said.

The hearings will begin early next year and will include ways to keep cellphone towers operating after storm damage and power losses. One in four consumers in areas hit hard by Sandy lost service because of the storm.

The hearings also will examine how to keep Wi-Fi service operating and discuss backup power sources for cellphone communications. A major focus will involve speeding the recovery of service.

Genachowski said the 911 emergency communications system mostly remained in operation during Sandy, but the hearings will explore when new technologies might make the system more effective in a disaster.

He also said that once communications were restored for consumers, the service didn't return to normal quality. That will be another topic that is explored.

The first hearings will be in the New York City area, Genachowski said.

Genachowski thanked U.S. Sen. Charles, D-N.Y., for pushing to "develop a roadmap for how to better protect critical communications functions during major disasters." On Sunday, Schumer urged the FCC to take on a major rethinking of communications in and after disasters.

"Mobile communication has become an essential part of our lives, and increasing its reliability must be a top priority," Schumer said Wednesday.

Schumer said field hearings will prompt new ideas to avoid the communications losses of Sandy.