The FCC will convene a series of field hearings in the coming months to examine challenges to communications networks posed by Superstorm Sandy. The hearing will address backup power, carrier readiness and resource-sharing protocols.
The hearings, which will inform the FCC’s recommendations and action to improve network resiliency, were announced less than a week after Sen. Chuck Schumer (D- NY) called on the commission to develop a plan to ensure that cell towers can endure long-term power outages, related to natural disasters or terrorist attacks, because of the high number of citizens that rely on wireless as their primary communications device.
“Unimpeded cell phone service is a necessity for emergency workers and a lifeline for residents left without power,” said Schumer. “After Sandy hit, far too many impacted residents struggled to get service because far too many cell towers were rendered inoperable. In an age where many people only have cell phones, the bottom line is we must fix that problem ASAP. The FCC has the capability to develop a nation-wide plan to ensure that cellular service, a lifeline to residents without power and first responders, is not completely severed in the wake of a storm.”
Beginning in early 2013, hearings will take place throughout the country in locations that have experienced major natural disasters, starting in New York. They will include businesses, public safety officials, engineering and academic experts, and consumers. The focus of the field hearings will be on challenges faced before, during and after Superstorm Sandy as well as other natural disasters.
“This unprecedented storm has revealed new challenges that will require a national dialogue around ideas and actions to ensure the resilience of communications networks,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said. “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 field hearings will look into the extent that service providers took advantage of the advance notice to stage communications assets such as portable cell sites and backup generators to reduce the effects of the storm and to the extent that they notified consumers of their communications options in advance of the storm.
The FCC also plans to explore how service providers can work together by sharing resources, such as cell sites, Wi-Fi networks and transmission facilities, and how this cooperation can be facilitated.
Similar to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the FCC will delve into the issue of how backup power can be improved to keep cell sites on the air.
The FCC noted that, in addition to back-up power, cell site backhauled failed, resulting in disruptions to wireless communications. The commission will ask panelists to compare the resiliency of different backhaul technologies and the feasibility of backhaul redundancy.
One of the question the FCC plans to ask is. “How can transport, interconnection, and switching be made more reliable in disasters and less vulnerable to floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards and other damage? What other interdependencies are there that should be reduced and how?”