Sandy-Inspired Bill Seeks to Improve Communications During Emergencies
Many New Jerseyans remember what it was like not having phone, cable and Internet service during Superstorm Sandy. Legislation introduced by Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (NJ-6), three years after the damaging hurricane is aimed at improving communication networks during emergencies.
Pallone, a ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, pointed out that during and after Sandy there was a major breakdown of telecommunications networks, which created a dangerous barrier to emergency response and recovery for residents and towns.
The legislation is tentatively named the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act, or the SANDY Act. The proposed bill would take measures to help ensure consumers can send and receive critical messages during natural or man-made disasters, according to Pallone.
"One of the things is that you make sure that during emergencies that cell phones work on other carriers' networks for example, because I remember that AT&T was down, but Verizon was up," Pallone said, adding that priority would be given to 911 services and emergency alerts. "There's also a way to provide 911 services over Wi-Fi during emergencies."
Other components of the legislation include increased coordination between wireless carriers, utilities, and public safety officials, making sure all communication providers--radio, TV and phone, can fix outages faster, even across state lines, and study the future of network resiliency.
"A lot of it does involve money and infrastructure, but some of the things are simple. It's not that hard to do, as long as there's a willingness to try to accomplish it," Pallone said.
He could not provide an estimated cost.
Pallone said that while memories fade and some will forget what happened during Sandy, he's optimistic the measure will win support.
"I think that we've had enough natural catastrophes and other problems with drought and you know hurricanes over the last few years that there is going to be a positive response in Congress nationally. This isn't just Sandy or something that's limited to the Northeast, so I think we'll have a positive response," said Pallone.
Pallone stressed the importance of studying the future of network resiliency.
"We have ideas what we need to do now, but you know things change rapidly when you're talking about telecommunications, so we have to also anticipate you know what might happen in the future that we've haven't seen so far," Pallone said.
In September, Pallone held a Superstorm Sandy Field Forum with local officials, industry leaders and senior FirstNet representatives to take a critical look at lessons learned and progress made with public safety communications since the hurricane. Recommendations and testimony at the field hearing helped contribute to the legislation.