Katrina: FCC Seeks Comments

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday called for comments from the public on the recommendations of a panel of experts formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to propose steps to avoid communications problems in future disasters. The public will have until 7 August 2006 to file comments in the matter. The FCC urged parties filing comments to address the applicability of the panel's recommendations to all types of disasters.

The Independent Panel Reviewing the Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Communications Networks (or Independent Panel) submitted its Report to the Commission on 12 June 2006 on the telecommunications and media infrastructure in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. One week later, the FCC issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for public discussion by private citizens and government officials and lawmakers.

Wednesday's public notice stated that the Independent Panel's recommendations were categorized into four areas:

  1. Pre-positioning the communications industry and the government for disasters in order to achieve greater network reliability and resiliency;

  2. Improving recovery coordination to address existing shortcomings and to maximize the use of existing resources;

  3. Improving the operability or interoperability of public safety and 911 communications in times of crisis;

  4. Improving communication of emergency information to the public.

The FCC said its goal in the proceedings is "to take the lessons learned from this disaster [Hurricane Katrina] and build upon them to promote more effective, efficient response and recovery efforts, as well as a heightened readiness and preparedness in the future." It added that it seeks input on "whether we should rely on voluntary consensus recommendations, as advocated by the Independent Panel, or whether we should rely on other measures for enhancing readiness and promoting more effective response efforts."

It then went on to emphasize that it would like all parties to bear in mind in their responses that communications failures arising from catastrophic emergencies can come from all manner of disasters and affect all regions of the country at any time:

'Specifically, parties should address not only the applicability of the Independent Panel's recommendations to areas of the country subject to hurricanes, but to areas prone to other types of disasters. Would other types of disasters warrant modifications or other changes to the Independent Panel's recommendations? For example, would the characteristics of earthquakes, floods, forest fires, or other natural disasters require modifications to the Independent Panel's recommendations? In addition, we request that parties filing comments discuss the impact of the country's diverse topography on the Independent Panel's recommendations. Would a region's topography warrant modifications or other changes to the Independent Panel's recommendations? If additional steps are warranted to account for unique topography, what actions can the Commission take to improve network resiliency and reliability, recovery coordination, first responder communications, and emergency communications to the public in those areas? Finally, different regions may have different communications capabilities. For example, a metropolitan urban area may have greater and diverse communications capabilities than a rural, mountainous region. Would the availability of different communications capabilities in a region affect the Independent Panel's recommendations? If so, what actions should be taken in this regard?'

These are very important and serious questions. We strongly urge IEEE members in the communications industry and those in all areas of engineering affected by the communications infrastructure of the United States to review the recommendations of the Independent Panel and to file comments to the FCC in a timely manner. Further information on the commentary process may be obtained from the FCC's Enforcement Bureau Contact, Lisa M. Fowlkes, at 202-418-7452 (or lisa.fowlkes@fcc.gov).

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