Enhancing Public Safety, Network Reliability, and Agency Operations

Hurricane season officially arrived this Wednesday. It’s important for people who live in potential hurricane zones to think ahead about what their plan is if a storm threatens. The Commission and our government partners also need to make sure we are doing all we can in advance to help the public the next time disaster strikes. That is why I am proposing that we update the nation’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) codes.  

The EAS is a proven life-saver, sending alerts to people over radio, television, and cable systems to warn about severe thunderstorms, tornados, hurricanes, and other weather events. But it could be better. At a press conference in Miami this Wednesday, the heads of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Hurricane Center came together to send a message to America: beware of storm surges. “What kills people is water,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. “And the most preventable of those deaths is caused by storm surge.” High winds from hurricanes can also be devastating, yet there is currently no specific alert for either high winds or storm surges. We need to fix that.

In response to a request from the National Weather Service, I am circulating rules for consideration at our June meeting that would add three new event codes to the EAS – “Extreme Wind Warning,” “Storm Surge Watch,” and “Storm Surge Warning.” – so that the public can receive more specific and relevant alerts, particularly for hurricane-related weather.  If adopted, the updated rules would require EAS equipment manufacturers to integrate the codes into new equipment and enable EAS participants to update their existing equipment in advance of next year’s Atlantic hurricane season.

Another way the Commission promotes public safety in times of crisis is by collecting data on network outages. Our outage reporting rules have enabled us to detect adverse outage trends and work with industry on solutions, monitor and assist restoration efforts, and coordinate with public safety officials and other affected third parties during crises.

Last year, we identified submarine cables as a gap in our reporting rules. These cables are essential to America’s economic stability and national security, yet licensees currently only report outages on an ad hoc basis. The information we receive is too limited and inconsistent to be of much use. Today, I circulated to my fellow Commissioners new rules that would require submarine cable licensees to report major communications outages to the FCC.

Our June open meeting will feature a third item that seeks to improve Commission coordination with Executive Branch agencies concerning issues of national security, law enforcement, foreign policy, and trade policy raised by certain applications involving foreign ownership. Applicants seeking foreign ownership rulings from the Commission have raised concerns that this Executive Branch review process is too slow and needs greater transparency. The 2014 Staff Process Reform Report identified this coordination as needing reform, and since that time the Commission has been working with the Executive Branch and industry on ways to make improvements.

I am circulating a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks to make the process more predictable and transparent. Building on reform recommendations submitted to the Commission by the Executive Branch in early May, we propose, for example, asking applicants, at the outset, to submit the types of information they will need to provide for Executive Branch review. The Notice also proposes to establish expected time frames for processing, while ensuring we continue to consider Executive Branch concerns as part of our public interest review.  I appreciate especially the interest Commissioner O’Rielly has taken in streamlining this process, and I look forward to working with him, the other Commissioners and with the relevant agencies in the Executive Branch to advance the goal of a faster, more transparent process.   


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