Lessons Learned: Hurricane Season 2008 Summit Summary
The FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) hosted a Summit on the Hurricane Season 2008: Lessons Learned on Thursday, December 11, 2008.
The Summit focused on communications and coordination between state, local and federal governments, health care and the communications industry in preparation for and response to the 2008 storms. Discussions highlighted ways that communications may be expanded and enhanced in preparing for future storms or other disasters.
Overview of FCC's Role in 2008 Hurricane Response
Staff from PSHSB made presentations outlining the FCC's response during the 2008 hurricane season.
Shawn Lapinski, Associate Division Chief, Public Communications Outreach and Operations Division, PSHSB, provided an overview of PSHSB's Incident Management Team structure during the response.
Jeffery Goldthorp, Division Chief, Communications System Analysis Division, PSHSB, discussed the FCC's Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), a voluntary, web-based system that communications companies, including wireless, wireline, broadcast, and cable providers, can use to report communications infrastructure status and situational awareness information during times of crisis. The 2008 hurricane season was the first time DIRS was used, and resulted in daily reports that reflected the operational status of many communications service providers in the affected areas.
Joseph Casey, Division Chief, Public Communications Outreach and Operations Division, PSHSB, discussed one of the FCC's initiatives, Project Roll Call. Project Roll Call is a mobile system equipped with spectrum analyzers designed to conduct sweeps of the spectrum before and after an event. Project Roll Call's launch was successful and will be expanded in the future into a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Allan Manuel, Associate Division Chief, Public Communications and Operations Division, PSHSB, summarized the FCC's liaison activities during the storm, which included outreach to licensees and checks on their operational status. This assistance included requests for fuel and generator support, personnel access and dissemination of critical information.
Panel One: Response
This panel consisted of officials from state, local and federal response agencies and industry representatives. Discussions focused on government, healthcare and industry interaction following the 2008 storms.
Panelists described the response to this hurricane season as satisfactory and communications systems incurred minimal damage. They also agreed there are lessons to be learned from this hurricane season, including:
- There is a need for accurate information. Ms. Ann Arnold, President of the Texas Association of Broadcasters, stressed the importance of providing broadcasters with access to accurate and timely information because the public depends on radio and television broadcasters for emergency information.
- There is a need for interoperable channels for responding agencies. Mr. Mike Simpson, Interoperable Coordinator for the State of Texas, noted that first responders across Texas do not share communications channels, and the state had to prepare in advance for coordinating communications among responders on different channels. Mr. Simpson suggested that further interoperable communication education and training are needed for first responders.
- Access and credentialing continue to be an issue in disaster areas. Chief Harold Hurtt of Houston, Texas noted that local jurisdictions are considering different methods for assisting state and federal responders with access to disaster sites. For example, the City of Houston is discussing ways to provide escorts to state and federal responders in future disasters.
- Supplying and securing back-up electricity is important to continued communications and other vital operations. Mr. David Featherston, Infrastructure & Reliability Division Director and Homeland Security Coordinator, Public Utility Commission of Texas, reported generator supplies were an issue during Hurricane Ike. Mr. Featherston said the theft of generators after the storm was a problem in the disaster areas. Chief Hurtt suggested supplying and securing generators to public safety entities before storms to ease the difficulties with supplying generators post-storm.
Panel Two: Preparation
This panel focused on how the lessons learned from previous hurricane seasons will develop and enhance preparation for future disasters. The panel also described the response to this hurricane season as satisfactory, but offered several suggestions to better prepare for the future.
- Improved industry representation in State Emergency Operations Centers. As Jim Bugel, Vice-President for Public Safety and Homeland Security Policy at AT&T, stressed, coordination among the public and private sectors during disasters is very important. The current level of industry representation should be expanded and enhanced.
- Access and credentialing for the private sector is essential during emergencies. Mr. Bugel noted the commercial sector has the resources to assist in restoring services; however, if access is not available and assets are not secured, industry has a difficulties providing assistance.
- Make plans to use alternative media devices. Mr. Paul Mallett, Executive Director of the Texas Commission on State Emergency Communications, talked about his agency's use of text messaging during Hurricane Ike. Use of broad range media devices may assist with disseminating critical information to first responders and the public during emergencies.
- Enroll in Priority Services. The Federal government has three Priority Services to support emergency response activities: Telecommunications Service Priority (TSP), Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS), and Wireless Priority Service (WPS). These services can be an important aspect of any emergency communications strategy, especially for those who rely on communications to respond to events and incidents on a daily basis. Ms. Sherry Decker, 9-1-1 Public Education and Training Coordinator of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, stressed the importance of educating Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) coordinators on the benefits of Priority Services and encouraged them to enroll in these programs.
- Create back-up Emergency Alert plans. Mr. C. Patrick Roberts, President of the Florida Association of Broadcasters, recommended that local emergency planners create back-up emergency alert plans for contacting non-English speaking citizens and persons with disabilities in an affected area during an emergency. For example, before Hurricane Ike, Mr. Roberts helped local broadcasters identify alternate stations which could send emergency alerts in Spanish in case Spanish-speaking stations were damaged.