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FCC Pledges Support to Hawaii Following Wildfire Devastation

The agency is working to locate operational AM stations that can support public safety communications

The Federal Communications Commission its pledging its support to Hawaii following the Maui wildfires, which destroyed countless homes and killed more than 100 people.

On Friday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel issued the following statement, providing a public update on the agency’s efforts to support local disaster and recovery efforts:

“The agency has staff on the ground in Maui assessing the impact on communications services and infrastructure to help local, state and federal authorities to identify how to best support restoration and emergency response.

“We have been issuing daily public communications status reports that track the restoration progress, with 17 out of 21 cell sites now restored, the Maui 911 call center now functional, and broadcasters continuing to operate and share important community updates and news. Also, over 10,000 cable and wireline subscribers have had service restored, but more work remains.”

Rosenworcel’s statement comes as the chief of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, Herman Andaya, abruptly resigned on Thursday following deep criticism. According to the New York Times, Maui emergency officials did not use a system of 80 outdoor alert sirens to warn residents and tourists, and many people said that they did not receive WEA alerts to their cellphones telling them to evacuate.

The sudden departure comes a day after Andaya defended not using outdoor alert sirens during the wildfires. When asked Wednesday by reporters if he regretted not activating said EAS sirens, Andaya responded, “I do not.”

An aerial photo of a portion of devastated Lāhainā on Maui. (Courtesy of the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources)

In her statement, Rosenworcel listed all the ways the agency is working to support impacted communities — which include deploying FCC staff to Hawaii to determine the impact to public safety and emergency alerting capabilities, enabling wireless providers to deploy temporary microwave stations to the affected area to support wireless service, and monitoring the operational status of communications infrastructure on Maui and coordinating with government partners to support their restoration efforts.

The chairwoman said the FCC is also allowing the County of Maui to use additional frequencies to support public safety communications, as well as performing remote High Frequency Direction Finding (HFDF) scans to determine and share the operational status of AM stations that support public safety communications.

Additionally, filing and regulatory deadlines for licensees and applicants on Hawaii have been extended “so they can focus on the response,” said the FCC.

The FCC is posting updates like this one on a dedicated webpage which includes more information on regulatory deadlines and emergency services and procedures.

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