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Is FCC Prepared for Another Big Emergency?

On cusp of 9/11 anniversary, commission releases assessment of its ability to respond to communications threats

A few days prior to the eighth anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks, the Federal Communications Commission released a report to Congress on the agency’s ability to respond to another terrorist attack, a natural disaster or a public health emergency.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in prepared remarks the recent anniversary of Hurricane Katrina revealed that more government preparedness work needs to be done in New Orleans. Add to that the California wild fires and the possibility of an H1N1 (formerly Swine flu) pandemic and it becomes clear the ability of government to act quickly during a disaster is vital, he noted.

We reported recently the commission was preparing a report on emergency preparedness, including what’s working, what’s not and what can be improved. The report “FCC’s Preparedness for a Major Public Emergency” is the result of a 30-day review.

Marked for improvement is public outreach, emergency alerts and internal training. The FCC has created new working groups with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services to improve coordination on national emergency communications planning and response. The Emergency Alert System is part of the FEMA working group focus, looking to include next-generation technologies in the EAS.

The FCC also will send an emergency outreach coordinator to the Gulf Coast region this fall to support state and local emergency managers as the hurricane season begins.

The commission is procuring an IT-based rapid notification system to enable the agency to reach out to the public safety community and the FCC’s own emergency responders during a crisis.

A big project identified by the Obama administration is rapid detection of something that could impact or harm the nation’s communication’s networks. The FCC has formed a cyber security working group charged with assessing needs in this area. Part of this effort is called Project Roll Call in which the FCC is acquiring more spectrum analysis equipment to help staff quickly see which public safety communications systems need assistance during emergencies.