Committee Approves SANDy Act To Improve Communications During Disasters
The Energy and Commerce Committee today approved the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act – or the SANDy Act, which was introduced in November by Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ).
Committee approval came one day after Pallone and CTIA, together with wireless providers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon announced an agreement that wireless providers will share information and advance wireless network resiliency before, during and after disasters and emergencies. With yesterday’s agreement, Pallone offered an amendment at today’s committee markup to remove the wireless provisions in the bill.
Pallone gave the following statement about yesterday’s agreement and the importance of the SANDy Act.
Superstorm Sandy had a devastating impact on my district back in New Jersey. So I introduced the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters – or SANDy – Act to address the lessons we learned in the aftermath of that terrible storm.
The legislation incorporated feedback that I heard from local officials and industry leaders at a forum on Sandy where we took a critical look at the lessons learned and the progress made with public safety telecommunications since the hurricane.
At that same time, I was working with FCC Chairman Wheeler and the wireless industry to make sure we are better prepared. And now I am proud to say that we reached an agreement to ensure that consumers have greater access to communications the next time disaster strikes.
Yesterday, with CTIA, we announced The Wireless Network Resiliency Framework under which the largest wireless providers will voluntarily comply with the wireless provisions set forth in the SANDy Act. The framework makes sure that if one network goes down, its customers can access another network that is still operational. Everyone should be able to call for help as long as any signal is available.
The agreement also takes action on other issues raised by the SANDy Act, such as making sure public safety officials and wireless personnel know how to reach each other at a moment’s notice during an emergency. This agreement will save lives during major emergencies in the future, and I would like to thank the wireless carriers and the FCC for working with me to craft this comprehensive agreement.
In light of that agreement, I’m offering an amendment today to the bill that will remove the wireless provisions from the SANDy Act. And since this framework is voluntary, I look forward to continuous updates from the industry on the progress they are making to meet everything included in this agreement.
This agreement is a major step, but more needs to be done. We must learn all the lessons from disasters like Sandy. For instance, in New Jersey, broadcasters and cable providers saved thousands of lives even before the storm hit. They provided the critical information that let people know how to get out of harm’s way. Public Safety officials have told me that without this information, the death toll would have been much, much worse.
But to keep this information flowing when the power goes out, the networks need backup generators. And these generators need fuel. Unfortunately, broadcasters, cable operators, and telecommunications providers have struggled in emergencies to find this fuel. And oftentimes when they finally find it, they are sent to the back of the line. Worse, once they get the fuel they need, it can be confiscated in favor of other services considered more essential under the law.
But fuel is not the only issue. In the chaos that follows a major disaster, just getting access to secure areas can be trying. During Sandy, communications providers were turned away at bridges because—once again—they were not considered essential. These are the providers that make sure we can call 9-1-1 or can contact loved ones. It took days to get some networks back on line simply because we could not get the right people to the right places.
My bill would fix these problems and more. It would recognize the lifesaving role played by wireline and mobile telephone, Internet, radio and television broadcasting, and cable and satellite services by adding them to the list of essential service providers. Having these networks operational can mean the difference between life and death during an event like Superstorm Sandy.
I would like to thank Chairman Upton and Chairman Walden for considering my bill at today’s markup. And I would like to also thank them both for their essential input on the amendment I’m offering today. This amendment would refocus the SANDy Act on the critical work that still remains to be done.
I urge all my colleagues to support it.