On April 19, the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act (the SANDy Act), passed the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
According to a press release, Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), the senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the legislation earlier this year to help ensure the resiliency of the nation’s communications networks during emergencies.
During and after superstorm Sandy there was a major breakdown of telecommunications networks, including cellular and home telephones, television, and internet services. This created a dangerous barrier to emergency response and recovery for residents and towns, according to the press release.
“I am proud that the SANDy Act continues to move forward and one step closer to helping first responders, businesses and private citizens communicate during disasters,” Pallone said. “In New Jersey, we learned firsthand during Sandy the importance of telecommunications during an emergency. Making a call for help is difficult when the power is out, and when the cell towers are also down it can be nearly impossible.”
When superstorm Sandy ripped through New Jersey three years ago, nearly one in four cell towers were knocked out. In some of the hardest hit areas of the state, as many as half of the towers went down – many of them stayed down for weeks, according to the press release.
“The SANDy Act would recognize the critical role that all communications providers — broadcasters, cable and telecommunications — serve in emergencies, but most notably, the bill would ensure consumers have access to wireless service even if their particular wireless network goes down,” Pallone said. “We need to be better prepared because no one should be left with silence on the other end of the call when they dial 911.”
Among other things, this legislation would:
• Make sure that during an emergency, consumer cell phones work on other carriers’ networks if their own network goes down, giving priority to calls to 911 services and emergency alerts;
• Increase coordination between wireless carriers, utilities and public safety officials;
• Begin a process to provide 911 services over wi-fi hotspots during emergencies;
• Make sure all communication providers — radio, TV and phone — can fix outages faster, even across state lines;
• Launch an expansive study of the future of network resiliency.