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Huffman, Matsui, Bilirakis, Eshoo, Thompson, Klobuchar, Burr, Introduce Bill To Improve Emergency Response Communications Networks

February 24, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C.Congressman Jared Huffman (CA-02) and Representatives Doris Matsui (CA-06), Gus Bilirakis (FL-12), Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Mike Thompson (CA-05) as well as Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced the Emergency Reporting Act, a bill that will improve the resiliency of communications networks during emergencies. The Emergency Reporting Act was passed by the House unanimously last Congress.

As extreme weather events increase in regularity and severity, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has an obligation to assist state and local governments in preparing for, responding to, and learning from major disasters. However, the agency’s response to major disasters has been inconsistent. With wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters on the rise, it is critical that the FCC responds adequately and swiftly to assess emergency communications. By requiring field hearings, reporting, and policy recommendations, the Emergency Reporting Act will help ensure that all disasters, regardless of their location, receive the necessary time and resources from the FCC.

Additionally, the Emergency Reporting Act would improve standards that require mobile carriers to report network outages to 911 centers. While existing outage reporting requirements exist at the FCC, the notification threshold is high and can lead to situations in which 911 centers are left in the dark about service outages in their territory, jeopardizing public safety.

“Natural disasters are becoming a more frequent phenomenon, and we need to ensure our infrastructure is able to withstand whatever comes its way,” said Rep. Huffman. “When disasters strike, first responders and the public depend on their mobile networks and communication systems – but as we’ve seen during wildfires in California, blackouts have left people without this critical service. Folks shouldn’t have to worry about being able to reach out for help or contact loved ones during an emergency. The Federal Communications Commission has a responsibility to address the danger of communications outages during a disaster, and this legislation will give it the direction it needs to respond to future outages and make our communities more resilient.” 

“In the face of a life-threatening emergency, Americans need to be able to rely on our emergency communications networks to get them the aid they need,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “The Emergency Reporting Act will help ensure that the FCC is supporting our state and local partners as they prepare for, respond to, and learn from major disasters – giving our communications networks the resiliency to handle even the worst disasters like our California wildfires. This bill will also support 911 centers and first responders to protect our communities and save American lives.”

“It is vital that we review the communication infrastructure in place after a major weather event to maximize coordinated public safety information during a future crisis,” said Congressman Bilirakis. “These systems must be reliable and standardized to allow for an effective response from local, state and federal leaders as they recover.  Our legislation helps to ensure we are ready to achieve that paramount goal.”

“When disaster strikes, like the wildfires that devastated our community last year, people need to know they can call 9-1-1 and receive immediate assistance. That’s why I’m proud to sponsor the Emergency Reporting Act to require comprehensive reporting on network outages after disasters and improve information sharing between wireless companies and 9-1-1 dispatchers,” said Rep. Eshoo. “The new reporting requirements will ensure that the weak spots in our communications networks are addressed before future emergencies, and information sharing will alert 9-1-1 operators when calls are no longer reaching their stations, which will save lives.”

“Being able to call 911 during a natural disaster is a matter of life and death and we must ensure that first responders, law enforcement and the public can rely on these services,” said Rep. Thompson. “Our district has depended on efficient and reliable emergency dispatch services during recent wildfires and that’s why I’ve signed on as an original coauthor of the Emergency Reporting Act. This bill helps us better prepare for and respond to natural disasters like fires and address any potential weaknesses before they become problems. I’ll work closely with Rep. Matsui and Senator Klobuchar to ensure this bill is signed into law to help our district and our state be better prepared to respond effectively in case of a disaster.”

“We can’t control natural disasters, but we can prepare for our responses to them,” said Senator Klobuchar. “During an emergency, having reliable communications networks saves lives. This bipartisan legislation will ensure we have the resources in place to establish strong communications pathways and provide regular updates to first responders so we can help those in need during crises.” 

“When hurricanes strike, North Carolinians depend on resilient communication networks to reach out for help or contact loved ones during an emergency,” said Senator Burr. “The Emergency Reporting Act strengthens these networks by improving the coordination between state and local governments and the FCC to ensure they have the tools to prepare for, respond to, and learn from major natural disasters. I’m proud to work with Senator Klobuchar on this important legislation and I urge the Senate’s swift passage.”

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