Hurricane Sandy task force calls for more resilient wireless networks

A federal task force charged by President Obama with investigating the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and making recommendations on how to prepare for future emergencies said the country's communications systems needed to be more resilient to handle major power outages.

The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force recommended improving networks so cell towers and data centers can keep working "regardless of the status of the electrical grid," according to Bloomberg. The group released its report on Monday; in all it made 69 recommendations for countering future emergencies.

Regarding communications networks specifically, the group recommended the development of "a resilient power strategy for wireless and data communications infrastructure and consumer equipment."

"As we saw tragically after Sandy, the breakdown of our infrastructure is not only deadly to families, but it crippled the entire region and its economy," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said. HUD led the task force.

At the height of Hurricane Sandy last fall, 25 percent of cell sites in 158 counties in 10 states from Virginia to Massachusetts were not operational. It took about a week for most service to be restored by all four Tier 1 carriers in the affected areas. Many cell sites switched to backup generators when the power went out, but those backups soon faltered because they ran out of fuel.

This is not the first time the FCC has investigated the problem. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the FCC recommended that carriers install backup batteries that last 24 hours at cell sites, but carriers objected and the rule was never codified.

"The wireless industry shares the goal of protecting networks and quickly restoring communications to protect life and property when disaster strikes," Scott Bergmann, CTIA's vice president of regulatory affairs, told FierceWireless. "U.S. wireless carriers undertake multi-faceted efforts to create national and local strategies to promote resiliency of communications infrastructure and welcome efforts to facilitate network resiliency efforts. We look forward to reviewing the details of this report, as the industry continues to improve and enhance back-up power and the reliability of wireless networks."

For more:
- see this task force report (PDF)
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this WNYC article
- see this Daily News article

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