FCC gets wired for disaster response

Agency launches Web database to report communications infrastructure damage

How FCC is improving its disaster response

The Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau launched the redesigned Disaster Information Reporting System to coordinate information about the communications infrastructure during crises.

The system was one of a number of recommendations made by an independent panel created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In May, FCC adopted an order directing the bureau to implement several of the panel’s recommendations.

Other recommendations include:

Creating readiness checklists for the communications industry’s various sectors.

Launching public safety education programs.

Improving coordination with state and local authorities.

Prepositioning communications equipment for first responders.

Improving the interoperability of first responders’ communications equipment.

Adopting best-practice recommendations for Enhanced 911.

— Ben Bain

The Federal Communications Commission is calling on industry to provide real-time updates on the communications infrastructure during a crisis to avoid some of the problems encountered during recent disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

Through the redesigned Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), FCC is asking communications companies such as wireless, cable and wireline firms to voluntarily provide information about disruptions during a crisis. The agency will then share the company’s specific information only with the Homeland Security Department for situational awareness purposes. FCC said the individual company’s information will not be publicly released or shared.

FCC and DHS will use the information to inform federal, state and local emergency management agencies of the status of the communications infrastructure and coordinate with industry on repairs.

By revamping DIRS, FCC is addressing one of numerous recommendations an independent panel made in June 2006. The panel provided the FCC with suggestions on ways to improve its disaster preparedness and response.

In May, FCC adopted an order to implement some of the recommendations.

The new database will improve the speed and efficiency of the government in coordinating its efforts with industry to repair damage caused by a natural or man-made disaster, according to FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. The agency formed the bureau in the aftermath of Katrina.

The new DIRS reporting design is central to streamlining efforts for getting communications back online for the public and first responders, who depend on the technology to coordinate disaster response, an FCC spokesman said.

“With the advances in communication technology you are finding in more and more cases as part of an emergency response, government communities, first responders and the health care community are turning to wireless communications such as Wi-Fi as well as other applications via the internet to respond to disasters,” he added.
Approved companies can access the database through the secure Web site, which requires a user name and password.

The willingness of communication providers to share information was crucial to the government’s ability to coordinate immediately following the 2001 terrorist attacks, said Paul Kurtz, the chief operating officer of Good Harbor Consulting. Kurtz also served on the White House’s National Security Council.

The DIRS database, which FCC launched Sept. 11, is different from the FCC’s Network Outage Reporting System.

NORS is designed for everyday situations and requires companies to verbally inform FCC of any outages immediately. Then the companies must provide a more detailed written report within 72 hours on the overall situation and how the company worked to resolve it. DIRS, meanwhile, looks at the immediate situation surrounding a crisis, focusing on what the needs are and how to respond to those needs, the spokesman said.

There is a long history of collaboration between the communications industry and the federal government, and there is no reason to think this will be any different, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting.

“There is also clearly a political dimension,” Suss said. “The more the major players in the industry are able to demonstrate good faith in times of national emergency, the more they build up a pool of goodwill when they are looking for policy decisions that are important to the industry.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above