Huffman, Matsui, Eshoo, Thompson Introduce Bill to Improve Emergency Response Communications Networks

February 20, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  Congressman Jared Huffman (CA-02) and Representatives Doris Matsui (CA-06), Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), and Mike Thompson (CA-05) introduced the Emergency Reporting Act (H.R. 5918), a bill that will improve the resiliency of communications networks during emergencies.

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. As the number and severity of wildfires increases across the west, and especially in Northern California, it is critical that the FCC responds adequately and swiftly. 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.

“When disasters strike, first responders and the public depend on their mobile networks and communication systems,” said Rep. Huffman. “During the wildfires last fall, PG&E’s blackouts cut cell service for thousands of Californians, knocking out 57% of the towers in Marin during critical times. People shouldn’t have to worry about being able to reach out for help or contact loved ones during an emergency. The Federal Communications Commission needs to ensure that it is systematically addressing the danger of communications outages during a disaster, and this new legislation will give them the direction they need to  respond to future outages and make our communities more resilient.”

“During an emergency, the ability to call 911 is a matter of life and death,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “By ensuring the FCC is supporting state and local governments prepare for, respond to, and learn from major disasters we can help ensure our communications networks are equipped to handle major disasters like wildfires moving forward. The Emergency Reporting Act also takes crucial steps to improve the flow of information to 911 centers about communications outages. This will provide 911 centers and first responders with the information they need to protect communities and save lives.”

“The integrity of our telecommunications networks must withstand natural disasters to ensure that those in danger have a lifeline to emergency services,” said Rep. Eshoo. “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. 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.” 

"When people call 911 during a disaster like our recent wildfires, they want to know they can get help quickly and efficiently,” said Rep. Thompson. “That's why I am proud to join Rep. Doris Matsui as an original cosponsor of the Emergency Reporting Act. This bill will help local and state governments better respond and prepare for emergencies and I will do everything I can to move it forward and get signed into law so our community is better able to respond in case of a disaster."