Click here for video of this hearing.
Statement of Senator Stevens
According to the FCC, Hurricane Katrina disrupted service to approximately 3 million phone lines.
Storm surges reported in excess of 20 feet and tens of feet of floodwater resulted in rarely seen levels of devastation.
Thousands have worked around the clock to restore phone service and we appreciate their extraordinary efforts.
Today we will hear from the FCC and some of the companies involved about what Hurricane Katrina did to the communications networks and about their efforts to restore service.
In particular, we hope to hear about three common problems:
Credentialling, first -- repair crews were ready to begin restoring service but couldn’t get permission from officials who were controlling the area to enter the area. There needs to be a plan in place for important people who are associated with restoring the critical infrastructure of communications.
As far as security, once the repair crews enter the affected area there is no reason that they should have to fear for their lives. Part of any disaster recovery plan must include providing for safety of essential communications personnel.
And also, the issue of power, or energy – over-reliance on the power grid is not acceptable. Companies need to ensure that they have sufficient backup generators with sufficient fuel in place. Maybe natural gas pipelines could provide a backup fuel source to critical infrastructure.
We have no solution to offer we want to hear what solutions are being explored and how they could be implemented. But, above all we intend to commend all of you for your efforts during the disaster. Apparently, we have another one in the wings, a very difficult time for all communications people. We look forward to hearing your testimony.
For the Committee’s information, our DTV bill will provide spectrum to first responders as soon as the broadcasters move. It is intended that they will get 24 megaherz. We’ll mark that up in October in compliance with the reconciliation instructions the Committee has received from the Budget Committee and the Budget Committee will mark it up on October 25th. It is our intention that all communications will provide E-911, including VoIP and we will provide the authority that the FCC needs to carry out I believe that desire. Chairman Martin, for myself, I tell you we are very proud of what you’re doing. I think you’ve demonstrated tremendous leadership during this disaster period with your emergency orders. I don’t think any of us have any criticism at all of what you’ve done. We urge you to let us know if there is any further authority you need. We’d be pleased to provide you whatever you think you need. We thank you also for coming this morning. We’re pleased to hear your statement now.
Chairman Stevens Q & A with Chairman Martin
Chairman Stevens: Mr. Chairman, would it make any sense for us to authorize you to issue the credentials that repair crews need in advance so they can move immediately in the event of disasters of this type.
Chairman Martin: Mr. Chairman, we certainly tried to coordinate with FEMA in getting them to issue those credentials and I think the Commission being able to play an increased role in that, I think, is important, but in the end I think that FEMA and the emergency personnel who are on the ground are probably going to be the ones that need to issue the credentials. The Commission could be more involved in that process and try to play a more responsive role, but I do think that emergency management personnel on the ground may ultimately have to be the ones that can actually issue any of those credentials.
Chairman Stevens: Well, almost every one of these areas have a disaster plan. Some of them use them, some don’t. But, the disaster plan itself could provide that you could authorize persons in advance to have such credentials, so they could move before FEMA. FEMA will be very busy. I’m not sure we can rely upon them taking the time to issue the credentials to communications crews. So, we would urge you to talk to FEMA and see if it can’t be worked out in advance.
Chairman Martin: We’ll certainly consider it, maybe there’s a way to authorize a certain number of personnel in advance to do that.
Chairman Stevens: I certainly applaud, and I think the Committee will applaud, your action using Universal Service Funds in the way you just outlined. We want to make certain, of course, that those networks are set up as quickly as possible. What is the time frame? Did you put a limit on the amount of time they could use these monies from Universal Service for the things you outlined.
Chairman Martin: For example for the schools and libraries, for allowing for some of them to apply for money from the schools and libraries program, they can do that for 2005 and 2006 funding cycles. So, we have put some limits, but we’ve recognized it’s going to take some time for them to be able to utilize those resources.
Chairman Stevens: Is that fund robust enough to withstand this disaster and the next one coming?
Chairman Martin: We certainly hope so and we’ll do everything we can. I think that the Universal Service Fund has certainly been critical to making sure that everyone in the country is connected and I think that it’s traditionally done a very good job of making sure that we can utilize those resources so that everyone can stay connected. And, I think it will be able to take care of this as well, I hope.
Chairman Stevens: We’ve scheduled a hearing on interoperability in disaster areas for next Thursday morning. I wonder, you mentioned a Blue Ribbon Panel, a Commission to examine the disaster that has taken place already. Do you intend to ask that panel to look into the question of legislation and those items that you believe you should have authority for that you don’t have authority for now?
Chairman Martin: Yes, sir. I want that to be one of the things they would look into.
Chairman Stevens: What’s the time frame for that report?
Chairman Martin: We actually have a report that is due on the interoperability issue and some of the other spectrum needs of public safety that is actually due to Congress in December. But, I would imagine that we’ll have this other report be due in the early part of next year.
Chairman Stevens: Well, is our hearing next Thursday premature as far as your concerned? There is legislation forthcoming now about interoperability.
Chairman Martin: I wouldn’t comment on whether the Senate would want to do hearings or not or whether that would be premature. I’m sure that you all would continue to gather the information you need to make the judgments about legislation you need to.
Chairman Stevens: Thank you very much. Again, I congratulate you for the way you and your colleagues on the Commission have acted during this disaster. We hope you have similar preparation for the one that is coming.
Chairman Stevens Q & A with Panel II Witnesses
Chairman Stevens: That was just a marvelous series of statements. I’ve just gotten word this morning that 70 of the 400 TSA screeners at Houston’s airport showed up, that the problem really is of getting people to report for work as their families have to be evacuated. Did you experience that in general, in terms of your operations during the disaster, the Katrina disaster? Mr. Smith?
Mr. Smith: Mr. Chairman, we really had not experienced a significant amount of that. Our people, I think, come from a service ethic and in fact many even after losing their homes showed up at some of our facilities, our work centers, and said, “I’m ready to go to work.” And, that’s one of the things we learned through the long history of hurricane experience that we have – is that we’ve got to help our people be able to know their family is cared for, know they have shelter, and that’s why we started building these tent cities. So, we have gained the experience to be able to come in and set it up, let our employees know that their families will be cared for so they can go to work and start helping us restore. So, it’s been a very limited problem for us.
Chairman Stevens: Any of you have any problems that way?
Mr. Eslambolchi: We at AT&T did not have, Mr. Chairman, any problems in that construct at all. Most of the problems that we faced were more on the logistical side, of how you get the people to the right location with fuel, batteries, and generators. That was kind of more of a logistical problem for us, and technically and operationally, I think that was a little bit more challenging for us in this case, as it was in the case for the 9-11 incident. But, we did not have that problem. We were able to get the right people, with the spirit of service and compassion that AT&T has, our people are actually putting a lot of focus on restoring service and helping employees and other people.
Chairman Stevens: Mr. Roth?
Mr. Roth: No, Mr. Chairman, we did not have that problem, but I will tell you that one of the key learnings is that as we prepare for Hurricane Rita, we have asked our employees to take care of their families. We have employee volunteers from unaffected parts of the country who are coming in to do their jobs. So, the technicians that will be manning and staying at our switching centers during the storms are actually volunteers coming from other parts of the country so employees in that area are able to take care of their families.
Chairman Stevens: Good. Mr. Citron?
Mr. Citron: No, none affected.
Mr. Eslambolchi: Mr Chairman, if I may just add that, you know, we had such a dedicated set of employees that one of our technicians with the Gulfport, Mississippi location, one of our central offices, with 75 to 80 mile per hour winds, the roof actually lifted off and came back and we had water in the building, and the technicians were so dedicated, almost for about 12 hours we were mopping the floor to make ensure the equipment stayed out of the water. So, it was very a heroic effect in an event in terms of protecting service.
Chairman Stevens: Let me ask you just a general question. It may sound sort of stupid, but have any of you been advised by your legal sections that you don’t have authority to do things you would like to do during an emergency like this? Mr. Smith, has anyone told you, you know, you can’t do that, “you don’t have authority to do it.”
Mr. Smith: No, sir. We haven’t seen that. We’ve had challenges on getting things that we need like priority security escorts and so forth. So, one of the things that we hope will come out of this, as I mentioned in my testimony, is that we be treated as a critical responder. So it hasn’t been something from inside the company, but I think from local, state, and federal government issues have come up around letting our people into those areas.
Chairman Stevens: Well, we’re going to examine that. We think the FCC should have that authority to issue, in advance, the credentials for the responders and for those people that you need. We haven’t solved the problem of security yet. And, that, I think has to be part of a disaster plan. Mr. Roth?
Mr. Roth: No, sir. I would agree with Mr. Smith’s comments.
Chairman Stevens: Mr. Citron?
Mr. Citron: Sir, in addition to the comments raised here, there is one issue that affects us directly. We do not have the statutory authority from the FCC to get direct interconnection to necessary critical facilities or to have the ability to manage our own numbering pools. And, thus, during natural disasters we did lose, or one of our partners lost, critical infrastructure and because we did not have direct access to those facilities, we were unable to reroute those calls, as my other partners here would have been able to do. We would recommend that in any legislative activity that VoIP providers be provided direct interconnection to network tandems and to be allowed the assignment of numbers directly to us, so that we can better manage in a natural disaster.
Mr. Eslambolchi: We did not have any legal constraints in executing our strategy around the disaster recovery supporting those services.
Chairman Stevens: Well, are there any constraints in the anti-trust laws to prevent you working together in this disaster scenario?
Mr. Smith: No, sir, Mr. Chairman. In fact, one thing I should have pointed out that helped a great deal is the quick action from the FCC. There were some things we did to start porting numbers that normally would not be allowed or to start using facilities that otherwise would not have been allowed. The FCC acted very quickly in that regard, so I commend them for their help. In terms of collaborative activity, in fact, Mr. Eslambolchi and I talked on the day of the hurricane. We had people in the same building. We coordinated armed caravans to get into the building and make sure we had material and supplies. We actually coordinated calls with wireless providers and other carriers. So I think in the time of a service emergency, we do what needs to be done.
Chairman Stevens: Well, as you go back to your offices, if you find that you have any such advice from your people, we’d appreciate knowing it. We expect to handle a comprehensive disaster preparedness bill. We’re seeing it now. The Texas plan is being exercised two days in advance and they are moving now and probably will have less real human loss because of the fact that their plan is being initiated right away.
Daniel K. InouyeSenator
We have spent this week examining many of Hurricane Katrina’s painful lessons and the possible solutions that this Committee can advance to mitigate future disasters. We have examined federal entities that did their job well, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s forecasting and warning systems, and we have considered federal entities that need to do better, like the Federal Trade Commission and its work to protect consumers from price gouging.
Today’s hearing is on entities that attempted to do their best in dangerous and difficult situations, where, in many cases, the hard infrastructure limited their best efforts.
Chairman Martin demonstrated strong leadership by swiftly marshalling the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) resources and working with the affected communications industries. The FCC’s timely attention to the crisis, waiving rules and granting necessary authorities, helped to bring critical networks back on-line.
Additionally, the proposals announced last week to dedicate the FCC resources to emergency preparedness functions are right on target. I have long supported Commissioner Copps’ call for the creation of a Bureau that focuses specifically on emergency preparedness and elevates this work among the FCC’s priorities. These actions will do just that.
The communications industry also must be thanked for its tireless efforts not only to restore service to its customers but to provide life saving connectivity to local and federal first responders in the Gulf Coast region. Employees of these companies forged ahead under the most trying circumstances for the common good.
Despite the dedication of those before us, there are still significant emergency communications problems that must be solved immediately.
I cannot help but think that we are repeating history. We expected so much more four years after the September 11 tragedy. Yet, here we today and next week, asking many of the same questions that we asked then:
Why is it that our first responders cannot communicate with each other?
How dependent are our communications networks on the availability of electrical power?
Is security for critical infrastructure a necessary component for emergency preparedness?
If systems fail, what back-ups are in place and how quickly is the response in getting primary systems back online?
Are there baseline critical preparedness standards that should be followed by communications network providers?
What will it take to ensure that the equipment and facilities are hardened to withstand a natural disaster?
Are we spending money on the wrong equipment?
With such focus on interoperability, have we neglected redundancy?
In my view, the time for talk is over. The inability to effectively communicate during major disasters costs lives. We simply cannot repeat these failures.
I look forward to the testimony of the witnesses.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Kevin J. MartinChairmanFederal Communications Commission
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Paul RothPresident, Retail Sales and ServicesAT&T Services, Inc.
Mr. Hossein EslambolchiPresident, AT&T Global Networking Technology Services and AT&T Labs CTO & CIOAT&T
Mr. Bill SmithChief Technology OfficerBellSouth
Mr. Jeffrey CitronChairman and Chief Executive OfficerVonage