The Federal Communications Commission Friday established a Hurricane Recovery Task Force to provide continuing support to restore communications services in areas affected by this season’s hurricanes, with an emphasis on "the challenges facing Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands."
The new group will work with the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency under the National Response Framework, continuing and expanding the emergency first steps already launched in the weeks since storms devastated the telecom infrastructure on the islands.
“As we shift from short-term incident management to a longer-term recovery phase, it makes sense to adjust the structure of the FCC’s response," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, noting that several bureaus and offices will be involved. “It is critical that we adopt a coordinated and comprehensive approach to support the rebuilding of communications infrastructure and restoration of communications services. The Hurricane Recovery Task Force will allow us to do just that.”
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The announcement of a long-term task force comes on the heels of the FCC's approval on Wednesday of a $77 million fund to repair communication networks and restore services in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The new task force will be chaired by Michael Carowitz, special counsel to Pai; it will include officials from throughout the agency. The FCC began its hurricane response actions on Sept. 20, when it initiated emergency communications support as Hurricane Maria smacked through the Caribbean. It also activated the Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) in response that day, and has issued daily status reports about communications capabilities in the affected areas.
The FCC said that working with other federal agencies it will "coordinate requests for assistance from communications providers" as well as compile and analyze data on the operational status of communications services.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said that she "appreciate[s] that the Chairman has listened to my recommendations and decided to put in place a broader effort to review the scale and scope of the damage done to essential communications infrastructure this hurricane season."
"We need to understand what went wrong, what went right, and how we can be better prepared in the future," Rosenworcel said, adding that she "sincerely hopes" that the follow-up actions include "on- the-ground research and Commission hearings.”
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