Pallone Introduces SANDy Act to Improve Communications During Disasters

Nov 16, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – Following the three-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-6), Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, today introduced legislation to help ensure the resiliency of the nation’s communications networks during emergencies.  The legislation is entitled Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act – or the SANDy Act.  During and after Sandy there was a major breakdown of telecommunications networks, including cellular and home telephones, television, and internet services.  This created a dangerous barrier to emergency response and recovery for residents and towns.

“During the storm and for weeks afterwards, many of us were left stranded, with no way to reach friends, to call loved ones, or even to call for help,” said Congressman Pallone.  “That is simply unacceptable.  So today I am introducing the SANDy Act to ensure we can all communicate, even when the worst occurs.  We must do everything we can to be better prepared for the next time disaster strikes.”

When Hurricane Sandy ripped through New Jersey three years ago, nearly one in four cell towers were knocked out.  In some of the hardest hit areas of the state, as many as half of the towers went down – many of them stayed down for weeks.

APCO International, the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the enhancement of public safety communications, voiced its support for the legislation.  “APCO welcomes introduction of the SANDy Act,” said Derek Poarch, Executive Director of APCO International.  “As crafted, it contains a number of provisions that would be helpful to 9-1-1 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) facing future large-scale disasters, and would generally lead to improvements in emergency communications in such situations.”

Since he became the top Democrat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Pallone has redoubled his efforts to make sure that never happens again.  As part of his effort, Pallone held a Superstorm Sandy Field Forum in September with local officials, industry leaders and senior FirstNet representatives to take a critical look at lessons learned and progress made with public safety telecommunications since the hurricane.

Pallone has used those lessons to craft this new legislation to improve the resiliency of our communications systems.  

Among other things, this legislation would:

  • Make sure that during an emergency consumer cell phones work on other carriers’ networks if their own network goes down, giving priority to calls to 9-1-1 services and emergency alerts;
  • Increase coordination between wireless carriers, utilities, and public safety officials;
  • Begin a process to provide 911 services over Wi-Fi hotspots during emergencies;
  • Make sure all communication providers—radio, TV, and phone—can fix outages faster, even across state lines; and
  • Launch an expansive study of the future of network resiliency.