The Atlantic Hurricane season, happens each year in the us, and spans the six month period running June through November. While the bulk of the storms occur later in the summer and early fall, the best time to start planning a course of action is prior to needing help. It is generally accepted that with the proper preplanning, both citizens and businesses can increase their survivability factors significantly without having to be reactive at the last minute. Public safety services are no different, and in addition to planning resiliency, reliability and redundancy, to efficiently put any plan into effect, requires an understanding of their environment and what resources they have to work with. In today’s connected world, that means an inherent understanding of communications network availability, which is their principal source of inbound communications from the public.
With the understanding that this information is critical for preplanning and defining operational response plans, the Federal Communications Commission Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has implemented the Network Outage Reporting System, (NORS https://www.fcc.gov/network-outage-reporting-system-nors) which provides “rules to address the critical need for rapid, complete, and accurate information on significant communications service disruptions that could affect homeland security, public health or safety, and the economic well-being of the nation”. That simply means that when a reportable outage takes place, a reporting compliance clock is started dictating the required reporting actions various providers have to abide by. An initial notification report is required within 2 hours of the outage that details preliminary information. Next, within 72 hours, an initial outage report is due, which is followed by a final report no later than 30 days after the outage was first discovered. In past events, where public safety was not made aware of large scale multi-state outages, going unreported beyond these timelines, resulted in significant fines well into the millions. Additionally, this lack of citizen and public safety understanding that an event was occurring, and to what extent, exasperated the situation, potentially causing further harm.
As in any critical utility related infrastructure, privacy and the security of information is considered a critical component of national security. While this information is needed to plan around unexpected events, this very same knowledge, when made publicly available, provides a blueprint for a nefarious attack on that infrastructure you are trying to protect. Just like banks have secure combination locks on their vaults, they don’t post the combination to the lock on a yellow sticky note on the wall next to it! This creates a classic dichotomy of information that is both useful to administrators when reacting to an outage, and harmful when exposed to those wishing to cause harm. For years, this has been a discussion point in Washington DC, and now, action is underway to provide relevant data and information to those who need it, and the appropriate policies and protocols to ensure the information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
In a recent blog post released by PSHSB executive director Lisa Fowlkes, who was also named the November 2020 NG911FutureMaker™, she announced that the FCC, “[has] adopted a plan for sharing communications outage and infrastructure status information directly with state and federal agencies to improve their situational awareness and help them respond more quickly to outages affecting their communities.” With national security still remaining a key component of this new system, an application process is being implemented to ensure that only vetted agencies are granted access to this critical information. Agencies must certify compliance with specific requirements for maintaining the confidentiality and security of the data. At this stage, the agency is seeking the necessary OMB approval to adjust the required data infrastructure and plans to later announce the start date for agency application submissions.
Citizens as well as corporate businesses should be aware of the FCC published tips on how to communicate during an emergency. Waiting until the last minute creates delays, confusion, and significantly reduces the effectiveness of any plan. A critical component of most modern communications infrastructure’s that is often forgotten, is that most systems require power to operate. Battery back-up and auxiliary power mechanisms must be considered in the implementation of any communications infrastructure. The law requires that carrier service providers offer you the option of purchasing a back-up battery, as well as distribute information annually that addresses the issue, and most have resources available that answer any questions.
STAY WELL AND BE SAFE . . .