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GAO: FCC helped Puerto Rico after Hurricane María, but needs to clarify disaster response role

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The US Government Accountability Office released a report in which it concluded that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did its part in the restoration work after Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico in 2017, but it must clearly define its disaster response role moving forward.

The FCC’s part included gathering network outage information and creating a task force to support communications restoration in the wake of the storm that toppled most communications across Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

“We found unclear federal guidance on FCC’s role in disaster response, which could have contributed to confusion and delays. Also, the FCC has not provided a complete and accurate account of its disaster response, which could help with preparation for future disasters. Our recommendations address these issues,” the GAO stated.

In its analysis, the government agency confirmed what was broadly known on the island —that the FCC took several actions to support telecom restoration following Hurricane María.

Among other actions, the agency collected network outage information, provided staff assistance to Puerto Rico, created the Hurricane Recovery Task Force to support communications restoration in Puerto Rico and the USVI, and made funds available for network restoration.

“However, GAO found that FCC’s disaster response role was unclear in guidance published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), even though the guidance states that all levels of government should understand their respective roles,” the GAO said.

“In particular, DHS did not define specific actions for FCC in the emergency support function guidance related to restoring communications infrastructure; this lack of clarity could have contributed to confusion and delays in the hurricane’s aftermath,” the agency noted.

“By updating the emergency support guidance with FCC’s role clearly defined, DHS could help to reduce confusion and leverage FCC’s knowledge on new or evolving technologies that could assist in faster network recovery following disasters,” it added.

The GAO said it conducted its analysis after it was asked to review the FCC’s response to telecommunications outages after Hurricane María.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.
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