Senators Cantwell, Booker, Schumer Introduce Bill to Help Repair and Restore Life-Saving Communications during Wildfires, other Natural Disaster and Emergencies

Bill would help communities quickly restore broadband access, landline phone service, mobile phone service and access to television broadcasts

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act of 2016 (SANDy Act) to help communities quickly restore communications networks – like cellular service and broadband access – during emergencies such as wildfires and hurricanes.

The bill’s impact would be especially significant to communities in Washington at risk of wildfires, earthquakes and tsunamis.

“Lives depend on being able to communicate when disaster strikes. After the wildfires of the last two years, we know this all too well in Washington state,” said Senator Cantwell. “This bill will enable communications networks to quickly be restored – which will better support our first responders and protect our communities, whatever the emergency may be.”

“New Jerseyans know all too well the critical importance of communications networks during times of disaster. From calling 911, to reaching loved ones, to receiving vital emergency updates from their community, we must do more to ensure our communities can connect when disaster strikes,”  said Sen. Booker, whose bipartisan legislation allowing for public broadcast stations, which reach 98 percent of the American population, to receive FEMA funds after a natural disaster was signed into law. “The SANDy Act provides a framework to improve emergency communications and help us better prepare for times of natural disaster and severe weather by making sure our networks are resilient so that no one is prevented from receiving life-saving information. I hope this legislation will aid local governments and our brave first responders who depend on these networks to protect our communities.”

Congressman Frank Pallone (NJ-6) has been a leader on this issue, introducing a companion bill in the House, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

The Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act of 2016 would:

  • Give FEMA explicit authority to reimburse states for costs associated with supporting the restoration and repair of lifesaving communications services critical to first responders and affected communities.
  • Establish a directory of key contact personnel for communications service providers to speed up restoration of lost communication services in a given area.
  • Modernize and expand the list of service providers that can gain access to disaster sites in order to make repairs to their critical communications infrastructure to include: providers of Internet access, radio and television broadcasters, cable service providers and satellite TV providers.
  • Recognize and urge adherence to the voluntary framework the major wireless carriers entered into last month to share resources, work together to restore services more quickly and promote local government preparedness during emergencies.

Senator Cantwell has worked to ensure communities have the resources they need to address challenges before, during and after a disaster. Over the past year, Cantwell has held roundtable discussions throughout Washington state to hear from local officials and stakeholders on the resources they need to prepare for, fight and recover from wildfires. In addition, Cantwell has meet with community leaders and emergency officials on tsunami preparedness, and has passed legislation to strengthen tsunami warning systems and advance new research related to improving tsunami detection, forecasting, notification and response