FCC Addresses Emergency Communication Concerns
By Cheryl Heppner
Editor: In the past few years we’ve seen several emergency situations in which people with hearing loss were left without a reasonable way to get necessary emergency information. The FCC has been looking at these situations and has just adopted the recommendations produced by an independent panel.
Here’s the story from NVRC’s Cheryl Heppner. If you would like to reproduce this story, please be sure to credit NVRC. See the notice at the end of the article.
Just in time for the 2007 hurricane season, the Federal Communications Commission issued an order adopting the recommendations from its Independent Panel Reviewing the Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Communication Networks on May 31, 2007. The contents were released today in a 41-page document with several attachments. One of the attachments contained the final rules creating a new section of federal regulations on redundancy of communication systems.
We haven’t yet reviewed the entire document, but there are several sections of interest to deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Here they are:
106. Ensuring that People with Disabilities and Non-English Speaking Persons Receive Alerts. The Katrina Panel recommended that the Commission promptly find a mechanism to resolve technical and financial hurdles in the EAS [Emergency Alerting System] system to ensure that non-English speaking people or people with disabilities have access to public warnings, if readily achievable. The Panel also recommended that the Commission work with trade associations and the disability community to create and publicize best practices for serving persons with disabilities and non-English-speaking Americans and encourage state and local government agencies that provide emergency information to take steps to make this information accessible to persons with disabilities and non-English speaking Americans.
107. We note that the issue of making EAS alerts accessible to people with disabilities and to those who do not speak English is already the subject of the EAS rulemaking proceeding. Moreover, the Commercial Mobile Service Alert Advisory Committee will consider these issues in the context of wireless carriers’ participation in emergency alerts. On the broader issue of ensuring that emergency information reaches people with disabilities and non-English speaking Americans, we direct PSHSB [Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau], along with Consumer & Government Affairs Bureau (CGB) as appropriate, to work with the industry, state, tribal and local governments and organizations representing people with disability and non-English speaking persons on these issues.
119. Closed Captioning and Telecommunications Relay Service Issues. Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (TDI) recommends that: (1) broadcasters establish contracts or cooperative agreements among captioning providers to ensure that broadcasts can be captioned in the event of emergencies regardless of the emergency’s location; (2) captioning services personnel should be designated as essential personnel; (3) the Commission require all Telecommunications Relay Service (“TRS”) providers to have back-up power ready to operate for a minimum of 72 hours; (4) the Commission should require that all TRS providers have contingency plans for transfer of calls from TRS centers that may be unable to operate due to catastrophic damage or overwhelming volume of calls from other centers; and (5) all TRS personnel should be deemed essential personnel during emergencies.
120. We direct CGB to consider these issues in an appropriate proceeding. In this regard, we note that, on December 29, 2006, the Commission released a Public Notice that provides steps that video programming distributors may take to obtain closed captioning services quickly in the event of an emergency. With respect to TDI items (2) and (5), we note that the FCC has no jurisdiction over who is declared an “essential service provider,” nonetheless we will direct PSHSB to work with DHS on this issue.
121. The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) suggests that the Commission consider encouraging IP Relay and Video Relay Service (VRS) providers to develop solutions for handling emergency calls through TRS. This issue was raised in the November 30, 2005 VRS 9-1-1 NPRM, has been the subject of an E9-1-1 Disability Access Summit held at the Commission on November 15, 2006, and is pending before the Commission. CGB’ s Disability Rights Office and PSHSB will continue to work with the disability community and Internet-based TRS providers on these issues.
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