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Hurricane Sandy Lessons Learned: Wireless Communications

Presidential task force urges federal government to ensure wireless communications and data networks have reliable power to speed disaster recovery.
5 Helpful Online Services From Uncle Sam
5 Helpful Online Services From Uncle Sam
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The federal government needs to ensure resilient power supplies for maintaining wireless phone and data networks and supporting consumer communications devices when the electrical grid fails during natural disasters. This is the conclusion of a study by President Obama's Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

In its 200-page report, the task force proposed that the federal government develop a strategy to ensure that wireless phone and data networks and consumer communications devices can be maintained during super storms and other disasters. This approach reflects the growing notion that hardening the energy infrastructure to ensure continuation of communications services is central to any recovery strategy.

The panel, chaired by Housing and Urban Development secretary Shaun Donovan, recommended that the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Telecommunications Information Administration, part of the Federal Communications Commission, collaborate to promote a "programmatic approach" to make sure that cellular towers, data centers and other vital communications infrastructure components are able to function regardless of the status of the electrical grid.

[ Will budget realities make all of this moot? Federal Government IT Priorities: Vision Vs. Reality. ]

Such a strategy would include the deployment of "smart microgrids," small-scale versions of the centralized electricity system that distribute power in a limited geographic area and help minimize widespread power outages.

"We are encouraging the adoption of microgrid technologies to update our energy systems so they are more resilient, harnessing technological innovation throughout our rebuilding solutions and ensuring that our decisions are guided by current science and best available data, while anticipating future risks," Donovan said in a letter accompanying the report.

The task force also said encouraging the easy availability of "stored power" (e.g., batteries) through funding to support consumer-level broadband will help individuals seek information, help with recovery needs, communicate with family members, and work from home when transportation or business facilities are compromised.

Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey and New York on Oct. 29, 2012, leaving the office towers of lower Manhattan powerless and dark. Miles of rail lines were twisted and torn apart. Beach towns from New Jersey to Rhode Island were buried beneath mountains of debris and suffered major power outages.

In New Jersey, DOE and the task force worked with state officials to review critical energy facilities and develop the concept for a statewide, resilient power infrastructure, according to the report. The state is exploring how some power facilities could serve as primary hubs for microgrids, distributed energy generation, smart grid technologies and energy storage. New Jersey officials are currently mapping the state's power systems for a comprehensive analysis of requirements for a resilient energy system.