FCC activates new reporting system

On Aug. 22, the Federal Communications Commission activated its new Disaster Information Reporting System in response to Tropical Storm Fay, which caused extensive flooding in Florida.

DIRS is a voluntary, Web-based system for communications companies to report the conditions of their infrastructures to FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. The system was launched in September 2007, largely in response to problems encountered three years ago in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. FCC officials activated the system last week and asked wireless and wireline carriers, including cable companies, in 39 of Florida's hardest-hit counties to report damage to and the status of their networks, along with information on efforts to restore them.

Companies can access the system at https://www.fcc.gov/nors/disaster/. Organizations that have not already signed up with DIRS will be asked to provide contact information and obtain a user ID.

Information reported through the system is considered confidential and not subject to release through the Freedom of Information Act.

The Independent Panel Reviewing the Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Communications Networks recommended the establishment of such a system, and the Office of Management and Budget authorized the collection of information through DIRS in July 2007. The authorization runs for three years. FCC announced the launching of DIRS two months later. Tropical Storm Fay, which made four landfalls in Florida last week and has been blamed for a number of deaths, was the first occasion for activating the system.

DIRS includes data templates for different communications sectors ' such as wireless, wireline, broadcast and cable service providers ' and collects information about the condition of switches, Enhanced 911 public safety answering points, interoffice facilities, cell sites, broadcast stations and cable TV systems. It also seeks data on restoration efforts; the availability of commercial power, generators or battery power; and access to fuel.

'Because the information that communications companies input to DIRS is sensitive, for national security and/or commercial reasons, DIRS filings shall be treated as presumptively confidential upon filing,' according to an FCC statement.

Because of fears that information on weaknesses could help terrorists or reveal proprietary information to competitors, the data is not released publicly. The filings are shared with the Homeland Security Department's National Communications System.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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