Sac Bee: Matsui, California lawmakers fear wildfires will be left out of FCC emergency guidelines

The federal government is working on guidelines to help people keep wireless carrier coverage during emergencies, but California lawmakers worry the agency is prioritizing hurricanes over wildfires.

Without proper guidance, lawmakers fear victims of wildfires could be left further disadvantaged and without necessary tools of communication during disasters.

The Federal Communications Commission is indicating it does not plan to include information specific to the wildfires that have devastated thousands of Californians.

Some California lawmakers, led by Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, are pushing the FCC to change that.

The FCC is currently updating its emergency guidelines and has asked for public input on updates needed for emergencies, only specifying hurricanes. But the request for comment mentions nothing on wildfires.

“While the framework has provided useful guidance on preparing for and responding to many emergencies, it lacks targeted recommendations for wildfires,” wrote Matsui, joined by Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. “This is a substantial shortcoming of the Framework that must be addressed immediately.”

The so-called framework will provide guidelines to wireless carriers on what they should do to help out during an emergency situation, such as companies working together to provide service to each other’s customers when situations like a cell tower failing arise.

It’s voluntary, so companies do not have to comply, but it gives them a sense of what they should do so the companies can adopt consistent policies during emergencies.

The FCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The members of Congress wrote that there is an “urgent need” for “targeted recommendations” to wildfires, not assuming that the same rules that help in hurricanes would be applicable to wildfires.

So far, over 6,872 fires have been recorded in the 2019 wildfire season in California, according to Cal Fire and the US Forest Service, totaling an estimated of 253,321 acres of burned land as of the end of November.

The request for input also does not mention the blackouts that have left millions of Californians without power multiple times this year.

On Thursday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and commissioners will be coming before the Energy and Commerce Committee to testify. Matsui plans to press Pai on the issue and seek a commitment to provide guidance for wildfires.

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