California Utilities Commission Fires the Rule Book at Wireless Providers

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) yesterday ordered California’s facilities-based wireless providers to develop comprehensive resiliency strategies to prepare for catastrophic disasters and power outages. 

In its proposal, the Commission noted there was a lack of a uniform and structured approach to ensuring that the communications providers are addressing their responsibility to provide safe and reliable service during emergency events (Rulemaking 18-03-011 ). 

As evidenced and outlined in Section 6, wildfire events since 2017 crippled residents’ and emergency responders’ abilities to receive or communicate vital safety and emergency preparedness information. Cumulatively, those wildfires resulted in 3,771,353 acres burned, 35,238 structures destroyed, and 150 deaths. 

“Last October, Californians who were already impacted by power shut-offs were forced to evacuate their homes as the Kincade Fire burned uncontrolled. In moments like these, Californians rely on their cell phones to receive alerts from emergency responders and access vital evacuation websites,” said CPUC President Marybel Batjer. “Today’s Decision creates a framework to ensure that wireless networks will provide reliable access to 911, 211, emergency alerts, and crucial Internet services that are so critical to public safety and well-being in times of disaster.” 

Speaking about attempts to prevent wildfires through power shutoffs, Martha Guzman Aceves said, “Wireless networks are critical infrastructure for emergency response.  Recent events have demonstrated that the days of short, temporary back-up power are behind us and that outages are not an option. We must move forward with efficient back-up power and resilient networks.” 

According to the CPUC, wireless providers must:

  • Within 60 days, submit to the CPUC emergency operations plans that detail their protocols for responding to a disaster, in addition to the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), and local emergency response agencies. Wireless providers must also provide emergency points of contact, verification of annual emergency preparedness exercises, and plans for communicating with the public during disasters and outages impacting their networks. These plans must be updated and filed annually. 
  • Adopt a 72-hour backup power requirement to ensure that a minimum level of service and coverage is maintained during disasters or power outages in Tier 2 and Tier 3 High Fire Threat Districts. Wireless providers must have this infrastructure ready for use within 12 months. The decision directs the wireless providers to explore ways to transition to renewable generation for backup power. 
  • File comprehensive Communications Resiliency Plans with the CPUC that detail their ability to maintain a minimum level of service and coverage during a disaster or power outage. The plans must detail their use of an array of strategies, including backup power, redundancy, network hardening, temporary facilities, preparedness planning, and communication and coordination with other utilities, emergency responders, and the public. Minimum level of service and coverage includes 911 service, 211 service, ability to receive emergency alerts and warnings, and to access evacuation and de-energization websites. Wireless providers must submit these plans within 6 months. 

The proposal voted on is available at https://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PublishedDocs/Published/G000/M343/K633/343633733.PDF.

Documents related to the proceeding are available at https://apps.cpuc.ca.gov/apex/f?p=401:56:0::NO:RP,57,RIR:P5_PROCEEDING_SELECT:R1803011.  

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