DHS Priority Telecommunications Services Help Calls Go Through During Hurricane Season

Author: CISA Priority Services Team

On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane along the Florida Panhandle.  It was the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to strike in the contiguous United States in terms of pressure and the fourth-strongest land-falling hurricane in terms of maximum sustained wind speed.

Severely impacted by the catastrophic damage from storm surge and wind, was cellular service to the region.  A report of Hurricane Michael’s effect on telecommunications by the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) examined why it took so long to restore cellular service to the Panhandle.  “Hurricane Michael demonstrated starkly how some wireless providers in the Florida Panhandle were able to rebound from this devastating storm through foresight and appropriate planning, while others stalled in their efforts to restore service,” the report said.

The aftermath of Hurricane Michael is a reminder that states and territories cannot afford to experience lack of cellular service.  Plans need to be in place to restore public safety telecommunications after a natural disaster or emergency occurs.  With the 2019 hurricane season here and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicting 9 to 15 named storms and 4 to 8 hurricanes, the time to make or review plans is now.

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) offers a suite of priority communications services to support national security and public safety communications.  The Priority Telecommunications Services (PTS) program includes:

  • Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS) provides priority calling when landline networks are congested.
  • Wireless Priority Service (WPS) provides priority calling when cellular networks are congested.
  • Telecommunications Service Priority (TSP) provides priority for installation and restoration of critical data and voice communications circuits.
    In Hurricane Michael’s instance, there was a call completion rate of 98.51 percent for the more than 874 GETS calls, and a 99.54 percent completion rate for the more than 438 WPS calls.  There were also thousands of GETS calls originated or terminated outside of the impacted areas of Hurricane Michael, many of the calls associated with the movement of response and recovery equipment, supplies, personnel, and logistics in support of the storm.  Requests were also processed for 50 expedited GETS cards and 317 expedited WPS service activations.  In addition, 41 TSP provisioning priorities were issued for the installation of critical circuits supporting response activities.
    To spread the word on the PTS program to state and territorial government agencies, CISA has enlisted the efforts of PTS Area Representatives (PARs).  Each PAR works within two assigned Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regions (plus one PAR to work with the Federal Government).  The PARs work in a coordinated effort with the CISA Emergency Communications Coordinators to conduct outreach efforts.  Through face-to-face meetings, participation at conferences, and other activities, the PARs speak to the benefits of the PTS program and provide information and guidance on how to enroll.

If an organization does not already have GETS, WPS, and TSP, it is encouraged to enroll in these programs as a part of its emergency communications planning to help communicate during events like hurricanes.  For more information or to enroll in the programs, please visit www.dhs.gov/gets, www.dhs.gov/wps, or www.dhs.gov/tsp.