NCE On-Air Fund-Raising For Superstorm Sandy Relief Efforts

FCC announces procedures for waiver requests by noncommercial broadcasters

Broadcasters have historically responded to catastrophes with incredible humanity, offering help wherever and whenever possible.  And the devastation that Superstorm Sandy wreaked on the eastern seaboard – and particularly the Jersey Shore and NYC – has provided yet another unfortunate opportunity for that humanity to manifest itself again. As the horrific stories and images roll in, noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcast stations may want to undertake fund-raising efforts to support relief efforts. The FCC clearly does not want to do anything to discourage such laudable humanitarian impulses. 

However, rules are rules – and the Commission’s rules (Sections 73.503(d) for radio and 73.621(e) for TV) generally prohibit NCE broadcasters from engaging in on-air fund-raising activities on behalf of anybody but the station itself.

Not to worry. The Commission has historically waived that prohibition following “disasters of particular uniqueness or magnitude” – Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Southeast Asia earthquake/tsunami, the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2011 Japanese earthquake/tsunami come to mind as ready examples. And just to be sure that we all know that the FCC views Sandy to be in the same league, the Commission has issued a public notice laying out the procedures by which NCE licensees may request waivers so that they can engage in fund-raising for relief efforts.

Stations seeking such waivers should prepare an informal request providing the following basic details of their fund-raising activity:

  • the nature of the fundraising effort;
  • the proposed duration of the fundraising effort;
  • the organization(s) to which funds will be donated; and
  • whether the fundraiser will be part of the licensee’s regularly scheduled pledge drive or fundraising effort.

Of course, the public notice does not guarantee that such requests will automatically be granted, but it’s a very good bet that the Media Bureau will be strongly inclined to bless Sandy-related fund-raising efforts.

These informal requests should be emailed to the FCC.  NCE television licensees should address their requests to Barbara Kreisman (barbara.kreisman@fcc.gov). NCE radio licensees should address their requests to Peter Doyle (peter.doyle@fcc.gov) and Michael Wagner (michael.wagner@fcc.gov). Those points of contact are also available for any particular questions you might have about such things.

DIRS Activated as Hurricane Sandy Makes Landfall

Sweeping alert affects communications providers in 150+ counties across 10 states and DC.

As we anticipated, the FCC has activated its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), to enable it to monitor damage to broadcast and telecommunications facilities during Hurricane Sandy.  (Note that the activation has occurred even though the FCC itself is shut down because of the storm -- major props to the folks in the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau for stepping up to shoulder this important responsibility.)

The DIRS is a voluntary, web-based system that communications providers – a universe that includes wireless, wireline, broadcast, cable and Voice over Internet Protocol providers – can use to report “communications infrastructure status and situational awareness information during times of crisis.” The FCC is asking that providers submit their reports starting 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 30, 2012, and every day after that by 10:00 a.m. until DIRS is deactivated.

In particular, the Commission wants to know, among other things, the status of communications equipment, restoration efforts, power (i.e., whether providers are using commercial power, generator or battery), and access to fuel, if they provide service to certain affected areas.

What are those areas? Given the enormous size of Sandy, there are a lot of them. Take a deep breath. Here are the areas the FCC has identified:

Connecticut: Fairfield, Hartford, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven, New London, Tolland, Windham

District of Columbia

Delaware: Kent, New Castle, Sussex

Maryland: Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Baltimore City, Calvert, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard, Kent, Montgomery, Prince George's, Queen Anne's, Somerset, St. Mary's, Talbot, Washington, Wicomico, Worcester

Massachusetts: Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Plymouth

New Jersey: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, Warren

New York: Bronx, Kings, Nassau, New York, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk, Westchester

Pennsylvania: Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Bucks, Cameron, Carbon, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Elk, Frannklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Tioga, Union, York

Rhode Island: Bristol, Kent, Newport, Providence, Washington

Virginia: Accomack, Alexandria City, Arlington, Caroline, Charles City, Chesapeake City, Clarke, Essex, Fairfax, Fairfax City, Falls Church City, Fauquier, Gloucester, Hampton City, Isle of Wight, James City, King and Queen, King George, King William, Lancaster, Loudoun, Manassas City, Manassas Park City, Mathews, Middlesex, New Kent, Newport News City, Norfolk City, Northampton, Northumberland, Portsmouth City, Poquoson City, Prince William, Richmond, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Suffolk City, Surry, Virginia Beach City, Westmoreland, Williamsburg City, York

West Virginia: Berkeley, Jefferson, Morgan

If you’re a communications provider in any of those areas, you can submit your update by accessing DIRS at https://www.fcc.gov/nors/disaster/. (You can also look for the e-filing link on the Commission’s main webpage (www.fcc.gov) or PSHSB webpage (www.fcc.gov/pshs), but the direct DIRS link is easiest.) If you haven’t already signed up as a DIRS participant, you’ll be required to provide contact information and obtain a User ID in order to access DIRS.

Communications providers are reminded that Network Outage Reporting System obligations are suspended for the duration of the DIRS activation in the counties where DIRS has been activated.

If you lose internet access, several FCC staff members involved in disaster preparedness have published their cellphone numbers:

John Healy (202) 391-2486, (215) 847-8094, or john.healy@fcc.gov

Jeff Goldthorp (202) 418-1096, (202) 253-1595 (cell), jeffery.goldthorp@fcc.gov

Julia Tu (202) 418-0731, 202-321-4399, julia.tu@fcc.gov

Michael Caiafa (202) 418-1311, (202) 277-5690 (cell), michael.caiafa@fcc.gov

David Ahn (571) 232-8487 (cell), (202) 418-0853, david.ahn@fcc.gov

If you are in the path of the hurricane but are not in any of the counties listed above, check the FCC’s home page, www.fcc.gov, for further additions to the list of reporting areas. 

In similar emergency situations in the past, the FCC has advised that satellite earth station operators needing to operate emergency facilities may apply electronically at http://licensing.fcc.gov/myibfs; or if they cannot access that system, they may apply by letter, e-mail, and even by telephone.  All requests should provide the technical parameters of the proposed operation and a contact point.  Requests not made through myibfs should be re-filed through that system as soon as possible.  Thus far (as of 7:00 p.m. on October 29) we have not seen a formal advisory from the FCC confirming that this procedure is in effect for Sandy, but we figure it’s a good bet that it is.

As Sandy Nears, FCC Provides Emergency Response Information

 With Frankenstorm Sandy muscling its way up the East Coast and preparing to turn inland in a couple of days (if virtually all the current weather reports are to be believed), the FCC has started its anticipatory disaster response. A public notice released late Friday, October 26, alerts the public to an “advisory tip sheet” on communicating during emergency conditions. The tips, developed by the Commission in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), aren’t what you’d call radical or cutting-edge by any means, but they serve as an excellent reminder that, in emergencies, caution, cool heads and common sense are among the most useful tools available.

And in a separate public notice, the FCC has confirmed that its Operations Center will be open all this weekend, 24-hours-a-day, to address emergency communications needs as they arise. (Presumably the Center will stay open during the coming week as the storm makes landfall, but the notice released Friday addresses only this weekend.) Emergency communications providers – a universe that includes broadcasters, cable operators, wireless and wireless providers, and, of course, first responders – should contact that Operations Center if they need help in initiating, resuming, or maintaining communications operations during the weekend. The phone number for the FCC Operations Center is 202-418-1122, and its email address is FCCOPCenter@fcc.gov. 

Other emergency contacts listed on the FCC’s website include:

Eric Panketh
Acting Division Chief
phone: 202-418-0063
email: Eric.Panketh@fcc.gov

Tim Perrier
Associate Division Chief, Operations and Security
phone: 202-418-1190
mobile: 202-907-4424
email: Timothy.Perrier@fcc.gov

Steve Maguire
Associate Division Chief, Plans and Programs
phone: 202-418-0614
mobile: 202-365-1539
email: Steve.Maguire@fcc.gov

Louis Sigalos
Regional Communications Liasion
phone: 281-492-6288
email: Louis.Sigalos@fcc.gov

Historically, the Commission has also activated its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) in the face of approaching hurricanes. Such activation has not yet been announced by the FCC (as of 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 27), but we won’t be surprised if word comes down before the weekend is out that the DIRS is open for business. Check back here for updates.