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FCC Holds Hearings On Sandy Communication Failures

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - In addition to the physical devastation of superstorm Sandy, communications were disabled for many and the Federal Communications Commission is now holding hearings to try and prevent those failures in the future.

The first of two today was held at the U.S. Customs House at 1 Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan.

Every cell tower in Long Beach, Long Island was knocked out by Sandy, according to City Manager Jack Schnirman.

FCC Holds Hearings On Sandy Communication Failures

"There was a woman who passed away, and her daughter had to walk literally a mile and a half from her home to police headquarters. There was no other way for her to get that message out," Schnirman said at the hearing.

"The inability to communicate with family and emergency personnel during a disaster is simply unacceptable," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski at what he called a fact finding hearing Tuesday, called to gather suggestions.

Jim Gerace, Vice President of State Government Affairs for Verizon in New York, raised some eyebrows in the room with what he said.

"The wireless network fared very well during Sandy," he said.

Schnirman begged to differ.

"Service providers were nowhere to be found," he said.

He described the search for a cow, a cell tower on wheels.

"The customer service rep. replied 'You might want to look that up on the internet.' Well, obviously, ironically, we had no internet at that time," he said.

"[In 2013,] we should be able to provide a longer battery life to our cell towers," said Rahul Merchant, Chief Information and Innovation Officer and Commissioner at the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

Michael Corso, Director of Industry and Governmental Relations for the New York Public Service Commission, said the only way to prevent a repeat of what happened is to invest.

"Undegrounding is going to have to be considered. Hardening and protection from water intrusion," he said.

Schnirman said that if only they had been able to communicate, "just think how much better we could have done."

"Much has been. Much more needs to be done," Genachowski said.

A second hearing was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. at the Stevens Institute of Technology on River Street in Hoboken.

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