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FCC Seeks Comments for Blanket Waiver to Allow Amateur Radio in Hospital Emergency Drills

03/04/2010

In February 2010, the American Hospital Association (AHA) filed a request with the FCC for a blanket waiver of Section 97.113(a)(3) of the Commission's Rules "to permit hospitals seeking accreditation to use Amateur Radio operators who are hospital employees to transmit communications on behalf of the hospital as part of emergency preparedness drills." On March 3, the FCC issued a Public Notice -- WP Docket 10-54 -- seeking comments if the Commission "should grant AHA's request for a blanket waiver of Section 97.113(a)(3) to permit amateur operators who are hospital employees to participate in emergency drills that are conducted by hospitals for accreditation purposes and that are not government-sponsored."Section 97.113(a)(3) specifically prohibits amateur stations from transmitting communications "in which the station licensee or control operator has a pecuniary interest, including communications on behalf of an employer."

Given the public interest in facilitating government-sponsored emergency preparedness and disaster drills, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau have provided a process for requesting a waiver of Section 97.113(a)(3) to permit named Amateur Radio operators to participate in specified government-sponsored drills by transmitting messages on behalf of identified employers. The waiver must be requested prior to the drill, and employees may not transmit amateur communications on their employer's behalf unless the waiver request has been granted by the FCC.

According to AHA, waiver relief should be available for these non-government-sponsored exercises "because it is in the public interest to ensure that hospital communications operate effectively during emergencies." The FCC noted that in its blanket waiver request, the AHA also stated that requiring separate waiver requests would be administratively burdensome on hospitals and the Commission. "AHA thus requests a blanket waiver for hospitals seeking Joint Commission accreditation, until such time as the Commission adopts a final order in response to a forthcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will seek comment on potential changes to Section 97.113(a)(3)," the FCC said.

"AHA states that hospitals seeking accreditation from the Joint Commission (formerly the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) must prepare an emergency operations plan setting forth how the hospital will communicate during emergencies, and establish back-up communications links (which, among other means of communications, may include amateur radio stations) to communicate essential information if primary communications systems fail," the FCC pointed out in its Public Notice. "AHA states that hospitals seeking accreditation also are required to test their emergency operations plans twice annually."

As such, the FCC has opened up the matter for public comment. Not only are comments in favor of or against the issue of amateur operators -- who are hospital employees -- to participate in emergency drills conducted by hospitals for accreditation purposes that are not government-sponsored welcomed, the Commission is also seeking comments addressing "whether, if blanket relief were to be granted, there would be some benefit from requiring hospitals to provide notice to the Commission concerning emergency drills they perform, and what such notice should entail."

Comments are due by Friday, April 2; reply comments are due no later than Monday, April 19. All filings should reference the docket number of this proceeding, WP Docket No 10-54. In the Public Notice, the FCC noted that this proceeding has been designated as a "permit-but-disclose" proceeding in accordance with the Commission's ex parte rules: "Parties making oral ex parte presentations in this proceeding are reminded that memoranda summarizing the presentation must contain the presentation's substance and not merely list the subjects discussed. More than a one- or two-sentence description of the views and arguments presented is generally required." Instructions on how to paper file or file electronically are listed in the Public Notice.



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