INSIDERADIO reports that on its first day back to work after Hurricane Irma struck Florida, the Senate quickly approved the bill (S. 102) designating radio and TV as “first responders” during natural disasters. The bill saw several years of holdups, but ultimately, back-to-back hurricanes seemed to have convinced Congress to pass the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act—otherwise known as the SANDy Act.
The House earlier approved the bill, only to see it become hung up in the Senate once again. But that changed with a quick vote on Monday when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) asked for unanimous consent to the legislation without any floor debate. The bill now heads to the White House where it only needs President Trump’s signature to become law.
While many local officials turn to broadcasters during emergencies, there have been situations where things have become more contentious and, by passing a federal law, supporters say the SANDy bill would simply put into place guarantees already adopted in several states.
The bill’s passage drew positive reviews at the Federal Communications Commission. “We know that weather-related emergencies and other disasters can occur anywhere at any time, and this legislation comes not a moment too soon,” commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement, adding, “Among other things, it promises to help speed restoration of essential communications in times of disaster.”
The legislation has the backing of the National Association of Broadcasters, which says recognizing radio and TV’s first-informer role will keep local radio and TV stations on-air during times of emergencies. According to a recent NAB-commissioned survey, 57% of Americans turn to local radio and TV stations for updates during an emergency. That’s four-times more than text messaging, email or cable news channels. The online survey, conducted in March by Morning Consult, included a sample of 2,251 adults aged 18 and older.