The Federal Communications Commission announced on Wednesday it will hold field hearings examining ways to keep communications systems up and running during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.
Lawmakers called for probes into communications outages after Sandy left as much as 25 percent of cell sites in its path inoperable when it hit the East Coast in October.
“This unprecedented storm has revealed new challenges that will require a national dialogue around ideas and actions to ensure the resilience of communications networks," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.
The hearings will start in 2013, with the first round in New York and continuing in other disaster-prone areas of the country.
In the wake of Sandy, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called for the FCC to determine where system weaknesses exist and develop plans to make communications networks more resilient.
"Field hearings will increase our understanding of the problems encountered during Superstorm Sandy and harvest the best ideas to ensure that mobile phone service doesn't fail after future storms," he said in a statement after the FCC announced the hearings. "Mobile communication has become an essential part of our lives, and increasing its reliability must be a top priority."
Several House Democrats have also called for a congressional hearing on the issue.
Harold Feld, senior vice president at the consumer group Public Knowledge, said he hopes the outages will lead to federal standards for communications networks.
"Hopefully, the experience with Sandy underscores how dependent we as a nation have become on these networks, and that the federal government does indeed have a role in setting minimum standards for preparedness and response," he said.