Senator Dawn Marie Addiego, Assemblyman Christopher J. Brown and Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (all R-8) have announced legislation that would protect schools and public safety agencies from preventable telephone outages and require all public utilities to maintain dedicated support staff to provide those organizations with priority service.
A prolonged and preventable utility outage beginning on May 12, 2014 that left Southampton Township Schools without telephone service or the ability to communicate was met with an inadequate response by service providers. (Southampton Township School District)
The legislation (S-2594/Assembly version pending introduction) was prompted by a telephone service outage lasting more than a day that left the Southampton Township Board of Education and its schools with “minimal capability to communicate with parents, law enforcement, and emergency responders if necessary.”
“With so many children gathered together for so much of the time, it’s crucial that schools have priority access to resolve utility issues,” said Addiego. “Given recent events at Newtown and elsewhere, we can all understand the importance of school officials having access to working phones should they need to call for help.”
The Southampton service outage occurred during a botched transition between two telephone service providers, resulting in the termination of the old service before the new service was functional.
Under the legislation, the old provider of telephone service to a school or public safety agency would not be allowed to discontinue service until the new service provider certifies that the new service is operational.
“Emergencies tend to happen at the most inconvenient times, so we should have a system in place to ensure that utilities are able address service problems affecting schools and first responders as soon as they occur,” said Brown. “Our kids’ safety should be given greater consideration than was demonstrated during the Southampton school phone outage.”
Efforts by the school district to contact the service providers to resolve the outage were frustrated as each call was met by a different customer service representative who had no knowledge of the issue or willingness to escalate the problem to senior management.
The legislation would require all public utilities, including electric, natural gas, sewer, water and telecom providers, to maintain dedicated support personnel for resolving issues with schools and public safety agencies, including law enforcement, fire fighting, emergency medical services, and their dispatchers.
“Just as it is important for schools to be able to resolve utility issues in a timely fashion, it is critical that public safety agencies have priority access to resolve issues that may keep them from protecting the public,” added Rodriguez-Gregg. “Sometimes our first responders need help so that they can continue to help everyone else.”