Telecommunications services are vital in coordination of and response to crises or emergency situations. As a result of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and other natural or technical disaster, telecommunications service vendors may become overwhelmed with requests for new services and requirements to restore existing services.
The Telecommunications Service Priority Program provides service vendors with a Federal Communications Commission mandate for prioritizing service requests by identifying those services critical to National Security and Emergency Preparedness (NS/EP) telecommunications services. TSP is a regulatory, administrative and operational framework for the priority provisioning and restoration of any qualified NS/EP telecommunications.
NS/EP telecommunications services are those services critical to the maintenance of a state of readiness or the response to and management of any event or crisis which causes or could cause harm to the population, damage property or threaten the security of the United States.
"TSP is established by the federal government, so when a disaster strikes and the local carriers are deciding who to repair first, they go by the TSP priority," said Lt. Col. Joanne Sechrest (ret.). formerly of the National Communications System. "They can't make the decisions on behalf of their customers. It has to be decided ahead of time before the disaster strikes."
A telecommunications service with a TSP assignment is assured of receiving full attention by the service vendor before a non-TSP service.
Tom Snee, Director of National Security for Qwest Communications, said TSP sets priorities that allow the vendors to legally put some users ahead of others in an emergency.
"The users that we can put ahead with ease are those who have previously identified themselves to the government as critical users and have gotten TSP authorization," Snee said.
FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin said that all public safety organizations should be full participants in the TSP program. "I firmly believe that every 911 call center, state, local and tribal emergency operations center, police and fire station, should enroll in the TSP program," he said. "We at the FCC will do all we can to accomplish this goal."
Suggested agencies and businesses that should be involved in TSP includes banks, transporation agencies, hospitals, medical centers, schools, 911 call centers, local, state and federal government, police, communications vendors, utilities and fire and rescue departments.
Established in 1988, TSP was put into operation during the 9/11 emergency in 2001.
"In 9/11, we could only get to those users that had TSP because there was such major damage in certain areas," said Ernie Gormsen, National Coordinating Center representative for Verizon. "We had to put everything else at the bottom of the list after the TSP provisioning requirements."
According to Tom Anderson, a TSP administrator, the two main components of the TSP program are provisioning and restoration.
"Provisioning is when an emergency requires you to put in a new phone line faster than your service provider normally can use," Anderson said. "When that happens, we recommend that you contact us at the TSP Program Office and we will work out the details with you at that time."
The difference between restoring service to a TSP user and other users can be days, weeks or months.
"The second component of TSP is restoration," Anderson said. "Basically, it's like an insurance police for your phone lines so that if something happens, the phone company knows to take care of you before they take care of the general population. To do this, you would request from the TSP Program Office an authorization code, and then you would give that authorization code to your phone company and, like an insurance policy, you would have to have that all done in advance so that when an emergency happens, everything's in place.'
One Federal agency that has taken advantage of the TSP Program is the Federal Reserve Board, said FRB associate director Ken Buckley. "A delay of 48 hours for our payment systems would be catastrophic for the nation's economy," Buckley said. "When we decided to put all our critical circuits - over 1,200 of them - under the TSP restoration program, we were able to get it done and revalidated in less than half an hour."
TSP is used for voice and data circuits. Most agencies now rely heavily on data communications and data products. TSP covers those lines that connect the agency to the Internet.
A telecommunications emergency need not be local to affect your telecommunications, Sechrest said. It need not be major either. While Hurricane Katrina reinforced the necessity that first responders and incident command teams have telecommunications, TSP protects against other mishaps as well.
"Back hoes are the biggest problem for telecommunications providers," Sechrest said.
The first step in applying to TSP is determining which phone lines and circuits belonging to the applicant should be covered. Then the applicant visits the TSP web site at http://tsp.ncs.gov and registers those circuits.
"You can't manage a disaster scene without being able to communicate," Sechrest said. "TSP allows that to happen."