The Los Angeles City Council on Friday moved to require future free-standing cellphone towers be built to the same seismic protection standards as public safety buildings, which are meant to be usable after a strong earthquake.
Under current regulations, cell towers in the city are built to a lesser standard. They're expected to remain standing after a major temblor but not necessarily usable.
The new rules do not apply to existing cell towers in the city.
The ordinance, approved 11-0, still needs to return for another vote by the council. If approved on second reading, the mayor must sign the measure before it becomes law.
Breakdowns in cellular service after an earthquake could delay emergency response time, and since LA's last major earthquake, the 1994 quake in Northridge, the Internet and cellular communications have become an "integral part of our society," officials said in a city report.
"Communications are paramount when the next disaster strikes, and we know it's not if, it's when," Councilman Bob Blumenfield told his colleagues before Friday's vote.
"Our communications safety facilities are just as important as our public safety facilities," he said. "In the event of a disaster, they are our public safety facilities."
Blumenfield added the increased cost of building towers to the new standards should be "marginal."
The new rules also will not affect cell towers that are attached to buildings, which represent the majority of the towers in a city with limited space for free-standing structures, according to a city report.
Blumenfield said those towers will likely be addressed when the city considers possible seismic retrofitting requirements for buildings.
Scientists predict that a large, disastrous earthquake is very likely in Los Angeles, and the new measure is part of a larger effort by the city to prepare for this possibility. The City Council is also weighing Mayor Eric Garcetti's proposal to require certain wood-framed and brittle concrete buildings to be retrofitted to withstand shaking from a major quake.