The Nation’s Integrated Public Alert & Warning System, Part 1
by Salimah LaForce, Research Analyst, Georgia Institute of Technology, Center for Advanced Communications Policy, Wireless RERC
A Collaborative Alert & Warning Effort
Distributing life-saving information during a crisis is critical to strengthening and maintaining continuity of operations for individuals, their families, their communities and the public and private sector. During an emergency, it is imperative that public safety officials at all levels of government are able to provide accurate and clear information to the public as quickly as possibleto minimize the disruption of essential operations. However, ensuring your community understands how to access, use and respond to the information is the key to success. The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) is the nation’s solution for effectively communicating emergency alerts and warnings in the event of natural or man-made disasters. View the customizable IPAWS Public Service Announcement (PSA) at www.ready.gov/alerts.
IPAWS modernizes and enhances the dissemination of alert and warning delivery to the American people. Designed to fulfill Presidential Executive Order 13407, IPAWS incorporates existing and future technologies in order to provide public safety officials with a broad range of emergency communication options to save lives and protect property. IPAWS provides authorized alerting authorities with the capability to integrate their alert and warning systems with the national alert and warning infrastructure. Consequently, IPAWS increases the capability and channels by which life-saving information can be distributed during a crisis.
The IPAWS Open Platform for Emergency Networks (IPAWS-OPEN) provides a single interface for alerting and warning the public about serious emergencies via the Emergency Alert System (EAS), Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), NOAA Weather Radio (NWR), local unique systems, and can incorporate future technologies. IPAWS allows authorized officials to send messages regarding imminent threats and AMBER alerts quickly and simultaneously through multiple communication pathways. It can also be used by the President to send an emergency message to the American people.
Well-trained users will make the best use of IPAWS. Therefore, the IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) provides and supports Federal, State, territorial, tribal, and local public safety officials with online training, best practices, testing, resources, and public education campaign efforts. IS-247.A http://www.training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/courseOverview.aspx?code=IS-247.a is a short course that provides basic information about IPAWS and is recommended for increased awareness of the benefits of the system.
IPAWS-OPEN Message Dissemination Capabilities
Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)
One popular incentive for using IPAWS as an emergency communications system is the ability to use a unique technology, Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), which are only accessible through IPAWS. Alerting authorities are able to communicate brief messages identifying the type of warning, the affected area(s), and provide instructions, which often include directing people to sources of additional information, such as radio or TV.
WEAs are short emergency messages from authorized public alerting authorities that can be broadcast to any WEA-enabled mobile device in a geographically targeted area using cell broadcast technology. A major benefit is that WEAs do not get backlogged during times of emergency, even when wireless voice and data services are highly congested. WEAs also provide public safety officials with the capability to communicate directly with the American people by broadcasting warnings to cell phones and other mobile devices whenever and wherever disaster strikes. WEAs are a public safety enhancing partnership between FEMA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and wireless carriers. They possess the following features:
Unique Ring Tone & Vibration: WEAs automatically “pop up” on the mobile device screen and are limited to 90 characters. The WEAs use a unique ring tone and vibration designed to draw attention and alert people to an emergency. The unique vibration, which distinguishes the alert from a regular text message, is particularly helpful to people with hearing or vision-related disabilities.
Geo-targeted alerts:WEAs are targeted to the specific geographic area of the emergency. If a WEA-capable mobile device is physically located in that area, it will automatically receive and display the message.
Non-subscription based: WEAs are not subscription based, so customers of participating wireless carriers with WEA-capable phones do not need to sign up to receive the alerts. Instead, they automatically receive WEAs in the event of an emergency, if they are located in or travel to the affected geographic area. Alerting authorities and wireless customers are not charged for WEAs and may choose to opt-out of Imminent Threat or AMBER alerts, but not Presidential alerts.
Avoids congestion: WEAs use SMS-Cell Broadcast (SMS-CB), a one-to-many service which simultaneously delivers messages to recipients in a specified area. By using SMS-CB as the delivery service technology, WEAs avoid the congestion issues experienced by traditional voice and text messaging alerting services, which translates into faster and more comprehensive delivery of messages during an emergency.
The IPAWS PMO recently developed “IPAWS for the American People” to provide more information about the key features of WEAs, as well as how to appropriately respond to these alerts. The web-based training course is available at http://www.training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/courseOverview.aspx?code=IS-248.
Interested in learning more about IPAWS? Please tune into next week’s CI Bulletin for part two of this two-part piece.