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The Nation’s Integrated Public Alert & Warning System, Part 2

Mon, 01/13/2014 - 4:57pm
Salimah LaForce, Research Analyst, Georgia Institute of Technology, Center for Advanced Communications Policy, Wireless RERC

This is part two of a two-part piece. Part one can be found here.

Emergency Alert System (EAS)

In many cases, radio and TV stations continue to operate when other means of alerting the public are unavailable, providing a layer of resiliency to the suite of available emergency communication tools. The EAS feature is commonly used by alerting authorities to send detailed warnings via broadcast, cable, satellite, and wireline radio and television channels.

IPAWS uses an internationally recognized Extensible Markup Language (XML) message exchange data standard known as the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) to make the EAS more resilient and to provide enhanced alerting capabilities. IPAWS-OPEN collects CAP alerts issued by authorized public officials and distributes them to EAS participants via an EAS CAP feed. EAS participants must monitor IPAWS in addition to other emergency information sources.  The EAS is in a constant state of improvement to assure seamless integration of CAP-based emerging technologies.  

Primary Entry Point (PEP) Stations

PEP stations are private or commercial radio stations that cooperatively participate with FEMA to provide a continuous all-hazards ready state for the broadcast of nationwide presidential emergency alert notifications to the public before, during, and after a national or local emergency. PEP stations are located across the country and include FEMA provided resiliency improvements such as generators and extended fuel supplies to enable operation when commercial power is interrupted.  

PEP stations provide resilience for alerts and warnings to the public. In addition to building new PEP stations, FEMA is currently modernizing existing PEP stations to reinforce their resiliency. Satellite communications will also be used to augment the resilience as an alternate path to facilitate alerts and warnings. The modernization and expansion project will include and maintain 77 operational PEP stations throughout the U.S. and its territories. Direct coverage of the nation’s population has expanded from approximately 67 percent in 2009 to over 90 percent in 2012. 

NOAA HazCollect

FEMA and the National Weather Service (NWS) have partnered to provide an additional channel through which the alerting authorities using IPAWS can send public alerts and warnings. This is made possible through the All-Hazards Emergency Message Collection System, also known as “HazCollect”, which automatically relays Non-Weather Emergency Messages (NWEMs). IPAWS-OPEN converts public alerts intended for HazCollect to a format that is compatible with international meteorological standards. HazCollect routes valid NWEMs through a gateway allowing alerting authorities to use IPAWS to send their messages through the NWS dissemination systems, greatly increasing the number of alerting channels and enhancing the likelihood of timely receipt by the public. The NWS dissemination systems include NOAA Weather Radio (NWR), NOAA Weather Wire Service, Emergency Managers Weather Information Network, NWS websites, internet feeds, and others.

Integrating Unique and Emerging Technologies

Many alerting authorities already have a range of unique alerting and dissemination technologies at their disposal. These systems could include, but are not limited to, emergency telephone networks, siren systems, digital road signs, social sharing websites, or instant messaging. Many unique systems may already be or can be upgraded to become CAP compliant, allowing public safety officials to use IPAWS to streamline and increase available alerting channels to improve alerting reach.

By making unique alerting services CAP-compliant and integrating them with IPAWS, alerting authorities will be able to send a single message simultaneously to multiple communication pathways, including: radio, television, cell phones and other mobile devices, internet services, unique systems, and all future CAP-compliant technologies. Utilizing multiple channels for public alerts increases the likelihood that the message will successfully reach the public. In addition, using a single CAP alert message reduces the amount of time required to prepare separate system-specific alerts, thus, speeding the delivery of critical, lifesaving information.

Use of the CAP standard enables industry partners to develop content and/or devices that can be used by individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs to receive emergency alerts. CAP alerts can transport rich multimedia attachments and links in alert messages. The IPAWS PMO participates in operational testing and evaluation of products and is continually working toward integrating additional technologies and encouraging private sector innovation to meet the needs of the whole community.

The Future of IPAWS

The goal of the IPAWS PMO is to ensure all segments of the American population are covered by IPAWS, in addition to understanding the functions and how to properly respond to alerts and warnings from public safety officials. To date, 38 states have adopted IPAWS while others have initiated the application process.

The IPAWS PMO is dedicated to working closely with partners including public safety officials, private sector industry, non-profit and advocacy organizations, Federal executive governance and legislative oversight, to engage and educate the American people. Current efforts to ensure public safety officials understand, adopt, and use IPAWS and that the public remains engaged and interested include:

  • PSAs broadcast on radio and television
  • Online training courses
  • Webinars for various audiences
  • Working groups and roundtables
  • Interactive demonstrations showcased during speaking engagements, presentations, conferences, and meetings
  • Encouraging the American people to share personal accounts about how WEAs have successfully impacted their lives
  • Updated information on the IPAWS website and Ready.gov including best practices, case studies, and training resources
  • Social Media
  • Targeted youth outreach campaign in partnership with Ready.gov

IPAWS enables public safety officials to incorporate emergency communication continuity requirements into their daily operations. This ensures seamless continuation of essential and critical government functions and public services.  IPAWS also engages the American people with education on the functions of the public alert and warning system and how to access, use, and respond to alerts and warnings.

For more information about IPAWS, or to learn how to become an alerting authority, please visit www.fema.gov/IPAWS

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