Get Ahead of the Curve: IPAWS Changes You Need to Know

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) developed IPAWS to alert the public across multiple channels, including radio, television, wireless devices and other communication platforms.

It was designed to be deployed when an emergency threatens life and property and getting information to as many people as possible is urgent. Frequently, IPAWS is used to alert the public when a child is missing, but it can also be used to alert citizens about impending natural disasters or man-made incidents such as chemical spills.

During the last year, IPAWS has come under increased scrutiny, due to perceived mishandling of situations such as the California wildfires and a false alarm that took place in Hawaii. In response, to remind users how important and reliable the system is, FEMA will issue a new set of guidelines for IPAWS users in the coming months and into 2019.

Let’s take a closer look at IPAWS updates you can expect through 2019.

Improvements to IPAWS

In part as a response to the needless and tragic missteps mentioned above, and to bolster the nation’s public safety efforts, FEMA will be upgrading IPAWS over the next several months.

On October 3, 2018, FEMA conducted an IPAWS test by sending a “Presidential Alert” to the nation’s general public via cell phones, television and radio. The agency was testing the system to assess the readiness for a national emergency message and to determine whether improvements are needed.[i]

One IPAWS revision permits state and local officials to conduct “live code” tests that use the same alert codes and processes that would be required in an actual emergency. This revision specifically targets false alarms like the one in Hawaii. With such tests, officials will learn the mass notification system better; residents will become accustomed to responding to alerts and will know what to expect. All residents in an area will receive a test message, as they would a real alert.

One concern related to such tests is that they can trigger “alert fatigue.” The Federal Communications Commission, which is steering the IPAWS upgrades, notes that careful planning for testing help ensure that tests are effective.

In addition, public service announcements (PSAs) about the alert system will now use the same alert sounds as the alerts in an actual emergency. A disclaimer will be included and agencies must tell people in advance about the PSAs. Also, any agencies using the system will be required to report any false alerts.[ii]

Choose the Right IPAWS Origination Tool

FEMA provides complete guidelines for choosing the right IPAWS origination tool. Be sure you choose carefully to ensure that you can take advantage of full IPAWS functionality and that you know your messages will get through.

Some tips:

  • Ask your provider about where their servers are located, to provide redundancy and maximum availability.
  • Be certain that the tool can deliver as many messages as you need it to.
  • Evaluate the tool’s speed and reliability, so that geo-targeted messages are delivered quickly.
  • Choose a tool that provides two-way communication to residents and your teams in the field during an emergency.
  • Check that your tool provides an alert preview and alert confirmations. You should be able to easily update an alert.

Put your agency in the best possible position when it comes to communicating during a crisis. Plan ahead and be prepared. Implement IPAWS and then train with and test it. You’ll be serving your public with the best possible crisis communications.

Article Cover Top 7 Things You Need to Know About IPAWS

Top 7 Things You Need to Know About IPAWS

We’ve all heard terms like WEA and EAS – but many people do not understand the differences and how these all fit into the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). This federally mandated program first started in 2006 and provides government agencies with a way to send alerts to residents when it can directly impact life and/or property.

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