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.
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]
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.
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.
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.Download The Article