Need an IPAWS Confidence Boost? Learn How to Stop Hesitating and Save Lives

How comfortable are you sending an IPAWS alert? More often than not, most emergency managers aren’t very confident when it comes time to push the "send" button. While this hesitation puts lives and property at risk, it’s also understandable.

A disaster that merits an IPAWS alert is a low-frequency, high-stress situation. When a crisis happens, it’s normal to hesitate for a variety of reasons – stress, confusion, lack of training, liability concerns, etc. These reasons all stem from the same emotion – fear. When that fear causes an emergency alert to go out too late (or not at all), the results can be devastating.

The wildfire in Maui is just one example of what can happen when too much time is spent second guessing the emergency alerting process. By the time the county sent an emergency cellphone alert at 4:16 pm, the fire had already been spreading through town. The alert did not cover all areas to which the wildfire soon spread, and the death toll climbed to at least 100 people.

The good news is emergency managers and other government officials can overcome this fear and build confidence through competence™ with a mindset shift. The first step is to accept that in the heat of the moment, you won’t always be perfect. Mistakes will happen. And that’s okay. Officials need to adjust their thinking and fear inaction rather than mistakes.

The second step is to increase your competency with all aspects of emergency alerting. Competency creates a sense of self-confidence, so you’re less likely to pause with IPAWS. This is an ongoing endeavor, but one that will reap big rewards (more lives saved and less property damaged).

Phone showing a national alert test

In Control: A Guide to Navigating Emergency Alerting With Authority and Precision

Use this first-of-its-kind guide to stop hesitating and use IPAWS to send life-saving alerts with confidence.

5 Steps to Build Confidence Through Competence™

1. Build a foundational knowledge of IPAWS.

The decision to send an emergency alert begins with a solid foundation of the IPAWS alerting system. This includes understanding the differences between all three of the IPAWS Alert Pathways.

    • Emergency Alert System (EAS): Mostly for television and radio broadcast transmission.
    • Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA): Sent to cell phones and other WEA-capable devices via push broadcast through cellular service towers.
    • NOAA Weather Radio (NWR): Run on radio frequencies outside the normal AM or FM broadcast bands.

2. Create a comprehensive emergency alerting program.

A detailed and comprehensive written emergency alerting program is an essential confidence builder. Ownership should come from the top and include topics like:

    • IPAWS user policy (who has the authority to initiate an alert)
    • Plans for expected emergencies in your area
    • Backup plans

3. Conduct ongoing training and education.

Regular training creates the muscle memory needed to send an alert with confidence during a crisis. Effective training should include planned sessions, as well as unannounced drills. Education and training should also cover all aspects of the alerting process and account for different scenarios that may arise during a real emergency.

4. Master message creation.

Worrying about whether your message is accurate and clear is one of the main causes of fear and hesitation. Pre-scripted templates for the most common emergencies and adhering to the steps laid out in resources like the Message Design Dashboard (MDD) make it easy to create effective alerts that are clear and concise.

5. Constantly improve.

Every success and failure is a chance to improve. Data captured in after-action reports and a logbook of all actions taken should be used to make recommendations for further improvements.

The Mindset Shift

IPAWS alerts save lives – when they’re sent to the right people at the right time. While fear is common among many IPAWS users, shifting that mindset to a fear of inaction can help emergency managers overcome hesitation and send alerts with authority. A comprehensive knowledge base, documented plans and regular training create the confidence and muscle memory needed to achieve the ultimate goal: Taking a positive action (even an imperfect one) in an effort to save lives and minimize property damage.

Ready to dig into these five steps? Download the new guide featuring expert tips and best practices from Eddie Bertola, founder of Bertola Advisory Services and subject matter expert on emergency messaging, and Peter Gaynor, former FEMA Administrator and Vice President, Resiliency and Disaster Recovery at Hill International. 


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