Critical Communications, IPAWS, Public Alerting and Residential Safety

Optimize Your Emergency Alerts with FEMA’s New IPAWS Toolkit

By Sarah Perry

When a crisis occurs, could your response team use something extra in their toolkit? In A New Phase of Emergency Alerting, a three-part webinar series directed at state and local emergency officials, FEMA shares ways you can use the IPAWS Program Planning Toolkit to optimize your disaster alert protocols.

The first webinar in this series, What is the FEMA IPAWS Program Planning Toolkit?, introduced viewers to the IPAWS system, demonstrated its implementation and provided a real-life case study of the ways in which IPAWS streamlines emergency alerts.

What Is the IPAWS Program Planning Toolkit?

FEMA designed the IPAWS Program Planning Toolkit to help safety organizations develop successful public alerting procedures. The free toolkit includes a step-by-step Alerting Program Plan, messaging templates and other resources to create effective disaster responses.

State and local government agencies can use the Alerting Program Plan to think through their response strategies. The simple interface is a series of forms that guides alerting authorities through the process of collecting and organizing their disaster protocols.

Instructions for the use of mass notification systems, like OnSolve CodeRED, should be integrated into the plan so they can be implemented simultaneously with other response methods.

After the form has been completed, the system generates a simple, editable document that can be shared with response officials and easily referenced when an immediate response is needed.

In addition to prewritten templates for various emergencies, a major feature of the toolkit is a message generator that uses social science to craft alerts. Its “mad-lib”-style forms can be used to ensure no essential information is missed before you hit “send.”

These alerts can be disseminated to the public through wireless emergency alerts (WEA), news broadcasts, emails and whatever other emergency communications systems your response team may use.

Once a thorough alert, warning and notification plan has been developed, it’s critical to regularly train and exercise so your response team knows how to act when a disaster occurs. The IPAWS Lab provides resources for live testing and walkthroughs to ensure success.

How to Send an Effective Alert

Have you ever struggled with writing an alert while a disaster is already happening? It can be hard to know what information should be condensed into a tight character limit. Fortunately, FEMA has guidelines.

Whether they’re based on IPAWS examples, generated using the toolkit or written from scratch, your public alerts, warnings and notifications should include:

[Local, familiar, authoritative message source]: [Description of threat or event] in [location and consequences]. [Protective action].

For example, a 90-character alert sent to cell phones would include only pressing details:      

NWS: FLASH FLOOD EMERGENCY this area til 11:00 a.m. EDT. Avoid flooded areas.

Experts like Don Hall, Government Relations Director at OnSolve, recommend being very specific regarding the location and protective actions involved in WEA alerts. Specifying a location takes the message one step further:

NWS: FLASH FLOOD Lake Winona area til 11:00 a.m. EDT. Take appropriate actions. Avoid flooded areas.

An alert sent to devices capable of receiving messages up to 360 characters can contain more information:        

National Weather Service: A FLASH FLOOD EMERGENCY is in effect for the Lake Winona area until 11:00 a.m. EDT. This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order.

The most effective alerts are simple and easy to understand, with actionable directives, location impacted and additional sources of information if possible. Basic templates like this ensure that everyone affected by the situation receives important information.

Emergency alert systems like CodeRED help maximize the impact of these alerts by targeting users in specific locations without alarming those who aren’t in the disaster area.

“Each incident is an opportunity,” said Jody Smith, IPAWS Lab manager. Since public interest is piqued after an alert is sent out, these are chances to receive feedback from your community and adapt response tactics for the future.

IPAWS in Action

Hall, who sits on the FEMA National Advisory Council IPAWS Subcommittee, was an early advocate of IPAWS. He described the IPAWS Program Planning Toolkit as a major innovation that puts best practices in the hands of local and state governments across the country, providing the tools to rapidly improve their response operations.

The implementation of the toolkit helps local emergency responders think through their decision-making process, determine action points and efficiently disseminate information.

Rather than relying on a few individuals with institutional knowledge, the document created using the IPAWS toolkit provides clarity and continuity to any community’s local emergency response procedures.

The toolkit will also help the public understand and respond to disasters.

For example, imagine an instance where a wildfire is approaching an urban area. Officials would be able to send geo-targeted alerts to those in the path of the blaze. Residents would receive clear instructions to evacuate, and county officials would know exactly how to implement their emergency plan while under pressure.

Future Webinars

IPAWS is a powerful tool for public alert and warning of an impending emergency situation. An emergency alerting plan can enhance your usage of CodeRED along with the use of IPAWS to protect your citizens during times of disaster.

Learn more about how you can use IPAWS in your agency by attending all of the webinars in the FEMA series, A New Phase of Emergency Alerting.

What is the FEMA IPAWS Program Planning Toolkit?

October 7, 2021 (past)

Link to recording

IPAWS Equips Emergency Management with Tools to Protect the Public

February 3, 2022, 1:00-2:15 p.m. EST / 10:00-11:15 a.m. PST

Register Now

How to Minimize Alerting Delays

May 5, 2022, 1:00-2:15 p.m. EST / 10:00-11:15 a.m. PST

Register Now

CodeRED and IPAWS

The CodeRED IPAWS solution is used by more than half of the IPAWS alerting authorities in the U.S. because of its optimized performance, history and time-tested functionality. Providing services from LA County, California, to King County, Washington and encompassing 24 statewide systems, the CodeRED IPAWS solution is public agency-tested and approved. OnSolve experts have also been working closely with FEMA for the last decade to continually enhance solutions and provide customers with a partner they can trust.

The OnSolve 24/7/365 Customer Support Team is always available to help you implement CodeRED in your own response efforts. Whether you need additional training, have clarifying questions or require help in the midst of a disaster with set up and alerting, our team of experts is only an email or phone call away.

Visit this page for more information or to schedule a demo of the CodeRED system.