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Proper Use of IPAWS During Hurricane Season

Today’s emergency alert systems need to be reliable and accurate.

In the wake of the terrifying January 2018 false alert to Hawaii residents, the public expects its emergency alert systems to operate consistently and properly.

The crux of general public notification systems in the United States is the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). The system was developed to alert the public across multiple channels — radio, television, wireless devices, and other communication platforms. It is supposed to be deployed when there is an emergency that threatens life and property. It is often used to alert the public to a missing child but can also be used to alert about impending natural disasters or man-made incidents such as a chemical spill.

Near-Panic in Hawaii

On January 13, 2018, Hawaii residents received a terrifying notification on smartphones and television and radio stations. The alert, at 8:07 a.m. local time, told people to seek shelter as there was an incoming ballistic missile headed for the islands.

For 38 terrifying minutes, residents sought shelter and said goodbyes to loved ones. Most assumed the attack was from North Korea, which had been testing long-range missiles and threatened the use of nuclear weapons against the United States.

Thirty-eight minutes later, a second message was distributed indicating the first was a false alarm. The damage, however, was done as rattled residents coped with the terror they had experienced.

Less than a month later, residents on the East Coast, in the Caribbean, and in the Gulf of Mexico received a false alert about a possible tsunami. The mistake was sent in error by a private company during a routine monthly test of the emergency notification system.

Hurricane Season and IPAWS

As hurricane season approaches for much of the southern and northeast coastal United States, knowing how IPAWS functions is critical for municipalities wanting to give their residents accurate and timely information without setting off panic due to false alarms.

IPAWS is designed to be used only in the case of life- or property-threatening emergencies. IPAWS is designed to address multiple types of emergencies where broadcasting information to the broadest possible populace is urgently necessary.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides extensive training information to help officials learn about IPAWS, how it is used, and its many features, FEMA also partners with private companies like OnSolve, makes of CodeRED, to give local agencies access to intuitive tools that leverage the powerful features of IPAWS.


CodeRED from OnSolve gives government agency officials intuitive tools that integrate with the IPAWS system and provide a reliable tool for sharing information when necessary. CodeRED lets officials deliver geo-targeted information via IPAWS, voice, SMS, and email alerts.

The fully redundant system can deliver millions of messages quickly and reliably. It is fully integrated with IPAWS, meaning government agencies can send alerts via the Common Alert System (CAS), Emergency Alert System (EAS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) systems embedded in IPAWS.

In hurricane system, alerts are essential to protect life and property. CodeRED can deliver automated, geo-located alerts when bulletins are issued by the National Weather Service, sending voice mails, emails, and texts to subscribers. If storm damage causes other hazardous material situations, the CodeRED Hazmat Analytical and Alerting Service (HAAS) models the impact of reported chemical issues, alerting potentially affected residents and businesses.

CodeRED Top Features

For municipalities and other agencies in the path of a hurricane, the CodeRED system has powerful features that allow your employees to notify quickly, including:

  • A web-based interface to send messages through a cloud-based software solution
  • Reporting tools that can track message open rates, formats, and responses
  • Document attachment tools to provide additional information, such as maps, guides, photos of missing people, or other relevant details
  • Two-way messaging, allowing officials, residents, and rescue workers to collect information during an event and well after
  • Polling and tracking tools that allow for basic surveys with yes/no response options and personalized text responses
  • Real-time response tracking
  • Consistent message display across devices and operating systems
  • Pre-defined expiration times ranging from 10 minutes to 24 hours
  • Contact information management via a self-registration portal

CodeRED helps your employees understand the uses and functionality of the IPAWS system with easy-to-understand training materials and tools to greatly reduce the threat of the false alarms from early in 2018.