Let’s Get More Jurisdictions on IPAWS

In our last post, we noted the small percentage of local governments that have access to IPAWS. Nationally about 25% of county level alerting authorities and less than 1% of municipal authorities are approved to use IPAWS.

While there is still room for improvement at the county level, let’s look at the data to see if there’s anything that explains why so few municipalities have access to IPAWS:

  • There are 27 states where less than a quarter of county authorities are approved to use IPAWS;
  • Only 8 states (WY, WV, AZ, MN, IA, NY, CA, MD) have more than half of their counties with emergency response organizations authorized to use IPAWS;
  • In 25 states, less than 1% of municipality authorities are certified to use it;
  • And only 2 states, NV and VA, have more than 5% of municipalities with IPAWS alerting authority. See the full list here.

Top 10 states with the highest local IPAWS certification rate (county and municipal levels)

State County Alerting Authorities Total Counties % Authorized State Municipal Alerting Authorities Total Municipalities % Authorized
WY 22 23 95.7% NV 2 19 10.5%
WV 44 55 80.0% VA 12 229 5.2%
AZ 11 15 73.3% CA 15 482 3.1%
MN 60 87 69.0% NM 3 103 2.9%
IA 61 99 61.6% CO 5 271 1.8%
NY 35 57 61.4% MT 2 129 1.6%
CA 31 57 54.4% WV 3 232 1.3%
MD 12 23 52.2% WA 3 281 1.1%
WA 17 39 43.6% NH 2 234 0.9%
LA 26 60 43.3% OR 2 241 0.8%

(data current as of Nov. 2017)

The diversity of IPAWS authority ranges from cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, but also Tehachapi, CA, population 12,500. In Montana, Helena is an IPAWS Alerting Authority, but so is Havre, with less than 10,000 people. Meanwhile Billings, Missoula and Great Falls – the three largest cities in MT, are not using IPAWS.

An obvious potential explanation for this situation could be the way emergency management is organized in different states. For example, in Nevada and Virginia, each municipality and county has its own Emergency Manager (usually the Fire Chief or Deputy Fire Chief), while in states with smaller local populations such as Wyoming and West Virginia, emergency response is usually coordinated at the county level.

Also, some of the smallest states such as NH, DE, VT, RI, and CT use a statewide ENS and currently only state level authorities are approved to use IPAWS in these states.

For local governments, other factors could be:

  • They don’t see emergency notification as a municipal responsibility;
  • They rely on alternative methods such as sirens, radio/TV alerts and social media;
  • Lack of funds. Since many local municipalities are small and have limited resources they may choose to piggy-back on their county’s Emergency Management;
  • Geographic area concerns. Although this issue is being addressed by the FCC, it’s potentially the case that IPAWS WEA messages may reach too many or too few of the intended audience.

While not using IPAWS allows municipal authorities to save money, on the downside, they will have less control over the notification process. In addition, it can take more time to get the county to send out alerts on their behalf during critical situations when seconds count.

We do hope that more counties and cities will consider pursuing IPAWS certification soon and benefit from this evolving and improving technology.

Here’s also a 5-minute FEMA overview of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS):

https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/77356#

 

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