Changes to IPAWS Coming Soon.

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There are a number of changes to IPAWS that have been in the works for years now and are finally close to being released by FEMA. These include: 

  • Increasing the maximum character count from 90 to 360.
  • Adding support for Spanish language WEA.
  • Adding two new alert categories:
  1. Public Safety Message – for less severe situations.
  2. WEA Test Message – supports state and local WEA testing.
  • Geo-targeting improvements to reach 100% of an area with no more than 1/10th of a mile overshoot.
  • Messages stay on the receiving device for 24 hours unless deleted by the user. 

These changes were supposed to go into effect at the end of November, but have been delayed by FEMA. While we don’t yet know the “go live” date, we’re hoping it’s a matter of weeks, rather than months.

Here are a few points to keep in mind about these changes: 

  • Every aspect of IPAWS WEA messaging is potentially affected by each of the components of the system. These include: 
  1. The IPAWS origination software. If you’re using Hyper-Reach, you can be assured that we’re on top of IPAWS requirements and are either supporting all new changes or will in very short order. After all, we’re one of the leading proponents of IPAWS among ENS providers: we were one of the first to implement IPAWS and have the highest rate of IPAWS adoption among our customers compared with other major ENS providers.
  2. The IPAWS network, as provided by FEMA. This is where the changes we’re expecting are in process.
  3. The mobile carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.
  4. Individual mobile devices. 
  • The different parts of the system affect these changes in different ways.  For example: 
  1. The geo-targeting improvements depend heavily on the carrier’s ability to support them AND the capabilities of individual mobile devices. As a result, the “1/10th of a mile overshoot” change will only be effective on mobile devices that can filter out messages based on their location information. Devices that don’t have the ability to filter or which don’t have location information will receive the message if they’re in the broadcast area of a cell tower in the polygon selected for message delivery.
  2. The character count expansion to 360 depends on the origination software, the carrier’s ability to deliver 360 characters and the device’s ability to display that character length. We’ve seen reports that some carriers won’t be able to support 360 characters right away. 
  3. The testing components mean that FEMA may start requiring monthly testing once those components are available.  Currently, FCC rules require getting a limited waiver for end-to-end testing and that requirement will go away once the full testing components are available. 

Although these changes have taken a long time to come – the FCC issued rules for some of them more than three years ago – they will provide significant improvements in the usefulness and effectiveness of IPAWS. We’re looking forward to them and are committed to continuing to improve your experience in using this valuable service.

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