When disaster strikes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is ready to help. FEMA has developed IPAWS (aka Integrated Public Alert & Warning System) – the powerful way for emergency managers and public officials to alert the public quickly when emergencies arise within their jurisdictions. IPAWS helps local, state, tribal and federal agencies quickly communicate lifesaving information to the public.
IPAWS is especially valuable in the 21st century, when connected devices are all around us. Let’s take a closer look at IPAWS and how it works.
What Is IPAWS Emergency Alert?
IPAWS is a system provided by FEMA for agencies to use to inform the public of emergencies, such as dangerous weather and AMBER Alerts. These notifications go out through various platforms, including cellphones, radio, TV and internet service. Strict system maintenance includes regular weekly tests to ensure operation and reliability.
A critical component of IPAWS is ensuring access to the entire public. The system has technologies to reach people in rural locations, people who lack access to newer electronics, non-English speakers and those with disabilities. For instance, IPAWS can deliver messages through sirens, text-to-Braille translators and sign language interpretation.
Language options can vary based on the delivery media, but they often will include English and Spanish alerts and may include others depending on the primary language spoken by the area’s population. The Department of Homeland Security also uses a collection of international symbols.
The communication channels that can broadcast IPAWS messages include:
- Radio, TV and landline phones.
- NOAA Radio, RSS.
- Mobile devices: Although limited to only the most urgent alerts, Wireless Emergency Alerts are an excellent resource for sending information. Mobile phones can be an ideal way to reach some disabled populations, too, as many smartphones have built-in disability access features. For instance, a visually impaired person might have text-to-speech enabled and would receive a spoken alert through their mobile phone without needing a separate communication platform.
- Browser push notifications.
- Unique systems and assistive and emerging technologies: There are a wide range of other technologies compatible with IPAWS protocols, including digital road signs, wall beacons, sirens, remote video interpretation and others that can meet the needs of people with disabilities, limited technology access and non-English speakers.
Adding IPAWS to your emergency communication toolkit can provide real value. For instance, through WEA, IPAWS can send messages to almost all mobile phones, without any need for registration and provide access to many other message delivery mechanisms. In addition, FEMA is constantly updating IPAWS. The latest updates render IPAWS WEA an even more sophisticated communication tool:
- IPAWS WEA messages now contain up to 360 characters.
- You can include hyper-links. This means you can send a bulletin with lots of information to the public.
- IPAWS WEA now supports alerts in Spanish.
- The geographic accuracy of WEA alerts has also greatly improved.
What Does IPAWS Do?
IPAWS delivers public alerts during various incidents, including anything officials deem a threat to public safety.
- Weather: Tornadoes, flash flooding, heat and snowstorms
- Natural disasters: Earthquakes, volcano eruptions and wildfires
- Infrastructure: Dam breaks, road closures, gridlock, power outages, disaster resources and water and relief supply distribution
- Law enforcement: AMBER Alerts and active shooters
- Public health: Illness outbreak, water contamination and chemical spills
- Other issues: Presidential alerts and shelter-in-place commands
An IPAWS alert could mean many different things and might instruct people to take shelter, evacuate an area, watch for suspects, use bottled water or take other precautions required for safety.
How Does IPAWS Work?
IPAWS relies on the Common Alerting Protocol, which provides technical specifications for compatibility, consistency and access while allowing the alerting authority to add their messages appropriate to the situation. Creating a message with CAP is as easy as using a CAP-compliant piece of software.
These messages then go to the IPAWS Open Platform for Emergency Networks (IPAWS OPEN). This aggregator validates technical requirements and permissions before pushing the message through to the appropriate pathways.
After going through IPAWS OPEN, the message gets distributed to the many dissemination channels mentioned earlier, like the EAS, WEA, NOAA and internet services.
From a technical standpoint, CAP helps IPAWS support multiple media formats while meeting consistent tech demands for the broadest implementation and functionality. It can significantly improve the likelihood that a person will receive the alert.
CAP allows for:
- Rich multimedia, including streaming video, audio, maps and photos.
- Geographical targeting to specific areas.
- Meeting the needs of people with visual or auditory impairments and non-English speakers.
Other IPAWS FAQs
- How long has IPAWS been around? FEMA established the IPAWS program in 2006 by Presidential Executive Order 13407. Today there are more than 1,500 federal, state, local, tribal and territorial alerting authorities that use IPAWS to send critical public alerts and warnings in their jurisdictions.
- Who can get IPAWS alerts? By design, IPAWS reaches as many people as possible within a specific geographic area. Unless you’re entirely off the grid and far from civilization, there’s a good chance you’ll receive an alert, whether through a cellphone, siren, radio, nearby television or the internet.
- How do you set up IPAWS alerts? If your work involves public safety, consider implementing an emergency alert system that integrates with IPAWS. It can help you reach almost everyone you need to with timely information and warnings. Setup is straightforward, and you can learn more about implementing our system, Hyper-Reach, by speaking to a team member.
Partner With the Right Emergency Alert Technology
Hyper-Reach is seamlessly integrated with FEMA’s IPAWS technology, allowing authorized clients to use IPAWS WEA messages to fill in the gaps so they can reach just about all the residents and visitors in an affected area, even if they haven’t registered for emergency alerts or are just passing through the affected community. And Hyper-Reach enables messages through all the IPAWS channels, including EAS and COG-to-COG.
Now we’ve made it even better by adding the ability to send IPAWS messages from the app. This means you can send IPAWS messages right from a mobile device. It’s so capable and easy to use that some customers prefer to use it, even when they’re in the office. And because our IPAWS software is completely up to date with the latest FEMA requirements, you can send longer WEA messages, messages in Spanish, include hyper-links in your WEA messages and more. Leverage IPAWS’ power today. Request our demo or contact us to learn more!