A Closer Look at IPAWS

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Based on recent data, less than 25% of local jurisdictions are currently certified with FEMA as Alerting Authorities authorized to use the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS). https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/117152.

Percentage of Local Alerting Authorities approved to use IPAWS

Authority Level IPAWS Alerting Authorities Total Jurisdictions %
County 753 3,031 24.8%
Municipal 104 34,376 0.3%

Alerting Authorities with IPAWS certification by organization type

State County Municipal Tribal Military University/School
77 753 104 4 16 5

Although every state has IPAWS authority (and some have multiple agencies with authority), local governments are not making much use of IPAWS.  And that’s unfortunate, in our opinion.

We don’t know all the reasons why so many local governments aren’t using IPAWS, but here are some possible factors, with particular focus on WEA (Wireless Emergency Alert) messages that go to cell phones:

  1. IPAWS targeting is not precise enough.  There are still many counties where at least some of the mobile carriers will broadcast a WEA message across the entire county. And others where even the selected area may be too broad for the purposes of the alert;
  2. Limited message length.  At 90 characters, IPAWS WEA messages don’t carry a lot of content.  So perhaps potential users don’t think it’s so valuable;
  3. Restrictive usage rules. Since IPAWS WEA messages can only be used when there’s a likely or higher risk of imminent death or property loss, potential users might think they can’t use IPAWS, even in cases where they really can.
  4. Cost.  While IPAWS itself is free, you need software to access it, and that usually has a cost.  But lots of counties and cities have some kind of emergency notification system, such as Hyper-Reach, and almost all of those companies offer IPAWS software.
  5. Adoption curve.  It takes time for people to change.  And while Hyper-Reach was quick to jump on the use of IPAWS, not every emergency notification company was, so maybe it’s just a matter of time.

Why is having IPAWS at the local level so important?

  • Having their own access to IPAWS gives local authorities the ability to send alerts immediately without having to go through other channels. So they can get critical information out to the public faster and save more lives.
  • Since more than 95% of people have a mobile phone, IPAWS WEA can fill in the gaps to reach residents and visitors in an affected area who haven’t registered for emergency alerts.
  • As new functionality and better targeting becomes a reality, IPAWS WEA will become an even more effective tool for notifying citizens in case of an imminent threat, both from a delivery perspective and with enhanced content adding impact for better results.

We think that more counties and cities should be using IPAWS.  And we can help.

If you want to find out more about IPAWS and how it integrates with an Emergency Mass Notification System, we would be happy to explain it in greater detail and show you how it all works.

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