History of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System

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History of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System

In 2004, DHS and FEMA began a program in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and public/private stakeholders to research how to use emerging communications technologies to improve public alerts and warnings to achieve a near instantaneous transmission.  In June 2006, the President signed the Public Alert and Warning System Executive Order which states, “It is the policy of the United States to have an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible, and comprehensive system to alert and warn the American people…establish or adopt, as appropriate, common alerting and warning protocols, standards, terminology, and operating procedures for the public alert and warning system to enable interoperability and the secure delivery of coordinated messages to the American people through as many communication pathways as practicable…administer the Emergency Alert System (EAS) as a critical component…ensure that under all conditions the President of the United States can alert and warn the American people.” In response, FEMA established the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Program Management Office (PMO) in April 2007.

IPAWS is designed to improve public safety through the rapid dissemination of emergency messages to as many people as possible over as many communications devices as possible. To do this, IPAWS expanded the traditional EAS to include more modern technologies. At the same time, FEMA is upgrading the alert and warning infrastructure so that no matter what the crisis, the public will receive life-saving information.

Why is IPAWS in Today's Electronic Media Environment?

The advent of new media has brought a dramatic shift in the way the public consumes information. IPAWS, as the next generation emergency alert and warning system, capitalizes on multiple electronic media outlets to ensure that the public receives life-saving information during a time of national emergency.

Historically, the public depended exclusively on radio and television to receive alerts, but current research shows that the reach of radio and TV is less than 40 percent of the populace during the work day. While less than 12 percent of the population is watching TV in the middle of the night, an even smaller number is tuned into the radio, at 5 percent of the populace. Television and radio will continue to be valuable sources of public information, but their reach is decreasing. Further, these information sources can only target a state or regional sized area and do not encompass alerting for people who do not speak English or those with disabilities, including the 29 million suffering from hearing impairment.

Today, the internet, including video and email, and cellular and residential phones are increasingly popular and therefore, valuable, sources of information. One study showed that the Internet has a 62 percent usage rate, averaging at 108 minutes a day. While television remains the most popular source for information, the Internet ranked either first or second at both work and home.

History of Emergency Alerting

On June 26, 2006, President Bush signed Executive Order 13407, directing the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to create a comprehensive Public Alert and Warning System for the United States. This presidential mandate called for an integrated alert and warning system to reach as many people as possible through as many forms of communication as possible.  Prior to the Executive Order, the country has had various forms of emergency alerting.

Graphic - 1951 - CONtrol of ELectromagnetic RADiation (CONELRAD)

1951 - CONtrol of ELectromagnetic RADiation (CONELRAD)
Originally called the “Key Station System,” the CONtrol of ELectromagnetic RADiation (CONELRAD) was established in August 1951.  Participating stations tuned to 640 & 1240 kHz AM and initiated a special sequence and procedure designed to warn citizens.


  1963 - Emergency Broadcast System (EBS)
1963 - Emergency Broadcast System (EBS)
EBS was initiated to address the nation through audible alerts. It did not allow for targeted messaging.  The system was upgraded in 1976 to provide for better and more accurate handling of alert receptions.  It was originally designed to provide the President with an expeditious method of communicating with the American Public, and it was expanded for use during peacetime at state and local levels.

 1997 - Emergency Alert System (EAS) - This is a test of the Emergency Alert System.
1997 - Emergency Alert System (EAS)
EAS is jointly coordinated by the FCC, FEMA and the National Weather Service.  It is designed for the President to speak to the American People within 10 minutes.


EAS messages are composed of 4 parts:

  • Digitally encoded header
  • Attention Signal
  • Audio Announcement
  • Digitally encoded end-of-message marker

2006 to Present - Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS)
IPAWS modernizes and integrates the nation’s alert and warning infrastructure using new and existing public alert and warning systems and technologies.  IPAWS provides authorities a broader range of message options and multiple communications pathways and increases their capability to alert and warn communities of all hazards impacting public safety.

The Evolution of Emergency Broadcasting

Last Updated: 
07/24/2014 - 16:00
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