Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Overview

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What is IPAWS?

Executive Order 13407 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....and to ensure under all conditions the President can communicate with the American people." FEMA is designated within the Department of Homeland Security to implement the policy of the United States for a public alert and warning system and has established the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). FEMA, as well as numerous public and private industry partners, are working together to transform the national alert and warning system to enable rapid dissemination of authenticated alert information over as many communications pathways as possible.

Vision: Timely Alert and Warning to American People in the preservation of life and property.

Mission: Provide integrated services and capabilities to local, state, and federal authorities that enable them to alert and warn their respective communities via multiple communications methods.

Strategic Goals:
Goal 1 – Create and maintain an integrated interoperable environment for alert and warning
Goal 2 – Make alert and warning more effective
Goal 3 – Strengthen the Resilience of IPAWS Infrastructure

What does IPAWS do?

IPAWS allows alerting authorities to write their own message using open standards. The message is then authenticated by the IPAWS Open Platform for Emergency Networks, or IPAWS-OPEN, to be delivered simultaneously through multiple communications devices reaching as many people as possible to save lives and protect property.  IPAWS must ensure the President can reach the American people, but FEMA recognizes that most alerts and warnings are issued at a state and local level. 

In addition to the President, alerting authorities include state, local, territorial, and tribal public safety officials who are designated within their level of government as an authority responsible for communicating emergency alerts and warnings to the public.  After completing FEMA-sponsored training, alerting authorities will be authenticated for access to IPAWS. They will then be able to use Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) compliant emergency and incident management tools to create location-specific alerts that are scaled to cover areas as big as their entire jurisdiction or a much smaller area within their jurisdiction. Once created, the alert can then be sent to IPAWS-OPEN for relay to the Emergency Alert System (EAS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio and other National Weather Service systems, the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), and other private sector systems. The specific geographic area to which these alerts can then be delivered depends on the capabilities of the dissemination channel used.

IPAWS alerts and warnings are location-specific and therefore more relevant to those receiving the alert.  Through the use of open standards such as the Common Alert Protocol, IPAWS allows for growth and integration with future consumer technologies.  While older systems relied on audio and text-only systems, Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) and IPAWS-OPEN make picture and video feeds possible and allows for the seamless incorporation of emerging technologies.

Once the alert is received from the alerting authorities, IPAWS-OPEN authenticates the source and validates that the alert input conforms to the Common Alerting Protocol standard and IPAWS profile. This provides a standard for everyone across all levels of government as well as the private sector.

Emergency alerts will be delivered across multiple pathways to the American people.  Alerts will be delivered by the Emergency Alert System, using AM, FM, and satellite radio as well as broadcast, cable, and satellite TV.  The Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) will send Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to cell phones and other commercial mobile network devices based on their location, even if cellular networks are overloaded and can no longer support calls, text, and emails.  Wireless Emergency Alerts will not track an individual’s locations or personal data, as it uses SMS-CB, a broadcast (one-way) technology. This assures that authorities cannot collect any subscriber-related data, including details on who is in the targeted area, who has successfully received the emergency alert, or who may have opted out.  State, local, territorial, and tribal alerting systems such as emergency telephone networks, giant voice sirens, and digital road signs may also receive alerts from IPAWS-OPEN and future alerting technologies and systems can be easily integrated into the IPAWS.

When disaster strikes, the IPAWS allows emergency managers and alerting authorities at all levels to send one message to more people over more devices, to save lives and protect property.  No matter where you are: at home, at school, at work, or even on vacation, you can get life-saving alerts.

Visit the FEMA IPAWS Home Page.

Last Updated: 
07/24/2014 - 16:00
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