Main Content

Alerting Authorities

This section contains information on IPAWS’s capabilities, who can use IPAWS to send alerts and warnings, and organizations that work with the IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) to support public alerts and warnings.

FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) is an internet-based capability that federal, state, local, tribal and territorial authorities can use to issue critical public alerts and warnings. See which alerting authorities are approved to use IPAWS in your area.

IPAWS is accessed through software that meets IPAWS system requirements. There is no cost to send messages through IPAWS, although there may be costs associated with acquiring compatible alert origination software. IPAWS is not mandatory and does not replace existing methods of alerting, but instead complements existing systems and offers new capabilities.

WEA Enhancements are Live! What Do I Need to Know?

IPAWS has implement enhancements that will strengthen Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). The WEA enhancements improve upon current WEA capabilities already in use by Federal, state, local, tribal and territorial emergency management, and public safety officials nationwide. Additional enhancements and capabilites include:

  • Increasing the maximum character count from 90 to 360;
  • Adding support for Spanish-language WEA;
  • Adding two new alert categories in addition to Presidential, AMBER and Imminent Threat
    • Public Safety Message - Less severe in nature than Imminent Threat
    • WEA Test Message - Opt in message to support state and local WEA testing; and
  • Enhanced geo-targeting reaching 100 percent of the targeted area with no more than 1/10th of a mile overshoot.

These enhancements require more than just the update to IPAWS. They require updates to wireless providers’ nationwide networks and customer phones, and to software that alerting authorities use to send alerts. However, below are frequently asked questions that will assist you when you leverage the new WEA enhancements.

Expanding from 90-character to 360-character WEA Messages

Q : What does it mean when I hear that WEA supports 360 characters?

  • You can now include more characters of text in your WEA alerts. WEA alerts used to be limited to 90 characters. That is less than a Tweet. They can now include up to 360 characters. Alert originators can use these additional characters to communicate more information to the public about emergencies. The additional characters also enable alert originators to communicate more clearly, without relying on potentially confusing jargon or abbreviations. Be aware, not all phones support 360 characters yet, so for the time being 90 characters is required and 360 characters is optional.

Q : Can I now send WEA messages that allow for up to 360 characters to my community?

  • Yes, provided that your alert origination software you use to send alerts via FEMA’s IPAWS to WEA supports this enhancement.   
    • Please note:
      • People with newer mobile devices may receive the full 360 characters. However, people with older mobile may receive a 90-character message.
      • Contact your alert origination software provider if you are unsure whether your software allows you to take advantage of this WEA enhancement, or if your alert origination software does not yet support this WEA enhancement and you wish to use it.

Q : Since some members of the public will not be able to receive 360-character WEA alerts, should I also continue to send alerts in 90 characters?

  • Yes. Alert originators must include 90-character versions of their alerts to ensure the alert content is available to support older WEA-capable mobile devices and devices connected to older networks.  They may also send a 360-character version to communicate additional information more clearly to for devices and networks that are ready to support 360.    

  • If you include a 90- and a 360-character message in the same alert, wireless providers that participate in WEA will send the 90-character version to people using older phones and the 360-character version to people using newer phones.

 

Public Safety Messages

Q : What are Public Safety Messages? When should I use them?

  • Public Safety Messages are a new class of Wireless Emergency Alerts to be used to provide important emergency information to the public about a threat that may not be imminent and after an Imminent Threat has occurred to assist the public with life-saving response and recovery emergency information. 

  • Points to consider when deciding if it may be better to send a Public Safety Message instead of an Imminent Threat message:
    • In order to promote public safety, is there a need for broad public action or awareness of an emergency condition that is occurring or likely to occur?
    • Will a message assist to prevent public fear or serve to preserve critical public safety functions that are (or could be) overwhelmed (e.g., inappropriate use of 911)?

Q : Will my community receive Public Safety Messages just like any other WEA alert?

  • Not necessarily. Like Imminent Threat and AMBER Alerts, your community can opt out of receiving Public Safety Messages if they do not wish to receive them. 

  • Some phones may offer their customers the ability to turn off Public Safety Messages during certain hours or may deliver Public Safety Messages with a different sound or vibration than other WEA alerts.

  • Be aware, not all phones support Public Safety Messages yet, so for the time being 90 characters is required and 360 characters is optional.

 

Spanish-language Alerts

Q : Can IPAWS or the WEA system or wireless providers translate my English-language alerts into Spanish for me?

  • No. You, as the alert originator, are responsible for your alert message content. Neither FEMA, nor wireless providers, nor consumer mobile devices will translate your English-language WEA message into a WEA message in another language for you. We encourage you to plan accordingly.

Q : I want to send a Spanish-language version of an alert to those members of my community that speak Spanish, but I don’t want everyone to receive it. Is that possible?

  • No. The alert language displayed on a phone is dependent on the phone type and settings on the phone. Some phones display both the English version of the alert and the Spanish version of the alert. Some phone may show only the English or Spanish version of the alert depending on the default language setting of the phone. 

Q : I only want to send a Spanish-language version of an alert, as those members of my community mostly speak Spanish. Is that possible?

  • No. When sending a Spanish-language alert, an English-language version is also required. The alert language displayed on a phone is dependent on the phone type and settings on the phone.

 

State and Local WEA Tests

Q : How do the new WEA enhancements change how I test WEA in my community?

  • The new WEA enhancements include a State/Local WEA Test option. Alerting Authorities may use the State/Local WEA Test without coordination with the FCC or FEMA. State/Local WEA Tests must include conspicuous language sufficient to make clear to the public that the message is, in fact, only a test. Consumer phones are delivered with the State/Local Tests disabled. In order to observe the results of sending a State/Local Test WEA in your community you will need to collect a group of participants and configure their phones to receive State/Local WEA Tests. State/Local Tests configuration is found either in a mobile device’s WEA interface or by following a specific set of instructions available from the wireless provider. We encourage you to plan accordingly.

Q. : How can my community affirmatively opt in to receive State/Local WEA Tests? 

  • Consumers can opt in to receiving State/Local WEA Tests on their mobile devices. This functionality is generally available within device settings, but some phones require special instructions and steps necessary to access hidden menus or functions of the phone. The exact means vary by mobile device or provider. 

Q.  Do I need to do anything in advance of sending a State/Local WEA Test?

  • Alerting Authorities may use the State/Local WEA Test without coordination with the FCC or FEMA.

  • You will need to collect a group of participants and configure their phones to receive State/Local WEA Tests.

  • You should engage in extensive outreach to your community to socialize the benefits of public participation in State/Local WEA Tests and to raise public awareness about the benefits of receiving WEA test messages. 

    • This outreach may include coordinating with local leadership, wireless providers that offer service within your area, public information officers, and other emergency authorities that operate within and adjacent to the testing area. Specifically, first responder organizations such as police and fire agencies and 911 call centers should be aware of your test to ensure that they can confirm to the public that the WEA message is, in fact, only a test. 
    • You should also engage in pre-test publicity efforts, including public outreach through press releases and social media, to apprise the public of the upcoming WEA test and how to opt in to receive the test, as well as the benefits of WEA if an actual emergency arise.

Q : I want to conduct a WEA Test, but I don’t want to disturb everyone in my community. What can I do?

  • Unlike other types of alerts, your community is opted out of receiving State/Local WEA Tests by default. The only people in your community who will receive these test messages are those who have configured their phone to affirmatively opt in to receiving State/Local WEA Tests. 
  • There is another option available. Your alert origination software can offer that capability to test with the FEMA Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Lab so that you can do proficiency training exercises that do not reach the public.

Q. Do I need to request a waiver from the FCC to conduct a WEA Test?

  • Not if you use the State/Local WEA Test option. The FCC’s rules permit authorized alert originators to send State/Local WEA Tests without requesting a waiver from the FCC. The FCC’s rules otherwise require authorized alert originators to request a waiver to use the WEA Attention Signal.

 

Geographic Accuracy of WEA

Q : When creating a polygon, what considerations must I bear in mind?

  • Each polygon cannot have more than 100 vertices/points. Additionally, each CAP message is limited to 10 shapes.

Q : How has the geographic accuracy of WEA alerts improved across all wireless providers and mobile devices?

  • When the WEA program launched, participating wireless providers were generally required to send alerts to a geographic area no larger than the county or counties affected by the emergency. As of November 2017, however, all participating wireless providers were required to transmit alerts to a geographic area that best approximates the area the alert originator specifies, even if it is smaller than a county. In addition, beginning December 18, 2019, participating wireless providers were required to improve geo-targeting of alerts even further. When you initiate an alert with a delivery area that is specified by using a polygon or circle, wireless providers must “match” the specified target area and deliver alerts to the area you specify with no more than a one-tenth of a mile overshoot. Wireless industry determined the only way to do that was to use device-based geofencing. This is achieved and processed at the handset. The handset receives the alert including the polygon, then the phone uses its GPS assisted location to determine whether it is inside or outside the polygon. This technology is evolving and not all handsets support device based geo-fencing at this time. In time, all devices will support it either through a software upgrade or out of the box. Therefore, you will experience overreach until technology catches up to the FCC requirement. Note that wireless providers will continue to deliver the alert to an area that best approximates the target area in instances where they are technically incapable of matching it, such as for mobile devices without location services enabled or when part of the target area is outside of a wireless provider’s coverage area. Using the State/Local WEA Tests function is the only way to find if improved geo-targeting of alerts is available from the wireless providers in your area. The FCC and FEMA do not know which wireless providers are capable of improved geo-targeting.

 

Preservation of WEA Alerts

Q : What does it mean that WEA alerts will now be preserved?

  • Consumer mobile devices previously took varying approaches to providing access to WEA alerts after the user had viewed and dismissed them. Now, newer mobile devices will preserve alerts on the device so that they are accessible for at least 24 hours or until the user deletes them. The ability to go back and review alert message content is more important than ever, given other recent WEA improvements that enable alerts to contain additional information. The location of the preserved alerts and method of viewing them is different from device to device. Check with your wireless provider to learn where alerts are preserved and how to access them.

Q : When can I start to expect WEA alerts to be preserved on my mobile device?

  • This requirement was effective December 18, 2019; however some wireless provider devices may need to be upgraded to support the requirement. Check with your wireless provider to learn where alerts are preserved and how to access them.

 

Embedded References

Q : What is an embedded reference?

  • An embedded reference is data, like a hyperlinked URL or phone number, that an alert recipient can click to perform an action related to the alert. For example, an AMBER Alert could include a hyperlink that directs the alert recipient to a webpage containing further information about a missing child. Or, a Public Safety Message could offer the public an alternative 10-digit number to call to reach emergency services after a hurricane causes a 9-1-1 outage.

Q : Why should I use embedded references in my WEA alerts?

  • The availability of embedded content empowers emergency managers to offer the public alerts that can direct them to more comprehensive emergency response resources, including multimedia such as pictures or maps showing evacuation routes.  Including an authoritative URL in an alert can lead to swifter community response, improve accessibility, facilitate the public’s use of 9-1-1 services, and provide alert originators with a method to update the public on fast-developing events. 

Q : Are there best practices for using embedded references in WEA alerts?

  • We urge emergency managers to continue to convey the most important actionable information through the message text. This will ensure that all members of the public are able to receive that information, even if they are unable to access the URL. 
  • Before using a web link in a WEA alert, we urge all alert originators to take appropriate steps to ensure that the web resource to which an embedded URL directs the public has sufficient capacity to handle increased consumer traffic. 
  • Before using a telephone number in a WEA alert, we urge emergency managers to consider the capacity of their call centers or hotlines. 
  • The use of URL shorteners (i.e. tinyurl, goo.gl, bit.ly) can be used for long URLs. However, consider using direct links to resources on your agency’s official domain when possible so that the public can recognize and trust the website location.

Monthly Proficiency Demonstrations

The Mandatory Monthly Proficiency Demonstration Program, along with other IPAWS PMO initiatives, are being implemented to increase IPAWS user proficiency and reduce alerting errors. Each enabled alerting authority operating under an IPAWS agreement must demonstrate their ability to compose and send a message through the IPAWS-OPEN system at regular intervals. Such demonstration must be performed monthly through generation of a successful message sent through the IPAWS-OPEN Training and Demonstration environment (IPAWS LAB Cloud).

The below guidance applies to sending a successful controlled test message via an alerting authority's Alert Originating software to the IPAWS Lab Cloud environment:


•     Alerting Authorities, otherwise known as Collaborative Operating Groups (COGs) may conduct their Proficiency Demonstration at their own discretion at any date/time within a calendar month.
•     The message must be for EAS and/or WEA, depending on your COG’s approved alerting permissions. If a COG is approved for both channels (EAS/WEA), then both channels must be tested simultaneously if your alert origination software provides the capability.
•     The Demo message status must be set to “Actual”. Use of “Test” or “Exercise” status will result in the message not posting to the simulated WEA and EAS feeds in IPAWS Lab and not be counted as a successful Demo.
•     The Proficiency Demonstration message (EAS Description/WEA 90-character message text) shall be as follows: “TEST TEST TEST. This is a Proficiency Demonstration Test Message. No action is required.”
•     COGs may use any approved event code for the Demo message. Neither additional message content nor use of a geotargeting polygon will be evaluated. (It is not necessary nor recommended that COGs to use the RMT – Required Monthly Test event code as that is specific to broadcast and cable EAS.)
•     The IPAWS Message Viewer can provide alert originators with confirmation of whether the Demo message was successful if used within 24 hours of sending a Demo message:

Please note -

•     ***Live messages sent to the production environment WILL NOT be considered for Monthly Proficiency Demonstration scoring.
•     IF a COG misses a single Monthly Proficiency Demo they will receive a reminder from FEMA.
•     IF a COG misses two consecutive Monthly Proficiency Demos both they and their state IPAWS Reviewing Authority will be notified.
•     IF a COG misses THREE CONSECUTIVE Monthly Proficiency Demos they will LOSE ACCESS to the IPAWS Live Production Environment and not be able to use IPAWS for public alerting until such a time as they complete a successful Monthly Proficiency Demo.

Organizations with Alerting Authority Complete and In Process

There are more than 1,400 federal, state, local, tribal and territorial authorities that can use IPAWS to issue critical public alerts and warnings, and many more authorities that are in the process of obtaining the ability to issue alerts and warnings using IPAWS.

Click here to see lists of organizations with alerting authority completed and in process

IPAWS Offers New Capabilities

FEMA built IPAWS to ensure that under all conditions the President of the United States can alert and warn the American people. Federal, state, local, tribal and territorial authorities also have the opportunity to use IPAWS to send alerts and warnings within their jurisdictions. IPAWS improves alert and warning capabilities by allowing alerting authorities to deliver alerts simultaneously through multiple communications devices reaching as many people as possible to save lives and protect property. These communication pathways include:

WEAs, in particular, generate tremendous interest among alerting authorities that wish to send geographically targeted alerts via wireless cell broadcasts. Through a partnership between the Federal Communications Commission, FEMA and commercial mobile service providers, alerting authorities are able to send WEAs -- even when cellular networks are overloaded and can no longer support person-to-person calls, texts, or emails. Many commercial mobile service providers sell WEA-capable phones with the service already opted-in so that the public does not need to sign up to receive the alerts. WEAs do not incur charges for the alerting authority sending the message or the individual receiving the WEA.

IPAWS also enables the interoperable exchange of messages between government organizations to enhance situational awareness and collaboration. Government organizations choose incident management software that best fits their needs and can exchange messages with other IPAWS alerting authorities, as long as each software system is compatible with IPAWS, and each organization has established an IPAWS account.

Who Can Sign Up to Send Alerts on IPAWS?

Federal, state, tribal, and local laws determine which public safety officials are granted the authority to alert the public of emergency situations. Specific authorities may be designated in a state’s emergency communications plans, such as the state’s Emergency Alert System plan and America's Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert plan. Generally, eligible organizations are:

  • Federal Agencies
  • State Governments
  • Local Governments
  • Territorial Governments
  • Tribal Governments

Other public or private sector organizations may be eligible depending on their public safety mission.

Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Program Management Office (PMO) Partners

The IPAWS PMO’s partners are divided into five major functional groups: (1) the American people; (2) federal governance; (3) federal, state, local, tribal and territorial alerting authorities (alerting authorities); (4) private-sector industry; and (5) non-profit and advocacy organizations.

The IPAWS PMO collaborates with recognized government organizations, industry leaders, and technical experts to ensure that IPAWS incorporates the latest technology and is practical for prospective users. The IPAWS PMO also works with all partner groups to: (1) detail what the partner needs to know about IPAWS and how it affects and can benefit them; (2) openly and collegially discuss program benefits, limitations, and solutions for emerging technologies; (3) create opportunities to solicit authentic feedback; and (4) provide partners with opportunities, training, guidance, and tools to enable them to collaborate with and participate in IPAWS for the purpose of accomplishing a shared goal of creating “an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible, and comprehensive system to alert and warn the American people.”

Access the IPAWS Toolkit for Alerting Authorities and IPAWS Adoption Checklist for Alerting Authorities.

Last Updated: 
03/31/2020 - 09:02