Traditionally, alerting authorities have relied heavily on television and radio to send and receive alerts, but these platforms do not always employ many of the emerging assistive technologies necessary for alerting those with access and functional needs. This includes nearly 50 million Americans living with a hearing impairment. Executive Order 13407 mandates that the U.S. Government “include in the public alert and warning system the capability to alert and warn all Americans, including those with disabilities and those without an understanding of the English language.” The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Program Management Office (PMO) is working endlessly to build a stronger and more inclusive alert and warning system.
How is IPAWS Improving Alerting to Americans with Disabilities and others with Access and Functional Needs?
By creating the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), a standard for alert messages, IPAWS is providing an opportunity to improve emergency alert information delivery to Americans with disabilities and others with access and functional needs. CAP alerts can transport rich multimedia attachments and links in alert messages. The availability of additional content will enable industry partners to develop and provide special content and/or devices ideal for the disability and access and functional needs communities to receive emergency alerts.
The IPAWS PMO is engaging in collaborative working relationships with numerous non-profit and advocacy organizations to help communicate access and functional needs requirements to alert and warning industry partners. In cooperation with private sector industry, CAP-enabled technologies and products for those with disabilities and others with access and functional needs are routinely incorporated into IPAWS demonstrations and have been displayed at such events as: the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) Annual Conference, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show, the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) Annual Conference, the IPAWS Congressional Demonstration, the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN), and the National Disabilities Rights Network (NDRN) Annual Conference. The IPAWS PMO has also participated in other events, including: the Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase, FEMA Getting Real Conference, and IAEM’s Special Needs Committee Meeting. The IPAWS PMO is continually working toward integrating additional technologies and encouraging industry innovation to meet the needs of all Americans.
Symbols for Alerting - Symbology
The National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation (NAPSG), in partnership with the FEMA IPAWS Office, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Geospatial Management Office, and the DHS Science & Technology Directorate, developed a series of common, standardized symbols that serve as easily recognized visual cues depicting an IPAWS event code. These symbols are designed to aid in making public alerts & warnings more effective for people with access and functional needs, Limited English Proficiency (LEP), and the whole community. To date, 48 symbols have been developed covering non-administrative IPAWS event codes.
To learn more about the Symbology initiative and to view the 48 symbols please see the Standardized Symbols for Public Alert & Warning Presentation.
To see the full NAPSG Symbol Library click on the following link: Symbol Library Tool.
IPAWS and the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination (ODIC) Roundtables
In previous years, the IPAWS PMO partnered with FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination to conduct annual roundtables for Federal partners and industry experts on disability-related concerns. The roundtables included representatives from leading organizations that represented Americans with disabilities and others from the access and functional needs community. These roundtables were designed to provide periodic updates to industry and federal partners, elicit information on emerging technologies and systems that can integrate CAP, and facilitate robust discussions between industry and advocacy organizations.
Recent roundtable discussions have included:
- Developing a recognized set of emergency symbols for people with access and functional needs
- Assistive communication technology research being conducted in universities across the nation
- Emerging technology and ongoing commercial and federal initiatives that might be leveraged in support of the disability, access and functional needs communities
- How to make public alerts and warnings more accessible to people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs
Emerging Assistive Technologies
Assistive technology products can enable people with access and functional needs, their caregivers and supportive family members, to accomplish daily living tasks, by assisting in communication, education, work or recreation activities, to help achieve greater independence and enhanced quality of life.
The needs of the access and functional needs communities are a critical consideration when developing technology to facilitate emergency and public safety communications. The IPAWS PMO has been able to identify emerging technologies and assistive technology products that support or provide direct alert and warning capabilities. While the list of devices can be extensive, the following are a representative sample of technologies that have, or are currently undergoing, IPAWS PMO operational testing and evaluations.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) utilizes special output connectors on National Weather Radio (NWR) receivers to activate alerting devices such as bed shakers, pillow vibrators, sirens, and strobe lights. Those who use hearing aids or cochlear implants equipped with telecoils may also be able to use Aloop technology to listen to NWR broadcasts. Many NWR receivers are equipped with external output connectors that will accept an Aneckloop. The Aneckloop creates an electromagnetic field that couples with the NWR receiver to the telecoil in the hearing aid or cochlear implant, allowing the user to hear the broadcast. FM, infrared, and loop based Assistive Listening Devices can also be used. There are also some hearing aids and cochlear implants with adapter cables that can connect directly to the output of a NWR receiver.
- The accessible media industry is moving forward by introducing Captioned, Braille, and Blackboard Radios, as well as a new Radio Reading Service receiver, to electronics manufacturers. The new technologies come after years of extensive research by not-for-profit broadcast technology research and development centers.
- Alertus Beacons and Wall Receivers attract attention with sounds and flashing strobes, while a large text display informs building occupants of the emergency and instructs them how to respond. The units are typically wall-mounted in high visibility areas such as lobbies, front offices, prominent spaces, and by elevators and stairways. They require local network or FM radio station integration to deliver alerts to beacons and receivers.
- The new Sign Language Public Address and Emergency Alert System allows members of the public who are deaf to be addressed by sign language and the hearing by text and voice. The Sign Language Public Address and Emergency Alert System ensures deaf individuals can be warned, informed, guided, and directed by public address and emergency alert systems.
- With Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) organizations can offer on demand, live interpreting for people who are deaf and hard of hearing who rely on American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. VRI provides time-efficient and cost effective three-way communication between businesses or public agencies with their customers, clients, and employees and a qualified interpreter. VRI works by connecting a hearing person, a deaf person (both in the same location) and a qualified ASL interpreter (located at a secure communication center) through a video conferencing unit.